For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.Galatians 2:12(NASB)
The book of Galatians was written by the apostle Paul, who had been called and chosen to be God's apostle to the Gentiles. He was commissioned as an apostle by the risen, ascended, glorified Lord Jesus Christ, and the gospel he taught came to Paul by a revelation from the Lord Jesus Himself. The epistle to the Galatians makes it clear from the start, that the gospel preached by Paul was not based on human thought. He did not receive it from any human source, not even the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, but according to the will and purpose of God. And while Peter's ministry, together with the other apostles, was mainly to the Jews, Paul's apostolic ministry was mainly to the Gentiles.
Such large numbers of Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ during Paul's work among them, that it became necessary for him to visit the apostles in Jerusalem, to ensure that they all were teaching the true gospel of Christ and that there was no doctrinal conflict. The gospel of the kingdom that had been taught during Christ's earthly ministry was postponed until the time of the end, because Israel rejected and crucified their Messiah. The pre-Cross dispensation of the Law was replaced with the post-Cross dispensation of the grace of God. Instead of reaching the world through His chosen nation (Israel), God began to work through the Body of Christ (the Church). The biggest questions needing to be addressed at the Jerusalem Council were: "Do Gentiles have to become Jews to be a Christian?" and "Do Gentiles have to keep the Law of Moses after salvation?"
During the dispensation of the Law, Israel were instructed by God to be a light to the pagan nations. Any Gentiles who believed, were to be brought into the camp of Israel and live as Jewish proselytes. However, during the Church age, the apostles were instructed to go into the world and preach the gospel of grace to everyone. They were to teach that Christ died for the sin of the world, was buried, and rose again, according to the Scriptures, and that whosoever believed on Him would not perish but have everlasting life. Peter's great sermon on the Day of Pentecost clearly spelled out the truth of the post-Resurrection gospel to the Jews: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. For God has resurrected this Jesus and we are all witnesses of this." Peter clearly knew the gospel of grace, endorsed Paul's gospel, and welcomed Gentile believers into Christian fellowship without the pre-Cross requirement of needing to become a Jewish proselyte.
The book of Galatians was written because certain Judaisers and religious-minded legalists went from church to church challenging the person of Paul and his work, his ministry and message, his teachings, his calling, and the gospel of the grace of God that is accessed through faith. They believed they were saved by their Jewish ancestry and taught that Gentiles could not be saved unless they first converted to Judaism and participated in circumcision and other Jewish practices.
Although it was agreed at the Jerusalem council that Gentiles should not be placed under the Mosaic Law, certain Jews, from 'the party of the circumcised' would not accept the decision made at their council meeting, refusing to eat with uncircumcised Gentiles. These men taught a false gospel, a gospel of condemnation, that placed believers back under the curse of the Law, rather than proclaiming the wonderful freedom that is found in the gospel of grace. They taught that salvation was part of their Jewish heritage through works of the Law. They taught that salvation was gained by works of the Law and not as a free gift of God's grace. They could not accept that salvation was by faith in Christ's sacrificial work and glorious Resurrection.
These Judaisers were so zealous in their unbiblical teachings, that even Peter and other believers were intimidated by them, such that they joined in their apartheid practices, refusing to eat with Gentiles and placing themselves back under the Law. This caused Paul to challenge Peter to his face: "For Peter regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party."
Because of the opposition to his teaching and ministry, it was necessary for Paul to not only defend the truth of the gospel that he taught and justify his own apostolic calling, but to clarify the true gospel of salvation that he taught; that every man, Jew and Gentile alike, is a guilty sinner who is under God's eternal condemnation, who can only be declared righteous by God through FAITH in Christ Jesus. And so Paul penned his epistle to the Galatians to vehemently condemn their false teaching and meticulously set out the one and only way to be saved - as a free gift of God's grace which is accessed by Jews and Gentiles alike - BY FAITH.
A thorough study of Galatians will quickly help the Christian to understand how destructive a works-based gospel is to our spiritual growth. It reminds us of the need to stand firm on the truth of the gospel of Christ and shows how quickly even a salty saint can 'fall from grace' when we allow ourselves to be influenced by legalism or intimidated by false teachings. How important it is that we search the Scriptures, seek out the truth of God's Word, and test every teaching we hear. We all need discernment so that we are never swayed by persuasive words or intimidated by unbiblical teachers, and we should always be ready and willing to challenge legalistic teachings fearlessly, especially when we see it adversely influencing fellow Christians.
Let us be careful not to be swayed by the words of teachings that go against doctrinal truth. Let us stand firm in our faith, trust in God, and not be fearful of challenging false teachers and corrupt teachings. Rather, let us seek out the truth in God’s Word and stand up for what we believe in, even if it means going against the grain. May we be careful never to be swayed by the opinions of others, however influential they may appear, but remain true to our convictions, ready to give an answer for the hope we have in the glorious gospel of grace.
Heavenly Father, I come before You today in awe and reverence of Your mighty power and grace. Thank You for the gift of Your Word and the truth it contains. I pray for Your guidance and protection as I seek to stand firm in my faith and trust in You. Help me to discern false teachings and challenge corrupt teachings with courage and conviction. Give me the strength to stand up for what I believe in, even if it means going against the grain. Help me to remain true to my convictions and never be swayed by the opinions of others, however influential they may appear. I ask that You would fill me with Your Spirit and give me the wisdom to seek out the truth in Your Word. May I be ready to give an answer for the hope I have in the glorious gospel of grace. In Jesus' name, AMEN.
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