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 (32)

32 thoughts on "Paul Defends His Gospel at Jerusalem"

  1. Stacey Wilson says:

    Now favoritism. No partiality.
    Jesus is for all. Jesus died for ALL.

    If the grace of Jesus is enough to cover the sins of EVERY person throughout history and for forever, we should be open and willing to share His message with EVERYONE, even those who do not look or think like us.

  2. Heather Hull says:

    Love this!

  3. Kelly Chataine says:

    It seems that we Christians need to look at each other with favor and give one another the benefit of the doubt. I know this is a bit of a stretch from today’s readings and yet the Holy Spirit placed this on my heart. A person at church seems to avoid shaking your hand. That is the moment to give them a favorable judgment. Maybe they have a cold and they are trying to spare you. Maybe they are a germaphobe and it is too much for them. Someone seems to be dressed a bit inappropriately for church services. Maybe they have to leave for another engagement as soon as the service is over but the important thing is they were present. The examples are endless but just like working our physical muscles to get them into top shape, we must practice and train our thoughts in order to give a favorable judgment and not be offended.

    Instead of looking for ways we are better and others don’t measure up, train your thoughts to look at others in a favorable manner. Instead of thinking the worst and becoming offended, think the best and praise God for the individual.

    Approximately two years ago I asked God to help me not be easily offended. He has and continues to assist me with this endeavor.

    God wants to change this world through us, His people, His community, His kingdom.

    1. Emily Sheaffer says:

      Thanks for sharing Kelly! This is something I also struggle with and have been working. I’ve been challenged to stop looking at opinions and differences and begin to just love everyone.

    2. Kate Wells says:

      Amen! Needed to hear that today. The examples couldn’t be more spot on to get my attention. Thank you Holy Spirit and thank you Kelly.

    3. Zoe G says:

      Kelly this is beautiful. My Jesus Calling devotional said a couple days ago to let Jesus be the judge and to leave our judgements of others (and ourselves) so we can just be closer to Him. It also said… Judging others doesn’t make us more like God, worship makes us more like God. That hit me!!

  4. Churchmouse says:

    Dissension in the early church? How could this be? After all,they had the disciples right there to share Jesus’ teachings first hand. How easy it was however to fall back into old habits, that which was comfortable and familiar. The Jews had heard the Gospel and accepted Christ but implementing His teachings was challenging – especially because they had previously relied on the Mosaic law. The Mosaic law and all the additional restrictions guided their lives. This new freedom in Christ was presenting challenges. Christ had come to set the captives free and that included freedom from the law. Christ fulfilled the law and so believers were to walk in this newness, this unfamiliar freedom. But what was that to look like? It’s easy to see how dissension could arise. Their struggles within Christendom have reoccured throughout the ages to our present time. There is much diversity within the church, not only in style and form but even in substance. How can this be? Do we not all have the same Spirit? Do we not all have the same book? We embrace our individuality and uniqueness in matters beyond salvation and yet we are unyielding in matters of orthodoxy. Thus there is tension and dissension even today. The world looks at us and sees our arguing within the Body as a quasi-proof that we are not much different and certainly no better than them. One of Jesus’ last prayers was for unity. I pray for that as well. I’m not sure what that looks like, only that He desires it and therefore so should I. I don’t have answers but I pray. And I check pride at the door.

    1. Nnena Ukuku says:

      Amen

    2. Sarah Smith says:

      Amen !!

  5. Angie says:

    Jesus Christ
    He is the reason
    He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
    No man comes to the Father, except by Him.
    Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning.”
    But by the grace of God I am saved, not by works, so no one should boast.
    Simple Truth can get muddled along the way,
    Let us keep our eyes on The Way, The Truth, and The Life, Jesus –
    extending to ourselves…
    and to others…
    His grace, love, and life.
    Help us Lord Jesus to be more like You everyday
    and thank you for Your Grace and Love.
    Amen.

    1. Nancy Hubbard says:

      Amen!

  6. Shawn Parks says:

    God does not show favoritism period.
    O My fickle heart. O my self-inflated ego. O my lofty look downward. O my exhausting list of” Look what I’ve done.”
    O my Savior! O my example! O my Lord! O my Redeemer!
    You fill my heart! You are my everything! You lift me up! You saved me by Your great grace! Forgive my arrogance and fill the prideful pockets of my spirit with Your righteousness and unbridled love. Amen.

  7. Kristen says:

    I actually think episode 295 is the correct podcast episode. Here is the link:
    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/timothy-keller-sermons-podcast-by-gospel-in-life/id352660924?i=1000449195467

    Sorry! Both are worth listening to.

  8. Kristen says:

    This gets me thinking. We are so blessed to have God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I recently heard a podcast that talked about when a real change happens because of meeting Jesus, how different and drastic it is. I should seem like a totally different person. When encountered with the One True God, everything changes. They way I would see situations and people. Jesus change everything!

    https://youtu.be/xU771D5AYWE
    When I went on YouTube to find the song, many teachings and testimonies popped up to. You may want to listen.
    I think this is the link to the podcast I was mentioning about a true encounter with God and the radical difference in our hearts and attitudes.

    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/timothy-keller-sermons-podcast-by-gospel-in-life/id352660924?i=1000448416612
    If I’m wrong about the podcast, you could look it up on the podcast app under- Gospel in Life or go online at http://www.gospelinlife.com to check out recently posted sermons. Good teachings to listen to.

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