Acts 13:1-15:35; Galatians
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Paul begins his first missionary journey through Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and writes his letter to the Galatians, and we close with the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).
A. Acts 13-14: Paul’s First Missionary Journey
2. Introduction: Curse rather than Blessing (Gal. 1:1-10)
3. Paul's Apostleship (Gal. 1:11-2:14)
4. Triumph of Grace over Law (Gal. 2:15-4:7)
5. Freedom in Christ (Gal. 5:1-6:10)
C. Acts 15: Jerusalem Council
Lecture: Acts 13:1-15:35; Galatians
Acts 13-14: Paul’s First Missionary Journey
We’re going to pick up the story in the Book of Acts, chapter 13, where Paul is getting ready to start his first of three missionary journeys. The first missionary journey is Antioch. Antioch is up the coast in modern day Lebanon. In his first missionary journey, Paul will go to the southernmost point of modern day Turkey, called ancient Pamphylia. He’s going to take a boat to Cyprus, which is the island west of Israel, and then he’s going to go on up and land at Pamphylia, and then go about a third of the way north into modern day Turkey, which is called Asia Minor. He does a loop through a series of cities and then he’s going to loop back counter clockwise and sail back to Antioch, his hometown. That’s the journey he takes on his first missionary journey.
Commission of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1-3)
The story starts in Acts 13 with the commissioning of Paul’s and Barnabas’s missionary trip. The church in Antioch was formed when Stephen was persecuted in Acts 7. When he was killed, the church was persecuted and everyone fled. Some of those people fled to Antioch and started the church in Antioch. Once again you see God’s control over what appears to be a bad situation turning into a very good situation. This church in Antioch is non-Jewish; it is totally Gentile.
Let’s read just the beginning of Act 13, starting with verse 1: "Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers," and then he names a few of them, "Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch," (in other words, he was a high political person) "and Saul (1). While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them (2).’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off (3).” This was an ancient day commissioning service. They would have gathered around them like we do in church sometimes and put their hands on them and pronounced God’s blessing on them to send them off. In the timeline somewhere around 48 and 49 AD is about where we are. Barnabas and Saul take off. It is interesting that Barnabas is named first. At this stage of history, Barnabas was the better known of the two and so Barnabas’s name comes first.
Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12)
Barnabas and Saul take off and travel west to Cyprus, and then they follow a very standard pattern. See this in verse 5, “When they arrived at Salamis,” one of the cities in Cyprus, “they proclaimed the word of God” (they told the Gospel) “in the synagogues of the Jews.” This will always be Paul’s pattern, always. He’ll always go to the Jews first, and he’ll give them a chance to accept or reject the Gospel. Then, after the Jews have rejected, which most of them always do, then he turns and he has a full-blown ministry to the Gentiles, the non-Jews.
It’s interesting that in verse 9 it says, “But Saul, who was also called Paul”; I think this is the first time that Saul’s name is Paul. I didn’t check it, but it was really common for people in those days to have two names. One a native name and then one more of a Greek or a Roman name and so Saul and Paul, Saulis and Paulis in Greek—they sound alike in Greek as well as in English—are the same person. It’s a fascinating story. They go to Cyprus, and some magician named Bar-Jesus (no connection with Jesus) tries to dissuade them, and they strike hem blind. That would be a neat ability, wouldn’t it? Someone is opposing the Gospel and Bam! “Okay, you think about it for awhile and I’ll be back next week to give you your eyes back.” Paul had that ability, but as far as we know didn’t use it much.
They proclaimed the Gospel to the Governor there, a Roman named Sergius Paulus, who believed. It’s a really neat verse in 12, “Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the”…miracles? no he was astonished at the “teaching of the Lord.” The miracles got his attention, but what was really amazing to him was the truth of the Gospel that Jesus died for sinners to give them free access to God. That’s the astonishment of the Gospel and therefore he believed. This is pretty much the pattern all the way through Scripture, miracles did alleviate pain, but they primarily were there to get people’s attention. It would validate the message of the Gospel. It’s one thing to say Jesus is the Son of God, and another to say, Jesus is the Son of God and by the way, get up and walk, and the lame person gets up and walks. The miracles were for getting attention.
Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-52)
They leave Cyprus and they land on the southern part of modern day Turkey and they go to a place called Pisidian Antioch. Pisidia is the name of the larger region and so they call it Pisidian Antioch to separate it from Antioch which is a modern Lebanon as a naming convention. There’s mention there that this guy named John Mark, who is with them, left at this point, and that becomes important later on in the story. Paul goes again first to the synagogue, he keeps that pattern up, and in chapter 13 when Paul is preaching, it is a marvelous example of what we talked about the other day, the kerygma, the basic sermon that the early church preached. The kerygma says that Jesus was born, he is a fulfillment of prophesy, you killed him, God raised him from the dead, and now he calls you to repent of your sins. You have this beautiful example of the kerygma there. There’s a lot of emphasis, especially in this one passage, that Jesus fulfilled prophecy.
There is something that I wanted to point out specifically though. In chapter 13 in verses 38-39, at the end of Paul’s sermon to these Jews in the synagogue, Paul says, "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man" (Jesus) "forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you (38), and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (39).” There’s a recognition on Paul’s part that as long as you are under law, as long as you are being pressed down by all the rules and the regulations, you’re never going to be free. What frees you is when you believe in Jesus, are given forgiveness for your sins, then that releases the burden of the law that takes the yoke off.
Then if you go down to verse 43, “After the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.” I wanted to point out the word grace because this occurs several more times in the next couple of chapters. What is the definition of grace? Grace is unmerited favor; it’s God’s goodness to that who don’t deserve it and that’s the exact opposite from the law isn’t it. See, if this were a legalistic church, if this were a church of the law, then all we would have was all these rules and regulations and you would have to follow them. By following all the rules and regulations you would think you would be earning God’s favor, but that attitude will never free a person, but rather as God gives his goodness, to those who do not deserve it, his grace, it is by faith by believing what Jesus did on the cross pays the penalty for our sins and that whole thing was because God is a God of grace who gives to people who do not deserve it. That’s the exact opposite of law, which is a bunch of rules trying to earn favor with God. God’s goodness and grace is freely given to people who believe. That’s the antithesis that’s established in this passage and it’s repeated several times. The main reason I’m pointing it out that’s the heart of the Book of Galatians. You’ll see it when we get there.
Paul sets up that trying to earn favor with God doesn’t work; God is a gracious God giving to people who believe. By the way, it was common in synagogue practice that if a stranger came into the synagogue, especially a well known person who lived outside the town, they would go through the readings and would read different parts of the Old Testament and then he would be invited to speak. The whole point was to encourage people. The picture that is being painted in this is very accurate historically. This is the way the synagogue was run.
Paul goes through and he gives this talk, and at the end of the service they leave. The next week the synagogue is just overflowing with people and the Jews get very jealous. It’s almost understandable. Let’s say that you went to a church that was really struggling. You could hardly get any people in, and you couldn’t make budget. A guest speaker came in and there was this huge response and you were the pastor of the church. You could understand why the Jews were jealous, among other reasons. The Jewish leaders go out and stir up the secular leaders and cause a lot of headache, and then Paul leaves.
I do want to point out one verse and I’m going to point out several that have this theme. Look at verse 48: “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” This is one of the strongest verses on the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God that we introduced last time that God is Sovereign, that God is King. It’s interesting in the Living Bible that evidently Taylor did not like this concept and he says the exact opposite in his translation, “and as many as wanted to believe, believed.” He says something like tha. God’s in control, now we may not be able to know how God’s control, and our choosing all fits together, but God’s in control and he has appointed certainly people to believe; he’s in control and they believe. This is an interesting concept, and it’s very strong in Acts. We’ll look at some others as they come up.
Iconium (Acts 14:1-7)
Paul preaching is wildly successful, the Jews get jealous and they run him out of town. The story continues, and he goes up to Iconium. He continues to get opposition from the Jews and as you read the story, keep distinguishing between the Jews who are Christians and Jews who are not Christians. Both groups are going to give Paul trouble these next couple of chapters. This opposition is from Jews who are not Christians.
Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:8-20)
They keep making a circle and they go to Lystra and Derbe. This is where Timothy was from, but Timothy is not mentioned yet in the story. He heals a crippled man and the people try to worship them as God. They say that Barnabas is Zeus and Paul is Hermes because he talked all the time. Barnabas and Paul say, no we’re just people, just men, we’re not gods. Some Jews come from Iconium and Antioch and those same Jews that just a few days earlier were trying to worship them try to kill them. I always thought that was odd—how could you flip flop so quickly? They tried to kill them, but they didn’t, they only thought they had.
Return through Lystra and Iconium to Antioch (Acts 14:21-28)
Paul leaves and he starts circling back through all the towns that he was in. I want you to look at Acts 14:21-22. I am especially interested in the Bible whenever Paul is addressing young Christians or young churches, because there are a lot of things that we think are important, but there are certain things that keep coming up in Paul’s preaching to young converts, and I think it’s pretty significant. This is one of those in verses: “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples,” (in Derbe), they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch (21), strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith (22),”—conversion is the first step in your new walk as a Christian and so they want to encourage them to keep walking, to continue in the faith—“and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” In other words, Paul wanted to make it very clear right up front that Christianity isn’t a rose garden and you don’t become a Christian and everything’s okay and there’s no conflict or tension the rest of your life, but there are tribulations that are going to happen.
In the curriculum that I’m working on for new believers, in the third of twelve talks, I started talking about the conflict that’s going to happen. There was a real debate on how early in the series to put that discussion of conflict. Almost everyone else puts it at the very end or they don’t talk about it at all. It was really interesting, last week there was a lady in our church who is a relatively new Christian of a couple of months, and she said last week, “Thank you for telling me that there’s going to be conflict,” because it started up about two months into her new Christian life, and she said, “If you hadn’t warned me, I wouldn’t have been ready for it.” I felt pretty pleased with myself that I had put that earlier, but this is why I did it, because of verses like this where Paul found it important at very early on to say there are going to be struggles and you need to hang in there and work through them even when things are not comfortable for you. It’s right there: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
When they had appointed elders” (some sort of structure to help have leaders in the churches) “for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed (23).” What you have is Paul retraces his steps, goes back to Antioch, and tells the church all the cool things that had happened and they were extremely happy. That’s Paul’s first missionary journey. Acts is a really good book, especially for young Christians to read, because it’s pretty straight forward and they can get a feel for how the church started to grow and what it was like.
Luke the author of Acts is only telling us bits and pieces of the story of the expansion of the church and skips years in different places, but sometime in this general time frame, Paul wrote the book that we call Galatians. Let’s look at Galatians for a bit. There is some controversy as to exactly when Galatians was written, but I’ll talk about that in a little bit. I think that Galatians was written somewhere after the first missionary journey because Galatia is another name for the middle part of modern day Turkey, so you have to have Paul’s first missionary journey there before you can have Paul writing to the Christians in Galatia. The book had to happen after the first missionary journey, and I think it had to happen before Acts 15, but you’ll see why in a bit. Somewhere in there we have Galatians. Let me say it another way. The letter is to the Galatian church, so when Paul says he’s writing to the church in Galatia, it’s a very large area and so he’s writing to lots of different churches in a lot of different towns in the middle part of modern day Turkey. I usually like to give you the name of a commentary that you could read if you wanted to do more in-depth work. There really isn’t one on Galatians that I have found that is really good. There’s the Broadman series that may have a good one, I don’t know who’s writing it, but there just really isn’t much on Galatians. I just mention that in passing.
Let me give you a quick insight into the problems and into the historical situations. Paul had preached, he had left and very quickly problems had started to occur in these churches, and there are at least two problems. The first has to do with the Judaizers, which is the word that we use for Jews who had become Christians, but did not want to leave their Jewish roots. Now at times you may start to wonder whether they really are Christians, but they are Jews who claim to become Christians, but did not want to leave their Jewish roots and did not want to leave the Jewish traditions. For example, in Acts 15:1, there’s going to be a problem in the church in Jerusalem and Acts 15:1 says, "But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'" Those are the Judaizers; they wanted to make sure that you followed the Jewish traditions coming out of the Old Testament, especially circumcision. You can see why whenever I refer to Judaizers and say that they are Christians, you have to put Christians in quote marks because they say you have to do a bunch of rituals in order to get into Heaven, which is not very Christian. Now I’m not anyone’s judge and I’m not going to try, but that’s the dilemma. Paul curses them in just a couple of verses, and I don’t think Paul would curse a Christian. These Judaizers had infiltrated the Galatian church and they were trying to drag the Christians back into Judaism; they are saying, what you really have to do if you want to get to Heaven is follow Jewish laws well. They just took Christianity and dumped it on top of all their other religious things that they were requiring people to do.
The second thing that was going on in Galatians is that they were questioning Paul’s authority. Is he really an apostle? Does he really have the authority to speak in such a way that we have to believe him? These are the Judaizers. Galatians in Greek is really bad Greek at the beginning because Paul’s really mad and he doesn’t finish his sentences, and he never really blesses them the way he normally does and you can just tell he’s frustrated. Some translations use a lot of dashes because he just doesn’t finish sentences. He’s mad, he doesn’t care whether they in one sense thinks he’s an apostle or not, but he knows that it’s affecting their Christian walk and that’s what makes him mad. That’s the situation that happens in Galatians.
The purpose of the Book of Galatians is simply to say that in order to be a Christian you don’t have to be a Jew. You don’t have to keep all these religious Jewish observances in order to be a Christian.
Introduction: Curse rather than Blessing (Gal. 1:1-10)
Let’s start working our way through Galatians. Paul has his greeting, and like I said it’s very short and there’s no thanksgiving like he normally has. Then in verse 6, he gets into telling them why he’s writing. Let me read it, Galatians 1:6, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him” (Jesus) “who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Imagine that, someone wanting to distort the gospel. Then Paul says, “8But even if we or an angel from Heaven” (in other words, I don’t really give a rip who it is) “should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” It’s really strong, he pronouncing damnation on them, harshly. If you didn’t get it the first time let me say it again: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” He’s saying you’re being taught something that is no gospel at all and I’m pronouncing a curse on those people. This is quite a way to start a letter to a whole bunch of churches that you were involved in starting.
Student: What would the curse be? Response: He never specifies content wise, so I don’t know. It’s out of passages like this that you get the Catholic doctrine of excommunication, but he is cursing them. For Paul conflict was always within eye toward resolution no matter how bad the opponents were, in many passages like the 1 Timothy passage: “Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme,” the goal was that they would learn that they would change. I would assume in Paul’s heart that would be the case here although he’s really mad right now.
Look at verse 10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” What’s between the lines is that the Judaizers were saying, “Oh he’s just trying to make people like him.” In other words, they were questioning his authority and his character. Paul sets the stage with some pretty strong words.
Paul’s Apostleship (Gal. 1:11-2:14)
In the next section, which runs from 1:11 through 2:14, Paul goes in to a rather long discussion of his apostleship, the fact that he is an apostle. Have we ever talked about what that word means? The word apostle means someone who is sent; that is the etymology of the word and there are several ideas. The apostle is someone who is sent with the authority of the person sending him. That’s why it’s such an important term. If someone is an apostle, that means they speak with the authority of God because God is the one who sent them. Secondly when you talk about apostleship, it’s normally someone who is sent for a specific task. That’s just inherent in the concept. When Paul says he is an apostle, it means he was sent by God with God’s authority to preach a specific message that God wants him to preach. Paul goes through this discussion of his call to apostleship and overall the thrust of the passage is that by apostleship, my position as an authority in the church is not from man, it’s from God. That the gist of the whole thing, and Paul says, you have to listen to what I say.
Paul starts this and let’s look at Galatians 1:11-12 because he summarizes what it’s about, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” That’s the point. Then he goes into this story of how he was on the way to Damascus to imprison all the Christians, and Jesus appeared and blinded him and shared the Gospel with him. He recounts that and then in verse 15 he says, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born,” Paul understands that God had a call on his life before he even existed, “and who called me by his grace (15),” not by doing things, “was pleased to reveal his Son to me,” that’s on the way to Damascus, “in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles,” there’s his mission, “I did not immediately consult with anyone (16); nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus (17).” Now the point is that Jesus appeared to me on the road as I was traveling to Damascus, he gave me the gospel, he told me what to preach; no human being gave me this message. I took off, I went in to the deserts of Arabia.
When we get to Heaven, I really want to talk to Paul along with about 800 gazillion other people and ask, “What did you do Paul? Why did you go into Arabia out in the middle of nowhere?” My guess is he went and started rethinking his faith. Now it says that when he became a Christian in Damascus, he instantly starting arguing that Jesus was the Christ and was able to put the Jews in an argument format, but I suspect that what he did was he went off and he said I really need to think through this. He had been a Pharisee of Pharisees, he had persecuted the church, he had gone way down one direction and he was wrong. My guess is he went into Arabia just to start rethinking things. Evidently he had a private meeting with Peter, and then he went back to Syria and Cilicia again and other areas away from the Jerusalem church.
Then he says that fourteen years later, so this is seventeen years after his conversion—quite a bit of time—fourteen years later he went to Jerusalem to more get affirmation for his gospel than anything else. Look at 2:2, “I went up because of a revelation,” in other words, God told me to go, “and set before them” (the other apostles and the Jewish church) “(though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.” My guess is that Paul is being very polite because I can’t imagine anyone making him think that he was in error. He had the revelation, God has talked to him, and he’s had seventeen years to think about things. I think probably it’s a polite way of saying, I went, I wanted to present the gospel, I want them to see what I’m preaching, I want us all to come to an agreement that what I’m preaching is right. I don’t think he was wondering whether it was true or not in other words. He makes a point that Titus, one of his buddies who is Greek, didn’t have to be circumcised. In other words, church leaders didn’t insist that even Titus be circumcised, meaning that you can be a Christian without following Jewish law. Paul is trying to make the point right up front really that you don’t have to be a Jew in order to be a Christian. Titus wasn’t even circumcised, but he specifically again states his main point at the end of verse 6, that these pillars of the church, these main people in the church, added nothing to me. They didn’t change my gospel one bit; I’m still preaching what God told me to preach.
Then we have this fascinating story of conflict with Peter. Remember, Peter is the head of the church in Jerusalem, one of Jesus’s three big main disciples, but they tell a story in Antioch, he’s called Cephas here, and evidently what happened Peter was eating food with Gentiles, which was strictly forbidden in Jewish law. He did it anyway because he understood that the gospel was to go to the Gentiles. Some people came from the Jerusalem church and said, “You’re a Jew as well as a Christian—you’re not supposed to be doing that!” and Peter backed off. Again, I want to ask Peter why he backed off, “Did you back off because you weren’t convinced that you were in the right, or where you trying to avoid conflict?” which is what I would do. But Peter backed off, and Paul says “you were wrong to do that Peter.” Peter knew that he was wrong. Paul is telling the story, but the overall point is that God gave me this gospel that I’m preaching, no one changed it, and I’m even willing to confront a big name like Peter, and I was right and he was wrong because he was giving in to Jewish traditions when he shouldn’t have. That’s the scenario.
Triumph of Grace over Law (2:15-4:7)
You start getting into the real theological meat of Galatians now in 2:15. I’ll warn you, and I’m going to skip around Galatians a bit; some of it is very complicated, and you sit there and you read it and you scratch your head and go, what on earth are you talking about? The summary of what he wants to say is in verse 2:15-16, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners (15).” Now he’s not being derogatory, he’s using the word sinners to describe people who don’t follow Jewish tradition. You can misread that, but he’s saying we’re not Gentiles who don’t follow the Old Testament law, we’re Jews, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified (16).” Now that’s typical Paul and one of the best paragraphs that Paul ever wrote, so we need to pick it up piece by piece because it’s the heart of the gospel.
Justification and Righteousness
Let’s go word by word. What is justification? The other English word we used to translate it is righteousness. Being justified and being righteous are the same thing, the same Greek word. There are four things I want to say about justification. Number one, at it’s most basic sense, justification means how you and I can be right with God. How do we get it so that we can be face to face with God? What does it take to be justified, what does it take to be righteous? What does it take to be right with God?
Second of all, what Paul is saying is that you get right with God through faith. You don’t do it through works of the law, we’ll talk about that in a second, but you get right by faith. In other words, you get right with God by believing, right? Faith/belief—same thing. You get right with God by believing, and the way I like to say it is that Jesus is who he says he is, that Jesus did what he said he was going to do. That’s the most generic definition I’ve been able to come up with for faith. That we are right with God, not by doing a bunch of religious activity and supposedly earning favor with God, but by believing that what we can’t do, Jesus did for us on the cross. He was able to pay the penalty of our sins. Why was his death the penalty for my sins? Because he was God. So faith is believing who Jesus is and believing what he has done. He is God and he died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins. Once my sins are forgiven and once I believe that happened on the cross, then I now am forgiven and I have access to God, and as I have access to God, I can stand before him because I’m righteous. Not because of anything I have done, but because of what Christ has done. He has made me righteous. That’s the heart of the Gospel right?
Third, the word justification is actually a word that is connected with the law court system—the legal system. It’s a forensic term, in other words. It means to be declared not guilty. If somebody heard the word justify or heard the word righteous in that day and age, the first thing they would have thought of was, “not guilty, I was arrested for reckless driving, I was taken to the courthouse and show the evidence and the judge said, ‘you’re not guilty.’” That’s pronouncing him righteous and justified. That’s the word picture that was floating through their minds, being declared not guilty. Yes, it was just as if I’d never sinned. That’s a helpful little mnemonic device: justification is because I’ve been forgiven, it’s just as if I’ve never sinned—all my sins are completely forgiven.
The fourth thing I wanted to say, and it’s a little more complicated, but it’s an important concept to work with and that’s the word, imputation. What the doctrine of imputation is, is that Christ lived a perfect life, he died a perfect death, and he earned righteousness. When he died on the cross and when we believe in him, his righteousness is imputed to us. His righteousness is put into us. It’s not that God pretends I’m righteous; I am righteous, not because of anything I’ve done, but because Christ’s righteousness, his perfection was actually put into me. The main verse for this is 2 Corinthians 5:21, where Paul writes, "For our sake," and I’m going to supply antecedent to pronouns here, "he" (God) "made him" (Jesus) "to be sin who knew no sin,” (Jesus knew no sin) "so that in him" (Jesus) "we might become the righteousness of God." On one hand it’s not as if God pretended to punish Jesus on the cross for our sins, it was that on the cross, Jesus was made to be sin. So on the cross when God’s wrath was poured out on his Son, it was poured out because something in God allowed him to say that everything that I have done wrong and everything that everyone else has ever done wrong was put on Jesus and Jesus committed all of our sins. Jesus committed my sins so that God’s wrath could be poured out and punish Jesus for the sins that he committed, that what it means to say he was made to be sin for us. The good side is that the perfection and the righteousness that Jesus had, because he was God and because he had lived a sinless life—just as he was made my sin, so I was made his righteousness. That’s the doctrine of imputation. It’s one of those things you have to think about for awhile because it’s really an amazing thing.
Student: does that mean that as Christian right now I am righteous at this moment? Response: Yes. Student: even when I sin? Response: Yes. So should you out and sin so grace can abound? No I don’t think so. We use the concept sanctification to describe that a lot as well. Paul calls the church in Corinth saints—the most ungodly group of sinners in the history of the Bible. He calls them saints, why? Because positionally, as they stand before God and they stand in Christ they are saints; they are perfect. Yet there’s experiential sanctification, in other words, God has made them into a saint and it happens all at once at conversion, yet in another sense it happens progressively as I go through my life and as sin more and more falls off and I start acting more in accordance with who I am. We generally use the concept of sanctification to answer that question. John Bunyan has a great quote on that, when we get to Romans I’ll read it. He talks about how what was freeing to him was when he finally realized that God didn’t look at me in my sin, but he looks at Jesus and he treated me in a way that Jesus deserved, that’s imputation in a sense.
Student: Couldn’t it also be consistent with this that the seal of the Holy Spirit is a guarantee that we’ll be made righteous? Response: Salvation has three tenses: you were saved, you are being saved, you will be saved. For justification, there’s one passage in Scripture that talks about justification being a future event. Justification is something that happened at conversion, but it’s also something that works itself out in the experiences in my life, and there is a sense in which when I stand before the final judgment seat, I will finally be pronounced righteous and all sin will be removed from me and from you. These concepts aren’t quite as simple as I’m presenting them. They are a little more flexible.
Remember in the Gospels we talked about the already and the not yet? That’s what is going on here, in that I am declared righteous, righteousness is an accomplished fact for me. It happened when I believed that Jesus was who he said he is and did what he said he was going to do. But those facts work themselves out in my life and the final stamp of approval is before the Throne. That is a somewhat careless of saying it, but that’s the basic idea. He also looks at us knowing that we are sinners in constant need of forgiveness, so there’s not just one way that God views us, but it’s important to assert that when I was seven years old and I became a Christian, my sins were forgiven—period. I did receive the seal of the Holy Spirit guaranteeing my inheritance in Heaven, but it’s just as true that my life since then has been the working out of those realities and they are being made truer in my life as I get older and experience them more. I think primarily in terms of sanctification, but I know that justification is also talked about as a future event, that’s the final stamp of the throne, but I think it’s important to realize that we are justified now.
Not by Works of the Law
Let me give you the other half of this. The other half of justification what Paul here calls works of the law. Galatians 2:15: “A person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith.” When Paul talks about works of the law, what he is talking about is doing certain things, obeying not all the law, but obeying bits and pieces of the law, thereby thinking that you are earning God’s favor. See that’s why it’s the exact opposite of salvation by faith. Faith says I never will be able to earn favor with God. Works of the law say, no if you just do certain things—for Judaism it was circumcision, Sabbath and law keeping—you will be okay. The interesting thing about legalism is you can do all the sin you want to do, but if you do these three things you’re okay.
I remember when I was teaching Romans in seminary I called a buddy of mine who wrote a commentary on Romans, who knows it a lot better than I do, and I said will you explain legalism to me because I don’t get it. He tried to explain to me that this mentality of doing things to earn God’s favor is very complicated. It is. It is extremely complicated, but I understand it as a pastor now in ways I never did as a teacher, because you see it. In some of the churches that I was raised in, there were certain things that you don’t do: smoke, drink, or go with girls who do. You just didn’t do that. Now you could do anything else, you could be a raving racist and it was okay, as long as you didn’t smoke when you were being a racist. That’s legalism; it says there are two or three things that if you do that nothing else matters. In one sense, those two or three things become ways in which we earn favor with God, but they also are a shield that you can do anything you want after that and it’s okay. Legalism is very complicated and it’s very tricky, and you and I are constantly tempted back into it.
That’s part of the message of Galatians 2. We understand that when we were saved, we were saved by faith, not by works of the law. What can a man give, Jesus says, in exchange for his soul—nothing. But what was happening in Galatia, we’ll see in chapter 3, is that people were saved by faith, and then the Judaizers said, “but if you really want to be a Christian, then you’ve got to do all these things.” All of a sudden they got these three or four things they had to do, and nothing else mattered. They had fallen back into legalism. It’s a very tricky thing. Justification by faith is opposite of works of the law. This is the heart of Galatians.
Actually the next thing I wanted to point out really is what I said earlier, look at chapter 3 of Galatians starting at verse 1, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified (1).” That’s a great definition of preaching isn’t it? To publically portray Christ as crucified. “Let me ask you only this,” and then he goes on for three chapters, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Did you earn your salvation or did God give it to you (2)? “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh (3)?” In other words, you begin understanding that you received the Spirit because of faith, (and I think Paul’s probably being a bit sarcastic), are you going to be perfected by doing works of the law by trying to earn God’s favor? That’s what “perfected by the flesh” means. That’s the situation I described earlier where the people became Christians properly, but they were slipping back into legalism and this legalistic mentality and approach to things.
The Doctrine of Justification by Faith
This whole thing of justification by faith that we are made right with God by what we believe is obviously an important doctrine. It became the cry of the reformation, Martin Luther and John Calvin when they tried to reform the Catholic church, that justification was by faith and by faith alone. I had something happen last week that reminded me that if you’re going to ever say Catholics believe this, you have to be really careful, because many of them may not even know it. In the New Believers series, I was talking about Mass being a daily crucifixion of Christ, and this one Catholic lady said, “I didn’t know that.” Is all in Latin so she wouldn’t know, but you have to careful. If you look at the Catholic theologies, and there’s one by Ott who just lays it out really clearly, justification, being right with God, equals faith plus works. This is the heart of why Protestants and Catholics are different. In Protestantism, the people who follow Luther, Calvin and the rest of the reformers said that being right with God is purely an issue of faith. Yes, when I become a Christian my life is going to change and I’ll start behaving differently, but that’s the consequence of being justified. In Catholic doctrine, you being justified is from you believing certain things and also doing certain things, and so you have the seven sacraments, baptism, and communion, last rights, and all those different things. Be careful because there are Catholic Christians who differ with the church’s official teaching on this position and many of them may not know that’s what the church teaches. This is similar to some Mormons—you say to a Mormon girl, “You really want to be pregnant forever, eternally populating new spirits on your planet?” They would look at you and go, “What?” “Don’t you know that’s what you believe?” “No, I have no idea.” I don’t think many Mormons understand that the girls are going to be pregnant forever. You have to be careful with that.
Let me give you an example a little closer to home. When we were moving back from Boston, there was a person renting out house. He’s now a pastor in Spokane. This person taught that Martin Luther got it wrong, that justification is not by faith, but that you have to earn justification. The thing that was interesting in this is that he had done a damage deposit on the house and it was pretty obvious that he was expecting all of it back, even though half my back yard was dug up and other things. I knew it was going to be complicated, and I was trying to figure out how to treat the situation. I picked up a Bible on audio for the 2800-mile drive between Boston and here, and I got to Galatians. By the way, if you haven’t just listened to the Bible, it’s fascinating because you hear things that you don’t pick up when you read it. I got to Galatians, and Paul says, “If someone preaches the gospel other than what I have preached to you,” (and the heart of that is justification by faith), “let them be accursed.” Now how are you going to treat the guy renting your house? If he’s a Christian, I’m going to treat him one way. If he’s not a Christian, I’m going to treat him a different way. See my dilemma? I covered about two states as I thought through this trying to figure out what to do. I came to the conclusion, I had to treat him as a non-Christian because he was cursed by Paul. Paul doesn’t curse Christians. That’s why I said, are Judaizers really Christians if they believe you have to be circumcised as well as have faith? What I did was I just gave him his money back because that’s what you do to a non-Christian. If he were a Christian brother you’d say, “You really messed up the back yard, you really should fix it or pay for it.” I think that would be a fair thing to say to a Christian brother. To a non-Christian you can’t do that. You just give him his $500.00 and let him go.
Anyway, this whole thing of legalism and how it shows itself in many different forms is much more complicated, but the message of the Gospel is that you and I are justified by faith, we are made right with God, because we believe that Jesus did it on the cross. That does change our behavior, our lives are going to change, but we must forever resist the temptation of falling back into legalism thinking that what God really wants is not this faith stuff; what God really wants is just to not smoke or drink or dance. That’s all he requires. That’s the temptation, and it’s very real. You see it everywhere around.
Crucified with Christ
Every once in awhile as we go through books, there are passages that I may skip, but there are verses in those passages I can’t skip. Galatians 2:20 is one of them. If it’s not highlighted in your Bible it should be, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith” (not works of the law) “in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (20).” That’s got to be one of the all time best verses in the Bible. We have died with Christ, we have died to our old way of living and we have died to ourselves, and rather we are living with Christ and it is a life that is characterized by faith of constantly believing and then acting on what we believe to be true. Galatians 2:20 is just one of my top verses.
Freedom in Christ (Gal 5:1-6:10)
In 4:8 and following, Paul just makes some more appeals to the Galatians and I’m going to skip that. I want to go right to Galatians 5:1 because it gets really positive here. This passage is all about our freedom that is in Christ and balance. Balance may not be the right word, but you have justification by faith, but lest anyone think that’s means a Christian can go on living anyway they want, there is a balance to it, and that balance is chapter 5, which is talking about how you and I are to live out the fact that we are justified, how to live out the fact that we have been changed.
Live by the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 22-24)
Probably the most helpful discussion is in 5:16, where Paul says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” I find it tremendously instructive that when Paul wants to urge people to live the right way, he rarely if ever, sits there and shakes his finger and says, “Now, there’s a bunch of things you can’t do now that you are a Christian,” he just doesn’t do that. Yes, there are things that we can do and there are things that we can’t do, but Paul doesn’t think in those terms. That’s works of the law stuff. What he says is look at who you have become, live in a way that is in accordance with who you are, walk by the Spirit and I think that means two things. I think it means walk being led by the Spirit, and so this is God’s Spirit moving and directing us, but we walk by the Spirit also because he empowers us to do so that when you and I become Christians, God doesn’t say, “Okay, here’s 28,000 more things you have to do, good luck.” But he puts God’s Spirit into our heart; his Spirit gives us the ability to change and the ability to live out our Christian commitment. Paul says live by the Spirit, led by him, directed by him, empowered by him, and if you keep focused on the Spirit you’re not going to gratify the desires of the flesh. That’s why Paul doesn’t generally have to say don’t do that, because he says, do this. Yes, there are some don’t dos, but the thrust of Paul is on, here’s who you are, here’s the power that you have available, this is what God has made you into so go out and live the life that is pleasing to him, walk by the Spirit and you won’t gratify the desires of the flesh.
Down in verse 22, he starts to describe what this life looks, “But the fruit of the Spirit,” the kinds of changes in our behavior that God’s Spirit produces in us, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (23).” Then verse 24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (24). If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit (25).” If we are alive because at conversion God’s Spirit made us alive, so also day in and day out we should live by the Spirit. It’s a very positive passage about what the Christian life should look like, the fruits of the Spirit.
New Creation (Gal. 6:15)
It’s under the category other significant verses that I have to point out Galatians 6:15, where Paul says, "For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision." It doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, let’s be perfectly honest, it just doesn’t matter. What matters is “a new creation.” of all the metaphors in the Bible for what happens to us in conversion, this is my favorite. It can be translated new creation or new creature. We become a new creature or we’ve moved into a new creation. Life is started over for us, it’s new, and we’re not what we used to be, we’re something totally new, and so we should be living a different life.
The Message of Galatians
That’s the Book of Galatians and its message, the message that being made right with God, being declared not guilty of our sins, is done by believing that Jesus is who he says he is, and he did what he said he was going to do. We must continue to have our lives characterized by faith, by continuing to believe in Jesus and to act accordingly. The opposite side is thinking that we can do certain things to earn God’s favor and that’s what we have to stay away from.
Acts 15: The Jerusalem Council
Background: The Debate (Acts 15:1-5)
I want to go back up and finish, get back into Acts because again, Galatians is written somewhere between Acts 14 and 15. Acts 15 then silences this whole debate. Remember we said last week that the first theological question the church had to answer is, “Do I have to be a Jew to be a Christian? Did God intend the Gospel to go to Gentiles to non-Jews?” That’s obviously what the debate is all about, isn’t it? That’s what all the fighting is about, at every stage of the church’s expansion, outside of Jerusalem. The debate is finally solved in Acts 15, and you never hear about it again. What happens, and again we’re around AD 49-50 is that some Jewish “Christians” came from Jerusalem to Antioch where Paul was and what they said was, verse 1, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” they were wanting to add works on to their justification. It was causing a problem in Antioch, so Paul and Barnabas take off to Jerusalem, and they said, “Okay, it’s time to solve this issue.” Depending upon chronology, this thing had been going on for almost twenty years in the church, so it is time to solve the issue.
The Council’s Decision and Letter (Acts 16:6-21)
They take off to Jerusalem and the first person evidently that spoke was Peter. Remember we talked about tongues and the giving of the Spirit a lot last time, well here’s this passage that we referred to, verse 8, Peter says, “God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, meaning the Gentiles and the Samaritans by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us (8), and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith (9).” Here you get this final repetition of Peter’s story where he came to understand that God wanted the Gospel to be given to Gentiles, and to make it really clear, he poured out the Holy Spirit and they spoke in human languages they had not learned as a way of showing that God’s Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, as Joel the prophesy said, on both Jews and Gentiles alike.
Barnabas and Paul get up and he talks about the miracles they did and what their ministry has been, and then James makes the conclusion. This is James, who is Jesus’s brother, and he’s generally acknowledged as the head of the church at this time. Again you can imagine the change that happened in Jesus’s brother’s life where he went from all of Jesus’s life not believing in him, thinking that his big brother was nuts, to seeing the resurrection and realizing his big brother was God, and then he became the head of the Jerusalem church. He makes the final pronouncement, and in 15:19-21, James says, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God (19), but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled and from blood (20).” Kosher laws require you to slit the animals throat so all the blood drains out, you can’t kill the animal and leave the blood in the animal and eat the meat you have to drain the blood. “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues (21).” In other words, if we’re going to have a chance of sharing the Gospel with the Jews, of helping them to see that Jesus is the Messiah, the Promised One of old, then we can’t do things that the Jews especially find horrific, sexual immorality is a general thing, but as for the blood, let’s make sure we don’t look like we’re worshipping idols, since that’s one of the big ten commandments, and then let’s make sure we don’t eat meat that has blood in it because the Jews will find that so offensive that we simply aren’t going to be able to preach to them at all. You have people voluntarily limiting what they can do (not the immorality and the idols)—the food laws—for the sake of sharing the Gospel. They write the letter and it’s taken back to Antioch and the church rejoices and that particular problem is solved and it goes away for good. Other problems arise in the church, but that’s the end of that particular discussion.
Student: Is this the James that wrote James? Response: Yes, James was a common name, but we’re pretty sure it’s the same guy.
Let me just say one technical thing. The dating of Galatians is complicated. If you want to get into some of the in-depth arguments, I can show you where you can read. There are two arguments, but I think Galatians had to be written before Acts 15 because I can’t imagine Paul writing to the Galatians after Acts 15 and not referencing the letter. I think that after Acts 15, if someone said no, you have to keep Jewish laws in order to be a Christian, Paul simply would say, didn’t you read the letter that the Jerusalem church wrote? That’s why I put Galatians beforehand.
Let me pull some things together on chronology. Here’s how I think things happened in Paul life. There was the Damascus Road experience when he became a Christian, and it reads like he took off to Jerusalem right away. I don’t think he did when you read the story in Acts. I think he went off to Arabian Damascus for three years. At the end of three years, he had this first visit, that was a private visit and that’s the visit we read about in Acts 9 where he went not to meet the Christians in general, but just the leadership. After that visit of meeting the apostles, he takes off to Syria and Cilicia for fourteen years and then by revelation, in Galatians 2, God said, “Go back, there is a famine that is going to be happening, you need to take some money back to the Jerusalem church to help your Jewish brothers.” So he went back, and that’s what Galatians 2 is talking about. If you want to know details, I think that’s how it all goes together. He had his first missionary journey, wrote the letter to Galatians, the debate is ended at that point, and there are no more Judaizers. I think every reference in Acts to Jews after this are to Jewish non-Christians. Then you have the other missionary journeys. That’s how it all unfolds.