One of the things Paul was trying to make clear to the Galatians church was that they needed to be taught by God and led by the Holy Spirit to understand the truth. The challenge they were facing at this time was they had some men come to them who were supposed to be Christians, but these man were teaching them what was essentially a form of Christianity and Judaism combined.
They were being told by these men that if they were to follow God, they had to be circumcised and taught to follow the law of Moses.
But this is not what Paul had taught them when he and Barnabas first opened the gospel of Jesus Christ up to the Galatians. And we see in these two verses that in his own early Christian walk, Paul sought confirmation of what he was teaching in order to check that he was not making an error in what he believed and then taught to others.
Testing the Gospel
These first two verses follow on from the last few in Galatians chapter 1, and they give us an insight into the teaching of Paul. Look at what the say collectively.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18-19)
Paul had been a Christian for three years before he went up to speak to the Apostles and Elders of the church for the very first time. And as we see, when he did go up to see them, it was only Peter/Cephas and James that he met with and spoke to for a maximum of fifteen days before he left to go back out into Syria and Cilicia.
Then we see at the beginning of Galatians 2 that Paul returned to Jerusalem once again.
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain. (Galatians 2:1-2)
These verses state that Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem by revelation. It had been revealed to them by the Lord that they needed to go to Jerusalem to speak with the early Apostles and Elders, and to discuss the ministry they were teaching.
Now, given that the big issue Paul is speaking to the Galatians about, and what he was contending with these other teachers at that time was circumcision and keeping the laws of Moses, it is my opinion that these were the matters he took to the early church Apostles and Elders.
In Acts chapter 15 we see a conference of the Apostles and Elder to review and assess this very question. There were some of the Christian teachers along with Paul and Barnabas who spoke before the council of the Apostles and Elders regarding the issue of circumcision and keeping the laws of Moses.
It is my opinion that attending this council was the visit that Paul refers to in Galatians 1:1-2. At this time the issue of circumcision and keeping the law was infiltrating the church teachings, and Paul knew that this was not the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He and Barnabas were not teaching these things and Paul states in several places that he had been taught not by men, but by Jesus Christ and led by the Holy Spirit.
The Word of Truth
At the time of his visit to the church in Jerusalem the second time, Paul had been in Christ for seventeen years. He had been opening up churches among the Gentiles and spreading the word of truth for all of that time.
But now we see him going up to Jerusalem to defend what he was teaching against other teachers in the church, and as part of that defence, to check and test his beliefs against the knowledge of the early Apostles and Elders who had walked with Jesus while He was on the earth.
I doubt that Paul had any doubts over what he was believing and teaching, as he had seen the power of the gospel in the churches and the working of the Holy Spirit to confirm the words he and Barnabas were speaking. But Paul needed to ensure that these false teachings of circumcision and living under the law were dealt with once and for all because these are not part of the gospel and th word of truth in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In fact we will see later in Galatians chapter 5, that to fall under these false teachings would sever a person from Christ.
I must point out here that there is nothing wrong with the law of Moses in all it’s parts, and Paul makes this point also in his letter to the Romans in chapter 7. But the law and circumcision are not part of the Christian covenant. They are Old Covenant teachings and have no place in the gospel of Jesus Christ because the law and circumcision promote bondage and the knowledge of sin, whereas the new covenant of grace promotes freedom from sin, freedom from law and the pursuit of righteousness.
Paul knew all this, yet he laid out what he was teaching before the early Apostles and Elders to check and to confirm that he had it right. And they recognised that Paul did indeed have it right.
The ministry of the false teachers who taught circumcision and bondage to the law was formally rejected and a letter sent to all of the Gentile churches to advise them of this decision. The churches had been set free from sin and set free from the law through Jesus Christ and they did not and should not submit to the bondage of circumcision and the law.
The Issue for Us Today
Do we have this same issue still today?
Yes we do. We do not have the issue of circumcision that they had in the early Gentile churches, and the Galatians church in particular, but we do have the issue of submission to the law of Moses in practically every church on the planet.
The law is not bad, and I am not saying that it is bad. But the law is not a part of the Christian covenant. And just as Paul showed the Galatians that if they were to fall under the ministry of living under the law they would be severed from Jesus Christ, so too if we are captured under the bondage of law, we will be severed from Jesus Christ today.
Bondage to the law leads to bondage to sin because we cannot keep the law. No man was able to be righteous under the law. Only Jesus kept the fullness of the law so that He could become the perfect sacrifice for mankind.
This was the point Paul was making to the Galatians. They were set free from the law and set free from sin. They received freedom in Jesus Christ. They were baptised into the death of Jesus Christ and raised as new creations in Him, no longer bound by sin, no longer bound by law and no longer citizens of the world but citizens of the kingdom of God. This is what the purpose of baptism is all about. In baptism we are set free and we receive the free gift of righteousness by faith so that we can stand before the Father spotless.
For now we are spotless and unblemished by faith, but there is a reason why God declares us righteous. He made the point that no sinner could come before God. He said in Romans 1 that He had rejected man because man sinned. He gave up on man because man was full of sin and ALL men sinned and fell short of the glory of God.
So how could man possibly be redeemed from this sinful state? Only if God forgave and removed all sources of sin in a person, which He does when we receive Jesus and are baptised into His death. That is the key to standing righteous before God. We MUST be baptised into the death of Christ and hold fast our faith that we are righteous through faith because God declared us righteous.
To attempt to gain righteousness through the law is not the righteousness of God, but is self-righteousness. And the truth of the matter is that self-righteousness is no righteousness at all.
You are not under the law anymore, so why do you live as though you are? This is the question that all Christians today need to answer, because if they are living under a ministry that calls them to keep the ten commandments, to tithe and to keep other tenets of the law, then they are under law, not under grace. And if they are not under grace they are separated and severed from Jesus Christ.
So do what Paul did. He went to the early Apostles to test what he believed and taught. We need to do the same and check what we believe and ask ourselves…am I following the law or the gospel of truth in Jesus Christ?
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