Study Notes

Galatians 2:1-21


Paul the apostle is writing to the churches in Galatia, warning them that they are being deceived by the Judaizers - men that are teaching them that they must become like the Jews in order to be Christians. In our last study, we heard how Paul was saved, and how he'd received the gospel message from Jesus Christ Himself.

Now, he will be explaining that not only was it the Lord Jesus, but also the church that had confirmed his message in a formal gathering.

2:1-3 A Trip To Jerusalem

Fourteen years after he was saved, Paul went to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus. Why? In order to fully understand this, we'll need to review some history. Paul and Barnabas were preaching the gospel to everyone, and seeing many people becoming born again. Many of them were not Jews. God was opening a door of faith to the Gentiles. The 15th chapter of the book of Acts picks up the story.

Acts 15:1-4 And some men came down from Judea and {began} teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, {the brethren} determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. And when they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.

The Judaizers had been telling these newly-saved Gentiles that they had to be follow the Law of Moses in order to be Christians. Not the least command of which consisted of being circumcised. Circumcision is of course the cutting away of the male foreskin. It was the covenant that God had made with the Jews, dating back to Abraham.

Gen. 17:9-11 God said further to Abraham, "Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.

The Judaizers were teaching that in order to be partakers of the new covenant, they must first be participants in the old covenant. Paul and Barnabas knew that this completely disagreed with the gospel of grace - that it was nothing man could do to earn or deserve salvation, but that it was only that Jesus died on the cross to forgive sins that saved people.

So, after many heated discussions and debates, it was decided that they would travel up to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles to find out what the real deal was.

2:4-5 Into Bondage

These Judaizers wanted to bring all Christians into the same bondage that they were in - the legalistic religion of following rules and regulations in order to be accepted before God. But we have liberty in Christ - we do not have to become religious in order to be saved. The book of Romans says,

Rom. 8:1-2 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

Paul will put it even more simply in chapter five, saying,

Gal. 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

We have liberty in Christ. Understand that we are not talking about freedom to live in sin or liberty to walk in sin. We are talking about liberty from the bondage of religious requirements for a relationship with God.

2:6-10 Of High Reputation

Paul makes mention of the fact that the apostles and leaders in the church were of "high reputation." Indeed, they had practically become celebrities. You may recall in the book of Acts, early in the life of the church, we found out,

Acts 5:12-13 And at the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.

Everyone was looking up to the apostles, not even daring to associate with them. They certainly did not encourage this, but it happened anyway. It is unfortunate that we as human beings have a tendency to elevate others to places of high reputation. There shouldn't be any leader in the church that is treated with celebrity status or superstardom. The guys you hear on CSN are just guys - some are friends. I'm just a guy - there's nobody here that should think of me any differently than you do the person in the pew behind you.

As Paul points out, there is no partiality as far as God is concerned. Every one of us is simply a sinner saved by grace. That's why the titles are so ridiculous. Father Smith, or Reverend Jones." France's leading correspondence guide includes this recommended signoff for a letter to the Pope: "Prostrate at the feet of Your Holiness and imploring the favor of its apostolic benediction, I have the honor to be, Very Holy Father, with the deepest veneration of Your Holiness, the most humble and most obedient servant and son."

This is completely disregarding of what Jesus said.

Matt. 23:8-9 "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call {anyone} on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.

God is no respecter of persons, and neither should we be.

Contributed Nothing

When Paul met with the apostles in Jerusalem, they didn't add anything to the gospel he was preaching - it was in fact the same gospel that they were preaching. They just recognized that God had called them to two different groups of people - that their ministry was mainly to the Jews, and that Paul's ministry was mainly to the Gentiles.

Recognizing The Grace

I love what Paul says here: Peter, James and John recognized the grace that had been given to Paul. You've got to remember something. Paul is the same guy that 14 years earlier had wanted to kill these guys. His vendetta was to rid the earth of every Christian. This was the guy that had overseen the killing of one of their deacons!

But they recognized the grace that had been given to Paul. Paul had been completely undeserving of anything from God, other than the fires of hell. But Jesus Christ revealed Himself to Paul, forgave Paul's sins, and made him a child of God. Now Paul was living his life for Jesus Christ. The apostles recognized that. Yet another example of how we can recognize the grace of God - when Jesus Christ comes face to face with an undeserving, unloving, and wicked person, and instead smiting them, He loves and forgives them!

2:11 Cephas' Condemnation

Now, Paul points out another incident that happened some time later. Peter came to Antioch, but Paul got in his face about something.

2:12-13 Holding Himself Aloof

When Peter had shown up, he had no trouble fellowshipping with the Gentiles - even eating with them. After all, Peter had received the vision from the Lord back in Acts 10 regarding the Lord cleansing all forms of animals to eat.

Acts 10:11-15 and he beheld the sky opened up, and a certain object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all {kinds of} four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, "Arise, Peter, kill and eat!" But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." And again a voice {came} to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no {longer} consider unholy."

Soon afterwards, some of the circumcision group accused him of eating with Gentiles in the city of Joppa. Peter defended himself, and told them of the vision, and of the Gentiles who had been saved in Joppa.

Acts 11:17-18 "If God therefore gave to them the same gift as {He gave} to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance {that leads} to life."

But for whatever reason, Peter was trying to avoid the same conflict in Antioch. When some guys came from the church in Jerusalem, Peter chose not to eat with the Gentiles. The other Jews and even Barnabas followed his example.

But Paul would stand for none of it. He got in Peter's face and told him straightly that he was dead wrong.

2:14-18 Paul's Confrontation

Paul confronted Peter about this hypocrisy, saying, "If you were willing to live like a Gentile, why then are you communicating to the Gentiles that they need to live like Jews? Even we Jews know that the Law is impossible to keep perfectly. Why are you remaining bound up in it - and even worse, binding other people up in it?"

2:19-21 Christ Lives In Me

Paul continues, saying, "I died. I'm gone. The Law has no power over me anymore, because my life was judged at the cross. Peter, come on - you saw them kill Jesus. If man can be righteous by his own works, then Christ died for nothing."

Do you realize this morning that you cannot be made right before God by your own actions? No amount of good deeds or religion can erase your sin. You're still a sinner in the eyes of God. But, if you allow Jesus' death on the cross to be the payment for your sin, you will be righteous before God. It's nothing that you've done, it's nothing that you deserve.

Rom. 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Go to next study

Go to previous study