by Rev. Jesse Burns

At the end of the Holy Communion, the Church prays, “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another…”[1] Christians live out their daily vocations in faith toward God and in love toward the neighbor.

Luther writes about the difference between faith and love in his Galatians commentary, where he says, “Love ‘bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’ (1 Cor. 13:7); therefore it yields. But not faith; it will not stand for anything…God does not stand for anything or yield to anyone, for He is unchanging. Thus faith is unchanging. Therefore it should not stand for anything or yield to anyone.”[2] What the reformer teaches with these words is that in matters of faith, the Christian’s conscience is captive to no one other than the Lord God who justifies sinners freely on account of Christ alone.

Read Galatians 2:1-10.

  1. Paul’s opponents in Galatia were forcing circumcision upon the Gentile (uncircumcised) Galatians, as though being circumcised was necessary for salvation. In these verses, St. Paul recounts to the Galatians how he went up to Jerusalem to lay before the apostles the gospel which he was proclaiming to the Gentiles. Along with him, he took Barnabas, a circumcised Jew, and Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile. In verse 3, Paul boasts that “even Titus…was not forced to be circumcised.” How does this fact help Paul refute the false teachers who were troubling the Galatians with circumcision? What does this reveal about the unity of teaching between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles? How does this fact give comfort to all Christians, especially “Gentile” Christians?
  2. Read 1 Corinthians 7:18-19. Paul teaches that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision count for anything. We see, then, that Paul does not reject circumcision in and of itself, as though circumcision itself was something harmful to righteousness. Rather, he rejects the idea that it is necessary for righteousness (cf. Romans 4:9-12). In Galatians 2:4, Paul speaks of false brothers “who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery…” How would requiring circumcision bring the Galatians into slavery? To what would they be enslaved? What are some current day examples of false teaching leading to slavery?
  3. According to verse 5, what is at stake for the Galatians? If Paul would have submitted to those who were demanding circumcision, what would the Galatians have lost? What would have been the result of that loss for the Galatians and for the whole Church?
  4. Luther writes: “The truth of the Gospel is this, that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without works of the Law. The falsification or corruption of the Gospel is this, that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the Law. The false apostles preached the Gospel, but they did so with this condition attached to it.”[1] We might calls this “faith plus works.” Why should Christians be leery of those who attach conditions to the proclamation of the Gospel? What are some present day examples of conditions attached to the Gospel? How do these conditions ultimately destroy the message that one is saved by grace alone?
  5. In verses 6-9, Paul describes that the result of the meeting in Jerusalem was unity in doctrine and therefore fellowship. Both Paul and Peter had been entrusted with the same gospel message which was for Jew and Gentile alike. Why does Paul attach to this issue the remembrance of the poor in verse 10? How does caring for the poor (we might call this “mercy”) flow out of their fellowship (we might call this “life together”) in the Gospel?

When it comes to the truth of the Gospel, that sinners are justified freely on account of Christ and His work alone, faith ought never yield to those who would add anything to it. We are not saved by “faith plus” anything else but by God’s grace alone received by faith alone. To allow any condition to be attached to this doctrine of justification would ultimately rob Christians justification. This is why Paul stood so firmly and would not yield to the opponents of the Gospel in Galatia. Likewise, Reformation’s central message that sinners are justified freely on account of Christ was also a matter of faith. As such, the Lutheran Reformers, like Paul in our text, could not yield anything of this doctrine.

We frail sinners are declared righteous before God because of the justifying work of Christ Jesus our Savior. As such, we are set free to live before our neighbors in love, even yielding ourselves and our wants for the sake of their needs. At the same time, by faith we cling to Christ alone, with the confidence that He is our righteousness before God.

Prayer: “Let me not doubt, but truly see Your Word cannot be broken; Your call rings out, ‘Come unto Me!’ No falsehood have You spoken. Baptized into Your precious name, My faith cannot be put to shame, And I shall never perish.”[4] Amen

The Rev. Jesse A. Burns is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ventura, Iowa.

[1]              The Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2006). page 201

[2]              Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963., pages 99-100

[3]              Ibid., 89

[4]              Speratus, Paul, “Salvation unto Us Has Come” (No. 555) in The Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2006)