The first two chapters are primarily personal narrative, as the apostle rehearses his own relationship to the gospel of Christ. The first emphasizes the source of his gospel: a direct revelation from the risen Christ, independent of other apostles or teachers. No higher authorization or authenticity could be claimed. The second emphasizes the soundness of his gospel: it had been formally confirmed by other leading apostles, without corrections or additions.
Chapter 1: Defending the Gospel of Christ
1:1-5 Purpose of the Gospel: Deliver Us From Evil; Fulfil God’s Will
Paul identifies himself as an apostle appointed by the risen Christ and God the Father, apart from human instrumentality. Though later being called, his apostleship equally possesses direct Divine authority. The characteristic blessing of “grace and peace” (v 3) is both our portion in Christ and our provision for the daily struggles of life. This blessing flows from the death of Christ, “Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us…” (v 4). “Deliver” means, “to take out for oneself, to deliver, to rescue.” This is key to the thrust of the epistle: our Rescuer has a personal interest in the outcome of His sacrifice for us. Christ has cleared us from sin’s condemnation, and intends to change us from sin’s character and control, to His blessed character under the control of the Holy Spirit. Though still in this evil age, we are being prepared for future ages reflecting the will and ways of our God and Father.
1:6-10 Perversion of the Gospel: Influence of False Teachers
What does “removed” mean, and what is the other “gospel?” Paul is astounded at how quickly the believers are deserting or defecting from God Who had called them in grace, to a different gospel which adds law to the grace of God in Christ. But the law ends in death and judgment. The gospel begins with His death, bearing our judgment, and setting us free. The gospel cannot be another fresh start under the law, but a totally new relationship on new terms. Therefore Paul denounces this mixture as a perverting or reversing of the gospel itself. If any supposed messenger, human or spirit, dare to change the gospel already preached and received by them, “Let him be accursed” (vv 8,9)! “Persuade” (v 10) means, “to conciliate, or to seek favor of, to win approval from.” Faithfulness to God must supercede loyalty to all else.
1:11-24 His Gospel And His Call: Both by Divine Revelation
In contrast to the perverted gospel now troubling them, Paul asserts that the gospel he had preached to them came by direct revelation of Christ. In proof of that assertion, he rehearses his past zeal for Judaism and against Christ and His people. No one could accuse him of misunderstanding Judaism; he had been its foremost proponent. It took a direct intervention of Christ from glory to turn him into a Christian. God moved in sovereign grace toward him while an enemy of His Son, and made him a display of abounding grace. “To reveal His Son in me” (v 16) includes Paul’s conversion experience, but extends to the manifestation of Christ in Paul’s own life, and his evangelizing among the nations. After this dramatic revolution in his life, he spent an extended time alone in Arabia, where he received the fulness of the gospel revelation. Following that, he briefly visited Peter and James in Jerusalem, then returned to his home area of Tarsus in Cilicia, until Barnabas introduced him to the new work among the Gentiles at Antioch in Syria (Acts 11). The Jewish believers remembered and rejoiced, glorifying God in Paul’s transformation.
Chapter 2: The Purity And Practice Of the Gospel
2:1-10 Consultation at Jerusalem: Confirmation of the Truth of the Gospel
As Acts 15 outlines, certain men came from Jerusalem to Antioch, teaching the necessity of circumcision and law-keeping for salvation. Paul and Barnabas took the issue to the apostles at Jerusalem, bringing Titus along as a test case! It is instructive that Paul was willing to put his mandate and message to the test of confirmation by fellow apostles (v 3). Happily, there was complete confirmation of the truth by the leading apostles present: Peter, James, and John. Unity and fellowship in the truth of God are precious and foundational for further growth.
2:11-21 Confrontation at Antioch: Conduct Contradicting The Truth of The Gospel
Why would Paul relate the sad event at Antioch? Had it been made use of by his opponents as evidence of a rift between Paul and the other apostles? Peter’s behavior was self-evidently a contradiction of his own faith and understanding of the gospel. Sadly, it influenced other Jews, and even Barnabas: what a sobering reminder of the treachery of our own flesh! Paul’s public confrontation of Peter’s hypocrisy leads into a vital exposition of the necessity for a Jew to leave behind the law as his rule of life as surely as for his salvation. Paul begins with the acknowledged agreement between them that a Jew must be justified by faith in Christ, not by works of law (v 16). But where does that put the believer in relation to the law? He is removed from its jurisdiction by death, released from its regulations to live in an entirely new relationship to God (vv 19-20). This is the basis of Paul’s repudiation of the false claim of the legalists in v 17, that Peter was “sinning” while eating with his Gentile brethren in obedience to the new relationship in Christ: in effect they were accusing Christ of leading His followers into sin! In reality, Peter sinned when he raised again the barrier between Jewish and Gentile brethren that he himself had thrown down by direct revelation from Christ (Acts 10, 11).
Verses 20-21 provide the key to the remainder of the epistle.”Crucified with Christ”: Divine judgment fully executed upon me in my Substitute. “Christ lives in me”: in contrast to the law, the power of Christianity is direct and personal through the Divine indwelling. The rule of life now is faith responding to His love. The grace of God provided my justification at the cost of His Son: may we never deem it unnecessary!