Preserving the Pure Gospel
Scripture: Galatians 2:1–5
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 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. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 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. (Galatians 2:1-5)
Those last few words are going to be a big focus for us today. Preserving the truth of the gospel. This idea, of preserving the truth of the gospel, this is something that countless men, women, and even children, have died for. There have been martyrs all throughout church history, who would not have been martyrs, if they had only compromised the truth of the gospel, just a little bit. People who were burned at the stake, hung on a cross, stoned, beheaded, or in some other way slaughtered. And what they ultimately died for was their unwillingness to budge from the pure, uncensored, unaltered truth of the gospel. These people did not waste their lives. And they did not waste their deaths. They lived and died for the glory of Jesus, and, they lived and died for the eternal good of those who would later be saved. Those who would be saved because the gospel message had been preserved for them. Because it hadn’t been compromised, it hadn’t been changed. Preserving the gospel matters. It matters greatly.
Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The last time we were in Galatians together, we saw that the gospel is all about Jesus. It’s about Him, it’s from Him, and it’s for His glory. There is no gospel without Jesus. No one comes to the Father, no one has eternal life, no one has loving fellowship with God apart from Jesus. Apart from the real Jesus. The true Jesus.
It isn’t enough to have some made-up version of Jesus. Some version of Jesus that doesn’t line up with Scripture. The Judaizers, those who were falsely teaching the Galatians, they had a false version of Jesus. Their version of Jesus did a good thing by dying on the cross, and rising from the dead. But in their minds, it wasn’t a good enough thing to secure the salvation of those who were lost. Their version of Jesus did most of what was needed to save sinners, but not all of it. Because to them, circumcision was a requirement for the salvation of men. It was Jesus and something else. Jesus and circumcision. And so their version of Jesus, was really no Jesus at all.
If we lose the true gospel, then we lose the true Jesus Christ. And what we worship, what we live for, is simply an idol. Even if we call it Jesus. It’s a false god that cannot, will not save. So the truth of the gospel must remain true. It must remain pure. Otherwise it will only lead us to death.
As I said earlier, our focus for today comes from what Paul says in verse 5. He writes, “to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” Your translation may say, “so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.” Or, “continue with you.” The idea here is the importance of not losing the truth. If you take the word “preserve,” it means to keep something in its original, intended state.
If we think of this in terms of food, you put meat in the fridge or the freezer to preserve it, to keep it how it’s supposed to be. But what happens if, instead of putting that meat in the fridge or freezer, you just leave it sitting out for a few days? What happens if you don’t take the necessary steps to preserve it? The meat decomposes. It gets rotten. And then, that meat, which otherwise may have made for part of a great meal, it becomes something that you should definitely not eat. If the meat is not preserved, and it decomposes, then it will become like poison to the human body. In a similar way, if the gospel is not preserved, if it is not kept in its original, intended state, then it will become like poison to the human soul. An unpreserved gospel becomes a false gospel. And false gospels lead people down a path that they believe is the path to God. They believe it’s the true path. But they will get to the end of their lives and hear some of the most terrifying words from Jesus, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
If our souls are not fed the true gospel, then they’re poisoned by false gospels. On our own we are spiritually dead. Separated from God. And no false gospel can do anything to fix that. But with the true gospel, through the true gospel, and the true Jesus Christ, we are given life, eternal life. Life in loving oneness with God forever. This is why the issue of preserving the gospel is so important. It’s important to Paul, and it should be important to us, because human souls are at stake.
Our passage today in Galatians refers to a trip that Paul took. He traveled to Jerusalem, and a conflict came about surrounding the question of what the true gospel is. There isn’t very much information in Galatians 2 about this trip. But we find more details about the trip in the book of Acts, chapter 15. Before we look at Acts 15, I do want to say that, some scholars and theologians are unsure if Acts 15 and Galatians 2 are speaking about the same trip. Some think that maybe these are two different trips. But the large majority of opinion about this is that they are speaking of the same trip. And so I think it will be helpful for us to read this account in Acts.
1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “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. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 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? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:1-11)
This is a significant event taking place in history. It is a significant meeting between Paul and the men in Jerusalem. There are two opposing arguments being made. There is an argument against the true gospel, and an argument for the true gospel. And we’re going to look more closely at each of these.
First, the argument against the true gospel. The initial source of this argument is a group of false brothers. We see the phrase, “false brothers,” in Galatians 2:4. These may in fact be the Judaizers that were falsely teaching the Galatians. We don’t know. But in any case, their message was the same as that of the Judaizers. So what seems to happen, as we look at Acts 15, is that these false brothers come in and deceive the true believers. Verse 1 in Acts 15 says, “some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” So it begins with these men from Judea. But then, what we see happen, is that the false teaching doesn’t stop there. In verse 5 we read, “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” So it started with the false brothers, but now, as often happens, the false teaching has spread, and now believers are saying the same thing. They’re saying that Gentiles must be circumcised if they are to truly be saved. That is the argument against the true gospel. It’s the argument that says, “What Jesus did is not enough to save.”
Let’s look at the argument that the apostles make. We have Paul’s words in Galatians 2 and Peter’s in Acts 15. This is the argument for the true gospel. Paul says, in Galatians 2:4-5, “false brothers…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.” With Paul we see this idea of being brought into slavery. And then Peter says, in Acts 15:10-11, “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.”
What is the common theme between Paul’s words and Peter’s? The common theme is that Jesus and something, Jesus plus something, is slavery. Paul says it using that exact word: slavery. Peter says it is a yoke on our necks that no sinner, in all of history, has ever been able to bear. So their argument is that we must hold to the true gospel, the gospel of faith in Christ alone, because anything else is impossible! No sinner has ever been able to do this! No one has been able to live up to God’s standards.
Jesus and something brings eternal slavery, because it only sets us up for failure. But Jesus alone, Jesus period brings eternal salvation, because as Hebrews 7:25 says, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” If you’re standing before the judgment throne of God, would you rather have Jesus Christ speaking for you, or your own works speaking for you?
The true gospel says that we could never save ourselves. Only what Jesus did can save us. The things we do can never lead God to love us more. They can never lead God to accept us more. Because in Jesus God showed us that His love for us was already full, already perfect.
In Jesus’ prayer in John 17, He says to the Father, “you loved me before the foundation of the world.” That’s verse 24, “you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Consider for a moment the love God the Father had for His Son before the foundation of the world. Think about the wildest, most extravagant, most pure and full love you can imagine. The greatest love that could ever be loved, that’s the kind of love the Father had, and has, for Jesus. And one verse earlier, in John 17:23, Jesus says something astounding. For the sake of context I’ll start reading in verse 22. This is still Jesus praying. He says:
22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them [to believers], that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:22-23)
Jesus wants His people to know that the Father loves them even as He loves Jesus. He wants us to know that we are loved as He is loved. The Father’s love for us is full, and perfect, because the Father’s love for Jesus is full and perfect.
This is the gospel that Paul believed. It’s a gospel that says you can’t add anything to what Jesus did for you. You can’t add to something that’s full and perfect. This is the gospel Paul believed. And this is the gospel that gave Paul the courage to hold fast to the truth.
When we look at this event that took place in Acts 15, that Paul wrote about in Galatians 2, we find a man confident in his message. We find a man who was unwilling to change his message, even in the face of great opposition.
The people wanted Paul to change his message. They wanted him to stop saying that Christ alone was the way of salvation. They wanted him to stop saying that circumcision was unnecessary. And so Paul had a choice to make. He could give in to the pressures of men, or he could stand up to those men. Verse 5, in Galatians 2, tells us what he did. It says, “to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” Aren’t you glad that Paul stood up for the truth? Aren’t you glad the pure gospel was preserved for us?
The question before us today is, will we do what Paul did? Will we have the courage to stand for truth?
If we honestly evaluate ourselves, I think we’ll find that one of our biggest barriers to preserving the gospel, is that we can at times be driven by a fear of other people, a fear of man. One pastor (Allen Snapp) defines the fear of man this way: “The fear of man is when we care too much about what people think of us. And it’s a fear that is two sided: on one side it’s an oversized craving for people’s approval and on the other side it’s an oversized fear of people’s rejection.”
Can you see yourself at all in that definition? I think to varying degrees we all should be able to. All of us in some way are driven by, or influenced by, the fear of others – fear of others’ disapproval, fear of others’ judgment, fear of rejection. It’s one thing to know that you should stand up for the truth, and it’s an entirely different thing to actually make that stand. In some cases it’s the difference between life and death.
It’s normal, and natural, to want other people’s love, to want approval. But if you’re a Christian, your desire for other people’s love, other people’s approval, should be different than that of the world. Because you have the love and the approval of God. And when you are infinitely loved by God, and you know you are – truly know it – then the love of others becomes infinitely less important. You may want their love – you’re human – you may want it, but you don’t need it. You’re not lacking without it. Because the love of God is enough.
If we are to preserve the gospel, as Paul did, then we have to be satisfied in God’s love for us, His care for us. So satisfied in it that we don’t chase after the love of others. We don’t compromise the truth to earn the love of others.
Other people will want us to change the message. And if we fear them more than we fear God, we will change it. We will. But, if we are driven by a desire to please God rather than men, then we will die as martyrs before we change this message. We will die, because our true life is not found in other people’s approval. Our true life isn’t found in being comfortable in this world, or accepted in this world. Our true life is in Jesus. He is our life. And since our true life is in Jesus, when we are faced with opposition we can say, like Paul did, that “to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved.” So that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for all those people around us, all those whom our lives touch. All those people, both now, and in the years and decades and centuries to come.
Will we preserve the pure gospel?
If you’ve been living to please others, trying to earn acceptance, earn approval from others. Or if you’ve been living to earn acceptance and approval from God. Then, in either case, you have forgotten the finished work of Christ. You’ve forgotten the perfect work of Christ that’s covering you. Both of these ways of living – trying to earn acceptance from others, and trying to earn acceptance from God – these are both impossible burdens. They are yokes on our necks that none of us can bear. Jesus invites us into something better. He says…
“28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)