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Reflections on Galatians

Saint Paul

Galatians 2

(Galatians 2 KJV) "Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. {2} And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

This would be the Jerusalem conference described in Acts 15. There are other views on this, but in my studied opinion, the evidence is conclusive for the Jerusalem conference.

{3} But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: {4} 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:

Note that Paul speaks of "our" liberty which "we" have in Christ Jesus. He allows of no distinction between Jew and Gentile.

{5} To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

Notice what was at issue: It was a question of whether the gospel could go to the gentiles or not. Those who still adhered to a form of Judaism while believing Jesus was the Messiah, wanted to exclude gentiles. They were racists. They would not enter the house of a gentile, they would not eat with a gentile. Consequently, it was not possible for a gentile to enter the church without circumcision and the whole nine yards of what would have been required of them in Judaism. The believing Pharisees had made one small adaptation to their Judaism. They allowed that Jesus was the Messiah. On later evidence it seems they even doubted Jesus’ resurrection.

{6} But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: {7} But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; {8} (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) {9} And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. {10} Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

So the issue was decided, then and there. The legitimacy of the conversion of the gentiles was confirmed. The legitimacy of taking the gospel to the Gentiles was confirmed. But if you think this ended the dissension, you are mistaken.

 {11} But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. {12} For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. {13} And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

Paul rightly viewed this as so much hypocrisy. As long as politics was kept out of the picture, no one in Antioch cared much whether you were a Jew or a Gentile and they certainly did not obey the Jewish rules of not eating with Gentiles. But when those of the circumcision party arrived on the scene, everything changed. Evidently these men were not without influence.

{14} 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? {15} We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, {16} 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.

“A man” and “no flesh.” These two phrases underline what should be obvious. That there has always been one way of salvation for man. One could easily take the first phrase as a reference to current times but the later phrase, “for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified,” seems conclusive. One cannot justify flesh by works of the law.

It doesn't matter if one is Jew or Gentile, Old Testament or New Testament, no one ever has been or ever will be justified by works of the law. Not even the law of God.

{17} But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. {18} For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. {19} For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

What does this mean? The law requires your death when you break it. What Paul means is that in the eyes of the law, we have died. The demands of the law are satisfied.

 {20} I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. {21} I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain."

We must think carefully about what we have just read. If, before Christ came, righteousness had come by the law, then there was no need for Christ to come and die. He died in vain. Righteousness has never come by the law, before, during, or after the ministry of Jesus Christ.  This is not a new idea. It has always been so.

There is a confusion of the role of the law in the life of a Christian. The law is the revelation of right and wrong behavior. Breaking the law causes harm. Keeping the law is the minimum standard of acceptable conduct, not the definition of righteousness in God's sight. Jesus explained this in a short parable in Luke 17:7 ff.

Luke 17:7 But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

The keeping of the law perfectly gains you no points with God. The law cannot lift you to excellence. It can only tell you what you have done wrong.

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