Galatians II:14-21: Review and Supplementary Material (Monday, July 2, 2012)

Galatians 2:14-21

Fifth Week


July 2, 2012

(Gal 2:14 ESV) 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

17. Was it proper for Paul to confront Peter in front of the others in the circumcised party?

At first glance, it seems inconsistent with Paul’s choice to speak privately with the apostles in Gal 2:2. Why be less gentle when it came to Peter, the apostle to the Jews?

But Paul wasn’t just confronting Peter. He was also confronting the entire circumcision party he was with. They were all sinning against the gospel, and Peter was seen by them as their leader. He’d capitulated to their anti-gospel demands for separation.

Therefore, it was essential that the entire group be rebuked, starting at the top.

(1Ti 5:19-20 NET) 19 Do not accept an accusation against an elder unless it can be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 20 Those guilty of sin must be rebuked before all, as a warning to the rest.

It’s one of the many prices of leadership. Of course, not all sin is the sort that justifies this kind of treatment. But when the leaders lead contrary to the gospel — not just in error but in a way that defeats God’s core purposes — Paul’s approach is a painful necessity. After all, those who follow such a leader must also be confronted with the truth of the gospel.

18. Paul points out Peter’s hypocrisy in dividing over on issue (circumcision) but not others. Why do you suppose the circumcision party only condemned Peter over circumcision and not all Jewish commands?

It’s the nature of legalism to privilege those markers that distinguish us from others above all other markers. Far more Churches of Christ have divided or been disfellowshipped over fellowship halls than over whether to love our neighbor — even though far more have been guilty of failing to love as they should.

It’s just human nature. We find our identity — and what seems to us to be most important — in our differences rather than what we have in common. But Jesus calls us to a very different way of thinking.

We are united with fellow Christians by (among other things) a common faith in Jesus, by possession of the same Spirit, and by a shared love for our neighbors. But when legalism creeps in, these commonalities are seen as not enough and are soon pushed out the back door while we wrangle over the best way to support orphans homes. Such is the danger of finding our identity in our opinions rather than faith in our Savior.

(Gal 2:15-16 NET) 15 We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

19. Paul now shifts from defending his authority as an apostle to a presentation of the gospel. Why does he call Gentiles “sinners”? Didn’t the Jews sin, too?

He’s being ironic or facetious. Yes, of course, the Jews sin, too. He’d just pointed out a particularly wicked sin by many Jews, including Peter! His point is that we can’t refuse to fellowship someone as a Christian just because we think he’s a sinner. We’re all sinners!

20. “Faithfulness of Jesus Christ” is a controversial translation, but supported by recent scholarship (and hence is reflected in the NET Bible translation). How does the faithfulness of Jesus save us?

Books have been written on this question. The short answer is that Jesus was faithful to the point of being crucified for our sins, serving as the perfect sin offering for us. There’s much more to it, of course, and Paul will discuss the meaning of the crucifixion later in Galatians.

21. Why is it true that “by the works of the law no one will be justified”?

Because no one can live a sinless life. Only Jesus has managed that.

22. What are “works of the law”?

This a critically important question, because the rest of Galatians deals with faith versus works. If we misunderstand “works,” we get it all wrong. Many have argued that Paul is only condemning attempting to practice the Law of Moses — which makes Galatians almost entirely irrelevant to us today. But consider how Paul actually states his case.

(Gal 2:15-16 NET)  15 We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners,  16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

We are justified by the work of Jesus (which we receive by faith — as he says in the middle of the passage and will explain in detail in chapter 3), not by our works of the law. Notice that he doesn’t just say “not by works of the law” — which certainly would justify the interpretation that he is speaking solely of the Law of Moses — but he also says “by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”

If I tell my son not to lie to his mother, he could rationalize and argue a day later than it’s okay to lie to his brother or even to me, because I only told him it’s wrong to lie to his mother. Neither I nor anyone else would find his rationalization persuasive. But he could make the argument.

But if I told him that it’s wrong to lie to his mother because he must always be honest, then all rationalizations disappear. Plainly, that argument does not apply solely to mothers.

Paul gives the narrow but negative answer — not by law — which addresses the issue at hand, and then gives the broader and positive answer — only by the faithfulness of Jesus. He does not say “by the faithfulness of Jesus plus our works of the law of Christ” or some such.

Both forms of the answer are inspired and true. Yes, it’s not by works of the Law of Moses! But, yes, it is by the faithfulness of Jesus. The reason it’s not by works is because it’s by the faithfulness of Jesus (which we attain by faith in Jesus).

Therefore, Paul is certainly speaking particularly of circumcision, but he is arguing from a much broader perspective, so that “works” applies to anything we do to earn or merit our salvation.

23. What does it mean to “believe in Christ Jesus”?

N. T. Wright explains in Christian Origins and the Question of God: Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 263, how “faith” was used by First Century Jews. He refers to a story told by Josephus regarding a Jewish rebel named Jesus —

I was not ignorant of the plot which he had contrived against me … ; I would, nevertheless, condone his actions if he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me.

(quoted by Wright at p. 250.)

Wright notes that the Greek translated “prove his loyalty to” is found in the New Testament, where it is translated “believe in.”

Wright explains,

Josephus asked Jesus the Galilean brigand leader, ‘to repent and believe in me,’ in other words, to give up his agenda and follow Josephus instead. Jesus of Nazareth, I suggest, issued more or less exactly the same summons to his contemporaries.

The confusion results from the fact that the Greek word translated “faith” also can mean “trust in” or “be faithful to” (or be loyal to). And we find all three uses in the New Testament.

For example, the Greek word for faith, pistis, is translated “faithfulness” in –

(Rom 3:3)  What if some did not have faith [pistis]? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness [pistis]?

(Gal 5:22-23)  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness [pistis], 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

You see, we begin our readings by assuming “faith” is somehow divorced from repentance, when in fact “faith” means faithfulness as well as belief.

And we find “trust” as a meaning in such passages as –

(Heb 11:6 ESV)  6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

To believe that God rewards those who seek him is to trust God to keep his promises. That’s faith.

English can be the same. “I have faith in my son” could mean “I expect my son to honor his promises” or “I expect my son to be obedient” but not really ”I believe my son exists.”

We want to use “I believe in Jesus” in the sense of “I believe in ghosts,” rather than “I believe in the Tea Party,” which means “I’ve committed to support the Tea Party” or “I trust the Tea Party’s principles.”

James uses “faith” in an ironic sense, meaning a false faith that does not produce works. He intends a scathingly ironic challenge to those who take faith to not require faithfulness and trust. Paul does not for a minute disagree with James.

But this means that “saved by faith and not by works” does not mean “saved by believing that Jesus exists and not by doing anything.” No, it means we are saved by meaning our confession of Jesus as Messiah (=King) and Lord.

When we submit to Jesus as Lord, we bring nothing to the table other than our loyalty and trust. Obviously, we must believe he exists to be loyal to him and to trust him. But he demands much more than acknowledgment of his reality!

Thus, we are saved by grace by our faithfulness and our trust. Not that “faithfulness” means we must attain to perfection or some secret standard. It’s about the heart.

(Gal 2:17 NET) 17 But if while seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners, is Christ then one who encourages sin? Absolutely not!

24. Why might someone imagine that salvation by the faithfulness of Jesus, reached by faith in Jesus, might encourage sin?

The language “saved by faith” sounds like we are saved by our position on the Jesus question rather than the state of our hearts and lives. It sounds to many as making salvation into “easy believism.”

25. Does it really? Why or why not?

Of course, not. Faith includes faithfulness — not perfect obedience or perfect understanding of God’s will, but a genuine commitment to follow Jesus. We often call this “repentance.” And in most contexts, “faith” includes repentance. They aren’t so much separate “steps” as two ways of looking at the same thing.

Thus, Abraham is commended both for his faith and his obedience, and yet both his faith and obedience were far from perfect. He had doubts. He sinned. But God looked at his life and his heart as a whole.

It’s the same for us.

(Gal 2:18-19 NET) 18 But if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God.

26. When we were converted, how did we “destroy” sin in our lives?

Well, we repented. We committed to follow Jesus. But the destruction of sin comes, not by my will power, but by the Spirit given to me at baptism. When we receive the Spirit, God himself begins a work within us to transform us into the image of Christ.

We must cooperate by submitting to the Spirit’s work. We don’t lose free will. But neither can we defeat sin by ourselves.

27. When we were converted, how did we die to the law?

We die to the law in the sense that our faith includes trust in God to save us. We trust God rather than our own works.

We die to the law in the sense that we enter God’s grace and our violations of the law won’t be held against us.

We die to the law in the sense that the Spirit begins his work to change our hearts so that we live as freedmen — sons of God — who joyfully live in Jesus rather than laboring to earn a salvation we can never really earn.

28. When we were converted, what happened to cause us to live to God?

We repented and we received the Spirit. The Spirit works in our hearts to change us so that we become more and more like Jesus.

29. Since all Christians sin, why is it a big deal to say “I am one who breaks God’s law”? Most translations say “make myself a transgressor.” Paul uses the same language in Rom 2:25-27 (“break the law” in some translations. Also compare James 2:9-11.).

“Transgressor” or “law breaker” is used in the sense of someone who flouts the law, who intentionally sins against it — which under both the Law of Moses and Christianity puts one in serious jeopardy for his soul.

In other words, a transgressor is someone who is no longer penitent. And penitence is an essential element of saving faith.

30. What does Paul mean by “live for God”?

It’s certainly includes repentance and obedience. But at a deeper level, Paul is likely saying that he’s given his life over to God so that God may use him to serve God’s own purposes. He’s no longer about rule keeping so much as fulfillment of the gospel.

This is why Paul gave his life to foreign missions — to serve God’s good news. There are, of course, many other ways to live for God, but living for God cannot be merely keeping rules or avoiding sin. It’s about the purpose that your life has in God’s Kingdom.

(Gal 2:20 NET) 20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

31. What does it mean to be “crucified with Christ”?

Many think of this as saying that our sins have been crucified, that is, Paul is speaking of our forgiveness at baptism. But Paul’s point is that our conversion transforms how we live.

To be crucified is, of course, to die. And what died is our selfishness and our rebellion against God. In baptism, we repented, indeed, we submitted to God. We entered the Kingdom by pledging loyalty to the King.

In short, we committed to a process, God’s transforming work in our lives through the Spirit so that we become more and more like the crucified Jesus. Crucifixion implies submission, service, sacrifice, and even suffering for others, all for the sake of Christ.

32. Is Paul speaking just of forgiveness or something else?

Forgiveness is important but incidental to Paul’s argument here. He is speaking of living a transformed life.

33. What does he mean by “Christ lives in me”? How does that happen? Is it a figure of speech or some kind of changed reality?

It’s a changed reality. Christ lives in us through his Spirit, as Paul will discuss in more detail throughout the letter. Christ, by the Spirit, transforms us so that we become more and more like Jesus — so that Jesus lives in us.

34. Why would the faithfulness of Jesus motivate a Christian to live a different kind of life?

Gratitude. Jesus paid the ultimate price for us.

Example. We want to emulate those we love and admire.

Love. How can someone come to know Jesus and not fall in love with him?

(Gal 2:21 NET) 21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!

35. What is “God’s grace”?

The classic answer is “unmerited favor.” More broadly, it’s God’s incredible generosity, his willingness to give us salvation and eternity with him as a free gift.

36. What is “righteousness” in this context? (Gal 3:6)

Righteousness is deemed righteousness. God judges us innocent of all charges thanks to the work of Jesus — even though we still sin  — because we’ve turned away from sin and toward God.

We are judged righteous while we are growing in righteousness.

37. Why couldn’t righteousness come through the Law of Moses?

It was impossible to honor all the command perfectly, and the blood of bulls and goats could not pay the real price for our sins.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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