Galatians 2:1-2, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.” (English Standard Version)
From a cursory reading of these two verses, a person doesn’t really get the full weight of what is going on. In one sense these two verses set up the rest of the book of Galatians, and in another sense these two verses demonstrate the awesome power of God to save both the Jews and the Gentiles. To fully understand what Paul is referencing in these two verses we have to journey back to the book of Acts to chapter fifteen where Luke gives an accounting of what took place at the Jerusalem Council.
In Acts 15:1-21 Paul and Barnabas appeared before the assembled apostles and elders of the Jerusalem Church and gave testimony to the ways in which God was working amongst the Gentiles in Phonecia, Syria, Pamphylia, and all throughout the Roman Empire. It was also at this council where believers who were also members of the Pharisee party were demanding that Gentile converts to Christianity be circumcised and ordered to adhere to the law of Moses (Acts 15:5). This idea, to assimilate into Jewishness and identify with the Jewish faith, was not a new idea because many non-Jews had been circumcised and brought into the “fold” in the past, especially non-Jewish slaves that Israelites had captured in battle or traded for.
The fact of the matter though is that this was no longer necessary for identification as a child of God, for salvation, for sanctification, or for justification. When Jesus ushered in the New Covenant he fulfilled the law of Moses so that no one else would be burdened with earning their own way into a right relationship with God “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17).
In Christ, both Jews and Gentiles find salvation, forgiveness, righteousness, and justification. There is absolutely no need for physical circumcision to justify one’s standing with God or to pursue righteousness. Paul and Barnabas declared boldly to the Jerusalem Council that the Gentiles who had trusted in Christ for salvation from their sins and for complete and total forgiveness of their sins were justified by faith alone by the grace of God alone.
In this same passage the Apostle Peter also stood up and defended the teachings of Paul and Barnabas “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between them and us, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:7-11).
After this incredible defense from one of Jesus’ closest friends and apostles, the assembled listened in awe to what God was doing amongst the Gentiles through the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. They rejoiced in the miracles that God was doing all throughout the Roman Empire. They celebrated the newly converted brothers and sisters. They gave thanks to God for the churches that were being planted and the disciples that were being made. In all this the apostles never once doubted the ministry that Paul and Barnabas were doing was invalid or not in vain.
After the time of testimony was over James, the bishop of the church in Jerusalem, had a letter written to the Gentile believers to encourage them, exhort them to abstain from all sinful behavior and to keep a close watch over one another. James also dispatched some of the more mature disciples and leaders of the church to go and deliver the letter and continue to preach and teach the new Christians.
Coming back to the letter to the Galatians, Paul is telling these things to the church so that they will know that the apostles of the Lord Jesus affirm them as brothers and sisters in Christ, that they too are justified by faith and not by works or the Law of Moses. Rather they are given the same saving grace that the Jewish apostles and disciples have. They are not under the yoke of the Law of Moses, and neither are they required to add anything to the gospel to increase chances of justification and salvation. They are simultaneously justified and saved the moment that they put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. This is powerful!
It means that Jews and Gentiles both can be saved and are saved by the blood of Christ. The covenant that God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David is fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. His death adds new life to the family of God. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are in the millions and perhaps billions because of how God has formally adopted Gentiles into His chosen family. Jesus accomplished all these things and more when he died on the cross, and the best part is that Jesus is still seeking and saving the lost at this very moment. That’s power. That’s gospel.
The remainder of this chapter and the rest of the book of Galatians continues to speak to this awesome power and gracious, loving-kindness of God. Of all the books in the New Testament, excluding the four Gospels, of course, no other book affords the assurance of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone that Galatians does.
The German Reformer, Martin Luther, called this book “my epistle” and he went on to say “It was on the masthead of the Reformation. It has been called the Magna Carta of the early church. It is the manifesto of Christian liberty, the impregnable citadel, and a veritable Gibraltar against any attack on the heart of the gospel. As someone put it, “Immortal victory is set upon its brow.” With that said don’t dare overlook these first two verses ever again and don’t dare to skim over Galatians without first mining it’s innumerable riches of gospel freedom and hope.
James Forbis is a graduate of The University of Arkansas, a former Jr. High and High School football coach, and American history teacher. He is completing his M.DIV at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Great Commission Studies and Expository Preaching. He’s a self-proclaimed sweet tea connoisseur and Tex-Mex addict. Most Saturday’s you can find him cheering on his Arkansas Razorbacks, hiking or fishing, or reading up on his favorite subject, the Revolutionary War, or spending time with his wife.