Dispelling Myths of the Gospel in Galatians 2

anne-hutchinsonTo anyone studying modern American trends, the story of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Puritan controversies will probably sound like a strange history of an entirely different people, but those struggling colonists are a vital part of our own history. They came to America largely FOR religious freedom, and their early struggles are some of the reason people today abhor any crossover between state authority and church dogma. Let me illustrate that by retelling a story that used to be a part of our common American History curriculum, but has since been dropped. That is the story of an Antinomian Controvery of 1636-38.

The setting was the village of Boston of the seventeenth century. At the center of the controversy was a woman named Anne Hutchinson, a strong-minded Puritan daughter of an Anglican minister. Before she came from England she embraced a Christian view that celebrated freedom in the Gospel from what they called “the Moral Law” of the Hebrew Scriptures. Her Puritan minister was John Cotton who was forced to leave England, so Anne Hutchinson followed him to New England. She became influential among the settlement’s women as she hosted them for a weekly Bible study in her home. She disagreed with the prevailing Pastors of the colony that taught that in Christ one should embrace the lifestyle standards of the Hebrew law, and she criticized them openly, saying that they were preaching a “covenant of works” in denial of the “covenant of grace” she felt was true. So biting was her criticism, and so stirred were the women, that the colony’s ministers held meetings in the Autumn of 1636 hoping to regain unity. They began with a day of fasting and repentance on 19 January 1637. Sadly, they couldn’t agree and the religious argument took on political ramifications. In the election of May 1637, these so-called “free grace” advocates were defeated in the gubernatorial race and magistrates who supported Anne Hutchinson and her friends were voted out of office. Her criticism didn’t stop, and Anne Hutchinson was eventually held in detention in 1638 and excommunicated from the colony by a religious court. It seems hard to believe our pre-American colonial history tied the church so close to the state, but that is part of the historical pressure that Jefferson felt in the crafting of the Constitution.

Why did I start with a Puritan history lesson? Probably part of me is anticipating Thanksgiving coming soon, but that is not all. I recall that story to remind us of the issue we will examine today in our series on the “myths of the Gospel” in Galatians 2. Today’s lesson is about antinomianism. The “over sized” term comes from two words: anti (against) and nomos (Greek for “law”). The theological concept means “one who holds to the belief that the message of the “Gospel of grace” cancels any allegiance to the previous moral laws and precepts of lifestyle formerly taught under the Hebrew Law, because they believe that are both of “no use for salvation” and offer a contradiction to the message of “faith alone” for salvation.

Let me get off the big words and simplify the problem.

No sooner did the reformer Martin Luther explain that salvation was not earned, but a “gift of God” that came through simple faith in the completed work of Jesus on the Cross, a problem began in some groups that reacted to the “works” based churches they came out of into Protestantism. People grew up being told that they needed to keep the moral standards revealed in the Hebrew laws of the Bible, or they would go to Hell when they died. When Luther’s preaching hit their ears, they realized that there was no work they could do to earn God’s salvation, and they needed to trust the work that Jesus did dying in their place. They celebrated that as a Gospel of grace, and began a walk with Jesus. In short order, some who did not want to live according to the standards of Scripture picked up on the message and began to sculpt a theology that taught, “Accept Jesus and live any way you want – because you are saved.” They carefully divorced any lifestyle practice from the simple act of “receiving Jesus”. Already at the time of Luther in the sixteenth century, they were dubbed by Luther and his followers in Germany as “antinomians” – against any rules. By the time of Anne Hutchinson, that was old news… and they are with us to this day.

They make resurgence every time a movement wants to allow practices clearly not acceptable in the Scriptures. Today, they are all over the internet. Their message is simply this: You get salvation by believing that Jesus paid for your sin, not by surrendering anything. Surrender is a work, and Jesus doesn’t save by works.” They get that idea, in my view, from misreading places in the Bible like Galatians 2, and they don’t represent the true presentation of the Gospel from the New Testament. Let’s say carefully what the Bible truly teaches:

Key Principle: The Gospel teaches that we don’t earn a relationship with God through works (because it is a gift given to the undeserving) but we do offer God our lives and seek to obey Him in our walk now that we have been purchased by Him.

Let me unpack that.

• First, we are saying that a right relationship with God comes only when we accept that the payment made by Jesus as He died on the Cross as complete and full – nothing else needs to be accomplished to satisfy God for the mutiny of mankind in the Garden. The way became available by one and only one way – Jesus.

• Second, we are saying that payment can only be applied to our lives when we ask Jesus to do so. That act is more than a decision to acknowledge what He did in history, it is an act of opening ourselves to His leading, a surrender to His mastery, as we believe what God says concerning the payment for sin in Jesus.

• Third, the act of surrendering our mind and heart to God’s Word concerning the Gospel continues as we take on a new life in Christ. That life is informed by the Scriptures, all of which are God-breathed, and profitable for teaching, correction and encouragement. In obedience to the Word we earn no salvation – but in our saved state we desire to live obedience.

What does that mean?

It means that people who want to walk in disobedience need to really look deeply within to see if they truly want to confess Jesus as Lord or not. It means that believers DO live under a code of obedience that can be generally gauged by the Word of God. Let’s look at the passage, and see if we can discern where the myths come from, and then we will answer them with a more accurate rendering of those same passages of Scripture. There are two myths we want to examine in addition to the three we saw in our last lesson…

Myth #4: Subversive- Paul’s Gentile version of the Gospel was different! Paul gave a different Gentile version of the message of Jesus that Jerusalem believers didn’t agree to.

Some people acted as if Paul had a different message to Jews and to Gentiles concerning salvation – but he did not…

2:1 Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2 It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but [I did so] in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. 3 But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 But [it was] because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. 6 But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)– well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter [had been] to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in [his] apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we [might] [go] to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 [They] only [asked] us to remember the poor– the very thing I also was eager to do.

There are a few initial observations we should mention before we get too far from our reading of the text:

• First, Paul began in the middle of a defense that his Gospel didn’t come from man in verse one, and we dealt with that in our previous lesson (2:1).

• Second, Paul made clear that he was not offering a Gospel message to the pagan world that was not fully inspected by church leaders. He said in verse 2 that he “submitted to them the gospel which I preach” in the confines of a private chamber (2:2).

• Third, the Apostles that reviewed the message agreed that Titus, because he was not a Jew, did not have the need to be circumcised in order to be saved (2:3). God’s commands to the Jewish people informed the Gentiles of principles of what was important to God, but did not make them carry a law that was given as part of the unique covenant God held with the Jewish people.

• Fourth, there were some who wanted all of the church to be under the Law God gave specifically to the Jewish people (2:4-6). Paul affirmed that acquiescing to them would have corrupted the very core of the Gospel itself.

• Fifth, the Apostles recognized that God had a message to the uncircumcised that included the SAME PAYMENT FOR SIN in Christ (justification), but did not include the same lifestyle requirements (sanctification process) that God required of Jews for “all their generations” in issues like Sabbath and circumcision (2:7-9). They recognized both groups existed and were one in Messiah’s blood, but not the same in lifestyle. God told Jews to keep Sabbath for all their generations. He told them to circumcise their children as a unique sign forever. Gentiles didn’t need to start doing those things, because they came under a different sanctification message. Everyone was saved the same way, but after salvation, bonded slaves lived differently than freedmen, men differently than women, Jews differently than Gentiles. Each would find sections of the New Testament defining specific calls for their group – though all were saved and “one in Christ”.

• Sixth, the Apostles DID require that Paul attach the new work of care for the poor through giving (2:10). This probably referred to the offerings taken up for the Jewish believers that were, at the time after Pentecost in Acts 2, still living in common in Jerusalem.

The point Paul was making was simply this: I didn’t tell Gentiles they needed to do the things God kept for the Jewish people. I told them Jesus paid for their sin, and the sacrificial atonement system of the Jewish people would be of no use to them – along with all the other things Jews were told to do. I made clear to them they had a path of obedience to follow, but it wasn’t the path of the Jewish people. At the same time, we need to be careful to underscore that Paul KEPT the Law and honored Jews to did so. He wasn’t against keeping what God told them to keep for “all their generations”. He wasn’t embarrassed about honoring the Law. He was instructed by Jesus not to force Gentiles to keep that Law because it wasn’t made for them.

Is there evidence for these statements? Yes, there is. I will offer it very briefly:

• First, Acts 15 sets out the standards of the Jerusalem Council on Gentiles and their walk as a believing group. The group of Apostles told the Gentiles in a letter from James that they would not make the Gentiles do the things Jews were already called to do. Jews wouldn’t STOP doing them, but Gentiles didn’t need to START doing them.

• Second, Acts 21 made clear that thousands of Jews kept on clinging to the practice of the Law after they came to Jesus, and the Apostles honored them in front of Paul, while Paul had no problem publicly affirming them in taking a vow to clear up any MISCONCEPTION that he was teaching Jews to STOP keeping the Laws God commanded them to do forever.

• Third, in Acts 23:6 Paul claimed he continued to function as a Pharisee AFTER his mission journeys, making the overt claim to remaining Kosher and keeping Sabbath. If he didn’t maintain the standards, he was flatly telling a lie to keep people happy. Does that sound like the Paul that was repeatedly beaten and stoned for NOT keeping people in authority happy?

Myth #5: Liberating: The Gospel frees men from any requirement of obedience! Because we are saved by grace trough faith, we can live as we please and just believe in Jesus to get into Heaven.

There was a more important myth that developed – that of antinomianism – that Paul said Jesus wiped away all connection of believers in Jesus from the moral principles found in the Law.

2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 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. 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how [is it that] you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? 15 “We [are] Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. 17 “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! 18 “For if I rebuild what I have [once] destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. 20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. 21 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness [comes] through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.

Again, before we address the myth, we must make some careful observations about the text:

First, Peter was making a mistake that required correction by Paul. The essence of the mistake was allowing Gentiles to be confused about their complete acceptance under the Gospel of Grace by their believing Jewish brothers. Peter confused rabbinic standards with the Law, and was embarrassed to eat in the presence of Gentile background Christians when being observed by Messianic Jews from Jerusalem that came for a visit. This wasn’t the first time Peter made this particular mistake, as he verbalized an inaccurate statement in Acts 10 (2:11-13). There is no Hebrew Law that says a Jew cannot eat with a Gentile. There are laws about what can be served and how it is killed, but that wasn’t the issue – it was the rabbinic standard of separation that was the mistake. It wasn’t WHAT they ate in the text, it was that they ATE IT TOGETHER – and that was a rabbinic issue not a Biblical one.

Second, full acceptance by God is at the heart of the Gospel message. Paul knew that ANY teaching that made those who were not required to keep the Law feel less than adequate before God required immediate and clear correction – because it would taint the Gospel message of salvation by full payment at the Cross (2:14a).

Third, Peter and Paul lived in the diaspora, and were forced to make compromises in visiting Jerusalem for every feast, as Deuteronomy 16:16 commanded. They were born Jews and struggled to maintain strict obedience in the days of the spread of the Roman Empire. Frankly, without the rabbinic dispensations allowing an “anshai ma-amad” or “bystander” to take the place of a Jew at a feast, they would have been bound to Deuteronomy 16:16 and had to be in Jerusalem in person three times a year. Paul made clear it was nearly impossible for THEM to keep the Law, and they were BORN INTO IT. Paul could not believe Peter would force his Christian brothers from Gentile backgrounds into these problems (2:14b-15a).

Fourth, Paul made clear that even the Jewish Apostles that were raised with a love for the Law had long since concluded that the atonement law – offering blood of bulls and goats to God in the Temple to appease His wrath for a time – was no longer necessary. This is at the heart of the argument of the entire letter. Jesus paid for enough once for all, so that such installment payments were no longer valid to pay for sin (2:15b-16). Hebrews 9 made the same point. The old system was sacrifice, but it was incomplete because it never took care of ALL SIN. It needed to be repeated over and over. Jesus paid it all, once for all. The incomplete atonement of the Jerusalem Temple system was replaced by COMPLETE CLEANSING. No sacrifice (work of the Law for atonement) works – Jesus replaced the whole system.

Now look at the end verses again:

Galatians 2:19 “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. 20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. 21 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness [comes] through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

Many people read those words and think, “There it is! I am DEAD to the Law! The Spirit will speak standards of living into my life and I no longer need those old musty Hebrew Laws anymore.

Is that what he said? No, and I can prove it…

• First, the writer is Paul, and we know from Acts that he didn’t stop keeping feasts, taking vows and even going to the Temple. The whole story of his arrest in Acts 21 at the Temple happened because he was AT THE TEMPLE TAKING A VOW – and that was after he traveled all three of his mission journeys.

• Second, Paul and the other Apostles structured many of their arguments in the Epistles based on that Law in their writings to churches. In one example, for instance, Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians: I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? (1 Cor. 9:8). Why argue a point based on dead and ineffective old law?

• Third, God used later HIM to record these words – 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Why didn’t Paul make clear that only New Testament writings were included when most of what was called Scripture was the Hebrew Law and Writings?

What WAS he saying?

Look at the end of the statement. Paul made clear WHAT LAW he was referring to – the kind that dealt with JUSTIFICATION. He said in 2:21 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness [comes] through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

The issue was this: Did Gentiles need the Temple system with the atonement sacrifices that were symbolized in the dispersion by Sabbath keeping and circumcision – since people couldn’t PHYSICALLY GO TO THE TEMPLE from all across the Roman world. When Jews spread far across the Mediterranean, the Temple pilgrimage became a lifetime goal, not a three time a year experience. As such, the signs that you were under that system needed to be local and known.

Paul argued vehemently for the same truth that was revealed in Hebrews 9, that the Temple, the Priesthood, the atonement of animal blood –and all that went with it was no longer necessary because the full satisfaction for JUSTIFICATION was met at Calvary. On the cross of Messiah, Jesus died in my place – but in my salvation I ALSO DIED- to the command of Christ my Lord. I am now dead, and Christ’s control dominates me. He lives in me. He rules me.

Let me restate those ending verses again, slowly and with my own paraphrase to aid in our understanding:

Galatians 2:19 “For according to the demands of the Atonement Law I was executed under my own sin according to the “blood for blood” requirement – so that I might live a new resurrected life full of God’s empowering. I died with Christ on the Cross when I surrendered to Him. I am not my own, my life is now HIS. The life I continue to have in the flesh is one of believing what He says is true and trusting the payment He made in love for me. I do not cancel God’s gift of Jesus by trusting in any animal’s blood anymore, or Jesus could have avoided the Cross and left the old atonement law in place.” [My paraphrase].

Now let’s go back and consider the myth.

Can we honestly say these verses teach: The Gospel frees men from any requirement of obedience! Because we are saved by grace trough faith, we can live as we please and just believe in Jesus to get into Heaven?

Of course we can’t. They say the OPPOSITE of that. They teach that coming to Christ is DYING TO SELF. It is letting Jesus take my life and steer it to where He wants it to go. Let’s say it plainly:

Jesus is in charge of my wallet. I will make choices as to where I will work and how much, based on His command. I will choose to spend based on His leading. I will give back to Him according to His guidance.

• Jesus is in charge of my entertainment. I will laugh at what He laughs at, because He is alive within me. I will sing what honors Him, because He hears every bar and note. I will watch what He would want me to watch, because He is sitting beside me as I look at my computer screen or into my flat screen.

• Jesus is in charge of my sexuality. I will find my fulfillment where He says I should, so that I can lay my head on my pillow without shame or guilt. I will allow my heart to desire what He has said I may, and will carefully discipline my thoughts in areas He has forbidden, because He is alive in me and He is my King.

• Jesus is in charge of my reputation. I will spend time serving people no one else cares about, and won’t worry if people don’t like their smell or their appearance – because I serve the Lord Christ. They are His children, and I am His servant!

• Jesus is in charge of my schedule. If that means that He determines that my new assignment is 1000 hours in doctor’s offices, I will go with the JOY that Jesus is represented wherever He sends me. I may not like the pain involved in the note I was sent to appear there, but I accept that my Savior knows where I need to be and when – because the moments of my life only have meaning because of Him.

• Jesus is in charge of my goals. Whatever I can accomplish, whatever I can dream, whatever I can fulfill – I will pass every goal under His approving eye before I launch out as though I am my own – because I am HIS. He paid for my life. He paid for my accomplishments. All of them will be placed in front of Him at the end anyway – and only the ones He delights in will have any meaning!

There is no sense in which I am left to my own devices, but Jesus alive in me does not leave me in heaviness, but in JOY. I can BECOME Jesus in my office, in my community. I can show His love, and recall His promises to the hurting. I can also walk uprightly and according to His Word. I don’t do it to EARN His love. I do it by His empowering and in His life flow – to His honor and His glory. Now, THAT is living!

The Gospel teaches that we don’t earn a relationship with God through works (because it is a gift given to the undeserving) but we do offer God our lives and seek to obey Him in our walk now that we have been purchased by Him.