A Bible Lesson on Galatians 2

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

In the first part of Galatians 2 Paul finishes a defense of his apostleship, for the purpose of defending the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He understands that at stake is the integrity of the Gospel and the salvation of these peoples’ souls. So he rehearses his acceptance by the Christian leaders in Jerusalem.

Galatians 2:1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.

2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.

4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—

5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.

7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised

8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles),

9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

The fundamental here is what Paul is preaching. The Damascus road story/testimony is a good one, but that isn’t the issue. It is, rather, the content of the message. This is 14 years after his conversion and there is a track record of Paul’s preaching, and that and a holy life is what validates his call. Indeed grace had been given him, and there was unity in a single Gospel. Verse 6 says that they had nothing to add to what Paul was preaching. There was no need for the Apostles in Jerusalem to say “Good, Paul, as far as it goes, but you need to add the requirement of keeping the ceremonial law to what you have been saying.” Instead, they only asked for participation in relief efforts.

Now Paul flashes back to some incident in Antioch. Exactly when this took place, in particular in relation to the Council in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15, we don’t know. Perhaps it was before, perhaps it was after. It would possibly leave Peter in a somewhat better light if this took place before Acts 15, but we don’t know one way or the other. Being placed next to the account of acceptance by the Jerusalem elders, we see that so far from needing correction from Jerusalem, for the sake of the Gospel Paul must correct Jerusalem.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

Paul publicly rebukes a public error by even one of Christ’s other Apostles. This is serious business. If Peter, by his actions, gives credence to the false teaching of the Judaizers, the Gospel is put in jeopardy, and so are the souls of ones who learn from Peter’s actions. Notice that there is no suggestion here that Peter was saying, or even believed wrong things. After his Acts 10 experience, Peter certainly knew better than he acted. But private words alone are not enough. What Peter has done he has done in public, so the rebuke had to be public.

Post-moderns are completely mushy when it comes to dealing with doctrinal error. We find ourselves paralyzed by the worries that we ourselves are not doctrinally perfect and that we ought not disturb the peace over things that are not essential. And as a result we fail to openly rebuke damnable error. This has not been the way of the church in history.

Luther wrote, “Let this be then the conclusion of all together, that we will suffer our goods to be taken away, our name, our life, and all that we have; but the Gospel, our faith, Jesus Christ, we will never suffer to be wrested from us. And cursed be that humility which here abaseth and submitteth itself. Nay rather, let every Christian man here be proud and spare not, except he will deny Christ.

Wherefore, God assisting me, my forehead shall be more hard than all men’s foreheads. Here I take upon me this title, according to the proverb: cedo nulli, I give place to none. Yea, I am glad even with all my heart, in this point to seem rebellious and obstinate. And here I confess that I am and ever will be stout and stern, and will not one inch give place to any creature. Charity giveth place, for it ‘beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things’ (1 Cor. 13:7), but faith giveth no place… Now, as concerning faith we ought to be invincible, and more hard, if it might be, than the adamant stone; but as touching charity, we ought to be soft, and more flexible than the reed or leaf that is shaken with the wind, and ready to yield to everything.”

This is not unkindness or rudeness on the part of Paul. Unkindness would rather be to know the truth and let others slip away into damnation by silence, by just “going along.”

12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.

13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

Paul speaks of “men from James.” There is no reason to think that these men really had the blessing or authority of James. They simply came, claiming to be from his school of theology.

Before their coming, Peter had rightly ignored the Jewish ban on eating with unclean Gentiles. Recall Peter’s own words in Acts 11:1-17 when he is accused of doing exactly this at the house of Cornelius. He knows that the old prohibition against doing this has been ended. But when the Judaizers arrive, he finds himself ashamed of his Gentile brethren and separates from them, going back to the old Jewish way of looking at the Gentiles. And his example drags along even faithful Barnabas.

Cole said, ” … this withdrawal from fellowship with Gentile Christians was tantamount to saying that they were not as good as Jewish Christians, and that in some way they lacked something of the fullness of the Gospel. Otherwise, why would they separate from them?”

“hypocrisy” comes from a Greek word having to do with “play acting.” It is putting on a false face. Peter knew better, but for fear of what others might say, was willing to treat his Christian brethren badly and go against what he knew to be true. He was flat wrong in public, and Paul publicly rebuked him.

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?”

Peter knew perfectly well that the ceremonial parts of the law were cancelled and that the scrupulous keeping of rules was not the means to right standing with God.  Nevertheless, he was willing to go along with letting the Judaizers dictate that salvation came through faith PLUS something … faith PLUS keeping of rules (of diet, of washing, of circumcision, of ????) .

Paul now makes a logical/theological defense of the true Gospel of salvation by grace through faith plus nothing. He leaves the particulars of the incident with Peter and goes on to the general principles.

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;

Paul says, “We.” For sake of argument, Paul speaks putting himself and Peter and all Jewish Christians in the same boat, including the Judaizers. All of them have looked to Christ for salvation. If the law was adequate to salvation they wouldn’t have started down this path.

“Gentile sinners” is not “sinners” in the general sense that we are all rebels who have willfully disobeyed what we know about God’s wishes for us. It is instead in the narrower sense of being people that have flagrantly failed to keep the rules given to the Jews.

16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Every Jewish Christian should know (and in fact by turning to Christ has initially admitted) that a person is not made right with God through the keeping of the law. Paul says 3 times in this verse that it is faith and faith alone (relying upon, trusting in, cleaving to, casting oneself upon God) that makes a person right with God. Keeping rules doesn’t do it for any person and it never has. There was the Passover and Exodus before there was the giving of the Law!

Psalm 143:2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

It’s not just Peter who is being inconsistent. If the Judaizers would see clearly and admit it, they are doubling back on their first commitment to Christ.

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ.

This is hard to understand. The sense of it may be this. Paul, denying that right standing with God comes through rule-keeping, and even failing to continue with the ceremonial law, could be charged with leading people into “sin,” if “sin” means rule-breaking. This is the same charge that he had to answer in Romans. Doesn’t justification by faith alone lead to contempt for the law? His answer here is the same as in Romans. “ARGHHH!! May it never be. You’re missing the point, those of you who argue in this way. I’ve been set right with God by His grace and faith in the finished work of Jesus. To turn back to a position that says I get right with Him through rule-following is to show again my basic sinfulness. It shows that I really desire to do things my own way, to take credit for my own salvation. It downgrades the importance of the supreme sacrifice of Christ on my behalf. That’s real sin. Simply eating the wrong thing, failing to wash in a certain way, or eating with a Gentile isn’t the real problem. No, Judaizer, the law taught me the impossibility of gaining right standing with God through keeping rules. It’s the Romans 7 situation. I see the rule and naturally find myself drawn to breaking it. There had to be another way if I was going to be saved. God has provided such a way. Thanks be to Christ, I’m done with rule-keeping as a means of attempting to gain right standing with God. I’ve died to that mindset and am alive to God. I’ve been crucified with Christ.”

Notice how Paul describes his relationship to the law. He DIED to the law. When someone dies, there is no going back. Dead is dead. As Paul sees it, if one really trusts Christ, there is no possibility of then turning around and going back to some other way of trying to approve oneself to God. That is simply unthinkable.

20 It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

“I’ve been crucified with Christ.” This is a past action issuing in a lasting result. In Christ, I’ve died a real death. The just requirements of the law, that sin should be punished with death, have been completely fulfilled in Christ. I have been joined to Him and stand acquitted through His death. So, if I am now alive, I am alive only in Christ. I am His. He lives in and through me. I live in faith, in utter dependence upon Him and His finished work, relying upon, trusting in, cleaving to Christ. That’s how I make my way through this life, not through rule-keeping, as that would put me in the place of insisting on my own importance in producing my own salvation. It’s not through adherence to the law, as if I could add something to what Christ has done for me.

This is what Jesus was speaking about in John 15 when he used the figure of the vine and the branches. If you and I are alive, it is through our vital union with Him. By ourselves, on our own we are dead twigs.

21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Here is a central summary statement. Christ is either all, or He is nothing. There is no room for any kind of compromise, or adding anything to His finished work on Calvary. It truly is a slap in the face of God for a human to effectively append to the Gospel his or her own methods of approving himself or herself to God. Salvation comes through God’s grace and faith alone … plus nothing.

Luther said of this doctrine of justification by faith alone, “This is the truth of the Gospel. It is also the principle doctrine of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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