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. Jan McClellan says:

    What a refreshing thought: God shows personal favoritism to no man!

  2. Molly Pursel says:

    Grace alone. Christ alone. By faith alone. That is the gospel. Jesus saves me. Nothing I do or don’t do can separate me from the love of Christ! May we be defenders of the gospel just as Paul was, and seek to live a holy life worthy of our calling in Christ and because of Christ. Thank you Jesus.

  3. Anneliese Peterson says:

    I definitely felt convicted to look at myself and say what expectations do I have for other believers that is not from God’s word.

  4. Pam says:

    Well said Shawn!

  5. Jennifer Anapol says:

    I know that I don’t need to earn my salvation, but all too often I try to be perfect. I of course fail since no one can be perfect, but I still try. I am frustrated when I fail and feel as if God must be upset with me. It is a lesson that he is trying to teach me over and over again? I don’t need to be perfect, nor can I be. I can’t and shouldn’t even waste my energy trying to earn something that has been freely given to me. As a perfectionist, this is a hard lesson for me to learn. I am thankful that God is merciful to me:)

    1. Zoe G says:

      Jennie Allen says it perfectly in her book Nothing To Prove : We aren’t enough. But Jesus is. And that IS enough. ♥️

  6. Mari V says:

    I have commented several times in the past three years or so that I’ve been here that I was raised Catholic. And by the grace of God my my sisters and I were saved in the youth group that was Catholic. It was part of the charismatic movement. It’s a period of time that I will never forget. We were often called spirit filled Catholics. But all too often I would “hear” (and sometimes still do) that I have to work at my salvation. I’m so thankful to my God that this is not the true. I am saved solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ.

    1. Teresa Blubaugh says:

      Amen

  7. Sarah says:

    I love that you referred to this poem– it’s my husband’s favorite. Every now and then he’ll get the big Robert Frost collection out and read just that one, just “Maple.”

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