Well, I have been away awhile, but getting back into work again and starting to catch up on things. So here is my first post since my return. Some thoughts on Galatians 2:15-21 in the form of a brief walk through the text. So here we go...
of the section we are looking at today requires us to backtrack a bit to the
earlier verses of chapter 2. We know from the beginning of Galatians that Jewish Christians (Judaizers) had come
and told the Gentiles that unless they first become Jews (circumcised) they were
not true Christians. This was the ‘other’ gospel Paul mentioned in chapter 1. Then in Galatians 2:11-14 Paul recounts a confrontation
with Peter who at first ate with the Gentiles Christians, but when these
Judaizers came he withdrew from fellowshipping…acting in a hypocritical
manner. From these event Paul leads us
to what is truly at question here. The
nature of the gospel.
Paul had a sharp way of speaking at
times and we see this in verse 15.
“We are Jews by birth and not “Gentile
He is speaking to his ‘superior’
Christian listeners and readers and includes himself in their company. ‘We’ the people of the ‘law’ know this truth
to be self-evident not like those ‘sinners’. How easy it is to take this
attitude. Many of us do it every day. We classify people by what they wear,
their appearance, their speech, the people they are with. Even within the
church we can easily fall into the trap of ‘good’ members and ‘bad’ members or ‘lapsed’
members. All of this is about performance and external evidence. We would be
wise to act cautiously.
Now in verse 16 Paul states that even
the ‘superior’ Christians know the essential truths.
Yet we know that a person is put right with God only through faith in Jesus Christ, never by doing what the Law requires. We, too, have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be put right with God through our faith in Christ, and not by doing what the Law requires. For no one is put right with God by doing what the Law requires.
are justified by faith in Christ.
is NO justification to be found in or through the ‘law’.
To focus on religious formalism or
personal observance of a moral or ethical law as a means of becoming right with
God is to become an enemy of the gospel of Jesus. Sin is coming short of God’s standard, not human standards. Therefore to
be made right with God depends on God’s acquittal not human effort. We
cannot declare ourselves free from guilt and condemnation on the basis of our
own judgement that our deeds are good or that we are a good person. I remember
entering a room when my children were younger and smelling smoke and the odour
of a freshly lit match. One of my sons was standing in the middle of the room
with a matchbox in his hand and a smoking burnt match in his other hand. He
took one look at me and said, “I didn’t do it. It wasn’t my fault.” This is what we are like when we rely on our own
good works and religious discipline as a way of being in a right relationship
In fact Paul goes even further in
If then, as we try to be put right God
by our union with Christ, we are found to be sinners...does this mean that
Christ is serving the cause of sin?
This is in reference to the breaking
of the law (the Torah), like Peter eating with Gentiles in contradiction to Jewish
dietary rules or Paul not concerning the Gentile converts with the rite of
circumcision or the various ritual sacrifices required under the Torah. So is
this ‘sin’ and is Christ serving ‘sin’?
It’s a ridiculous question and his readers know this. Paul is simply
trying to show them how foolish their point of view is.
So he continues in verse 18.
If I start to rebuild the system of
the Law that I tore down, then I show myself to be someone who breaks the Law.
If Paul restores the prominence of the
law as these Judaizers are doing, then he confirms that he is a lawbreaker,
places himself under the judgement of the law, and therefore under God’s
condemnation. Ironically he is trying to
get his readers and us to understand that to restore the law to such a role is not
only a sin against the gospel of Christ, but in attempting to put other people
under that law we restore the power of the law in our own lives and so find
ourselves under the condemnation of the law. To turn back to the law is real
sin. We are totally and unconditionally
indebted to Christ for salvation…there is no other way. The law has no power to
save, only condemn.
he points out in the very next two verses, 19-20, that the nature of the law forces
us to abandon it as a means of salvation.
far as the Law is concerned, however, I am dead –killed by the Law itself-in order
that I might live for God. I have been put to death with Christ on his cross,
so that it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. This life
that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his
life for me.
We have been
killed by the law. We are dead in our sin under the law, but we are enabled to live for and with God
through Christ. There are 3 aspects to this new life.
- Given by participation in Christ’s death and
resurrection. I am joined with him in his death and resurrection. It is our baptismal journey.
- Lived in the flesh. It is the life I live
now...on this earth...in this time. Not some future pie in the sky life,
but in and through the words, attitudes, actions and experiences of my
daily life. Even the most mundane
task is now part of my living in faith in Christ.
- The object and content of my faith can only be and
needs only to be Jesus who loves and gives himself for me. Nothing else is
required. No rules. No rituals. No pious actions. We are saved by grace
through faith in Christ...as Paul writes to the Ephesians.
Ultimately this helps us understand
that the death of Christ was not a random act of human violence or accident of
history, but deliberate self-giving of Christ on our behalf. His death has
given us ‘new’ life.
In light of this new life Paul writes:
I refuse to reject the grace of God.
Which is the very thing the Judaizers
have done and what they are asking the Gentile Christians to do...reject the
grace and rely on your own works and obedience. The problem with this, as Paul
But if a person is put right with God
through the Law, it means that Christ died for nothing!
...so it calls into question the whole
of Christ’s work...his life, death and resurrection, plus it challenges the
whole of God’s plan of salvation.
So this grace of God must remain the
focus and foundation of our faith. For if we choose to supplant it or add to it
through works of the law and our own human obedience then Christ died for
nothing...and we have nothing to live for!