Fighting For The Truth

Title: Fighting For the True Faith

Text: Galatians 2:1-5

Time: October 10th, 2010

“Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you,: Galatians 2:1-5. We now enter into the second chapter of Galatians where the Apostle Paul describes further his battle to secure the true and correct gospel of salvation against those who would distort and change it. We get a little better understanding of the problem in this next chapter, because we are told a little more details concerning the problem. Evidently, some Jewish Christians had arrived and began to teach that in addition to faith in Christ alone for salvation church members needed to follow the whole Jewish law as well in order to be saved. At this point I need to back up a little and explain a major – if not the major controversy in early Christianity. It’s the controversy over how Jewish do new converts need to become in order to be Christians and join the Christian church. Remember that all the early Christians were Jewish – or nearly all converts were Jewish – there were a few Gentile converts here and there at the beginning, but not very many. Being all or mostly Jewish, these early Christians simply assumed that they would continue in their Jewish faith except they would worship Jesus as Messiah and Savior. This they did. But gradually, more and more Gentile or non-Jewish converts came into the church and that’s when the controversy over them began. Do these new non-Jewish converts need to not only convert to Christ but also to the Jewish faith as well? Do they need to begin to follow all the Jewish laws, including the dietary laws and religious observances, for example? This was an open question that wasn’t completely answered for years and years. Then, with the coming of the mission to the Gentiles by the Apostle Paul and others, the issue came to a head. There simply needed to be a decision made concerning Gentle converts; it couldn’t be put off any longer. And there wasn’t any consensus – or there wasn’t any clear consensus at the beginning about this issue. In fact, because most of the early Christians were Jewish the majority of believers in Christ probably favored the side that wanted to see new Christian converts instructed in Judaism. But Paul and others saw the issue not simply as a matter of whether new converts needed to learn Jewish laws and customs, but instead, Paul for example, saw it as making a decision that was either consistent or inconsistent with the gospel itself. The Jews had traditionally understood the Old Testament as teaching that in order to be pleasing to God one must keep the Law – the more the better. It was a common Jewish teaching that in order to be saved or justified in the sight of God, one must keep the Law and live a righteous life. That traditional Jewish teaching ran contrary to the very essence of the gospel which was – no one can live up the holy standards of the Law, all fall short, therefore, only by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, only by faith in Christ, can one be saved. That was the Christian gospel, that was what Paul was fighting for in the early church. The Book of Galatians describes Paul’s fight for truth.

First, the good news is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Galatians 2:1-2, “Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles.” What Paul is saying is that he never was a member of the inside group of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem; he always operated outside of Jerusalem in his mission to the Gentiles. So he wasn’t conditioned by the consensus of Jewish Christians who operated in the capital city of the Jews, Jerusalem. The prevailing understanding of Christian discipleship was to bring converts to Christianity into a more deeper Jewish faith. In fact, in the beginning, Christianity was seen and understood as a Jewish sect or group – those who accepted Jesus as Messiah, as opposed to those Jews who didn’t accept Jesus as Messiah. Because most of the converts to Christianity were made from within Judaism, the early church wasn’t confronted with having to make a decision about how to disciple the converts, but as more and more Gentile converts came into the church a decision had to be made. But to understand the controversy we must first understand the importance of it in respect to the basic gospel message. Paul states, “I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles.” What was the gospel that Paul preached among the Gentiles? It was the message that salvation is by grace through faith alone, not by works of any kind, not by following the Law. Weren’t Peter and the other apostles preaching salvation by grace through faith also? Yes, but it wasn’t as strong an emphasis as it is in Paul’s preaching. Since Peter and the others were preaching to mostly Jews, it was assumed that the Jewish Christian converts would continue in most of the Jewish practices and rituals except where they explicitly contradicted the message of Jesus. But with the Gentile converts who didn’t already have a tradition and ritual like the Jews did, the question was – “How much of the Jewish tradition do new Gentile converts need to know and obey?” For Paul, who was trained in the Jewish law, practices and rituals – who knew Judaism thoroughly, he insisted that in order to keep the gospel of Christ free from the works of the Law and from human effort, the message should be grace alone and faith alone saves, not faith plus works. The basic gospel message teaches that, One, we are all sinful and separated from God by our sins, and thus deserve judgment and damnation from God. Two, Christ died on the cross for sinners in order to pay the penalty for sin. Three, by placing faith in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for our sins, we receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life salvation with no judgment but instead eternal life in heaven with God. All of this is obtained by faith not by works, by trusting in Christ alone, not by obeying – or trying to obey – the law, whether Jewish rituals or the universal moral law. Salvation is by grace through faith alone, not by works, nor by a combination of faith and works. It’s all by grace and all by faith. That’s the basic Christian gospel message. Why repeat it here? Because people keep forgetting it, even Christians, like these Galatian Christians. Have you forgotten the gospel? I hope not. Do you understand that salvation is by faith alone, not by your own human efforts? If so, you understand the gospel correctly. But if you think that your salvation depends in any way on your obedience to God’s law, you don’t understand the gospel correctly. I hope your understanding of salvation is now correct. But let’s move on.

Second, the controversy was a misunderstanding of obedience to the law in respect to salvation. Galatians 2:3-4, “Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because of false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” To the traditional Jews obedience to the law of God was a given in respect to salvation, but to a true and accurate understanding of the Christian gospel, obedience to God comes as a result of salvation not as a requirement of salvation. At first, this truth wasn’t seen by many or most Christians, but with Paul it’s truth is brought out fully. The Greek Christian Titus had never been circumcised because he wasn’t a Jew. Typically, Romans and Greeks were not circumcised in those days; but every Jew was circumcised. Today, because of the influence of the Christian culture in our nation and other nations in Europe and everywhere Christianity has influenced, circumcision of all male infants is typical, but it wasn’t in ancient times. But the point is, Titus, who was a Gentile convert to Christianity and fellow Christian leader with Paul, never was circumcised and never felt obliged to be circumcised either. Why should he, he wasn’t Jewish, nor was it the custom of his Gentile culture. That bothered many Jewish Christians because for them circumcision was important – that’s the way they had grown up all their lives. Some Jews had even gone so far as to say that new Christian male converts needed to be circumcised to be saved, to be truly Christian. But that’s not all, because still other Jewish Christians were teaching that all the Gentile converts needed to obey the Jewish laws, which included all the different moral commands of the Old Testament as well as all the traditions and rituals of Judaism – all these in order to be saved. For Paul, who was well trained in Jewish theology and practice, for him, this was a complete distortion of the basic gospel message of salvation by faith alone. It was clearly a case of returning to salvation by works, by human effort – which most Jews accepted as the means of salvation. Faith, that was important and necessary, but most Jews never understood salvation as by grace alone through faith alone. That was different. The apostle Paul fought the battle he fought because of the importance of “faith alone” as a means of salvation. Everyone understands that faith was important, but not everyone understood that it was by faith alone that salvation comes. Now the amazing thing is that even today, two thousand years after this early controversy in the Christian church, people are still ignorant of the distinction between faith and faith alone. People still today usually hold to a belief in faith and works salvation. Test yourself. See if you are someone who is still confused about faith and works. Answer this question, “I hope to be saved in heaven because I . . .” And finish the sentence. If you answer, “I hope to be saved in heaven because I’ve tried to live my life for God or because I’ve lived a pretty good life or because I’ve done my best to obey God” – if you answer in this way, it shows that you still don’t understand what salvation by faith alone means. Only if you answer the questions, “I hope to be saved in heaven because of my faith alone in Christ and his death on the cross for my sins.” That’s true gospel salvation. But it’s still controversial today, just like it was way back in ancient times.

Third, the conclusion is that we don’t need to obey God’s law to be saved. Galatians 2:5, “We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.”  The key phrase here is, “So that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.” It’s a matter of truth. It’s simply true that we are saved by faith alone, and consequently, it’s false that we can be saved by any degree by our works. Paul was unwilling to compromise any on this important matter, although it would have been easy for him to do so. Since there was such a strong Jewish Christian consensus, it would have made life easier for him to give in on this point and permit the “faith and works” doctrine to exist right along with “faith alone” doctrine. But he didn’t permit it and thank God eventually the whole church came the see the importance of faith alone. But amazingly, the result of the controversy, which seems so clearly settled in the pages of the New Testament, amazingly, it only took a few generations removed before the whole issue was revived, but sadly the church seems to have drifted to the opposite conclusion. A couple of years ago I got curious about this whole issue so I decided to do a little study on it. I found a couple of books on the early church writings, the generations of Christian leaders forty to one hundred years after Jesus. I was shocked to find out that hardly any of these Christians leaders were talking about salvation by faith alone, but instead they were talking more about obedience to God’s moral law. It seems that the early Christian church gradually drifted back into a “faith and works” salvation message instead of “faith alone.” Even though the writings of Paul and the other apostles were staring them in the face through the New Testament writings, these later early church leaders got off track. From this drift we can now understand how the Reformation eventually came about, because by the time of Luther and Calvin, the established church had pretty much lost the teaching of the Apostle Paul completely. The doctrine of salvation by faith alone had been completely forgotten. So then the Reformation needed to happen in order to return Christians back to the pure teachings of the gospel. So then in a very real sense, the controversy in which Paul battled is still with us, still in the church today. We still have to fight for the truth of the gospel, even after the Reformation. You’ll run into the controversy in talking with your family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and others. They’ll discuss Christianity but they probably won’t understand the basic gospel message of salvation by faith alone. What you’ll probably hear is a mixture of faith and works when you talk with others. They’ll tell you that faith is important, but they’ll also want to tell you that obedience to the Law of God is also important for salvation. That’s incorrect. Obedience to God is important because it’s the will of God, and we should all be pursuing obedience to God in every area of our life. But, salvation comes completely separate from obedience to God. We can’t save ourselves by being obedient to God because nobody is truly obedient to God. Only Jesus fully obeyed the Law, and he gives us his righteousness in exchange for our faith or trust in him. But our own righteousness is, as the prophets say, “filthy rages,” in the eyes of God. Our best is really unacceptable. That’s why Jesus saves and not we save ourselves. Thank God your salvation depends not on you but on Christ. Thank God your humble trust in Christ saves, not our own human efforts at being good. We’d all fail if that were the test. Thank God the gospel is faith alone, not anything else.

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