But we refused to give in to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the gospel message for you. – Galatians 2:5 NLT
Paul had a message, given to him from Jesus Christ Himself. And he was to share that message with Gentiles, introducing them to the availability of forgiveness of sins and a restored relationship with God Himself through Jesus Christ. No longer would they have to worship their countless idols made of wood and stone, in the hopes of appeasing them somehow with acts of service or gifts of grain, wine, animal or even human sacrifice. Gone were the fears of never knowing if you were worshiping the right god in the right way or doing enough to earn his favor. Paul had come to Galatia with a message about Jesus Christ, the God-man, the God who had taken on human flesh and lived a completely sinless life in order that the judgment of God against the sins of man might be satisfied. He had taken man's place as a substitute or stand-in, bearing the penalty due for our rebellion against God: death. And then He rose again, showing God's power and victory over death. Paul came preaching a message that offered men a way to be made right with God by simply believing in Jesus as their Savior and accepting His gift of salvation by an act of simple faith. No works necessary. No sacrifices needed. What Jesus had done was all that had to be done. Later in his letter to the Romans, Paul would clearly state the requirement for salvation: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9 NLT). That was it. No more. No less.
But from the early days of his ministry to the Gentiles, Paul had been hounded by the Judaizers, a zealous group of Jews who were demanding that all Gentiles who wanted to become Christ-followers, must become converts to Judaism first. Paul refers to these individuals as "false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaved" (Galatians 1:4 NET). In chapter one, Paul assures his readers that he had received his message directly from Jesus Himself. In chapter two, he says that his message is backed by the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, including James, Peter and John. He makes it clear that he hadn't received his message from them, but was fully supported by them. The recognized that God had given Paul the responsibility of preaching to the Gentiles, and his message was not to include circumcision, law-keeping or any form of conversion to Judaism. Paul says the Judaizers or false brothers "wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations" (Galatians 2:4b NLT). But Paul refused. He would not compromise on the message Jesus had given him. Instead, he fought to preserve and protect the truth of the gospel as given to him by the risen Lord. In these early days of the Church, there were going to be countless attacks from without, but also very subtle attacks from within. The problem was that the message of faith alone in Christ alone was almost too good to be true. It eliminated all need for self-effort and any form of earning. Rule keeping was no longer the measuring rod for determining righteousness. Compliance to a set of arbitrary demands or laws not necessary. And while comparing your good deedsto someone else's might make you feel better, it was not going to make you right with God. Jesus had ushered in a new standard, a new way. Jesus Himself had said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me" (John 14:6 NLT). Paul was going to guard that message with a vengeance. And we need to do the same today. Because the gospel is still under attack, in subtle and yet sinister ways. We are still prone to want to add self-effort to the mix. We want to include man-made rules and requirements. We want some kind of measuring device that allows us to compare righteousness with others. But any attempts to add anything to the gospel message should be rejected. Any requirement other than faith should be exposed for what it is: a lie and a false gospel. Jesus + nothing = everything.
Father, don't let us buy into the lie that faith alone is not enough. Don't allow us to unwittingly add to the gospel by requiring any kind of man-made standard that requires men to measure up to our demands. Help us keep the message simple and pure. Give us the same kind of zeal Paul had to protect the integrity of the gospel from the lies of the enemy. Amen