After Derbe, Paul and Barnabas return to the churches they previously visited, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’”
Paul and Barnabas report back to the church that sent them out at Antioch in Syria all that the Lord has done, “and that He had opened the doors of faith to the Gentiles. So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.”
During their stay at their home church in Antioch, shortly before the apostolic council in Jerusalem in 49 AD, Paul writes a letter to the churches of Galatia. Since Paul has left the church in Galatia, the church has been infiltrated by men teaching a false doctrine which was troubling the new believers. These legalistic Jews are teaching that you have to be circumcised in order to be saved, trying to convert the Gentile believers to adhere to Jewish laws. Paul’s main purpose in writing the letter is to confirm that we are justified by faith alone, apart from works of the law. Paul wants to preserve the true Gospel that was revealed to him by Christ, that we are saved by grace through faith alone, and stop this false gospel that first you have to do these works, such as circumcision, in order to be saved.
Paul talks about the time he confronted Peter for not eating with the Gentiles in front of certain Jewish Christians, threatening the teaching that we are all one in Christ, Jews and Gentiles. Paul goes on to say, “And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”
Paul explains that he has died to his old way of life, which was seeking justification through the impossible obedience of the burdensome Jewish law, so that he might live to God. Therefore, Paul now lives a joyful life that is pleasing to the Lord, not by relying on his works but by faith in Christ. Paul says, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
Paul illustrates our salvation by faith versus works by taking them back to the first Patriarch, Abraham. Abraham was declared righteous in Genesis 15:6 because of his belief, thirteen years before the rite of circumcision was introduced and four hundred and thirty years before the Law of Moses was given. So Paul makes the point that “only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.”
The law was given as part of God’s plan, and God knew that no man could perfectly obey the law because of our sinful nature. The law exposes our sinful nature and our need for a Savior. Therefore, also as part of God’s plan, God sent His Son, Who lived a perfect life in perfect obedience to the law, to die for us so that we may be justified through faith in Him, Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow, Paul further explains the freedom in Christ in his letter to the Galatians. Keep reading.
(Acts 14:21-28, Galatians 1:1-3:23)