“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me“
The word “then” is a sequential word meaning thereupon, thereafter. In chapter one, Paul defends his apostolic authority by recounting a sequence of events showing that he stands independently from other apostles.
In chapter two, he turns to another historical situation called the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). In this chapter, he changes his focus from the source of his gospel to its content. He shows the unity existing between himself and the other apostles concerning the doctrines of salvation and sanctification by grace.
after fourteen years
It has been 14 years between Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18) and the Jerusalem Council meeting. God so employed Paul in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles that he did not have time to extensively confer with the apostles in Jerusalem about the nature of the gospel of grace.
I went up again to Jerusalem
The book of Acts declares that Paul made five visits to Jerusalem:
1. The visit from Damascus (Acts 9:26-30; Galatians 1:18-20)
2. The famine visit from Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:27-30; 12:24–25)
3. The Jerusalem Council visit (Acts 15:1-30)
4. The visit at the end of the second missionary expedition (Acts 18:22)
5. Paul’s final visit (Acts 21:15-23:35)
There is a debate as to whether Galatians 2 refers to the famine visit or the Jerusalem Council visit. The word “again” does not necessarily imply that this trip to Jerusalem was the very next visit; it is simply a term of sequence without specificity. We can surmise that Paul did not refer to the famine visit because it did not affect his authority as an apostle.
The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 resolves the church’s first great doctrinal conflict–the issue of whether God justifies or sanctifies anyone by works. The Council concluded that the death of Christ suffices for salvation. They settled that issue once and for all.
“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ (Acts 15:1).
The issue at the Jerusalem Council was legalism. “Certain men” came to Antioch of Syria teaching that to trust the cross of Christ for salvation was not enough. The first great doctrinal struggle of the church originated with a problem in the church at Antioch.
“Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question” (Acts 15:2).
Circumcision added to the doctrine of the cross landed like a bombshell on those who believed in grace. A full-scale “dissension” and “dispute” broke out between the two groups. According to Galatians, the church at Antioch sent Paul, Barnabas, and Titus to Jerusalem to formalize the doctrine of salvation by grace.
“And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:4-5).
The source behind adding circumcision to the cross was the Pharisees of Judea. They dragged their pre-conversion doctrine into their Christianity.
“Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. ‘So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, ‘and made no distinction between them and us, purifying their hearts by faith. ‘Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? ‘But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (Acts 15:6-11).
The Council clearly concluded that salvation is by faith through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the Pharisees themselves could not obtain salvation by keeping the law.
Faith in the death of Christ on the cross is sufficient for salvation.
Christ’s death on the cross with nothing added is God’s way of salvation. We cannot become Christians by the cross plus good works, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or repentance. Salvation is exclusively through the cross, with nothing added. Biblical repentance is part and parcel of believing. When we change our minds to trusting the cross of Christ exclusively to forgive us, we receive eternal life. We cannot help Jesus save us, for He does a complete job through His work on the cross.
We cannot earn or deserve anything from God. All we can do is lean upon His provision for salvation and sanctification.