Galatians 2:15–3:9comment (0)
June 11, 2009
By Jay T. Robertson
Related Scripture: Galatians 2:15–3:9
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Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
RECEIVING THE GOSPEL
When Paul squared off against Peter in Antioch, he was dealing with something more than a social problem. He was not concerned simply about cliques that were forming in the church or who was washing his or her hands before dinner. He was not even concerned about the ugly sin of racism, although the Judaizers were using their theology to justify their prejudice. Paul understood that his skirmish with Peter was nothing less than a battle for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul began by identifying himself with his fellow Jewish Christians, including Peter, with whom he was locked in conflict. Certainly those who were Jews by heritage and birth had a great advantage over “Gentile sinners.” But Paul was saying forget the Gentile sinners. We know they are outside the covenant and hopeless before God. But even we Jews who claim all the privileges of the chosen people have to realize that no one could be justified by observing the law. We, too, no less than the Gentiles, have been accepted by God through faith in Jesus Christ. If the Torah could have produced righteousness before God, then why should anyone have turned from Judaism to Jesus in the first place?
Paul drove home the point that even the religious Jews could never be saved by being good. No one could find salvation by keeping the law simply because no one can keep the law. Many in our churches today believe they can earn God’s favor by being good. This mind-set contradicts the gospel, which teaches we are saved by repenting of our sins and trusting Christ’s completed work on Calvary’s cross.
Paul wrote that believers are justified. It would be good if we took time to meditate on this precious biblical truth. Justification is the favorable verdict of God, the righteous Judge, that one who formerly stood condemned has now been granted a new status at the bar of divine justice. The one who trusts Christ is declared by God to be righteous.
By their behavior, Peter and the other Jewish Christians at Antioch had given approval to the Judaizers’ idea that it was necessary for a Gentile to keep the Jewish rituals before he or she could become a Christian. If the Judaizers were correct about believers being saved in part by keeping the ceremonial law, then Peter, Barnabas and all the other Jewish believers, including Paul, had fallen back into the category of sinners by having freely eaten with Gentile Christians. If the Judaizers were right, then even Jesus was wrong. Paul had died to the law in that he was no longer trying to gain justification by obeying the law. Since he was no longer under the impossible burden of trying to earn acceptance from God, he had gained His approval through the justification that is in Christ. In this new relationship with God, he found an amazing new freedom to live a life devoted to Him.
Be Consistent (3:1–5)
Paul interrogated the Galatians with six questions in five verses. He despaired that they had come under the spell of false teachers, and so he returned to their experience of how they had first come to Christ. In verse 2, Paul showed how illogical it was for the Galatians to seek a fuller Christian life through the observance of the law. Did God give them the Spirit and work miracles in their midst because they had kept the law? No, it was the result of their hearing the gospel and believing it. Like the Galatians, we need to resist the seductive teaching that tickles our ears and live consistently for God’s glory. We must remember “by hearing with faith” is the way to continue the Christian life day by day.
Be Blessed (3:6–9)
Paul issued a second direct appeal to the Galatians. It was not just their own experience of receiving the gospel by faith that should have taught them that salvation is not by the law but by grace. The Old Testament example of Abraham also teaches that it is through genuine faith, not the law, that one is counted righteous. It is because of our faith in Christ that we are blessed by our loving God.