Galatians 1:6-9; 2:11-21; 3:1-9
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17 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! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 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. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:11-21)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:1-9)
Paul identifies two kinds of people who abuse, distort, and disbelieve the gospel. The first to be mentioned are false teachers, who preach a different gospel (vs. 6), distort the gospel (vs. 7), and deserve to be accursed (vs. 9). These were unconverted enemies of the gospel whom Paul refers to on three occasions as the circumcision party (Acts 11:2; Gal. 2:12; Titus 1:10). They were teaching that salvation is the result of keeping God’s law.
The second group of people who abuse, distort, and disbelieve the gospel are Christians! Paul is writing to believers in this epistle (Galatians 1:2-3). He makes a two-fold accusation in vs. 6 when he states:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel . . . (underlining mine)
Note the relationship between turning to a different gospel and deserting him who called you. To abandon the gospel is to abandon Christ Himself. The gospel, as we have seen in Lesson One, is the good news of the person and work of Christ that is both objectively true and subjectively received and believed. When a Christian deserts the gospel, he or she is deserting Christ. The good news of God’s grace is that He does not desert us (Hebrews 13:5).
Not only is it possible for a common Christian to distort and disbelieve the gospel, but even the apostle Peter did so and was taken to task for his actions (Galatians 2:11-16):
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
This is a tragic example of a Christian leader failing in his faith and betraying the gospel in his actions. To understand Paul’s rebuke of Peter’s gospel betrayal, we must go to the book of Acts and make three critical observations.
First, although the early church began in Jerusalem under the leadership of Peter and consisted of mostly Jews who had come to faith, the question of God’s posture toward Gentiles had to be addressed and resolved. The typical Jew hated the Gentile and referred to Gentiles as dogs. God convinced Peter in an overpowering way through a vivid dream that the gospel of God’s love was for Gentiles as well:
9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:9-16)
Peter, the devout Jewish Christian, received a supernatural vision and a countercultural message that God loves Gentiles and that the gospel is to be shared with them. Peter testified to this love of God for those perceived to be unlovable by stating: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality . . . “ (Acts 10:34)
Shortly after Peter delivered this revolutionary message to his fellow Jewish Christians, God confirmed this wonderful truth of gospel inclusiveness:
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. (Acts 10:44-45)
Second, the gospel was then taken to Antioch, which was primarily a Gentile city full of Greeks. Could this be true, that God would bring revival to a Gentile city? The church confirmed it in this way:
19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:19-26)
Revival among Gentiles in Antioch occurred (vs. 21), the Jerusalem (Jewish) Christians heard of it and sent Barnabas to confirm it (vs. 22), Barnabas saw it with his own eyes and rejoiced in it (vs. 23), and Barnabas then recruited Paul to come to Antioch and help him teach these new believers (vs. 26).
Third, Peter visited these Gentile believers in Antioch, and Paul recounted for the Galatian believers a report of the first “Gunfight at the Not-OK Corral” between the two human leaders of the first century church:
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)
Peter used to eat with Gentiles, as he should, but then came under the influence of the circumcision party and no longer did so. This breaking of table fellowship was a betrayal of the truth of the gospel, which is an inclusive gospel that transcends race, color, and culture. Even Barnabas was led astray. When Paul stated that “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” he was not saying that they ceased to be Christians. Rather, their conduct revealed their betrayal of the gospel. They were not living in a way that was consistent with the gospel, and Paul was calling them to repentance for this sin.
From these texts we see that there are two kinds of people who distort and disbelieve the gospel: unbelievers and believers. The consequences are different, but both are culpable and are held accountable.
Four Views of Salvation
There are typically four approaches to the question of how a sinful person can be put in a right relationship with a holy God (i.e., be saved or redeemed):
WORKS = SALVATION
We might call the first view secular legalism. An adherent to this view would not acknowledge that God is holy, man is sinful, and salvation is necessary. If there is an afterlife, this person believes they merit from their “works” a blissful existence in the afterlife. Notice that there is no mention of or need for any faith in Jesus.
FAITH + WORKS = SALVATION
The second view we might call religious legalism, which affirms the need for faith (in Jesus) but requires that meritorious works be added to that faith to secure one’s salvation. This group would include not only Roman Catholics (who affirm the need for meritorious works in their doctrine) but also many Protestants who, in practice more so than in doctrine, rely heavily on their performance and virtue for their salvation.
It is likely that Paul is attacking the religious legalists in Galatians. If they simply were denying Christ and espousing a kind of secular legalism, the Galatians believers would not have fallen prey to this deception. But religious legalism is much more stealthy and subtle.
“FAITH” = SALVATION
The third view, sometimes referred to as “cheap grace” or “easy believe-ism,” defines faith as some kind of emotional response or mental assent to Jesus, but the evidence of such faith via good works is absent. The books of James and I John clearly tackle this antinomian view head-on, showing clearly that the absence of works suggests the absence of genuine, saving faith. As the Reformers expressed it, “We are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone.”
FAITH = SALVATION + WORKS
Of course, the fourth view is the biblical view. This is not simply a matter of splitting theological hairs. Paul argues strenuously for the doctrine of justification that is through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone. The Westminster Larger Catechism defines faith in this way:
Q. 72 – What is justifying faith?
Answer: Justifying faith is a saving grace that works in the hearts of sinners by the Spirit and the word of God. By it sinners are convinced of their sinfulness and miserable condition and realize that neither they nor anyone or anything else can get them out of that lost condition, and by it they give full assent to the truth of the gospel promise; they receive and rest on Christ and his righteousness for pardon from sin, as the gospel tells us, and for being accepted and accounted as righteous in the sight of God for salvation.
The gospel does require law-keeping to be right with God.
Let there be no doubt that a holy and righteous God cannot (a violation of his character) and will not (a violation of his revealed will) accept anyone into his holy presence who is not righteous (Psalm 15). To be “righteous” is to be in conformity to God’s holy commands. So how does God resolve the apparent dilemma of maintaining his holy and righteous standard while at the same time granting unrighteous people like us entry into his presence? Paul answers that question multiple times (in Romans, Galatians, and Philippians). Paul’s own testimony provides an answer:
8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . 9and be found in Him, not having a righteous of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ. (Philippians 3:8-9)
Notice that righteousness does not come from our keeping of the law but comes from God through faith in Christ.
Your Righteousness Bank Account
Imagine for a moment that every time you have ever sinned (in thought, word, or deed), the Lord charges you a $1.00 penalty. Imagine that thus far in your life you have accumulated $1,000,000 of “sin debt.” Christians generally understand that Christ died to forgive us that “sin debt.”
This removal of our “sin debt” is half the gospel. Yet it does not satisfy God’s requirement that we not only be forgiven but that we also be righteous. Imagine that God requires $1,000,000 of positive righteousness in our bank account.
Because our hearts are inherently prideful, and because we value performance that should be rewarded, many Christians play the “evangelical deposit game.” In other words, we work hard to make deposits in our personal righteousness bank account. Going to church faithfully might be worth $100 per week; having a daily quiet time, $200 per day; witnessing to a nonbeliever, $500; tithing to the Lord’s work, $1,000; etc.
The Christian life becomes, in this scenario, a pursuit of righteousness that inevitably produces one of two tragic results. If we believe we have succeeded in making sufficient deposits, we fall into the pit of pride (often evidenced by judging others whom we view as not making enough deposits in their accounts). If we believe that we have failed in making sufficient deposits, we fall into the pit of shame (since we will never be good enough, we need to either fake it or forsake trying).
The gospel is all about trusting in what Christ has done for us. How big is your Jesus?
Paul argues strenuously in the book of Romans that the kind of righteousness that God accepts is the kind of righteousness that God provides through Christ:
20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law . . . 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Romans 3:20-22)
In Romans 4, Paul introduces us to the idea of “imputation” (a term that means to “account” or “credit” or “attribute to”). He does this by using Abraham as his primary example:
3For what does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted (imputed) to him as righteousness.’ 4Now to him who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but his due. 5And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted (imputed) as righteousness. (Romans 4:3-5)
“Double imputation” is a theological phrase (not found in the Bible per se) to describe the two sides of the gospel coin. All of our sin has been “credited” or “imputed” to Christ, and He paid our penalty in full. All of his righteousness (for he perfectly obeyed and fulfilled the law) has been “credited” or “imputed” to us. If the gospel coin does not have these two authentic sides, it is counterfeit. It won’t spend and does not belong in the pocket of any Christian. Replacing counterfeit coins with real ones is both free and easy. Repent and believe the gospel.
For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (II Corinthians 5:21)
The gospel does require law-keeping as a requirement to be right with God. That righteousness is either something that we produce by our own efforts and attempt to offer to God or something that we receive from God by faith. In joyful and obedient response to this gospel of grace, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2) in response to this “two million dollars of grace.”
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- What is the current status of your “righteousness bank account”?
- In your own personal efforts to be righteous, do you tend to fall into the pit of pride or the pit of shame? What has this produced in your own heart and your relationships with others?
- Are you quick to judge other believers? Do you see (and often comment) that their bank account is lacking sufficient funds? When is the last time you have confessed this sin to God? When is the last time you confessed this sin to the one you judge?
- From your understanding of the books of James and I John, if a person is not pursuing obedience (albeit imperfectly), what kind of “faith” do they have? What should your posture toward and counsel be for such a person? How does “cheap grace” weaken the church of Jesus Christ?
- How has self-righteousness weakened the church of Jesus Christ and our witness to the world?
- Families with children:
PARENTS: How do you teach your children to be “righteous” (to live in obedience to you and to the Lord) without teaching them to be “self-righteous” in their relationship with God?
TEENS: In what ways do you attempt to prove yourself acceptable to your friends? In what ways do you attempt to prove yourself acceptable to God? How is that working for you? In the gospel, what is God offering you?
- In what ways can an entire congregation try to be self-righteous? In what ways (even at Central) do we try to make deposits in our bank account in order to look good in the eyes of others and to provide us with a sense of congregational self-satisfaction? What should we do about this problem?
- Look through a hymnal and ponder those hymns that refer to imputed righteousness. List those hymn titles below and record the lyrics that speak to your heart. Suggested hymns to ponder:
“Rock of Ages”
“Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness”
“On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”
A Suggested Prayer from The Valley of Vision
(a collection of Puritan prayers, used by permission, Banner of Truth Trust, 1975, page 76)
Bible Text: Isaiah 61:10
O GOD OF GRACE,
Thou hast imputed my sin to my substitute,
and hast imputed his righteousness to my soul,
clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe,
decking me with jewels of holiness.
But in my Christian walk I am still in rags;
my best prayers are stained with sin;
my penitential tears are so much impurity;
my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin;
my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.
I need to repent of my repentance;
I need my tears to be washed.
I have no robe to bring to cover my sins;
no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of rainment,
for thou dost justify the ungodly.
I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home as a prodigal,
always saying, ‘Father forgive me’
and thou art always bringing forth the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out into the day’s work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.