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Content, Conversion, and Call: Paul’s Defense of the Gospel in Galatians 1:10-2:21

24 July, 2010

b picSome notes and observations on a sermon preached by Dominic Smart, available here, originally posted 28 April 2009.

The gospel of Christ’s perfect obedience for righteousness on our behalf was being corrupted, according to Paul, a subtle yet deep departure from the apostolic gospel — from his gospel. Throughout this epistle Paul strongly presses his point, and in these verses we see Paul arguing for the gospel from its content, his conversion, and his call.

The Gospel’s Content

All Paul preached came straight from God, although it was simultaneously the fulfillment of all the promises given to Israel; on this he was emphatic:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:11-12; see Acts 9:1-1922:3-21;26:12-23)

This means that, on one hand, we shouldn’t import whatever we like from elsewhere, and on the other hand, what they’re corrupting or rejecting is God’s own truth.

Paul’s Conversion

Paul presents his own story of conversion to the gospel of Christ as a further argument in addition to his argument from the gospel’s God-given content.

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely a zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. (Gal 1:13-14; see 1 Cor 15:91 Tim 1:13)

This was such a remarkable turnaround that before ever meeting him the Christians of Judea whispered among themselves, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (v. 17). And Paul was converted from the very same traditions and the very same approach to having a relationship with God, which were now bewitching the Galatians.

Paul’s Call

Paul’s apostolic calling also came from God (cf. Gal 2:7), even in the midst of his religious ‘upward mobility’:

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone.

This is a fresh exhortation to the Galatians, to hear again the clear Word of God which Paul has borne to them as the Lord’s messenger, rather than listening to ourselves and one another in legalistic self-justification. Often even the very ‘best’ Christians can fall into such an approach, with the best of intentions, often succumbing to merely cultural conditions for what it means to be a faithful Christian.

The Gospel’s Results: Freedom and Fruit

In Galatians 2:1-10, we see that the point Paul is making is that this gospel — and this gospel alone — truly brings freedom and bears true fruit. Paul makes this point repeatedly in Galatians; here, Titus the Greek (in Jerusalem!) becomes the test case: must he be circumcised? NO. That’s the freedom of the gospel of Christ at work in a concrete and revolutionary way. Only Christ is our confidence and hope, our freedom from sin and self-justification, and our freedom for faith and fruitfulness.

In Galatians 2:11-21, then, Paul puts the nail in the coffin of legalism or self-righteousness as being any part of the authentic apostolic gospel: Peter is now the example. He suddenly turned from the freedom of faith in Christ alone to pandering to ‘certain men’ of the circumcision group. This is hypocrisy, Paul says — he confronts Peter ‘to his face,’ and he confronts him with the gospel. He says to the Galatians also, “their conduct was not in step with the gospel.”

Thus we must live by the gospel from first to last:

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose (Gal 2:19-21).

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