Confronting the Issue of Law and Gospel to Its Face

May 21, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Posted in Galatians | 3 Comments
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Galatians Chapter 2 references the Jerusalem Council that was documented in Acts 15. The main issue there was whether Christians had to be circumcised in adherence to Judaism before they could truly be considered Christians. Paul was very agitated about this because he had been going all around the country preaching salvation by grace through faith. That is the true Gospel, but the Jews had a hard time with this because of the emphasis which Judaism placed on separation from the gentiles. Furthermore, Peter had eaten with gentiles at Antioch, and then had withdrawn from their company when Jewish elders arrived.

The Judaizers who were trying to dilute the Gospel were “false brethren” motivated by Satan. They wanted to add works to faith. At the Council, Peter, John, and James all came squarely down on the “right side:” Christianity is one Spirit, one Salvation, one Savior, one Body. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

After Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation, several years later some of the Reformers would use these “solas” to describe what they believed: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory). These doctrines refuted the Roman Catholic tradition of faith-plus-works which was an error similar to that of the Judaizers in Paul’s day.

Paul’s argument used his ministry partner Titus as Exhibit 1. Titus was a gentile, he was uncircumcised, and he was a true Christian

But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

Galatians 2:3-4

Galatians 2:6-10 are very uncharacteristic of the Holy Spirit’s writing through Paul. It is a passage which may be contrasted against Ephesians 1 where Paul goes on for 14 verses without a period, because he can’t stop praising God for how great salvation is. In Galatians 2:6-10 his frustration and anger made it so that the translators had to use parentheses because he can hardly stop interrupting himself! And much of this anger and frustration was caused by Peter.

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

Galatians 2:11

Peter should have known better.

But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

Galatians 2:14

He seems to be saying, “You, Peter, are a Jew, and you know better than anyone that the Law can’t be kept in your own strength. How are you going to say we have to make the gentiles keep the Law?”

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,

Galatians 2:15

Paul and Peter had been born into families that had trained them since infancy to avoid sin.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Galatians 2:16

Those who understand the Gospel have the Truth – freedom in Christ Jesus – which is the only real freedom and the only salvation. No one was ever saved by doing works of the Law. Going all the way back to Abel, who was declared righteous by faith, on to those who participated in the sacrifices of the Old Covenant given through Moses, only those who reached into the future by faith and touched the Cross were saved. It is as if Paul were saying, “We must not now, even if it offends all our sensibilities, lead men to believe that the keeping of the Law is the means of salvation.” Note the “instrumental dative” in the Greek for the word “of” in Galatians 2:16. Even “our” faith (which should be demonstrated by works) is not sufficient. We would fall from grace if not for the faith of Christ.


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