December 3, 2006 Series: Galatians

Topic: Gospel Passage: Galatians 2:1–2:10

Language is a curiously evolving thing.  Defining your terms is very important.  Words today have many definitions and it seems that those definitions can change.  Of course there are the terms used in everyday slang like PHAT, or GAY, or PIMP whose definitions are completely different from their original intentions.   Spend a day in my high school and you will learn how the F-Word has evolved now into a verb, noun, or an adjective of which can either have positive or negative connotations.  It can be a term of endearment or the worst of insults. 

The definitions of words change, as do the images they conjure up in our mind.  Take the term "dog" for example.  When I hear the term dog, I imagine a particular type of dog, based on my own personal preferences and experience.  When someone says "dog", I immediately envision a black lab, golden retriever, or something similar to that nature.  So when you speak about dogs, unless you have clarified exactly what kind of dog you are talking about, that is what I envision you envision.  I don't envision a barking cat.  Not to offend anyone, but you know that type of dog I am talking about.  These are the dogs that have more bark than they do bite.  They are loud, obnoxious, and about the size of a football.  They make clothes for all occasions and people can be found carrying their dogs in special doggie bags, driving with them on their lap, or simply carting them around in their coat.  That is not a dog...according to my definition. I need a dog that can scare you, slobber up at least 16 ounces of saliva in less than 5 minutes, and who can fetch a stick or rock in the ocean.  Barking cats can do none of those things. 


The word "Coffee" is another example.  I don't know what we did before Starbucks, but coffee in Seattle has taken on entirely new meaning.  I believe there was a time when you simply ordered coffee and you got coffee.  Today, ordering coffee is quite the process and if you don't know the accepted language and lingo, you not only look like a fool but are immediately ostracized as an outsider in any of the local coffee shops.  I am a pretty down to earth regular guy, meaning, I like plain coffee-no fluff, no syrup, nothing.  So, I basically have determined there are two categories with coffee-MAN COFFEE and GIRL COFFEE.    Please know that I am not trying to offend anyone, well, no ladies at least.  There are few ladies who would be offended to know they drink girl coffee.  But guys, well, you should be.  Man coffee is any coffee where you have to add more than one additional word to the size your order.  An example of man coffee would be Grande Drip or Grande Americano.  Simple, strong, coffee.  Girl Coffee is pretty much anything else.  Grande Vanilla Latte or Tall Carmel Machiato or  Grande Half/Calf Irish cream Latte, extra hot, no foam...please.  Girl coffee. 

In all seriousness, there seems to be a bit of confusion with the use of some words in Christianity.  Although seemingly harmless, confusing the meaning of words, will confuse the meaning of beliefs which will confuse the meaning of behavior.  Today, I would like to focus on the word CULTURE.  In our church we talk a lot about culture.  Just as Jesus came down and lived in our culture, we believe that we are sent to live in this culture.  Unfortunately, very few people have taken the time to actually define what culture and as a result, many people have confused culture with the concept of the world which I would argue is in fact broken culture.  These broken cultures still contain the influences of God's image and likeness imprinted upon people but it is always marred and bent away from God's glory. This bent aspect of culture is called the "world" throughout the Scriptures. 

So, what is culture?

"When we speak of culture in its broadest sense, we are speaking about the sum total ways of living that shape (and also are shaped by) the continuing life of a group of human beings from generation to generation. We are speaking about the language that enables them to grasp, conceptualize, and communicate the reality of their world; about law, custom, and forms of social organization, including marriage, family, and agriculture. These things shape the life of each member of the society. They are also shaped, modified, and developed from generation to generation by the members of the society. From the point of view of the individual member they are given as part of the tradition into which he or she is born and socialized. But they are not changeless absolutes." - Lesslie Newbigin

When we speak of culture we are discussing an enormous framework within which all of life occurs for a person or people. Ours is a multicultural and pluralistic society in which there are a seemingly endless number of cultures, subcultures, and tribes. Similarly, the Scriptures reveal that at the time of Jesus there also existed varying cultures of Jews, Romans, and Greeks. Even among the Jews, there are varying cultures of Jews such as the Pharisees and Sadducees; the differences between these groups is vast and a frequent source of conflict. 

As I have been studying Galatians, I have tried very hard to figure our two things...(1) What exactly do these Jewish Christians keep doing to these Gentiles and why? (2) What am I supposed to learn from this? 

All throughout the book of Galatians, we have a clash of two distinct cultures BOTH dealing with what it means to be saved.  There is a group of Jewish Christians who have taken their cultural identity and attached it to their identity in Christ-and ultimately, their salvation.  Specifically, they have made their justification (or rightness before God) an issue of faith AND their ceremonies, traditions, and rituals-all things that are a part of their culture.  Their argument is that unless accept their cultural traditions or rituals, then you are not really saved and still part of the WORLD!  In essence, they have put something above the Gospel...namely, their religious identity-their church. 



Scholars disagree on exactly when this trip to Jerusalem took place.  There are three recorded visits to Jerusalem. The First visit occurred shortly after conversion where Barnabas stood up for him (Gal. 1.18).  The Second visit is recorded in Acts 11 from Antioch for famine relief.  The third visit occurred shortly after his first missionary journey:

Acts 15.1-5  But some men came down from Judea (they were in Antioch after their 1st missionary journey) and were teaching the brothers, "UNLESS you are CIRCUMCISED according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Pual and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question...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."


Circumcision was the sign of the covenant with God, like a seal of a contract.  IT WAS THE IDENTIFIER of JEWISH CULTURE.   It was an essential Jewish rite handed down from the days of Abraham (Gen. 12).  Submitting to circumcision meant accepted and obeying the whole Jewish Law.  The Jewish people had in fact lost sight of the true meaning of this rite.  Even in the days of Moses, they failed to remember the spiritual meaning:  Deut. 10.16 circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart and be no longer stubborn. And again in Jeremiah 4 circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts...

These Jewish Christians were very much consumed by the concept of circumcision.  It was there identification, their stamp of approval, THE indicator of being "in the club."  The substance behind that stamp had been lost as God's personal relationship with His people degenerated into RELIGION, an impersonal routine.  When Jesus came as the messiah the Jews had waited for, these now Jewish Christians were the ones who believed in that Gospel.  But they could not release the culture they were raised in and they are not necessarily required to do so. 

But what they argued was that the GOSPEL, the good news of Jesus Christ dying on the cross for my sins, paying the debt I could not pay, and offering this unmerited gift reconciliation with my God was only a starting point.  Paul did not expect Jews need to give up their culture that they have grown up in if their consciences do not allow it.  It is not sinful to be circumcised or to follow the LAW as long as you have accepted the FACT that your rightness before God does not come from that! 

What is sinful is to take your supposed "spiritual cultural", go into another culture, and tell them that they must adopt XYZ cultural traditions or they are not in fact saved.  Circumcision had become a major cultural symbol of fidelity to Judaism.  In this case, the Jewish Christians would rather circumcise Galatians thus severing them from their own "Gentile culture"-than allow Judean Jews back home think that Christian missionaries were lax on upholding Jewish tradition.  Unlike Paul, these missionaries wanted to impose their own culture JEWISH on the GENTILE Galatians as a requirement for salvation! 


So this brings us to the question of, what does this have to do with us?  Who gives a flying fart about circumcision?  I really believe that churches today have simply replaced circumcision with something else.  In our effort to separate from the "world" after salvation, we in fact separate from BIG BAD WORLD and create our own "Christian" culture that we REQUIRE people to belong to.  With somewhat pure intentions, we ask others to behave and believe BEFORE they belong. 


Many Christians today go even further as to place the gospel BELOW their church identity so much so that their answer to the question, "Why are you saved?" rarely points to Jesus.  Instead, it points to behaviors-some neo-circumcision for 2006.    And, I believe that this is very much a major reason why people do not like CHURCH.  We have a church culture that we try to impose on others foreign than the one they have.  THIS IS NOT AN ISSUE OF WORDLINESS AND SIN.  I am not talking about behaviors that we agree the Scripture teach are sinful. 

When asked why are you saved, many people default into "proving" their righteousness through various behaviors they're doing or should be doing.  I am talking about the list of DO'S and DON'TS we in the Church culture as a measuring stick to judge those we think are IN and OUT!    Now, I'm a Calvinist.  I believe that people are going to be saved whether they want to or not because the decision, the initiation, and the transforming power rests with God and not something I can screw up.  But my flesh sees that people think Christians are people who separate themselves from culture and are freak!  They are the Ned Flanders of the world, who might be really nice people, but are in fact completely disconnected with real life! If you don't think there is a church culture, consider this....

  • Christians typically dress conservatively (not modestly)
  • Christians typically listen to Christian music
  • Christians typically speak about other Christians as being blessed and non- Christians as being sinful.
  • Christians typically sing in the choir.
  • Christians typically vote Republican
  • Christians typically read their Bible more hours than they watch TV, pray more than they talk to their spouses, and fast at least three times a week. 
  • Christians typically do not drink alcohol or smoke
  • Christians typically do not gamble or play card games
  • Christians typically do not ever use profanity
  • Christians typically do not watch rated R films unless they're about Jesus.
  • Christians typically do not ever break the speed limit, rarely if ever raise their voices, and never ever get in fights.

None of those things are wrong per se, but none of them have anything to do with being TRULY SAVED.  Circumcision is not ‘bad' in itself just as Church culture is not ‘bad'.   But once your Church Culture is lifted above the gospel, once your PERSONAL or CORPORATE list of behaviors is promoted to first priority, then you've just created a works-based righteousness and perverted the gospel of grace.


So, the Judaizers appeal to Jerusalem to PROVE Paul is wrong.  So, Paul, inspired by the Spirit and not any sense of obligation to these guys, takes his gospel, THE GOSPEL, to the Jersualem council of apostles (Acts 15).   He takes it to make sure that he had not run in vain---that his past 14 years of ministry and his present ministry might be rendered of no effect by these judaizers. 


On this trip, Paul takes with him Titus as a bit of a test case. IF IT IS TRUE, that gentiles need circumcision, if he requires identification with Jewish culture to be saved, then Timothy's peepee should be sliced and diced immediately. 

I imagine these Jews are probably assuming that without the circumcision, they are not saved, and will in fact evidence some level of worldliness.  But Titus is a good guy.  This is a godly young man who travels with Paul and ministers with Him to Gentiles.  He is a Greek and goes with Paul to Jerusalem.   Despite all the pressure to do so, Paul refuses to circumcise Timothy because of the issue of Liberty.

What Paul did concerning TITUS, by not permitting him to be circumcised, was not out of disdain for circumcision, but "on the account of the false brethren" who, had I yielded to the demand for his being circumcised, would have perverted the case into a proof that I deemed circumcision necessary.


This appears to contradict Paul's thinking in Galatians 2:3-5 where he refused to let Titus be circumcised. The situations, however, were different. In Galatians 2 the issue was the method of justification; here it was a question of not giving offense . The Jerusalem Council, of course, had determined circumcision was not necessary for salvation (Acts 15:10-11, 19). In Acts 16 Paul acted as he did for the sake of the ministry; it was a wise move.  If it had been an issue of a weaker brother, out of love, he may have submitted.  But this was a GOSPEL ISSUE.  


Although we must not go too far into "CHURCH CULTURE", we must also not go to far into the CULTURE of the society that we compromise the truth.  The question will always be asked, did you go to far.  Are you falling too far into culture that it is overwhelming you and now you're just using "engaging" culture as a way to cover up your sin?  If we're honest, we must say that this is entirely possible. 

Many people are fearful that if you take away the law, or any man-made commitment to righteousness, you encourage sin.  If we don't know what a Christian looks like, then how will we know we are supposed to Act?  If you take away the external trappings or evidence of spirituality, what do you have left?  What do you have to prove how spiritual you are and to whom Fruit of the Spirit is love joy peace patience...

The Bible clearly teaches that our freedom is not an excuse to sin. 

  • 1Peter 2.16 16 rLive as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but sliving as servants4 of God.[i]  


  • Gal 5.13 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. qOnly do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love rserve one another

This is not freedom to sin, but rather, freedom to live.  In Christ, believers have been liberated from the LAW as a means to be saved.  They are liberated from the external ceremonies and regulations as a way of living.  I'm not so worried about freedom becoming sinful...I'm worried about our freedom becoming too difficult that we go back to the easy LAW


The council of Jerusalem confirmed that PAUL had been entrusted with the GOSPEL to a particular culture.  The Jewish Christians had hoped that these CHURCH PILLARS would have upheld the additional cultural requirements they had added to the gospel.  Nothing could be further from the truth...

Acts 15.6-11 The kapostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much pdebate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, qthat by my mouth the Gentiles should hear rthe word of sthe gospel and believe. 8 And God, twho knows the heart, ubore witness to them, vby giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and whe made no distinction between us and them, xhaving cleansed their hearts yby faith. 10 Now, therefore, why zare you putting God to the test aby placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples bthat neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we cbelieve that we will be dsaved through ethe grace of the Lord Jesus, wjust as they will." [ii]

The apostles and elders did not DENOUNCE the cultural traditions of the Jews, but they AFFIRMED the source of salvation...the gospel. The church and its culture must never come before the gospel. 

They declare that to add spiritual value to any church tradition so is to lay out a new set of "expected behaviors" that ultimately become a new law to follow-one that we won't be able to keep.  We are not saved by meeting certain man-made behavioral expectations; we're saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.  What is my evidence for being a Christian...I believe in Jesus.   


Finally, in verse 9 they give him the RIGHT HAND OF FELLOWSHIP as OPPOSSED to the BACKHAND of hatred these Jewish guys gave.  .  The apostles recognized that he has been entrusted WITH THE GOSPEL to a different culture and that there is NOT ONE culture out there that is more right than another.  What is important is the gospel.

I don't think Jesus would do well in our church culture days.  Ultimately, because he didn't meet the expectations of the MESSIAH IMAGE they created in their own mind, THEY KILLED HIM.  It wasn't because what he was saying was not true, it is because HE DID NOT FIT IN.  He was following the law but he did not follow their LAWS.  The Bible says he lived a perfect life, but these guys determined it wasn't perfect enough. 

I think we would have denied him too because Jesus doesn't fit who we have made him out to be.  That is why a lot of people don't like church because they feel like they have to be someone else. They feel pressured to behave a certain way (not talking about sin here) as evidence that their saved!  They believe in Jesus but NOW they have to talk and look the part!  What is the part?  Jesus would not have passed as a Christian today. 

Jesus is not asking you to accept a culture, He is asking you to accept the free gift of grace.  The work on the cross is what counts, not the opinions of men who ascrible to the Jesus+ program.

More in Galatians

December 17, 2007

Galatians 2.15-21

March 18, 2007

Galatians 6.11-18

March 11, 2007

Galatians 6.1-10