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Galatians 2:1-10 by Robert Dean
Series:Galatians (1998)
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 15 secs

Grace Excludes All Works; Gal. 2:1-10


As we get further into Galatians what we discover is that Paul has to deal with two aspects of legalism. There are really two categories to legalism: a) soteriological legalism (to do with the doctrines of salvation); b) sanctification legalism, legalism related to living the spiritual life and growing to spiritual maturity. Soteriological legalism is faith-plus something in order to be saved; sanctification legalism is faith plus something in order to grow or mature in the spiritual life.


An example of soteriological legalism is believe and repent. What is wrong with that? If we understand "repent" correctly it is not a problem, but of we look the word up in an English dictionary it has the idea of repentance meaning feeling sorry for, or remorse. That is not correct. The Greek word is metanoeo [metanoew] which means to change your mind, change your attitude about something, change your thinking about something, to think differently about. Another example of soteriological legalism is "believe and confess your sins," or "believe and confess your faith," as in Romans 10:9, 10. That passage is not dealing with salvation as justification. Remember, there are three phases to salvation. At phase one we are justified, and at this time we are saved from the penalty of sin, eternal condemnation in the lake of fire. Phase two salvation, i.e. Christian life salvation, which is to be saved from the power of sin. We still have a sin nature and we have to go through the process of renewing our minds with Bible doctrine. We have a growth process that has various ups and downs as we grow towards spiritual maturity. That is being saved from the power of sin. We still have a sin nature and we have to learn to live under the filling of the Holy Spirit, not under the control of the sin nature, so that we can grow toward spiritual maturity. One illustration is Abraham. Abraham was already saved—justification, phase one—in terms of the illustration used in James chapter two. What cases people to get confused here is that they think that every time the Bible talks about salvation it is talking about phase one salvation. But many times when the Bible uses the word "salvation" it is talking about phase two salvation. In fact, in the Old Testament only seven per cent of the time when it refers to salvation is it talking about phase one salvation. The remainder of the time it is talking about either physical deliverance from external enemies or it is talking about the spiritual life. Phase three salvation of glorification when  we are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord and we are freed or saved from the presence of sin; we no longer have a sin nature in our resurrected bodies. It is very important when we come to these passages to distinguish what kind of salvation is in view.


Another example of soteriological legalism is "believe and surrender your life," the old Keswick view or holiness doctrine. Believe and be baptised is very common but nowhere in the Scripture is baptism made a condition for salvation. Believe and keep the Mosaic Law is another. Believe and join the church, believe and make Jesus Lord, etc. These have nothing to do with salvation. In fact, if belief for salvation includes anything other than faith alone in Christ alone then a person would not be saved by reading the Gospel of John. John 20:31. If adding something to faith is necessary for salvation then we wouldn't find it anywhere in the Gospel of John. Faith is the absence of works; faith is non-meritorious in itself. There is only one kind of faith. The object of our faith is Jesus Christ and all the merit lies in Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for every single sin in human history on the cross. It is not the faith that secures salvation, it is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross that secures salvation for we are saved through faith; it is merely the means by which we appropriate the work of Jesus Christ.


Sanctification legalism adds works to the spiritual life. It often confuses morality with spirituality; that somehow adherence to some code of ethics or some code of conduct is what gives us approval from God and then we receive blessing from God, spiritual growth. That is just the opposite of what Scripture teaches. What Scripture teaches is that in order to grow spiritually we have to first of all learn doctrine. It becomes epignosis [e)pignwsij] doctrine and as a result of that we apply it into our lives and spiritual growth takes place. As a result of spiritual growth a number of other things happen. There is production, the use of our spiritual gift[s], prayer, giving, witnessing; all of these are products of our spiritual growth, they are not causes of our spiritual growth. That is where legalism creeps in. Production is not what causes spiritual growth; spiritual growth causes production. What causes spiritual growth is what goes on in the mind. Renew your mind, put doctrine into your mind, and then you begin to grow as you apply that in every area of your life. The consequence of that is the production, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, operation spiritual gifts, and we fulfil our roles as priests and ambassadors. That is a consequence of our spiritual growth. 


Morality is for everyone. Morality is a system of ethics—right and wrong—based on the establishment codes of the Old Testament, and it is for believers and unbelievers. But remember, anything that an unbeliever can do is not part of the spiritual life. The spiritual life is the unique life of the believer, his rapport with God the Father, based on the filling of the Holy Spirit and walking by means of the Holy Spirit. So it is a life that is produced by the Holy Spirit in us. We can imitate it through the sin nature. The sin nature has an area of strength which produces human good, and so often this morality is confused and thought of as spirituality. This is the problem that Paul is running into in Galatia.


All the people in Jerusalem had peace after Paul left. Then Paul disappears from history for fourteen years. Galatians 2:1 NASB "Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also." Remember there are no chapter or verses divisions in the original New Testament. The focus of the precise chronology that Paul gives in the epistle is the fact that he had very little contact with the apostles in Jerusalem. He is establishing the principle that his authority derives directly from what occurred on the Damascus road and God's personal revelation to him.


Acts 11:19 takes place at a critical time in the early church, so we need to have a little background. In Acts 10 Peter has a vision from God related to inclusion of the Gentiles into the church; that there would not be any different distinction between Jew and Gentile. Up to that point most of the church was Jewish and they were still observing all of the feasts and rituals associated with Judaism, and their call was that if a Gentile is going to be saved he needed to come over and participate in all the Jewish rites and rituals and become a proselyte to Judaism. In fact, Peter is still following the Mosaic Law. This is important to understand the background to what we are going to cover in Galatians chapter two because the whole issue in that chapter, both with regard to salvation and to the spiritual life, has to do with the role of the Mosaic Law in terms of being a believer.


Acts 11:19 NASB "So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone." These are key cities. They were speaking to Jews alone. They just don't get the point, they still think the gospel is Jewish oriented. [20] "But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and {began} speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. [21] And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord." "Who believed" indicates that they were probably Old Testament saints. [22] "The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch." Barnabas was the nickname for a man whose real name was Joseph. Barnabas means in Aramaic "son of encouragement," and it tells us something about his character. [23] "Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and {began} to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain {true} to the Lord; [24] for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. [25] And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul"—he had to do something about it.


So what is happening here in terms of background is that Barnabas is sent up to Antioch.


  1. Barnabas was Jewish but he was a Hellenised Jew, a native of Cypress, a Levite in terms of his tribe, and he was fairly wealthy.
  2. We know that he possessed a certain amount of land and he disposed of that land for the benefit of the Christian community—Acts 4:36, 37. So there we learn something about his character. He has matured in the Lord, he is generous, very kind, and grace oriented.
  3. When Paul first showed up in Jerusalem after his three years in Damascus with this horrible reputation as a persecutor of the church the only person who initially would go to Paul was Baranabas. Acts 9:27.
  4. When word came to Jerusalem of the establishment of the church at Antioch it was Barnabas who was sent up there to evaluate the situation, and he began to minister there.
  5. Barnabas then needed help so he went to Tarsus to find Paul who would return with him and work at the church at Antioch for one year. We also learn that it was at Antioch where believers were first called Christians.


About this time a prophet, one Agabus, comes up to Antioch from Jerusalem and prophesies that there is going to be a major famine in Jerusalem. We know from secular history that this is during the reign of Claudius. There were a number of famines throughout the Middle East at this time and some very serious ones that affected Israel. We think that all of this was a warning of God's impending judgment in 70 AD. The believers in Antioch take up a collection in order to provide food and help to the poor in Jerusalem who are suffering during the famine, and they choose two men to carry that sustenance back to Jerusalem: Barnabas and Paul. Acts 11:30.


This is the second time Paul goes to Jerusalem in Acts. So this famine visit must be the visit that Paul talks about in Galatians chapter two. The reason this is important is because of the flow of events that we learn about in Acts. First Peter has the vision related to the Mosaic Law; he comes back and reports to the Jerusalem church and they accept it, but they still don't quite get the point and are still focusing primarily on Jews and taking the gospel to Jews. They are not really reaching out to the Gentiles. The Gentiles are doing this and carrying on that ministry, and as a result of all this the issue about the relationship of Gentiles to the Mosaic Law is going to intensify. It finally comes to a boiling point and there is a major conference in Jerusalem that is described in Acts 15 which is called the Jerusalem council. In terms of understanding Galatians two the issue is when Paul goes down to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus, is this the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 or is it the famine visit? It is most likely the famine visit for a number of reasons but essentially because the Jerusalem council is going to solidify the whole issue. They come to a firm decision that it is no longer necessary in the church age to put any kind of restrictions on Gentiles in relationship to salvation or the spiritual life. But in Galatians chapter two Peter and James and everybody are still very confused about the whole issue of salvation and the Mosaic Law and how that relates to Gentiles. We must conclude, then, that when Paul says he is going down to Jerusalem after fourteen years that this must be the famine visit.


He takes Titus along and Titus is a Greek, he has not been circumcised. That means he is going to be used as a test case with the apostles in Jerusalem in order to evaluate Paul's gospel and what he has been teaching. If everybody gets upset at Titus because he hasn't been circumcised then there would be major problems and a major theological division. Paul wants to deal with this in private first to make sure there are no problems. Not only was he going down to Jerusalem because of the prophecy of Agabus related to the famine but also because God had given him a personal revelation related to his need to go down there and start working through this legalistic problem with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.


Galatians 2:2 NASB "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." The word "submitted" is an aorist tense which indicates past action, and then he says "the gospel which I preach" which is a present active indicative indicating it is the gospel which he is still preaching. There has been no change. He did it in private. There is a place for public confrontation and there is a place for private confrontation. He wants to go and sit down with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem to make sure there is no difference between what he is teaching and what they are teaching. He deals with them in private; "for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain." Paul is not saying that he might have made a mistake. What he means by running in vain is basically that if he doesn't have support from Jerusalem and there is a division among Christianity then it is just going to be a real mess and disruption. The theological controversy that would come out of it had the potential to destroy all the work that had been accomplished so far. That would be running in vain.


Then he tells us about the test case. Galatians 2:3 NASB "But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised." What is the point? The point is that here we have Titus with us, and if the gospel was faith plus the Mosaic Law, faith plus circumcision, then when we went down to Jerusalem and had this conference with the apostles there and talked about the essence of the gospel they would have compelled Titus to be circumcised. But he wasn't. Titus was a believer; circumcision is irrelevant to salvation.


Then we have a contrast. Galatians 2:4 NASB "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." Remember that as believers we still have a sin nature. The sin nature is what enslaves us in terms of personal sins from our area of weakness. The sin nature also enslaves us with regard to morality and human good from our area of strength. The sin nature is motivated by lust patterns, approbation lust, power lust, money lust, revenge lust, sexual lust, social lust, chemical lust, inordinate ambition and inordinate competition. These are all lusts that we have which drive us in one of two directions: a) asceticism or legalism; b) licentiousness or lasciviousness. When we let our sin nature control us we are always going to move in one of these directions, and as long as the sin nature controls us we are in bondage. But the Scripture teaches us that we have freedom. Galatians 5:1 NASB "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." We are free from the power of the sin nature. That is our liberty; it is based on grace, all of the grace provisions which God has given us which we neither earned nor deserved. It is not based on some kind of legalism. Legalism means that God blesses us on the basis of what we do. Paul is saying that this is the message of the false brethren. The only place where we have true freedom is with regard to our spiritual life.


Legalism, then, is to take us right back into bondage—slavery to some human system of good works, morality or some sort of conduct. Paul contrasts this in Galatians 2:5 NASB "But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you." This is an idiom similar to one which we would use: We didn't pay attention to them for even one minute. The point here is Paul's devotion and adherence to the gospel in the face of false brethren. So the situation in Jerusalem is that there are false brethren who have already gotten into the church there. Paul is very clear; he understands the issue that in the church age there is no distinction between Jew and Greek. It is not an issue.


Galatians 2:6 NASB "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."  He is not being sarcastic here. He has a good working relationship with Peter, James and John at this point; he is not ridiculing them. He is saying they do have a high reputation; these are the leaders of the church. His position is that his apostleship came directly from Jesus Christ; it is on the same level as Peter, James and John. That means he is not going to show them any deference, they were wrong and he is going to tell them. "Those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me" means they didn't change the gospel. Paul came to them with what he had been proclaiming (v. 2).  


Galatians 2:7 NASB "But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter {had been} to the circumcised." The uncircumcised are the Gentiles. [8] "(for He who effectually worked for Peter in {his} apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles)." Something we learn from a study of Acts is that Peter is the apostle to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles. Up to Acts chapter eleven the emphasis is on Peter and to the Jews. Starting from near the end of chapter eleven through the end of Acts the emphasis is on Paul's ministry to the Gentiles.


One of the most important things to note when studying Acts is that it is a transitional book. At the very beginning there is no church, there is nobody indwelt by the Holy Spirit, there is nobody with any spiritual gift. There are only about eleven plus about 150 others in Jerusalem, everybody else rain away after Jesus was attacked. There are a few other believers in Israel but they are all thinking they are still under the Mosaic Law and Peter is the leader. By the time of the end of Acts there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of believers throughout the Roman empire, and Paul is the main figure.


Galatians 2:9 NASB "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." Christian fellowship in the Bible is centred around the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It has a spiritual dimension to it that goes beyond social interaction. Notice the context here. Their fellowship was centred around doctrine. The whole content was doctrine. They had been talking about doctrine and it is fellowship based upon a unity of doctrine. Today people go out and try to unify but it is at the expense of doctrine. That is not what the Scriptures say. In Philippians the issue is the unity of the faith—doctrine.


People come along and say: "Well you guys are just emphasising doctrine and that splits people." Yes, it is supposed to. That is what the New Testament teaches. The truth will always divide and separate. The issue is: Stick with the truth. Unity is always based on the truth of Scripture and not at the expense of the truth of Scripture. Now that Paul and the other apostles are unified on the gospel they have true biblical fellowship.


Galatians 2:10 NASB "{They} only {asked} us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do." What Paul has established in these ten verses is that in his second journey to Jerusalem he took with him a test case—Titus, a gentile who was uncircumcised. This is illustrative of everybody who wants to add something to faith at salvation—faith plus.