Watch Out for Those Spies
From Benedict Arnold, the spy who almost betrayed Washington, to the British in the American Revolution, to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg who were executed in June of 1953 for giving top secrets about radar, sonar, and nuclear weapon designs to the Soviet Union in the beginning of the Cold War, spies seeking to infiltrate and destroy our freedom are viewed as notorious criminals. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is not a James Bond spy thriller, but his real-life story does have some spies in it, and their cover is effective and totally unexpected.
Religion with its holy leaders, stress on initiation rites, the observance of holy days, special diets, and strict moral codes is usually viewed as a good influence in society. But for Paul, he labels his opponents as spies. These false teachers who are teaching the new believers in the Galatian churches that they must add religious rites like circumcision, kosher food laws, religious holy days, and annual celebrations to their faith in Jesus are enemies seeking to destroy the glorious freedom that Jesus’ grace has poured into their lives. These false teachers claim that the Jerusalem founding apostles disagree with Paul’s Gospel to the Gentiles. Here’s the evidence that makes it clear that Peter and James in Jerusalem agreed with Paul that Gentiles did not have to adopt Jewish religious practices in order to be justified before God.
“Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas and also taking along Titus. I went up in response to a revelation. And I lay out before them the Gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I did this privately to those who appeared to be important. I did this so that I would not be running in vain in my present ministry or my past ministry. The proof that the Jerusalem apostles agreed with my Gospel was that Titus, a Gentile who accompanied me to Jerusalem, was not compelled to be circumcised. The reason this issue even came up was because false brothers had sneaked in among believers. They did this to spy on the freedom that we have in the Messiah Jesus with the purpose to enslave us. We didn’t submit to them for even a moment so that the truth of the Gospel might remain with you.” Galatians 2:1-5
If ever there was a place where circumcision and adopting the religion of first-century Judaism was absolutely necessary, it would have been in Jerusalem. But Paul could not be clearer. None of the Jewish Jerusalem church leaders demanded that the Gentile, Titus, be circumcised, and this is why those teaching the Galatian believers that they must be circumcised are in error—negating the divine revelation of the Gospel of grace to Paul and its confirmation during the visit Paul and Barnabas made to Jerusalem as recorded by Luke in Acts 11:20-26. This meeting took place in AD 45-57 before Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey recorded in Acts 13-14 when they founded the churches in Galatia.
LORD, it’s Easter time and religion will be high profile. Help us to remember that it’s not about beautifully decorated buildings or robed religious leaders, fasting or not fasting, or trying to obey a list of religious rules. Help us to celebrate the free gift of intimacy with our Savior who died for us, rose again, and lives inside our lives.
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