Sunday, July 5, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Gospel of Grace in Galatians
Ch. 2—Preserving the Gospel


This is week two of “Do vs. Done: the Gospel of Grace in Galatians.” This summer we are working our way through three books of the Bible—Galatians is the first. I want you to know God’s Word—I want you to learn it, love it and live it.   Let’s say that together: learn it, love it, live it. Paul said:

Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

How are we transformed? By the renewing of our minds. How are our minds renewed? By God’s Word—when we learn it, love it, and live it.

Today we’ll read and learn from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul wrote this letter to some churches he had planted in what is now south central Turkey; these churches were being troubled by some Jewish Christians—sometimes called “the circumcision party” or “Judaizers”—who were challenging Paul’s authority as an apostle, and the gospel that Paul preached. They insisted that Jesus was good, but wasn’t enough—that you also needed to keep the Jewish law to be saved.

For Paul, the gospel is Jesus plus nothing. For his opponents, it was Jesus plus obeying the Jewish law, including circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and eating kosher food.

For Paul, the gospel is salvation by God’s grace through faith. For his opponents, it was salvation by your own effort, by keeping the Jewish law.

For Paul the gospel is DONE, not DO: it was about what God has done for us in Christ, not what we do for Him. For his opponents the gospel was DO: it was about what we do to be saved.

So this letter is about the conflict between DO vs. DONE, between religion, which is man’s attempt to be saved by his own effort, and the gospel, which is the good news of God saving us. The gospel is that we are saved by God’s grace through faith.

Martin Luther wrote: ‘This is the truth of the gospel. It is…most necessary, therefore, that we should know this well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

I love Martin Luther! And I’m going to beat this into your heads! So our Big Idea is the same as last week:

The Big Idea: The gospel is the good news of what God has done for us in Christ, not what we do for Him. We are saved by His grace through faith.

Last week in chapter 1, we saw that Paul was astonished that they were deserting God and the gospel. He insisted there is only one gospel—the one he gave them—and that he received it directly from Jesus. He didn’t make it up himself, and he didn’t get the gospel second-hand from the other apostles—he received it by revelation from Jesus. This is the divine gospel—it’s God’s message about what God has done to save us.

In chapter 2, we’ll read two interesting stories. In the first, Paul and Peter and the other apostles all agree and shake hands—they endorse Paul’s gospel. He wants the Galatians to know that Paul’s gospel is the same as Peter’s gospel. In the second story, Paul and Peter go head-to-head when Peter caves in to these false teachers. Paul fights to preserve the gospel. Here’s the first story.

Offering and Leadership Summit story here.


  1. Endorsing the gospel. 1-10

Paul received the gospel directly from Jesus, but that doesn’t mean it was a different gospel than what the other apostles taught. Some of the circumcision party were saying that Paul and Peter preached different gospels—that Peter and the other apostles expected the Gentile Christians to keep the law. Paul tells a story that clearly refutes that claim.

Galatians 2:1–10

1 Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4 This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Many scholars believe that this trip to Jerusalem is recorded in Acts 11:27-30. There, the prophet Agabus predicts a famine. This prophecy could be the “revelation” that prompted Paul to go to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas take an offering from the Gentile church in Antioch to the Jerusalem church that was suffering from famine. Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem for two purposes. First, they came to bring the offering. Second, Paul wants to confront this issue about the gospel—is it DO or DONE?—so he takes Titus, a Greek with them. This was a test case. How would the apostles in Jerusalem react to Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile Christian, and to Paul’s gospel of Jesus plus nothing?

Paul met privately with the leaders—Peter, James and John—and “presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles.” He wanted to be sure that he was not running his race in vain. Does this mean that Paul was suddenly uncertain about the gospel he’s been preaching for 14 years? No. Paul never wavered. Paul wasn’t looking for their endorsement to shore up his own faltering convictions; his purpose was to overthrow the influence of the circumcision party. They wanted to pit Paul and Peter against each other; Paul wanted to put a quick end to that. Paul knew what was at stake. If they could convince the Galatians to believe a different gospel, the churches would be destroyed and the people lost. He didn’t want his hard work among them to be in vain, so he went to the apostles to settle the issue once and for all.

What was the result? Titus was not compelled to be circumcised. In other words, the apostles in Jerusalem agreed with Paul: Jesus is enough. It’s not Jesus plus keeping the law; it’s Jesus plus nothing.

By bringing Titus, Paul forced the issue.

4 This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

These false brothers insisted Titus be circumcised; the other apostles said no. Notice that they were “spying on the freedom we have in Christ.” What is this freedom? Paul will say later that it is freedom from the law. But don’t misunderstand that. This doesn’t mean that we have no moral or legal obligations—that we can ignore God’s law and do whatever we want. It means we are free from the burden of trying to keep the law in order to be saved—something none of us can do.

There are three ideas in play here: legalism, antinomianism and freedom. The circumcision party was guilty of legalism: trying to earn their way to God by keeping the Jewish law. They accused Paul of the opposite, of antinomianism, which is rejecting the law and living without restraint. Paul rejects both those extremes and says that Christians live in freedom.

Someone defined freedom this way: Freedom is not just the right to do what you want, but the power to do what you ought. In Jesus, we receive the power to do God’s will, to do good, to live a new and better life.

Romans 8:1–4 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The law was powerless to make us righteous—we just weren’t good enough on our own. But Jesus set us free from the law of sin and death, and now the righteous requirements of the law are fulfilled in us who live in the Spirit. In other words, Jesus makes us righteous. The law couldn’t; Jesus can.

This is the freedom we have in Christ—it’s freedom from having to try on our own, and it’s freedom to do right because of Christ’s power in us. Grace not only forgives us; grace empowers us!

ILL: Let me illustrate it in a very simple way. Years ago, we developed a leak in the water main into our house. It turned out the leak was just barely on our property, so we had to fix it. My friend, Rick, came over one hot evening and with shovels and pick axes, we went to work. After an hour, we had removed the sod in 6’X6’ area and had dug down about 6 inches, where we hit rock. The water main was several feet down. We worked another hour with no discernible progress. That’s when I made one of the best decisions of my life! We parked our shovels and picks, got a cold lemonade, and called a backhoe. The next morning, the backhoe dug out that hole in minutes, while we watched and enjoyed more lemonade! It was the best $80 I ever spent.

Rick and I working with shovels—that’s like us trying to keep the law on our own. It’s awful; it’s miserable; we just weren’t strong enough. Jesus is like the backhoe. When it showed up, we were set free from digging, and the backhoe had the power to do the good we couldn’t do.

This is the freedom we have in Christ—it’s freedom from having to try on our own, and it’s freedom to do right because of Christ’s power in us.

Paul goes on to finish the story of this trip to Jerusalem.

6 As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. 8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

Paul went to Jerusalem to show everyone that he and Peter were on the same page, preaching the same gospel. And that’s what happened. “They added nothing to my message.” Paul’s message was Jesus plus nothing—and they added nothing to it. They endorsed Paul’s message as the same as their own. The only difference was the audience: Paul was called to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and Peter was called to preach the gospel to the Jews. Peter, James and John gave Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship”. The New English Bible translates it, they ”accepted Barnabas and myself as partners, and shook hands upon it.” The only division between Paul and Jerusalem apostles was a division of labor—they were preaching the same gospel. And the only thing they asked of him was that he remember the poor—the very thing he was doing by bringing the offering to Jerusalem.

So the circumcision party claimed that Paul’s gospel was different from Peter’s, and Paul tells this story to refute that idea. There is one gospel. There’s not Paul’s gospel and Peter’s gospel—there’s just one gospel. It’s the gospel of Jesus. Paul and Peter are both preaching the same gospel.

In this first story, Paul and Peter are shaking hands; in the next story, they go toe to toe!


  1. Defending the gospel. 11-21

Galatians 2:11–21

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Peter came to Antioch, which was Paul’s home church, and was mostly Gentile. (The story of the founding of the church in Antioch is told in Acts 11.) In those days, observant Jews would not do business with a Gentile, wouldn’t travel with a Gentile, and wouldn’t offer or accept hospitality from a Gentile. No fraternization allowed! But when Peter arrived in Antioch, he openly ate with these Gentiles, showing that he had dropped his Jewish scruples and accepted these Gentile Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ.

But when some men from Jerusalem arrived—men from the circumcision group—Peter withdrew and separated himself from the Gentiles. No more fraternization! Party over! Several others were swept up in this hypocrisy, including Barnabas, Paul’s right hand man in the ministry to the Gentiles!

This reminds me that people are watching, and every decision you make affects others. Peter’s hypocrisy sucked in others after him. What you do, for good or evil, affects not just you, but many others around you.

ILL: A mom invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?” “I don’t know what to say,” the girl replied. “Just say what you hear Mommy say,” the mom answered. The little girl bowed her head and said, “Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

People are watching, and everything you do affects others.

Here’s the thing: Peter knew better. Who was the first person to ever preach the gospel to a Gentile? Peter. It happened in Acts 10, when God spoke to Peter in a vision. Around noon, while lunch was being prepared, a hungry Peter saw a vision of a sheet lowered from heaven and filled with unclean animals that the Jews were forbidden to eat. (I often have visions of food around mealtimes.) A voice said, “Get up Peter, kill and eat!” And Peter said, “No way! I’m a good Jew; I’ve never eaten anything unclean.” Then the voice said, “Don’t call impure what God has made clean.” This vision is repeated three times. And then the doorbell rings. A Gentile soldier named Cornelius has had a vision and has sent men to fetch Peter to hear what he had to say. The Spirit tells Peter to go with them, and when he gets to Cornelius’ house, he tells Corny:

Acts 10:28–29 “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”

Peter shares the gospel, and everyone in the house believes and receives the Holy Spirit and is baptized! It was a good day! But trouble was brewing.

Acts 11:1–3 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Peter told them the whole story, and

Acts 11:18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

“God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” Peter knew better.

So why did Peter cave in? Fear. “Because he (Peter) was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.” (12) Have you ever caved in because of fear and done the wrong thing?

ILL: Once I took a couple of my grade school age kids backpacking into an alpine lake. A couple days after we got back, a respected friend of mine asked how the fishing was. “Not great. We only caught one fish, but we had fun.”

“Did you eat it?” he asked. “Nothing better than mountain lake trout!”

“Oh yeah!” I said.

But we hadn’t eaten it. When dinnertime came, none of the kids wanted it and I’m a vegan—just kidding. We planned on eating it when we caught it, but we didn’t. And I lied about it to my friend. Why did I lie? Fear. Knee jerk response. I was afraid of what he’d think about me.

I was so convicted that I called him later and told him I lied and why. He was kind enough to forgive me…and has never spoken to me since. Just kidding again. I seem to have a problem telling the truth!

Ok, that’s a pretty minor example. Fear of what others think can keep us from doing the right thing—big or small. It did for Peter. And Paul called him on it: he “opposed him to his face.”

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

Paul goes toe to toe with Peter “in front of them all.” Why? Because this wasn’t just about social graces—this was about the gospel. Peter was caving in to the circumcision group, forcing Gentiles to follow Jewish customs in order to be accepted as Christians. And it was crazy because not even Peter was following those customs now! Peter was not acting in line with “the truth of the gospel.” What was at stake was the gospel. Is it going to be DO or DONE? Grace or works? Is it going to be open to everyone, or just those who follow the Jewish law and customs? This is why Paul lights into Peter in front of them all. Paul launches into a clear explanation of justification by faith.

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

First, notice the “we”. Paul is Jewish and so is Peter, so he includes Peter in the we: we are Jews, and we “know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Peter knew this as well as Paul. They had agreed about all this in Jerusalem.   So again, Paul is making sure everyone knows that there isn’t Paul’s gospel and Peter’s gospel—there is only one gospel, and Peter knows it the same as Paul. We are justified by faith in Christ, and not the works of the law.

What does this mean? The word “justified” is a legal term; it comes from the courtroom. It is the opposite of “condemnation.” To condemn is to declare someone guilty; to justify is to declare someone not guilty, innocent, or righteous. God, in an act of sheer grace, justifies us, declaring us not guilty, but righteous and acceptable in Christ.

There are two basic things we can know for sure: God is righteous and we are not. So how can sinful people ever have relationship with a holy and righteous God? There are two answers.

First, we can be justified by works of the law. That is, we can earn our “not guilty” sentence by keeping every rule, and never breaking one. Keep the Ten Commandments, and all the other rules, and you’ll make the grade, and God will accept you as righteous. In other words, just be perfect! This is DO—and this was the position of the circumcision party. And it’s the fundamental principle of every religion and moral system in the world—except the Christian gospel. And it’s flattering because it supposes that we’re really not that bad, and with a little effort we can all earn our way to heaven. But Paul says it’s a delusion, “because by works of the law no one will be justified.” We’re just not good enough.

Second, we can be justified by faith in Christ. Jesus lived the perfect life that I could not, and then He died in my place, taking the penalty for my disobedience. In other words, He did for me what I could never do for myself. He was perfect—I can’t be. He paid my penalty—if I do, I’m dead and lost forever. So to be justified, I simply admit that I can’t do it, but He did. I acknowledge my own sin and helplessness; I give up my self-righteousness; and I humbly trust Jesus to save me. This trust is not just a mental exercise; it is a relationship of complete dependence.

ILL: Last fall, I got to spend 3 days with my brother-in-law, Jared, riding Harleys in Arizona. We rode to the Grand Canyon—I hadn’t been there since I was 19. I was awestruck! The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and is a mile deep! These pictures don’t do it justice.

Let’s imagine that we’re on the south side of the Grand Canyon, and we see God on the other side. We want to get to God, and we think that it’s up to us—we’ve got to do it. So we start running and jumping. What’s the world’s long jump record? Somewhere around 30 feet. The best people in the world aren’t going to get close. We’re just not good enough to jump that far.

Then to our surprise, we see down the canyon a bridge—a bridge that God built from His side to ours. God made a way. So how do you get to God?   On the Bridge. Y’all know where I’m going with this. Jesus is the Bridge. Here’s the choice: jump or Jesus? Do or done?

But it’s one of those swinging suspension bridges. Have you ever been on one of those? The whole time you’re thinking, “I hope this thing holds, or I’m dead.” You’re trusting that bridge to hold you up and get you across.

Nobody is going to be justified by the works of the law—you just can’t jump that far; you’re not that good. That’s DO—and no one gets to God by DO. Instead, you simply trust what God has DONE—you get on the bridge; Jesus is that bridge and you put your trust completely in Him.

Paul goes on:

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

These are difficult verses, but I think what Paul is addressing is the charge that justification by faith promotes sin—living without moral restraints. If we’re saved by grace, it doesn’t matter what we do. Or as some claimed, “Let’s sin more so grace will increase.” See Romans 6. Does Jesus promote sin? Of course not! Living in the grace of God means I have a new power, a new freedom to do the right thing—not to get saved, but because I already am.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Verse 20 is the first verse I ever memorized.

Paul finishes strong. He says that we have died to the Law so that we can live for God. We died with Jesus, and now live a new life by faith in the Son of God. Jesus is living in me now, so I live with new purpose and power. Christ lives in me! Say that with me: Christ lives in me. I live by faith in Jesus who lives in me.

“If righteousness could be gained through the Law, Christ died for nothing.” Let me say it another way. If we were good enough to jump across on our own, then we don’t need the bridge. Jesus lived and died for nothing. But we aren’t good enough, and He didn’t die for nothing. He died for you and me to bring us to God and to live in us.