Video available here: http://youtu.be/qti3Pjw-His
Picking up in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we find that after Paul had already been preaching to the Gentiles for 14 years, having only met with Peter once in all that time, he finally made his way into Jerusalem along with Barnabas and Titus in order to sit down with the Christian leaders:
Galatians 2, verses 1 through 5:
2 Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4 This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
During this meeting many things were discussed, but we can be sure that one of the main topics of conversation was what Paul calls in Verse 4, “some false believers” that had been “infiltrating” the churches of Gentile believers and spying out the freedom they had in Christ. These Jewish infiltrators weren’t just coming in order to see what was going on, however—they were also attempting to convince the Gentile Christians that they must be like the Jews.
We see from Paul’s very first remarks about the meeting that the Jewish Christian leadership in Jerusalem were in agreement with Paul’s teachings that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised or follow the Law. Titus, who was a Greek did not feel compelled, nor did Paul or anyone else insist upon him getting circumcised at the conclusion of these conferences. In verse 5 Paul tells the Galatians that he did not cave to the pressure of these ‘Judaizers’ but instead persevered through their attempt to spread false teachings in order to continue preaching the truth of the Gospel.
Paul tells of the conclusion of the meetings in Jerusalem in verses 6-10:
6 As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. 8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.
At the end of the meeting Paul reported that nothing was added by this counsel that he had not already been preaching, and that all the men agreed that Paul had been entrusted to preach to the Gentiles the fullness of the Gospel just as Peter had been entrusted to preach to the Jews the fullness of the Gospels. It was understood and agreed that they were all in perfect fellowship one with another even though they were being sent by God to different people.
The only thing that both parties wanted to be absolutely sure that the other was continuing to do was to be good to the poor. It’s kind of amazing to think about! These two groups sitting down at a table after ministering for years and years separately with very little communication between them, and still the messages they were presenting to their respective congregations were in harmony!
It’s amazing to think about the Jews coming to Christ and accepting the freedom in Jesus Christ from the yoke of the Law. These Jews ONLY knew works—do this, get that. Be good, obey all the laws and live a perfect life, make your sacrifices the way you’re supposed to, and then, if you’ve done everything right, you will be saved as a circumcised Jew as part of God’s chosen people. But these people, having had this drilled into their heads from birth were taking the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ, of salvation by faith and coming into the Body of Christ—embracing freedom. It wasn’t easy for them, but they were doing it. Little by little (as we’ll see in the following section) the Jews were coming to understand just what it meant to be a Christian.
11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
It’s not very difficult for me to envision this dinner party happening. Before these men that were with James came up to Antioch Peter was very happy to sit and eat with Gentiles. But as soon as these ‘Judaizers’ came to town they didn’t want to eat with them anymore.
There are two possibilities as to why these Judaizers believed Jews shouldn’t eat with Gentiles. The first is the idea that Jews shouldn’t share a meal with Gentiles. This is a concept that is found in the Old Testament in Exodus 12:48, where God explains that only Jews should eat a Passover meal. This may have only been happening during communion since early assemblies often took the Lord’s Supper together in their meetings.
It’s also very possible that the objection had less to do with the circumcision and more to do with the Jews not eating foods prohibited in the Law that may have been on a Gentile’s table. So, perhaps the separation of the meals had more to do with the content of the meal (kosher vs. foreign cuisine, pork, shellfish, etc).
Regardless, Paul corrected Peter in this matter and called him out for his hypocrisy. Paul reminds him that the law does not save, and cannot justify a person. It is faith that justifies a person, and attempting to live out the law in order to be justified before God will result in someone being unjustified. It is contradictory to true faith.
Keeping with this thought about righteousness and how it comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul teaches in verse 17-21:
17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
If the Jews (or really Christians in general) seeking to be justified by Christ allow themselves to be around sinners or associated with sinners does that mean that Christ is okay with sin?
That’s really the question Paul is asking. Is it okay for us as Christians to be around people that are sinning? Is it okay for those of us coming out of the Message to be found in a church where sinners are present? Is it okay for those of us that did follow all the rules to come out and start opening up our circle of fellowship to those who maybe haven’t lived squeaky-clean lives—that have seen more of the world’s ugly and experienced more of modern culture than we have?
Paul gives us our answer in verses 17-18—He says that it is without question not a problem! Paul says in verse 18 that if we rebuild a code of self-justification, self-righteousness, and self-centered religious behaviors THAT is really what would put you in transgression and make you a ‘lawbreaker’ going against the will of God.
He explains that in the law we died. In the Jewish law the Jews died, and in our adaptation of the Jewish law made by William Branham we too died. We realized, much like the Jews did, that our laws weren’t going to ever make us good enough to deserve the Lord and they weren’t ever going to make us holy enough to be justified. They were never going to get us into a place where our hearts would be perfectly clean and holy—it just wasn’t going to happen, because we are depraved sinners, and we absolutely needed a Savior. No amount of work could ever suffice.
Paul tells us that we must die to the law. We must accept the fact that we cannot uphold God’s righteous code, and even if we appear to, we are still unable to actually do it. We will still lust, and we will still get angry, and we will still covet and steal and be selfish. Jesus taught that to us—that even if we don’t outwardly commit the sin, our hearts are wicked.
In the Message we had a ‘law’. Not the Jewish Law (though many of the ‘rules’ in the Message come from the Jewish law), but we have a list of things we had to do in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore saved. We had to dress a certain way, us ladies didn’t cut our hair or wear makeup. We must abstain from entertainment like movies or TV or sports; we must not drink alcohol (except at communion of course). We mustn’t look like the world, enjoy worldly music, and must always try to maintain a distance from places and people that are deemed too mainstream and too common—too worldly and not holy enough.
Paul tells us that we must die to this. We have to get to a place where we knew we are insufficient and cannot ever be good enough. We have to admit that we failed. For us from a Message background, you may have come to a point along the line where you were doing the right things and thought you were living the right kind of life, but then you realized that there was always more you could be doing. I was there. You can always wear your neckline a little higher. You can always wear a little more modest clothing. You can always put a little more in the offering plate, and you can always shun a little more of the world from your life. There is no end to it—there are always new ways you can attempt to sanctify yourself a little bit more. We are sinners by nature, after all! We absolutely could continue forever trying to sanctify ourselves—and we would continually fail!
Paul concludes in verses 20-21 by saying that it is Jesus Christ, living in us that gives us the righteousness we need to stand before God holy and blameless. We can only succeed at being holy through Faith in Jesus, ”for if righteousness could be gained through the law (or in our case, through the teachings of William Branham and our adherence to the Message ‘code of conduct’--holiness teachings in general) Christ would have died for nothing!
At the end of the day, we will all stand before the Throne of God and have to give an account for our lives. The only hope we have is Jesus Christ, and our only defense will be that we believed upon Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, and we acknowledge that without it we could not be saved and would not be holy enough. Works will not be enough, and looking a certain way or not looking a certain way will not matter. Jesus promised that if we believe upon Him that He will save us.
I am so thankful that God provided His Son, Jesus Christ to be the Messiah and the Savior of the World! He is absolutely everything we need moving forward.