Over the last two weeks we have begun journeying through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We began by hearing Paul open his letter by emphasizing that for the gospel to be good news for us we can’t add anything to it. Last week, we heard Paul describe the change that happened in his life when he encountered the good news of Jesus. He changed from persecuting Jesus’ followers to dedicating his life to the good news of peace, love and hope in Jesus. In the first chapter of Galatians, Paul has been laying the foundations for the rest of his letter – through the good news of Jesus, God changes us by his Spirit to live in the freedom of the gospel.
Now, as we begin chapter two, Paul begins to show how this faith not only makes changes in us, but how it changes the way we live in relationship with others. Paul tells the story which is also recorded in Acts 15 when he traveled to Jerusalem after spending fourteen years on his first missionary journey. There the leaders of the Christian movement approved of his work among the non-Jewish Christians. Then, a little later in Antioch, Paul confronted Peter, the disciple Jesus had called ‘the Rock,’ because he had not been living in a way that was faithful to the freedom Christ gives. Peter had been associating with non-Jewish Christians and neglecting the Jewish laws. However, when a group of Christians who were insisting that followers of Jesus still needed to follow the Law of Moses turned up, Peter started keeping the rules again because, as we read in verse 12, he was afraid of being criticized by them. Some of the non-Jewish Christians saw what Peter was doing, concluded that they had been doing wrong by not obeying the Jewish rules, and so thought they had to follow the laws as well.
When Paul confronted Peter, he emphasized that the faith Jesus puts us right with God, not obeying a set of rules. Paul writes:
… we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. (v16 NLT)
God our heavenly Father approves of us and is pleased with us because of what Jesus has done for us in his life, death and resurrection for us. When Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven said over him, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:11 NIV). Because we are baptized into Christ and are one with him through faith, this same voice speaks God’s approval and pleasure in us. Our heavenly Father approves of us because he sees Jesus in us through faith in him.
This faith also gives us freedom in our relationships with the people around us. Because God is pleased with us for Jesus’ sake, we don’t have to try to please people to gain their approval. That was why Paul could confront Peter when he was not living in the freedom of the Gospel. That was why Paul could write this letter to the Galatians, because he wasn’t writing to gain the approval of his readers, but God’s approval (1:10) which was already his through faith. This is the freedom all of God’s people have– we do not need to try to please people or gain their approval because God is already pleased with us for Jesus’ sake. And if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31b)
Paul could be confident that he had God’s approval because Christ lives in him. That is why he writes,
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (v20 NLT)
Through faith in Jesus, everything about Paul that was displeasing to God had been crucified with Jesus. In the same way, those things about us which are displeasing to God, and those things about us of which God does not approve were crucified with Jesus. Now, because Christ lives in us through faith, God is pleased with us and we can live in ways that are pleasing him through the freedom this faith brings.
When Paul says that he lives by faith, ‘trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,’ a large part of what he is saying that he lives moment by moment in the confidence that he has God’s approval for Jesus’ sake. This approval means he does not have try to gain other people’s approval. Imagine what that would be like – to live every day like we don’t have to try to win anyone’s approval, we don’t have to try to please the people around us, but we can live moment by moment in the truth that God approves of us and is pleased with us through faith in Jesus. How could your life be different? How could this help you find freedom? As we will see in coming weeks, this freedom can easily be misused for our own selfish ends. At this stage of the letter, however, Paul is saying that through faith in Jesus, we don’t have to try to please people to gain their approval because God is pleased with us for the sake of Jesus and we already have his approval.
I have seen the damage that can be caused when people spend their lives trying to please other people and gain their approval. It can be soul-destroying. Jesus frees us from the need to be a ‘people-pleaser’ by taking everything about us that is not pleasing to God and killing it on the cross. We have been crucified with Christ and now Jesus lives in us to fill us with his goodness. That is why our Father in heaven approves of us. Living in this faith frees us from having to look for the approval of others, and gives us the grace to live in ways that are pleasing to God through faith in the one who loves us and gave his live for us.