Preserving the Truth of the Gospel (Galatians, Part 14)
This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.
4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Remind me, what were the false brothers teaching?
The false brothers were teaching that if someone wanted to follow Jesus and become a Christian, they had to keep the Jewish law (given by Moses and contained in the Old Testament) in order to be adopted into God’s family. Faith in Jesus was not sufficient on its own, they said.
Where were the false brothers “secretly brought in”?
Paul is still referring to the private meeting he had in Jerusalem with the apostles and other influential leaders in the church, 14 years after his conversion to Christ and the beginning of his ministry. He was laying before them the gospel message he had been preaching to the Gentiles for the past decade-plus, just to be sure they were in agreement with what he taught.
What’s with the bondage / freedom language? What is Paul talking about?
Paul says that anytime a person believes that their relationship with and acceptance by the Father depends on keeping a set of rules and laws (in this case, it was the law of Moses), that person is enslaved and in bondage. He says in Galatians 3:23, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” Remember that the law itself was not bad (1 Tim. 1:8; Rom. 7:12). Paul was not opposed to the law itself, but rather the notion that God intends for us to earn our way into his family by our rule-keeping. Believing this notion is what Paul calls bondage / slavery.
But through faith—by trusting in God as the only one who is truly good and the only one who is free from corruption and who never fails—we are set free from this bondage. He says in Galatians 4:4-7, “God sent his Son…so that we might receive adoption as sons….So you are no longer a slave, but a son.” Later in the letter, he tells the Galatians (who are being tempted to turn back to law-keeping as the basis for their hope), “For freedom Christ has set us free;…do not submit again to a yoke of slavery [by imagining that God only loves you and accepts you if you do a good enough job of keeping the ‘rules’]” (5:1).
Why were the stakes so high for Titus’ circumcision? Paul says that he refused to circumcise Titus “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” Isn’t that kind of melodramatic?
No, because if he had allowed Titus to be circumcised at the insistence of these brothers, he would basically have been admitting that they were right and that Titus could only be a true adopted son of the Father if he observed the law of Moses. Have you ever asked for permission to do something only to be told, “If I let you do it, I’d have to let everybody else do it too”? If Paul had just said, “Whatever, just circumcise him already to get these guys to shut up about it” then it would have totally undermined his message that God accepts all those who love and trust Jesus, not because of what we can do for God (by keeping the rules) but because of what God has done for us—by sending Jesus to swallow up all of our evil and pain and sadness and brokenness and rising from the dead to make us whole again.