Welcome back! It’s only been a few days but here we are at chapter 2. This chapter really picks up on Paul defending his apostleship. It is interesting where the Bible breaks up sections for chapters as really these two parts have to be addressed in relation to each other. Without further delay let’s start on chapter 2.
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2 I went up according to a revelation and presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles—but privately to those recognized as leaders—so that I might not be running, or have run the race, in vain. 3 But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 This issue arose because of false brothers smuggled in, who came in secretly to spy on the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us. 5 But we did not give up and submit to these people for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would be preserved for you.
Paul had visited the Apostles in Jerusalem at the end of the last chapter. After that visit he continued to minister and went on his first missions trip with Barnabas and after that returned to tell them the gospel as he presented it. While there he was hit with the issue of circumcision as Titus was confronted about not being circumcised. Paul points out that those that raised the issue were false believers that desired to stop the freedom gentiles had in Christ. Satan was able to use the sense of identity the Jews had placed in circumcision to cause problems in the church. Paul makes a point of not giving in to these people for even an hour as he would not compromise the truth of the gospel.
6 Now from those recognized as important (what they really were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism)—they added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised, 8 since the One at work in Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised was also at work in me for the Gentiles. 9 When James, Cephas, and John, recognized as pillars, acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I made every effort to do.
Continuing with his defense Paul points out that the elders and apostles in Jerusalem did not add anything to the gospel he presented. In fact, they recognized God’s hand on Paul to minister to the gentiles just as they had been called to the Jews. The only thing they asked was to remember the poor, words that echo Jesus’ own when he declared that true ministry was taking care of widows and orphans. On a side note go back to verse 6 and notice what Paul says about leaders in the church. There are those that humanly we place more value or importance on. They are pastors and leaders like John Piper, Chris Tomlin, or Francis Chan. Paul points out thought that they are not viewed with any favoritism by God. God loves all believers the same. Paul would address something similar in 1 Corinthians when he talked about division over those who followed Apollos and those that followed him, stating that glory needs only go to God. Likewise, Jesus talked about how those that are the highest on earth will be the lowest in heaven. We are all God’s children and God does not show favoritism.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. 12 For he 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. 13 Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas in front of everyone, “If you, who are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Here Paul shows that there truly is no favoritism, but also the need and benefit of correcting believers. Peter had been eating with those who were not circumcised, but when others came who believed that the gentiles needed to be circumcised Peter stopped eating with them. Seeing Peter, the respected and honored apostle, leave the table, the other Jews did as well, to the point that even Barnabas joined them. Paul did not hesitate to confront this unrighteous behavior and directly addressed Peter in front of the believers about it. He makes a point that the Jews were too quick to forget. They could not live up to the law and its demands, but here they were demanding the gentiles be held to a standard they knew they could not meet.
15 We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners” 16 know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified. 17 But if we ourselves are also found to be “sinners” while seeking to be justified by Christ, is Christ then a promoter of sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild the system I tore down, I show myself to be a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I have died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ 20 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 comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Finally, having reached the end of his defense, Paul starts explaining more of why the law is no required. The Jews knew that no one could keep the entire law without messing up. That is why so many rejoiced over Jesus’ coming as He had come to do what no one could. They knew that Jesus had fulfilled the law for them and that no act of obedience through the law would have been able to do that. As if Paul knew someone would take this point to a dangerous extreme he makes sure to clarify. Jesus is the only thing that saves us, but if we recognize we are sinners as we are seeking Jesus to justify us, does that mean he promotes sin? Paul answers simply, no. By trying to live up to law after having grace we show that we are still sinners. It is not Jesus that makes us sinners, but ourselves. Through Christ we die to the law and now it is not us, but God that lives in us. What does that mean? Christ died to pay the penalty on the law and when we come to God our flesh is put to death and Christ takes its place. God no longer sees our sin, but Christ’s righteousness. At the same time, Christ dwells in us and changes our desires and heart to match His, and in that sense, it is no longer us that live out through our flesh (as in we no longer seek to only do our will and desire) but Christ who lives through our bodies (in that He changes our desires and gives us the desire to do His will). That is what is meant by living in faith in the Son of God. Paul finishes his thought by pointing out the biggest problem of righteousness based salvation, that if we can save ourselves then Jesus died for no reason. We cannot set aside the grace of God.
BONUS: Grace vs Works
If you have read Romans or James you likely have had to process through this argument, but I wanted to put a note here for clarity. In James and a few other places the Bible talks about faith being useless without works. In others, like Galatians and Romans, it says works are useless without faith. On the surface, it seems like a contradiction, but it is not. Let me explain, and take a quick breath as I try not to over complicate this. Paul is making a specific point. He is saying that being good (or obeying the law) is not enough to save us. That is most certainly true. We must have faith in Jesus or all the good works we do are nothing but filthy rages. On the flipside, we have James. James points out that if you say you have faith but do not do works your faith is useless. Now hear this part as it is essential, James is not saying works are what bring salvation. What he is saying is that if you truly have faith in Jesus then it should change your life and that change is evident in the works we do for Jesus as He commanded us to. Can you really say you believe if you do not take action? Let’s say someone tells you your house will collapse. And let’s say you believe him. However, you do nothing about it and finally your house collapses. Would you really say you believed? James points out that even demons know Jesus is real and they shutter and are not saved. If you truly believe in Jesus and have truly repented of your sin, then your actions will show it. On the off chance you try to dismiss this as just James, look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’
Salvation comes through faith, but without obedience and works to Jesus faith will die. As John says in 1 John 5:2-3 This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. 3 For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden. Do not let anyone deceive you, faith is what leads to salvation, but without obedience faith will die. Be vigilant and seek to do God’s will to prove that Christ is truly alive within you instead of your flesh.
So What Do I Do With This Now?
All the information is great, but what do I do with it now?
1 Never compromise the truth of the gospel, not even if leaders in the church pressure you to do so. The gospel must not be compromised and if your leaders are asking you to compromise it then you likely need to leave that church.
2 Remember that although some leaders may get a lot of attention and respect God does not show favoritism and neither should we.
3 Remember the poor. Give money to help those in need and when you see someone asking for money, food, or water you need to go up to them and provide what you can. This is a simple truth but very hard to put into practice, keep trying and don’t become discouraged.
4 When people undermine the truth and teaching of the Bible you must not be afraid to tell them that they are wrong.
5 Remember if we love Jesus we will obey His commands. Continue to read and study the bible and when a command comes up do your best to apply it each day.
Well I know that was dense and difficult, but I’m glad you stuck it out. These passages are very important, as is the whole Bible. We need to take them seriously and apply them to our lives. God bless all! And keep up the good work.