Being a disciple of Jesus means more than just believing in a set of doctrines or trying to imitate the example of Christ. Rather, as Paul says in his portion of his letter to the Galatians, to be a Christian is to live at one with Christ— indeed, to have the very Spirit of Christ abiding within. It is to die to the law, die to self and live a new life with Jesus at the centre.
Roughly two decades after his initial conversion experience, Paul travels to Jerusalem to meet with what he describes as “pillars” of the church— Peter, James and John, all Jewish Christians who were with Jesus from the very beginning. Here, Paul and the Jerusalem apostles discuss many important things. In the end, these pillars of the church give Paul the right hand of fellowship. This means that they recognized the validity of his calling as an apostle and affirmed that gospel message that he preached. The gospel message is this: that one is saved by the faith of Christ and NOT by obedience to Torah.
Jesus was, of course, a Jew- the child of a pious Jewish couple who, in obedience to the customs of their people, had him circumcised on the eighth day. His first followers were all Jewish. The twelve disciples who formed his inner circle were all Jewish. The first explosive wave of growth that the early church experienced consisted entirely of Jewish converts.
In the first century, it was NOT seen as odd for a Jew to become a Christian. It WAS odd, however, for gentiles to become Christians- to walk away from the polytheism of their ancestors, embrace the God of the Jews and worship Jesus as the long-promised Jewish Messiah.
Should the new and rapidly growing church accept gentile converts? If so, under what conditions? These were some major issues that the early church had to struggle with. In Paul's Letter to the Galatians- the ninth book of the New Testament- the apostle tackles this issue head on.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we'll be taking a deep dive into this fascinating letter from the New Testament and, in the process, touching upon:
- Some interesting details of Paul's biography. - How the early Christians understood the law of Moses. - What salvation means and how one is saved. - What part the Holy Spirit has to play in the life of the Christian.