FREEDOM FROM FUNDAMENTALISM
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. Galatians 2:1-2
Paul continues his same argument from the previous chapter. He did not get the gospel message that he has been preaching from the Apostles. He got it from Jesus himself. Even still, he did finally go up to Jerusalem to convene with the Apostles and discuss the reach of the Gospel. The question on everyone minds was, “Is observance of the Law a requisite to salvation?” Paul says he laid out clearly what he had been teaching to all the Gentiles.
Here’s the big idea – Paul is telling them, “I have been teaching all of the Gentiles (that is – those people who are far from God) that faith alone saves you, not obedience to the Jewish Law and God has been working in their lives. They hear the Gospel, they believe the Gospel, and their lives are transformed by the Gospel. So, the Holy Spirit is moving through the simple message of faith alone in Christ alone, not in adherence to the Law.” We have an example of this in Acts 13:
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Acts 13:38-39
That is the true gospel – that through the man Jesus, who died on the cross for your sins, you have been forgiven. Forgiveness is a free offer to anyone who simply believes. You are made just in all things, even the things in your life that stand in conflict with the Law. The Law could never save you, but now Grace saves you.
So Paul lays his Gospel on the table for all the Apostles to see and he says something curious, “In order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.” I say it is curious because there are several ways we can interpret a statement like that. One way, which I believe is the wrong way, is to think that he was double checking with the Apostles to see if he was preaching the right Gospel? That is sort-of what that sounds like. But that can not be the case since he has already told us that he received the Gospel directly from Jesus himself. Surely he is not having second thoughts – otherwise his first argument wouldn’t make sense.
So, what does this mean? Paul has been preaching the true Gospel all over the place. He planted these churches in Galatia and the Gospel saved these Gentiles. But now, the false teachers are trying to convince those Gentiles that Paul’s Gospel was not the full truth. That they also need to become Jews. They were trying to enslave them to the same system that Jesus came to set them free from. Now, if those false teachers succeeded in enslaving those Gentiles to their religious system, then Paul’s entire ministry would have been in vain. More to that, Christ finished work would be in vain also, a point he will elaborate on later.
So, to recap. Paul came to Jerusalem to show the leaders and the Apostles that he had been preaching the Free Grace Gospel and that message has been transforming lives. The Holy Spirit has been showing up when he preaches that message and people are getting saved. And all of this has been done with no mention of the Law, circumcision, or pulled pork sandwiches. So, what did the Apostles say? Did they gasp at Paul’s version of the Gospel? Did they correct him? Well, Paul goes on to tell us the story:
“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” Galatians 2:3
At the the end of the whole discussion, Titus was not ‘forced’ to be circumcised. Paul uses the word ‘forced’. Can you imagine being Titus? I would not want to be Titus. Think about it. Paul comes up to Titus, “Hey Barnabas and I are going up to Jerusalem. There is a Gospel Conference going on. The Apostles are gonna be there and we are going to be wrestling whether or not a Gentile, who is saved by faith, must also be circumcised. Since you are a Gentile, who God is obviously working through, we want you to come with us. You’ll be our test subject.”
That has got to be a stressful trip for Titus. His ultimate happiness is greatly determined by the results of this conference. Well, the Gospel wins. And the Apostles and leaders are in full agreement with Paul. That is good news. Not only is Titus saved from getting snipped but you and I are saved from religion. So the Jerusalem council determined that the true Gospel is good news indeed. We are saved by faith alone, without the deeds of the Law.
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—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. Galatians 2:4-5
Here we have a hint about why he went up to Jerusalem in the first place. He went to fight for freedom. A freedom that certain false brother were trying to destroy. He says the snuck in to spy out their freedom. They were trying to force all Christians to be enslaved to the Law.
Let me tell you, this is going to happen to you. If it hasn’t already. There is always people who are afraid of freedom. They sneak and they spy. They judge and they gossip. They will ostracize and blog about you. And They’ll try to find reasons and arguments, and even quote scripture to take that freedom away from you. They want to enslave you. Surely you have heard it before. You must, you cant, you should, and shouldn’t. They are so many people today, still sneaking and spying and trying to snuff out your freedom. Don’t let them. You are a free man! Remember Braveheart? “What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?” Paul here exemplifies that we must – WE MUST – fight! Do not yield in submission even for a moment! You must fight, just as Paul fought “so that the Gospel might be preserved.”
My hope and my prayer is that the Gospel sets you free. From the need to please others, but especially free from religion. And I hope that your freedom will result in hundreds of lives transformed by the gospel. I hope that your freedom will cause other people to spy out your life and when they do they will see that you are a person with unbelievable joy and confidence because of your unwavering dependence on Christ alone.
We need to fight for freedom again. Just as Paul fought. Just at Luther fought. We must first fight for our own freedom, but also to preserve that freedom for the majority of this population who have not experienced the freedom and the good news of the grace alone Gospel.
FREE TO minister
And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Galatians 2:6-9
If you are going to fight for that freedom, for your neighbors and co-workers and family members, you are going to have to contextualize. That is what this Jerusalem council essentially decided. So, what is contextualization? Contextualization means adapting the message of the Gospel to your context. We must adapt the Gospel to our context. Peter is adapting the Good News to the Jews, he has difficult task, while Paul is adapting the message to the Gentiles.
Peter is going to have to preach freedom to the Jews. Some how he is gonna have to teach them that Jesus literally sets them free from their old system of do’s and don’ts. That is going to be challenging. I can sympathize with that challenge. But Paul is going to have to adapt the message of the Gospel to Gentiles, or non Jews. Over and over again we see how Paul does that. Let me show you one example and then we’ll talk about it. Turn to Acts 17 and while your heading there I’ll set up the context. Paul is in Greece. At the capitol city called Athens. I have been there. It is beautiful. It is just like you imagine. The entire place is spattered with white statues. There is the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Agora. Its all still so beautiful today and it is very easy to imagine what it all looked like in its original glory. So, Paul is walking though the city and he is noticing all these statues to their God’s.
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus…
Pagos means big piece of rock. Because that what it literally is. A giant boulder at the top of the city. In Ancient Greek mythology, it was believe that Ares (Gk God of War) was tried there by the gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son. For that reason, in Paul’s day, the Areopagus was the high court of appeals. The place where criminals were tried. Later, the Romans named this rock “Mar’s Hill” after Mars, the Roman God of War. So Paul is standing on this rock (Mars Hill) and he is addressing, probably lawyers, and scholars, and judges. This is a tough crowed. And he says:
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’
So notice that he has been studying their culture. He is walking around reading the inscriptions on the statues. Maybe he has a tourists’ guide. I imagine he is staying at the local hotel. Maybe he has stopped by the local book story and he has bought a book from a few local authors. If he is at all like me he’s been flipping through that restaurant magazine. And, in the course of his study he finds this alter to a god that doesn’t have a name. Humm, a nameless God? You and I would nod our heads and laugh at that. We would comment on how sad it is that they worship so many false gods and we would judge them, looking down our noses at their ignorance. But not Paul. Listen to what he says:
“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.
That’s good stuff don’t you think? And it’s all true. Well, kind of. Paul is saying you have an unnamed god, but I know his name. That isn’t exactly true. That alter doesn’t represent God, or Jesus. But Paul is gonna run with it and he describes their unknown god as our creator. Who does feel very far off. Way up there. So it does makes sense that he should be unknown to us, even un-knowable. It does, in fact seem as if we have to feel our way to him and search for him to find him. Paul goes on:
“Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for, “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”
Did you see that. He is now quoting ‘some of their own poets’. That is why I imagine that he has gone to their book stores and the has been reading some of their local authors, or the newspaper. Maybe he has watched some of their TV programs. When I went to Greece, instead of listening to Dave Matthews on my iPod, I tuned into some their local radio stations and listen to some Greek hip hop. So, Paul is making a connection with them. I have seen your city, noted some of the inscriptions, read your poets, listen to you music, and I have noted that you are spiritual people. That you are seeking god and that you believe that you are his offspring. At least that what some of your poets say.
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:22-33
You see, that is what contextualization looks like. Paul contextualized. He was a missionary to people who where far from God, so he had to do things and talk about things in a way that would attract people who were far from God. If you were to go to missionary school, I am certain you would learn about contextualization, or maybe they would call it ‘indigenization’. Indigenization simply means making something more native; transformation of some service, idea etc. to suit a local culture. Simply put, to transform things to fit the local culture. The indigenous culture. When we enter into a culture we must make the gospel intelligible and relevant to that culture.
Evangelicals have actually used this process in foreign missions for centuries. When in Rome do as the romans do. When we go to Africa we don’t force them to sing our hymns. We want them to write there own worship music. Should we hinder them from using drums or from dancing? Im sure that there have been missionaries who mistakenly tried that sort of thing in the past but not in a long time. Instead, we try to weave the story of God in their own context. They might express their worship in a completely different way than white Europeans. And that’s good thing. It just makes sense. And that is exactly what Paul did.
Unfortunately, we have not done that here in America. We have not contextualized. Instead, we separated and we created our own Christian context so that we might not be entangled be the context at large. And…since we have abandon that context we have lost our minds on how to engage it appropriately for the Gospel. We did that because of fear. But you don’t have to be afraid. Paul is teaching us that we are free to enter into culture, and free, even, to contextualize.
Evangelicals have generally forbidden North American churches from doing the very thing we require international churches to do. Many churches often struggle just to change the carpet in the worship center! They aren’t dealing with cultural shifts that are going on in America. The sad reality is that many are just afraid of change, and therefore extremely defensive against indigenizing the gospel within our post-modern context. (Stezer)
Now quickly let me add one thing that I might need to say for those who still live in that fear. Contextualization is not bad. It is what the Apostles did and it is precisely what this Jerusalem council determined should be done. Peter would write his missional story through the lens of the Jews while Paul would write his missional story through the lens of non Jews. Peter is going to make the Gospel relevant to Jews. Paul is going to make it relevant to Gentiles.
But I have heard churches scoff and scorn the very idea of relevance. Again, its because they are afraid. They’re scared of losing the gospel. But think about this because its painfully ironic. They are so scared that making the Gospel relevant will result in losing the gospel – and yet – by refusing to be relevant the gospel is lost. It becomes powerless. Do you see that? They are so afraid of culture that they separate from it. They are in such bondage to their own Christian bubble, that they have no impact on the culture around them and the Gospel isn’t advancing. They are so enslaved to their “Christian” culture that they are not free to ministry to the culture at large. It is awfully hard for slaves to set other slaves free. And so Galatians teaches that we are free to enter into culture and we are free to be relevant.
Now, to those who fear or to those who might be afraid of contextualization, let me say that there is a difference between being relevant and being a relativist. Relevant means adapting the message to fit the culture. You don’t change the message, you just change the sound of that message, the style, the flavor, the color. On the other hand, a relativist believes that all truth is relative and they comprise the truth in order to be relevant. “People don’t like hell, so let’s stop talking about hell” And they lose and compromise that truth in order not to offend people. Paul never compromises the truth, he just packages it in a relevant way.
A relativist doesn’t believe in truth, a relevantist believes that all truth is God’s truth. Relativists change doctrine, relevantists change the way they package doctrine.
Paul was a relevantist. Listen to what he says:
I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel…
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
TAINTED LOVE ILLUSTRATION
Incidentally, this in one of the reasons we call ourselves MISSIODEI. That is what the missio Dei means. God is on a mission. The mission of God is to reach people who are far off. People of differing cultures. We have to contextualize the gospel. I want our church to contextualize. We must be in our context and we have to find ways to show them the freedom we have in Christ. Culture is not evil, it just is. And even if it was, we have been given the task to enter into you it to proclaim freedom.
Paul is teaching us that we are free to minister. We are free to get creative. You can be an artist. You can be a hippie. You can be in a rip hop band. It’s ok. You are free. Go ahead, and reach the artists, and the hippies and the rapers for Jesus. You have been set free. The early reformers actually designated a word for this kind-of thing.
ecclesia semper reformanda —
Because, as the culture changes, the church is compelled to change with it. The message must never change, but the sound of that message must if our culture is going to hear it.
So, how can we enter into and influence the culture around us for Jesus? How does this freedom to minister empower you to do that.