Freedom!

The sound of military jets doing touch and go landings is apt to be described as “the sound of freedom.” In Galatians 2:1–10 points you to something more important than political or economic freedom. It is the freedom you have in Christ.

You are free in Christ. Jesus Christ has set you free. Having described his conversion in Galatians 1, Paul goes on to describe his limited contact with the apostles and other leaders of the church in Jerusalem. In that context he uses the language of espionage, attempted conquest, and enslavement to describe the efforts of false brothers to force Titus to submit to the ceremonial regulations of the leaders of Israel. What is the freedom you have in Christ? Christ has set you free from the condemnation of the law. The law can only condemn and bring death, Romans 7:7–10. The law cannot set you free from condemnation, not because of any defect in it, but because of the sinfulness of flesh (human nature), Romans 8:1–4. You cannot be justified by the works of the law, Romans 3:19–20. God does not grade on a curve. Salvation by works is bondage. (Keep that in mind as you witness to members of cults, or to American pagans.) You are free from the guilt, condemnation, and punishment of your sins, for that has been borne by Christ and you have been united with him in his death and resurrection. Christ’s righteousness, his death and resurrection, is all that saves. The Exodus is the great picture of salvation in the Old Testament. God’s people were slaves in Egypt, and the Lord stretched out his arm and set them free. What the Passover lamb pictured is now a reality in Christ. You have been set free, not from the hard labor slavery, but from bondage to sin and from the punishment that the law of God pronounces upon it. “Law, as law, has no expiatory provision; it exercises no forgiving grace; and it has no power of enablement to the fulfillment of its own demand. It knows no clemency for the remission of guilt; it provides no righteousness to meet our iniquity; it exercises no constraining power to reclaim our waywardness; it knows no mercy to melt our hearts in penitence and new obedience…. The word ‘grace’ sums up everything that by way of contrast with law is embraced in the provisions of redemption…. Believers died with Christ and lived again with him in his resurrection (cf. Romans 6:8). They have, therefore, come under all the resources of redeeming and renewing grace which find their epitome in the death and resurrection of Christ and find their permanent embodiment in him who was dead and is alive again.” (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, pp. 185–186).

You are free from bondage to ceremonies, which were fulfilled in Christ, Matthew 5:17–18. Therefore they were abolished for Christians, as indicated by the vision the Lord gave Peter, Acts 10:9–16. How much more were mere human additions to the law, the traditions of men, no longer binding. Required supplements ultimately enslave, for they replace the authority of God with some human standard. Bondage to ceremonies and to human additions to the Law of God, is fatal, for it compromises the sufficiency of Christ’s work.

This freedom had been attacked. “False brothers” crept in, v.4. The setting is likely the same as that described in Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council, possibly a more private meeting during the general sessions. However, Paul may have in mind the famine visit of Acts 11:27–30; 12:25. These false brothers were pretend Christians, giving a profession, but really living as opponents of the gospel. They demanded that Titus, a Gentile Christian, be circumcised (and keep the details of the ceremonial law) in order to be a Christian, v.3. Adding to God’s law has the effect of destroying your liberty. Be on guard to protect the freedom you have in Christ. This demand was not granted. Titus was a public example, a Gentile Christian in Jerusalem itself. Paul did not give in, even for a moment, because of the principle at stake. To do so would have denied the sufficiency of Christ’s work, the truth of the gospel, and your liberty in Christ. The case of Timothy, Acts 16:1–3, was different, because there was no suggestion that the rite of circumcision was essential to being a Christian.

Paul defends your liberty. Paul’s authority was attacked. Paul defends himself against the insinuation that he is a second rate apostle. In Galatians 1 the origin of Paul’s gospel is at stake. Now Paul’s position relative to the “important” apostles is disputed. Paul even adopts their terminology, vv.2,6,9. The “pillars” were not the source of Paul’s gospel. God does not judge by appearance, v.6. The privileged position of the apostles does not degrade Paul’s gospel. Paul does not depend on the endorsement of others. To the contrary, those “reputed to be pillars” agreed with Paul.

Live and serve as someone who is free in Christ. There was a division of labor. Peter preached to the Jews, vv. 7–8, while Paul went to the Gentiles. But the right hand of fellowship was extended. There was no conflict among the leaders, even though the differences between Jewish and Gentile Christians were greater than cultural or racial barriers today. Rather, there was respect, and whole hearted fellowship. Paul was requested to remember the poor—which he did. Freedom does not mean doing whatever one feels like. True freedom involves living in accordance with God’s Word, obeying his law. Paul’s zeal is for the gospel. He is not simply defending himself. He is defending the One who commissioned him. He is defending, not just his writings and his life work, but Christian freedom in all of its richness. “Now as always true liberty is to be obtained only when a man depends for his salvation unreservedly upon the grace of God.” (J. Gresham Machen, Machen’s Notes on Galatians, p. 107). He is defending your freedom to trust in Christ alone for salvation.

Are you free in Christ? Have his death and resurrection purchased your freedom from the guilt of sin? Beware of ever subjecting yourself to human authority which replaces that of the Lord!

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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