Justified By Faith
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 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 (Gal. 2:15-16).
Peter and Barnabas had compelled Gentile Christians to “live like Jews” (i.e. follow the Law of Moses) by disassociating from them (refusing to eat with them)—to which Paul says, “I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel…” (Gal. 2:14). After Paul retells the story of his encounter with Peter in Antioch, he expounds further upon this issue that was at the heart of his rebuke. What made their behavior contrary to the Gospel of Christ? Why would they be condemned for this? What were the blasphemous implications of their doctrine? The end of Galatians chapter two is the beginning of Paul’s answer to these questions. Let’s follow his reasoning.
First Paul makes this point: Jew or Gentile (it matters not)—all are sinners in need of justification. Note verse 15: Paul acknowledges Jews were separate from “Gentile sinners” (i.e. given the Law of Moses and sanctified through it from the Gentile world), BUT Paul quickly adds that “a person” (Jew or Gentile) cannot be “justified by works of the law.” Meaning…no one…no matter how hard they might try, can earn justification (righteous standing before God). Rather, justification comes through faith (trusting obedience) in Christ. He repeats both of these facts, adding “we (Jews) also have believed” (i.e. put our faith in) Christ Jesus to find justification. In other words, righteousness—forgiveness of sins—justification are found in Christ, on the same terms, for both Gentile AND Jew. This is what made the behavior of Judaizing Christians contrary to the Gospel—they were adding terms and conditions for justification. Sometimes it would be circumcision, sometimes dietary restrictions, or something else, but in the final analysis NONE of it was mandated by Christ. So for Peter and Barnabas to pretend something “more” or other than trusting obedience to the Gospel brought salvation was sinful, heretical, and blasphemous.
To our second question: the above answers why they would be condemned (and why Paul opposed Peter to his face, Gal. 2:11). He and Barnabas effectively stated by their actions the Gospel was not enough! It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? That an apostle of Christ could bring condemnation on himself—we should take the warning to heart, and humble ourselves. Paul goes further in calling us to understand the blasphemous implications of their behavior: “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!” (Gal. 2:17). In other words, if justification in Christ is found apart from the Law of Moses (and it is)—does that mean we’re sinners for abandoning the Law? Does that make Christ a promoter of sin? Of course not. This is Paul’s line of reasoning: what informed, sincere Christian would accept such an absurd and blasphemous conclusion?
Christ, in His Sacrifice ”…has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in His flesh the Law of commandments and decrees” (Eph. 2:14). It is no longer binding on any man and, Paul as a minister of the Gospel preached the abrogation of the Old Law, effectively “tearing it down” as he preached Christ. To reverse course now, would be undoing the work he’s diligently pursued: “If I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor” (Gal. 2:18). It would only serve to demonstrate his own sinfulness, either by playing the hypocrite (Gal. 2:13), or by the simple fact that the Law could only expose and condemn, never justify (Rom. 7:4-12). Christ came to release His people from the curse of the Law brought, that they might be joined to Him in a New Covenant wherein righteousness comes by faith (Gal. 3:10-14).
“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. 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” (Gal. 2:19-20).
Death is always separation in the Bible—and so it is here. Just as a wife is released from the bond of marriage when her husband dies, so Christians undergo a separation—a death to self, to sin, and (for Jews) to the Law of Moses (Rom. 7:1-3). Dying with Christ means “…our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6). He grants us a new beginning, a new life wherein fleshly desires do not vanish, but a life where we know how to put such deeds and desires to death. What is more—we have every reason to. Though we live on “in the flesh” here and now, we live for the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us. He is able to deliver me if I will be faithful to Him. He will purge away all sin and bring me to perfection if I will only submit to His will. In Him I find peace, joy, comfort, hope, contentment, AND (to Paul’s point) justification if I will but yield. None of these things can I attain on my own, but through Him I may have it all: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21).
Now there’s the real rub—yes, I have work to do as I “endeavor to be justified in Christ” (Gal. 2:17), BUT, even as I do, “I do not nullify (bring to nothing) the grace of God” (v. 21). Righteousness cannot be earned (based on law), and to teach that it can (or even living as if it could), is to declare “Christ died for no purpose.” We may “profess to know Him” but by our “actions deny Him” (Ti 1:16)—like Peter and Barnabas, by our actions declare, “Christ died for no purpose!” May the Lord deliver us from our own arrogance, from resting on our laurels, and cause us to trust in Him for justification.