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To the Churches of Galatia

If the preaching of the gospel opens a door of faith, then nothing slams that door shut like the preaching of a false gospel. In the opening verses of Acts 15, we see that soon after the end of the first missionary journey, a false gospel is proclaimed that presented circumcision, and all that it entailed, as the only way to salvation.

Since this is not in fact the true gospel, but contrary to it, Paul and Barnabas dive into the discussion and absolutely refuse to compromise the message they had been preaching, that a door of faith, and not a door of works, had been opened to the Gentiles. The discussion became heated and intense, and was not limited to the church in Antioch, but spread throughout the whole Christian community. You could find this false teaching in Judea, in Jerusalem, in Antioch, and it even spread to the newly evangelized churches of Phrygia, or as we have come to know the region, Galatia.

The heart of Acts 15 is the meeting of apostles and elders known as the Jerusalem Council, where this debate was discussed and settled by the Church. But before we look at the theological debate over this issue at the Jerusalem Council, I want us to take a detour with Paul, and see how he responded to this dangerous false teaching at the local church level. And for that, we will look to the book of Galatians, written at this point in time, shortly before the Jerusalem Council. In Galatians, we see Paul the shepherd, defending the sheep from dangerous wolves. We see Paul the father, rebuking and caring for his spiritual children. We see Paul the apostle, defending with every fiber of his being the message which had been entrusted to him by Jesus Christ.

The central message of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is that we are not justified by keeping the law. We are made righteous before God only through faith in Jesus Christ. Today, you are not tempted to think that circumcision is the way to God, but the reason you don’t think that is because of the book of Galatians, and because of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. But although the exact error condemned here is not one that you are tempted by, it has many imitations, many cousins that seek to distract you from the reality of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. There is no shortage of ideas that attempt to enslave your heart and mind, pulling you away to a different gospel.

Every teaching that says that God loves you because of Jesus and something else is a distortion of the gospel, whether it comes from a teacher, a book, or even your own heart. It is not what you do that makes you acceptable to God. It is what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. God loves you not because you do good things, but because Christ died for your sins. Every voice that tells you that Jesus is a good start, but more is needed before God will accept you must be silenced. He only wants to put a chain of slavery around your neck, to undo the work of Christ, to roll back the clock of redemption. But Jesus has come to set you free.

You are not slave-children, you are free sons of God. You are not flesh-walkers, you are Spirit-walkers. You are not servants, you are heirs of the promise. You are not Moses’ children, you are Abraham’s offspring. You are not under the curse, you are receiving the blessing. You are not under a yoke of slavery; for freedom Christ has set you free. God is not your Master, He is your Abba, Father. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything. You are not a part of that old world. You are a part of the new creation.

Stand fast in freedom. Hold fast to the gospel. Walk by the Spirit. Do not grow weary in doing good. Embrace Abraham’s promise. Boast only in the cross. Come to God through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Posted on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 by CJ Bowen