Friday, June 14, 2013

Nothing to live for!

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...

The context 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 sinners”...

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.

1.    We are justified by faith in Christ.
2.    There 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 with God.

In fact Paul goes even further in verse 17.

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.

That’s why 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.

So 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.

  1. Given by participation in Christ’s death and resurrection. I am joined with him in his death and resurrection.  It is our baptismal journey.
  2. Lived in the flesh. It is the life I live now...on this 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.
  3. 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 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 writes is:

But if a person is put right with God through the Law, it means that Christ died for nothing! 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!