Day 4

Paul Defends His Gospel at Jerusalem

from the Galatians reading plan


Galatians 2:1-10, Isaiah 19:21-25, Acts 15:1-29

BY Melanie Rainer

We named our cat “Maple” after a Robert Frost poem of the same name, about a girl named Maple who lives her whole life beholden to a name that almost everyone gets wrong. Everyone thinks her name is “Mabel,” because that’s a real name, and it is much more comfortable to call someone a real, normal name than a strange name.

Her teacher’s certainty it must be Mabel
Made Maple first take notice of her name.
She asked her father and he told her, “Maple—
Maple is right.”
“But teacher told the school
There’s no such name.”

A name with no eponymous history made a girl feel strange and unseen, as if because her name wasn’t real or familiar, she wasn’t either, and thus goes the poem and her life story.

When Paul writes the letter to the Galatians, he calls out the false teachers who cried, “you can’t be Christian without being Jewish,” and asked Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians to follow Jewish laws, particularly those regarding circumcision and food. Their ideas were rooted in ethnic and cultural expectations that Paul was unafraid to challenge.

Similar to the teacher in “Maple” who wanted her name to be “Mabel,” the Judaizers assumed that Christians should look and eat like Jews (see Acts 15:5), because that made sense to them. The message of “be like us to be a Christian” is deeply wounding, rooted in racial superiority and cultural authority. It is not unfamiliar to any era in Church history, from the first to the present.

The radical transformation of faith in Christ, Paul claims, equalizes everyone. Sin flattens us, all unworthy. But Christ redeems us, and presents us beautifully clean, whole, and unified before God. Christianity is open and welcoming to all, and in it “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes in the next chapter (Galatians 3:28).

Paul talks often of the body of Christ (Romans 12:3–8), and the rubber of ethnic differences meets the road of his ministry in Galatians. And in chapter 2, he specifically explains that the apostles to the Jews (James, Peter, and John) agreed with him that there was no need for Titus or other Gentile Christians to submit to Jewish ritual law.

It feels so personal to wade into this water: the rolling waves of our differences as humans. I feel Galatians reading me as much as I am reading it. What expectations do I have for other believers, and for myself? What do I think Christians should look like, act like? How should they think and feel? What do I add to the truth, or what do I believe that others have added?

In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther wrote, “The world bears the Gospel a grudge because the Gospel condemns the religious wisdom of the world.” The gospel calls us into deep and equal fellowship with all other believers. Anything less is hypocrisy.

Over and over, Jesus confronted the religious wisdom of the world. Paul shows us how true discipleship and evangelism should be shaped by Christ, not the world. It is as simple, and as profoundly complicated, as “God does not show favoritism” (Galatians 2:6). We can substitute categories from centuries of Church history into the slots of “Jew” and “Gentile,” but the truth does not change. The gospel is just as true for you as it is for me or anyone else. Our salvation is based only on the finished work of Christ—nothing we do or don’t do can change it. We are secure in our Savior. Thanks be to God.

Post Comments (31)

31 thoughts on "Paul Defends His Gospel at Jerusalem"

  1. Audrey Flores says:

    Such an amazing reminder to give others the same grace that I’m looking for

  2. Brittany says:

    That is the gospel! Our salvation comes from the finished work of Jesus Christ. He was sent on this earth to be born from a virgin, live a perfect life, be crucified, and rise from the dead. He died for our sins so that we don’t have to. He rose again three days later and ascended into heaven and will one day return! It’s because of that, the gospel which is the finished work of Christ, that we can receive salvation. Not by good works or anything that we can do but by Him alone!

  3. Sylvia Wilson says:

    Can someone explain this to me a bit more: “Our salvation is based only on the finished work of christ”

    1. Kayla Payne says:

      Hey Sylvia, I’m happy to give a bit more clarification on that! The salvation that we receive is solely based on the cross and resurrection (the work that Jesus did on our behalf). On the cross, he took on our sins as if he committed them to be our once and for all sacrifice before God the Father. Then, he arose from the dead which solidifies our salvation because God did not just take on sin and die. He conquered the sin by defeating death and making us alive forever with Him! Our entire salvation rests on Jesus, not on any of our efforts. Hope this gives more clarity!

    2. Kayla Payne says:

      Hey Sylvia, I’m happy to bring a bit more clarification on this statement! The salvation that we receive from the Lord is solely based on the death and resurrection of Jesus (the work of Christ she is referring to). His death took on our sins as if they were His in order to be the once and for all sacrifice on our behalf before God the Father. Then, He rose from the grave which solidified the work on the cross because He did not just pay for the sin and died, but He conquered it by defeating death in order to bring us life forever with him. Our entire salvation rests on Jesus, not on our efforts or ability to even comprehend it. It’s grace upon grace upon grace. Hope this brings clarity!

    3. Jenny Yahn says:

      I would also add to Kayla, that the finished work of Christ means that it only had to be done once, and it was done once and for all. All sins, past, present, and future were included. Jesus was the second Adam, a perfect design of what God intended humans to be. No fall, no indwelling sin, just the perfect representation of what First Adam and the human race was supposed to be. When we believe in Jesus as Savior, we are told that we are “crucified with Christ” that is our old man, or dead spirit to God (the part we inherited from Adam) was brought into the timeline of Jesus and crucified. Galatians 2:20. We die to sin. Then we are made righteous, raised with Jesus and are seated with him. He is in us, we are in Him. Think of all the times you read “in Christ” in the NT. We don’t do life after our conversion with Jesus, we do it in Jesus. There is an incredible difference in those words that allows a true rest in God. Blessings to you, and I hope that helped!

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