Paul tells of his attendance at the church council in Jerusalem. The leaders of the Jerusalem church accepted and blessed Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. In Antioch Paul had to rebuke Peter, because he separated himself from Gentile Christians when the Judaizers showed up. Paul reminds Peter that they are justified before God by the work of Jesus on the Cross, not by keeping the Law. Righteousness is never imputed because of some religious ceremony or ritual.
Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also (Galatians 2:1).
Fourteen years had passed and Paul would have been thinking that there was unity between the Jerusalem church and himself. There was no essential disagreement as far as he was concerned. The church there must surely have known that he was with them, for had he not brought aid to believers suffering because of the food shortages? “And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:27-29). If something had changed, it was obviously not his doing, but more than likely the Judaizers had grown both in number and influence.
There is some disagreement between commentators about the timing of the first church council that met to discuss the issues raised by Paul’s preaching. It would seem to be chronologically correct to place it at the time he and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem. See Acts 15:135 for details of this council meeting.
Barnabas, always a wellbeloved and mature Christian, had befriended Paul when no one else would. He had invited Paul to share in his ministry; eventually it would be Barnabas being part of Paul’s missionary team. “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:2526). He was with Paul on his first missionary journey. “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:13). Do you see how the headquarters of the church now appears to be Antioch rather than Jerusalem? Not much is coming out of Jerusalem, and usually when we read about it, it is concerning quarrels and matters of religious practice. The Holy Spirit was moving amongst the Christians in Antioch because that is where the Cross was being preached. That short phrase speaks a thousand words, “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch”. Not Jerusalem, but Antioch, why? Because Jerusalem predominantly taught religion, while Antioch preached the Message of the Cross. Who were the most Christlike in their ministry?
Paul was not a rebel. He had not in fourteen years said or written about the teaching, or lack of it, coming out of Jerusalem. He simply continued to preach and teach about what Christ had accomplished on Calvary. For fourteen years none of the apostles opposed or reprimanded him over what he was teaching. Antioch, not the one in Pisidia, but the Antioch in Syria by the Orontes River in Turkey, was the base of Barnabas’ and Paul’s mission, and has always been known as the Cradle of Christianity. Some get confused by the two Antiochs in the New Testament, but it is a good job the others are not mentioned. It appears that Seleucis I, who ruled from 305 to 281BC, was the founder of the Seleucid Empire that ruled from Turkey to Iran. He named several cities ‘Antioch’ to honour his father Antiochus. Thanks Seleucis, that is not confusing at all! This Antioch was also the headquarters for Hellenistic Judaism. This detail reveals why the conflict between the Judaizers and Paul had arisen. The Jews there, including those Christians studying Judaic law, obviously became grieved at Paul’s converts who were not practicing the religion of the Jews. The little band of true Christians had grown into a huge church that was sending out missionaries with the message of salvation in Christ alone. The link between Jerusalem and Antioch was the Judaizers, who Paul called spies in Galatians 2:4.
As mentioned, even after fourteen years there was not an issue. Barnabas, who was a Greek Jew, had accepted him. He was not working independently of the apostles, and everyone knew that. But, he was ordained by Christ not the apostles. He had laboured fourteen years without their advice, help or practices. He and Barnabas simply preached Christ and souls were saved. If they had introduced anything else to draw sinners, they would have been drawn to religion rather than Christ. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “I do believe we slander Christ when we think we are to draw people by something else but the preaching of Christ crucified”.
Titus, was a gentile believer, and he was taken to Jerusalem to prove a point. Gentiles could be saved without the Law, and circumcision was totally unnecessary, especially for non-Jews. The Judaizers insistence on the merits of circumcision was deemed to be a false gospel by Paul. No one in the Antioch church compelled Titus to be circumcised. What would it add to Titus’ understanding of salvation? Would it not mean that Christ was insufficient if he listened to the Judaizers that had crept into this church? It beggars belief that any Christian would actively seek to destroy the church of God, but that is what these “false brethren” were doing, and this has been duplicated through the centuries since. Titus eventually pastored a church in Crete. Tradition suggests he ministered until he was 94, so the false doctrine of the Hebrew Roots teachers did not change or influence his faith in Christ.
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 (Galatians 2:2).
This was a very important business meeting that would determine the future of the Gentile believers. The great foundation of faith was explained in light of the centrality of the Cross of Christ. Though many issues were debated and solved, sadly, it would not end the division between the message of grace and the works gospel. This division has resurfaced countless times throughout the history of the church. Religion, because of its appeal to the fleshly nature of man, always aggressively pushes its views forward.
God ordained that Paul attended. He did not just go to Jerusalem because he thought it was a good idea and would give him a platform to explain his theology. Paul would have prayed about this venture before attempting to go. The Holy Spirit revealed that it was God’s will for him to attend the council meeting. Was this council called because of what the Judaizers were reporting about Paul? Why convene a council just to determine the facts, when all that was necessary to find out what was being taught in Antioch, was to send an apostle there. It seems more likely that the Jerusalem church was in turmoil itself over grace and works, and if that was the case, none of the leaders there had the answer. Were Paul and Barnabas called because it was evident that the Holy Spirit was mightily using them in Antioch, and some apostles believed that was where the answer to the quarrel lay?
Paul wanted them to understand the New Covenant in Christ. He would not have travelled such a great distance just to debate religion, but because he knew that the true Gospel, that which was being taught in Antioch, would be the major point of discussion, he agreed to go. Imagine, Peter, James and the others needed the Gospel explaining to them! If they had understood the Gospel, they would have excommunicated the Judaizers and preached salvation by grace alone. Probably there were influential people amongst them that clouded their thinking.
Paul only had one Gospel to preach, and he was willing to teach it to those who were apostles before him. He took the same approach with everyone because one Gospel fitted all. “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). One famous Bible teacher, who ministers to the Jews, states that the Gospel for Gentiles must not be used with the Jews, that is, God has two gospels. How utterly foolish! It’s the same Gospel for Jews and Gentiles. “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). What saves the Gentiles, saves the Jews.
The one time that Paul got this wrong was in Athens (see Acts 17). He preached Christ, but appealed to religion and philosophy to get his message through to the pagans. Though a few responded, it was not the highlight of his career. His next point of call was Corinth, and by the time he arrived there, he had determined never to preach anything other than Christ Crucified. He never deviated from the Message of the Cross after Athens. Justification is by faith not works, rituals or religion.
Acts 15 proves that the apostles originally accepted this. The Gentiles did not need the Law of Moses. Those who clung to Moses caused the problems in the churches both in Antioch and Jerusalem. The Law would eventually destroy the Jewish church. Why? They could not understand, or maybe they were unwilling to preach grace. Is this one of the issues the Jerusalem church found hard to accept? “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:13-15). They rejected grace in favour of the Law. Even James found it difficult to grasp grace, and sought to undermine its teaching. “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” (Galatians 2:12). Those who were sent by James to Antioch promoted works. This totally contradicted grace in every way.
“Reputation”: ‘dokousin’ (Gk) the recognised ones. Paul taught the apostles privately about grace. He did not seek to embarrass or undermine them. Peter ought to have understood (see Acts 10). The word “privately” means ‘individually’, which infers that Paul did have private conversations with the leadership on a one to one basis before openly discussing the issues. He spoke with them, not only to convey his teaching, but to find out if he was doing anything wrong in their opinion. “In vain” infers that Paul highly respected them. He did not want to see two gospels or two churches. He wanted the battle to stop.
A decision needed to be reached in the general council meeting grading what the true Gospel is. They did come to the conclusion that Paul was preaching the truth and that the Gentiles should not be burdened with Judaic religion or laws. “Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well” (Acts 15:22-29).
The Judaizers were acting contrary to the apostles. James later recognised his error (see his epistle). Notice that the church of Jerusalem agreed that Hebrew Roots theology was a burden and that the Holy Spirit forbade it being taught. The apostles declared that it ought not be taught. Do we really think that the modern version of this teaching is legitimate?
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: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you (Galatians 2:35).
Paul hated division in the church. Unfortunately there are always those who will cause it. We must keep in mind that division is one of Satan’s weapons to defeat the church from within. An all out attack from Judaism would have achieved nothing, for such an approach only brought about the conversion of the chief antagonist of the church. The trouble caused by the Judaizers was from within, and as such they were the greatest danger to the churches. Paul and a few others recognised this.
Titus was brought to Jerusalem to emphasis the point that Gentiles did not need circumcision or to obey the Law of Moses. No one asked Titus to be circumcised, as all knew that it was unnecessary for salvation. All but the Judaizers who continued to argue their point despite the church ruling against them. Titus bravely agreed to be the test case for this momentous general council, and upon his example our freedom from the Law originates. Paul defended the Gospel not only in word, but also in a very practical way.
Nothing but faith is required for salvation, But the Judaizers wanted believers in bondage to Judaism. Notice that Paul calls them “false brethren”. They were not really Christians, for they only pretended to be followers of Christ. They slipped in under the church’s radar under guise of being true believers, but they had no intention of fellowshipping in unity. All they wanted was to compel others to adopt Jewish rites. This was a denial of Christ’s sufficiency. Nothing has changed, so we should not be surprised that they are still active in our churches.
True believers have liberty in Christ, and this grated on the false teachers. True liberty is found only in Christ. Liberty from what? It can only be referring to the Law, the seal being circumcision. The Law of Moses could not offer liberty, but Christ brought us the “Perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). The Law pointed to sin, so brought about guilt and condemnation. This drove people to other blood sacrifices to ease their guilty conscience, but since the sacrifices had to be repeated, there was no respite. The Law was not to blame here, but the breaking of it was. The Law did not of itself bring anyone into bondage, it merely stated that unless it was perfectly obeyed, no liberty was possible. Therefore it is sin that brings people into bondage. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Only the sacrifice of a perfect Saviour, the Lamb of God, could offer mankind liberty. Through faith in that sacrifice, we have been given the power to overcome sin. The Law reveals the impossibility of cleansing ourselves from sin, yet it directs us to the One who did the work in our place on the Cross. We do not need to be burdened by condemnation if our lives are under His Blood. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:12).
If this salvation, rich and free, is ours in Christ, then no Christian should be influenced by Jewish rites. Religion’s goal is to make us feel guilty and get us to redeem ourselves through good deeds, prayers, fasting and other obligations. We see then how the sinner can so easily be brought into bondage under the guise of trying to live a holy life. While the Judaizers spoke of the need to do something to merit eternal life, Paul refused to compromise the message of grace. He would not agree with them on any point because he saw them as antichrists in spirit. Any agreement with them, even in a minor point, would give them a foothold and allow himself to be in subjection to them. He would not budge from the cross. He withstood all error at every point.
True Gospel is in Christ and the Cross alone. How can we know the difference if what false teachers are saying is so spiritual and sounds very close to the Gospel? The Lord would tell us to go and check the fruit of their teaching. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:15-20). It is very evident that every form of Hebrew Roots theology causes division, the air of superiority and an undermining of the Cross. It is not the Gospel, for there is no other Gospel than the one presented by Paul. Sadly, many will continue to be seduced by false teachers of all brands, and only because they take their eyes off Christ and what He did on Calvary. “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7).
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: But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) (Galatians 2:6-8).
Paul respected the leaders in Jerusalem, just as we respect, support and honour ministries to the Jews. There are many of these ministries that simply seek to take the Gospel to Israel and Jews around the world. Several of them have great teaching on the Commandments, Feast Days, Sacrifices, the Tabernacle, Temple, and rituals of the Old Testament. This is entirely different from promoting Hebrew Roots theology, for this drives the gullible into thinking that the practicing of Judaism makes them better Christians. Paul respected the church leaders, but he did not respect any error that was taught by some. His only concern was that the truth be upheld. This does not imply that he honoured the false teachers, and only condemned their teaching, instead he condemned both.
“Somewhat” is the same as “reputation” in Galatians 2:2. It does seem that the apostles were turning a blind eye to the teaching of the Judaizers, therefore they were to blame for not getting rid of them. They were putting position and authority above Scripture. These false brethren thought that they were superior to Paul and the Gentile believers. Such pride should have been dealt with. “God accepteth no man’s person”. The apostles were with Jesus for three years, which was meaningless if they were allowing error to be taught? The Judaizers were operating under the authority of the Jerusalem church leadership, but if they were drawing people away from God, their ministry was devilish. Because the apostles saw Jesus did not make them special. Peter emphasised this point in 2 Peter 1:16-18, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount”. But then he reveals, regardless how wonderful these experiences were, the written Word of God trumps them. “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:19-21). The word of God is preeminent over experience. No matter how vehemently they presented their case for obedience to the Law, Paul refused to be bullied into silence. In fact, not only did he stand his ground, but it was obvious to all that the power of the Holy Spirit was with him.
The Jerusalem church agreed that no Gentile needed to be circumcised and accepted that Paul’s teaching and preaching was in accordance with Scripture. That being the case, they must have realised that there was only one Gospel. Peter was called to minister to the Jews, and Paul to the Gentiles. Their approach to the different ethnic groups obviously could not be the same. Peter would use the Law of the Old Testament to explain the Gospel, whilst Paul only needed to reveal the Gentile’s need for a Saviour by using basic Bible texts. It was the same Gospel, but the application of it differed. It should be observed that Paul’s reference to the respective ministries was geographical rather than totally ethnic, for as Peter did preach to Gentiles, so Paul preached to Jews on many occasions. This is also infers that Peter was not superior to Paul, instead they were equals in the work of God. Both were effectually serving the Lord in the presentation of the Gospel. If there had been two separate Gospels it would have caused confusion and division. Is not this what the Judaizers were doing?
The word “wrought” is very interesting here. It comes from ‘energeo’ (Gk), and means the ‘evident power’ of God in Peter’s area of ministry. God could not have been using two different gospels at the same time. The power of the Holy Spirit cannot be displayed in opposing teachings. Here is the interesting point though: Paul then used the word “mightily” for his own ministry, which is the same Greek word in both instances. Though I’m not in favour of translations other than the King James Version, let me offer a few below from this verse to show that the words “wrought” and “mightily” are indeed hold same meaning.
Jubilee 2000 … “For he that showed himself forth in Peter for apostleship of the circumcision, the same also showed himself forth in me toward the Gentiles”.
American Standard Version … “For he that wrought for Peter unto the apostleship of the circumcision wrought for me also unto the Gentiles”.
Young’s Literal Translation … “For He who did work with Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, did work also in me in regard to the nations”.
Geneva 1599 … “For he that was mighty by Peter in the Apostleship over the circumcision, was also mighty by me toward the Gentiles”.
I do not know for sure why the translators of the KJV chose to use two different English words for the same Greek word, but there is the grammatical rule called reduplication, meaning that one should not use the same word multiple times in a sentence but find a synonym instead. My guess is that, at the height of the purity of the English language, the translators used the rule.
The use of the same word proves that the Gospel should never be modified. It was the same Holy Spirit ministering the same saving grace to everyone. “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed” (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). The Gospel is not ethnically defined.
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. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do (Galatians 2:9-10).
The order of names may indicate seniority in the Jerusalem church. James being the leader at this time, which may be the implication derived from this verse and Galatians 2:12, “For before that certain came from James”. Peter may have been doing missionary work at this point, and, just like Paul, travelled to the council meeting. We know that John was an elder of the church. James presided over the first church council, therefore he seems to have had the main leadership position. These three were considered to be the “pillars” of the church. “Pillars” refer to supporting columns of a building. Peter was not the foundation of the church, and he appears not to be the main person it referred to in matters of teaching and order.
They “seemed” to be the main men, but for Paul, he was not going to allow a group of men dictate what he could and could not preach and teach. His authority, because of the revelation, came from the Holy Spirit. That is why he would not budge when the Judaizers withstood him in the council. He was not casting doubt on the reputation of the apostles, instead he highly esteemed them. Thankfully the leaders recognised the grace of God in Paul and the authority God gave him, as well as the message he preached. For that reason they offered Barnabas and Paul “the right hands of fellowship”. This was more than a shaking of hands, for it was a pledge of friendship and agreement. Notice “hands” (plural) total acceptance of each other and their ministries. The idea is that they covenanted with Paul. They had a common undertaking and partnership.
“Heathen” here is simply another term for Gentiles, that is, the nonJewish lands. Notice that there is still no mention of a different gospel. There was some overlapping of their ministries, which again indicates geopolitical directions rather than ethnic groups.
There was harmony, agreement and unity amongst them, but I do feel that James was keeping a lid on his own worldview, one which he could not control indefinitely. They regarded each other as brothers in Christ. This church council stopped the church becoming Jewish, but it also stopped the church becoming pagan. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) … “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).
All the council requested was that the Gentile church assist the poor that were undergoing deprivation because of the food shortage and persecution at that time. Here is one important decision made. Money raised was not to sustain the leadership, it was to help the poor believers in Jerusalem. “And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:27-30). Both Gentiles and Jews needed to be supported, because the shortage was not particularly an Israeli problem. Paul wholeheartedly agreed to this, and he did return later to bring a gift to the church in Jerusalem. Paul fulfilled what James wrote about active faith, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:15-17).
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. 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 (Galatians 2:11-12).
Antioch in Syria became the headquarters of evangelism to the Gentile nations. Given over to paganism, the city accepted any kind of religion, so it is unlikely that the church there was bothered much from that quarter. Though Paul did face opposition from those who worshipped false gods on his travels, the main antagonists were from the Judaizers, his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7 – see the discussion on this subject later in this commentary at Galatians 4:15).
Peter made a visit to see for himself the move of the Holy Spirit in Galatia. Going to a predominately Gentile city was not a problem for him, and he knew exactly what to expect. He had visited Cornelius in Caesarea, a great Gentile city of Israel and brought this Gentile and his family to Christ (Acts 10). Also Caesarea is the place Philip lived with his four daughters (Acts 21:8). Peter freely ate with the Gentiles of Antioch, thus he had no problems with non-Kosher food. We must remember that Galatia was pagan, and not being under the Law of Moses, they would have eaten animals spoken of as unclean, including pig meat. I doubt Peter ate pig meat, but he was quite happy to be in the company of those that did. The Judaizers, who were sent by James, were offended by Peter eating with Gentiles. It is amazing to see how religionists quickly pick up on dietary laws when they need to level an accusation against those who do not follow their customs. They did the same with Jesus. “Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:1-3). It seems the people who came from Jerusalem got their teaching from tradition rather than the Word of God. In condemning Peter, they were also condemning Jesus.
Peter, though, played the hypocrite, for he ate with the Gentiles and enjoyed their company, but when Christianised Pharisees arrived, he kept away from the Gentiles. He melted in fear in the face of critical religion. In trying to please the Jews, he offended his hosts. Maybe Peter felt that he was being true to Jewish roots by distancing himself from the Gentiles, but in reality his actions were the result of the fear of man. Paul “withstood” him, meaning that he openly rebuked Peter. This was not done privately to save Peter’s shame, rather he was reprimanded to cause him embarrassment. Why did Paul approach this situation in such a severe fashion? Would it not have been better to take him aside and show him his error? The truth is, Peter’s actions were being copied by others, so Paul had to nip the problem in the bud. Also, and more importantly, Peter was undermining grace through his hypocrisy and compromise. Paul’s direct response to Peter’s dissimulation was for the defence of the Gospel, for he saw that the situation was actually a Satanic scheme to undermine the liberty believers have in Christ. Once wrong actions are condoned, or not corrected, they open the door to meddling with God’s Word to make it appear that no wrong has been done. This is clearly observable with 2 Corinthians 2:17 in the New International Version and other new translations. There the text reads, “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God”. This promotes the idea that the Word should not be preached for riches, but the translators had to change the verse because they are guilty of corrupting the Bible. Here is the verse from the King James Bible, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ”. You see, because the NIV is a corruption of the Bible, the translators had to change anything that condemned them for doing so. There is indeed big profit in corrupting the Scriptures today!
Peter was to be “blamed”, not only for offending the Gentiles, but also guilty of offending God. What he was doing was way out of the Lord’s will and was not according to grace. So whatever he did was going to offend either of the parties, but he picked the wrong side. He chose the bullies sent by James. Is it not sad to think that James was backtracking on what he previously announced at the close of the council meeting? But the biggest issue here was Peter’s attempt at having his feet in both camps. His withdrawal from the Gentiles, which in reality was segregation, separated him from the will of God. He was nothing short of a backslider. Thankfully Paul took him on face to face.
And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. 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 2:13-14).
We must keep in mind why Paul is telling this story about Peter. It is not to have a spiritual dig at him, but to reveal that it is not wise to compromise grace even in the smallest of ways. We might have overlooked Peter’s hypocrisy as a trivial matter, but not Paul, for he understood the consequences of faulty theology and actions. In fact, there was an immediate outcome to Peter’s compromise.
The word “dissembled” means ‘hypocrite’, but it also alludes to ‘concealing one’s real character’. So which side of the theological divide was Peter playing the hypocrite with? As a matter of fact, both. Peter had already stated regarding the Gentiles, that God had “put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).
Barnabas also slipped back into practicing Jewish customs. This defection must have cut Paul deeper than that of Peter. Barnabas was his friend, he had ministered with Paul for fourteen years, and in all that time there was never a problem about him reverting to Judaism. Here we see how easily even a strong believer can be swayed by false doctrine, in this case Hebrew Roots, when he or she takes their eyes off the centrality of Christ. Religion makes people blind to grace. Barnabas had seen the mighty work of God’s grace in the lives of the Gentiles, therefore his defection was inexcusable.
Paul saw that they were not walking uprightly, not ‘with straight feet’, that is, crookedly, so he openly confronted and rebuked all of them. He especially highlights Peter’s error because he was the instigator of the defection, and therefore responsible for others backsliding. They were not walking l”according to the truth of the Gospel”, instead they were following a crooked gospel. They walked opposite to the Gospel of Christ. As stated, others copied Peter’s error, or as Paul wrote, he compelled them to do so, a bit like ‘follow my leader’ or ‘monkey see, monkey do’. It was not an accidental slip, it instead was a wholehearted return to the old ways.
Look again at Paul’s accusation. He saw that it was more than a mere copycat effect, for the Jewish believers slide back into Judaism is remotely understandable, but he also compelled the Gentile Christians to follow Jewish customs too. The word “live” here speaks of the foundational principle of life, what drives the person, his worldview. So Peter was convincing the Gentiles of their need to adopt Judaic practices. This is what the modern-day Hebrew Roots teachers proclaim. Paul stands firm and states that this teaching is crooked and far removed from God’s will and grace. The teaching was, and is, the opposite of the truth, the Gospel of Christ.
Peter, Barnabas, the Jewish believers and some of the Gentile Christians were all guilty of following a crooked path that would lead to the wrecking of their faith. No wonder Paul was so agitated by such foolishness. Justification is by faith not works. Do Gentiles need to become Jewish to reach spiritually maturity in Christ? The truth of the Gospel forbids this, for the Law cannot further the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer, either Jew or Gentile.
We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 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 2:15-16).
This verse is probably a continuation of what Paul said to Peter during the rebuke for his hypocrisy. That said, since it is recounted to the Galatians, it is included in this letter as an example of why Gentiles should not be involved with Jewish religion. Paul reveals that both Jews and Gentiles need the same Saviour and the same Gospel to justify them.
“By nature” here speaks of being Jews by birth rather than proselytes to the religion. As such the Jews who became Christians should know that the Law cannot set anyone free from sin. Only faith in Jesus Christ can justify the sinner and declare him to be righteous. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psalm 32:1-2, see also Romans 4:7-8). So, taking the obvious meaning here, even Jewish believers ought not practice Judaic rites now that Jesus has set them free from the Law. Continuing therein to gain grace or merit devalues the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. If the Law does not work for Jews, how is it supposed to bring Gentiles closer to God?
There is a thought here about the Jewish Christians thinking they were better than the Gentile believers, and implies that Jewish prejudice had to be overcome. Jews saw others as “sinners” and themselves holy because of their nationality and religion. They were not born into a pagan society. The Gentiles did not have the blessings or the Word. This is what was also being carried over into Christianity by the Judaizers. The modern version of these legalists do exactly the same, for they think of themselves, and what they do, as better than other true churches. In their minds, the only way to be really spiritual is to become like them. The Jews had forsaken God and their privileges, they could not keep the Law, but they expected the Gentiles, who were not Jewish by nature or religion, to follow them.
This is the first time Paul uses the word “justified” in this letter. Justification is always by faith rather than works, therefore it is an act of God upon the soul of the one believing in the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice rather than a process based upon merit. There can never be any salvation in it in the Law itself, since it was designed to prove that all people, regardless of race, are sinners before God. It directs the sinner to the sin sacrifice, which back then was symbolised by animal sacrifice, which in turn pointed to the sacrifice of the “Lamb of God” on the Cross (John 1:29). The Law, no matter how many righteous deeds were practiced, could not justify even one sinners, it could only condemn. Since their faith was in the Law, they observed it completely. All failed. “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:19-23).
Justification is by faith in Christ alone, not works or religion. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say , at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:24-28). If justification was according to works, then, not being assured that enough good deeds had been done, no one could possibly know they had arrived at such a state. Justification is an immediate work of God in the believer who trusts solely in Christ for salvation.
Notice though that Paul speaks of “the faith of Jesus Christ”, rather than faith in Christ. Faith in Christ is used many times in the New Testament, and we all understand its meaning, but here it specifically says “the faith of Jesus Christ”. This does not refer to the personal faith of God, instead it is the facts of the Cross. This means that no one is more justified in the sight of God than anyone else, for grace places all on the same level. It is upon Christ and Him Crucified that the whole of Biblical Christianity stands. Christianity is not “the” faith here, and neither is it man’s faith in Christ, it is His sacrificial death for sinners. This is what was being referred to in Ephesians 4:5, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism”. There is no possible way to being justified but through the Cross. Salvation through personal merit always fails.
“Even we have believed”: the we of :16 is the same as in :15 … we Jews are no better off than the Gentiles, because even we know that we cannot keep the Law, and that we can only be justified through what Jesus Christ did on the Cross. This belief means full trust in Christ alone. Obeying Judaic laws, rules and regulations to please God or become more spiritual, is the work of the “flesh”. It is by personal commitment to Christ as Saviour that the sinner is justified. He took our guilt on the Cross and by faith in this we are made right with God. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). The Law could not impute righteousness to anyone, but “the faith of Jesus Christ” did.
The bottom line of Paul’s discussion here is asking why it was necessary to impose Jewish rites on the Gentiles? Teaching people that they can earn salvation by something that did not even avail for the Jews was ridiculous. Works (brownie points) cannot save the soul. Works always undermine and bury the truth. Practicing religion actually damns the soul. The Law sets the standard for holiness, and the flesh cannot completely obey it. Only Jesus perfectly kept the Law and was without sin. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
There are three major errors in the church today:
* Legalism: salvation through the Law.
* Antinomianism: there are no laws. We can sin as much as we want. This is akin to the hyper-grace, which is a faction of Calvinism.
* Galatianism: mixing grace and law. Same as Hebrew Roots.
The latter is the most subtle of these errors, because it is appealing to the flesh and makes the adherent believe that he or she is reaching great spiritual heights, when in fact they are slipping away from Christ.
Remember this is what the Epistles to the Galatians is all about.
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 (Galatians 2:17).
Paul answers a question raised by the gainsayers about justification by faith. The Judaizers thought his teaching was dangerous in that grace implied liberty to sin, and therefore Christ permitted Christians to get away with it. So in their thinking, Christ did not actually minister God’s grace but instead the freedom to sin as much as we please. This largely is the type of grace, if we can call it that, which the hyper-grace teachers propagate. If believers sin, they are acting outside of grace and are in the flesh rather than the Spirit, so Christ is not responsible for the sins committed. He does not turn a blind eye to or in any way condone the sins of His followers. Nevertheless, every sinning believer has recourse to the same grace that originally cleansed from sin and justified. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). As mentioned elsewhere, when a text destroys the theology of false teachers, they have to change it to conform to their error. This is exactly what the hyper-grace teachers do. 1 John 1:9 no longer refers to Christians who sin, for they teach that it is not necessary for a believer to confess any sin because it is already forgiven under the Blood, but that the text is for the lost. I disagree, for notice “we”, “our” and “us” in the verses below.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it , and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us😉 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:1-10 emphasis mine).
If the “we”, “our” and “us” of these seven verses obviously mean believers, why change the meaning of verse 8 and make it applicable only to the lost? This is a gross error of the hyper-grace movement and one that does fit the accusation of the Judaizers. John condemns this disgraceful theology. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us … If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10). If grace is preached as a license to sin then the preacher does indeed make Christ the minister of sin.
“Seek to be justified by Christ”: we must want to be justified. Justification is not automatic and nor is it the outcome of so-called irresistible grace. Seeking it reveals we cannot do it ourselves, and that it is only found in Christ. Seeking it is not a work, as Calvinism wrongly claims, for throughout the Scripture we are told to seek. Seeking is an act of the will in response to the move of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts. It is always, “seek, and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7). Seek it in the Law, and you will not find justification, but cling to the old rugged Cross, and you will. Both Jews and Gentiles need the same justification that can only be found in Christ. “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin” (Romans 3:9).
If we look again at the question “Is Christ the minister of sin?”, which is simply Paul repeating the accusation of the Judaizers, we will note that it is based upon faulty theology. How can Christ, who never sinned, minister sin in a believer? If the false teachers had used the same thinking with regards to the Law, they would have come to the same conclusion as Paul. The Law was “The ministration of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7) and “The ministration of condemnation” (2 Corinthians 3:9). Therefore it cannot offer justification or eternal life.
“God forbid”: what a terrible thought! Paul found both extremes disturbing, and no doubt he would have cursed the hyper-grace teachers if they existed in his day. Jesus did not come to define sin, that was the ministration of the Law. Jesus came to deal with sin itself. He broke the power of sin by fulfilling the Law. “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). The Law was designed to convince us of sin, but grace was designed to justify us before God. Victory depends on which we believe to be the foundation of our lives. If it is the Law, then it must be completely obeyed. If it is grace, then Christ must be completely obeyed. Only He can make us acceptable to God. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:1-3).
For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God (Galatians 2:18-19).
Why rebuild a house that was previously demolished because it was unfit to be inhabited? The Hebrew Roots folk are trying to build the church with masonry that grace tore down. The Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation and only grace can be built upon Him. Grace does not build with the old materials of the Law. To do so would be to go back to legalism, which leaves a person sinful and hopeless. “Build again” is a reference to Peter’s reversal. Peter knew that dietary laws were not needed. He accepted that circumcision was not required. But he still retreated back into Judaism, and as such was in effect denying the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Gentile believers.
Reversing back to the Law makes the person a transgressor, a breaker of the Law, and thus condemned. This being the case, that person is once again separated from the grace of God. All are guilty sinners before God, which is an undeniable fact, but legalists are actually insulting God by suggesting that He has no way to place repentant sinners in Christ, under His Blood and in a position of justification. Religious rites only gratify the flesh, and offer the flesh a cloak of piety. Paul was not going back to the Law. Why? It cannot ever justify the sinner, and it cannot sanctify the saint. Paul says he was “dead to the law”. This does not infer antinomianism, instead his life motivation was now grace by the power of the Spirit. He accepts the place and ministration of the Law, as it reveals the holy standard that man cannot attain, but was now living by a higher Law than that of Moses. He came to understand that he cannot be saved by the Law. Romans 7 is an excellent commentary on this. Even when you think you have done something worthy that God is pleased with, the Law knocks you down by revealing just how far you are from holiness. The Law was not designed to bring assurance. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). This is not the cry of an unsaved man, as some suggest, instead it is of someone who is a Christian, but is trying to reach perfection through the Law. It cannot be achieved, therefore as long as he puts faith in his ability to obey the Law, he will fail and continue to live according to the flesh. Paul clearly states that no one, including Moses, can free him from this wretchedness, none that is, but Christ. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:25).
Christians live unto God and are dead to the Law. Not through the Law but through Christ is eternal life given. “Live” refers to our everyday life in God. The Law prevents us living for God because it constantly reminds us of our sin and faults. So the Law is not dead, as some claim, but we are dead to it. The Law brought a curse, but it has been broken in Christ. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10). Every detail had to be obeyed to avoid the curse. If that was achievable, we would not need Christ. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
We must follow the Holy Spirit, who works within the boundaries of grace, rather than the Law. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). We have been set free from the Law. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Here is the how and why this is true and the reason why religion must be rejected: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:34) … “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). In other words, the Holy Spirit empowers us to keep Law of Faith in Christ. “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians3:9).
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 (Galatians 2:20).
It might be helpful to put a ‘but’ or a ‘therefore’ between verses 19 and 20 to catch the context of what Paul writes next.
Paul speaks of himself as dead to the Law because he has been “crucified with Christ”. He is “dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world” (Colossians 2:20). This crucifixion (death) brings new life (resurrection). This is the only basis for our union with Christ. The word “crucified” is past tense, indicating that salvation is not according to anything we can possibly do, but only through what the Lord already did on the Cross. This is proven by the the word “with”, “with Christ” when He was “crucified”. Some may object to this because Paul writes in the present tense, “I am crucified with Christ”. We must live the Cross-centred life every day while we walk this Earth. This is what Jesus was talking about in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”. This is the “I am crucified” part. Without Christ, any form of self-denial is futile, vain, and merely the flesh trying to better itself. But “with Christ” points to His crucifixion on Calvary, therefore we can only live the crucified life because of His work on the Cross. Nevertheless, we must avoid an error that has crept into some denominations which speaks of continuous crucifixion on our part to reach a state of perfect sanctification. We are not being crucified over a period of time. “I am crucified with Christ” identification with Christ through His death and that there is nothing we can do ourselves. Paul does not write, ‘I am being crucified with Christ’, for if that were the case it would imply that Christ is constantly being crucified too. Context is everything here, therefore the statement confirms that all who have faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross are indeed dead to the Law.
For the Gentiles it was not an old life under the Mosaic Laws, for them it was the religious rituals, regulations and obligations of paganism, which were just as binding as those under Judaism. That preChristian life was gone, dead and buried forever. The dominating power of the sin nature was broken once they turned to the Lord. Grace dynamically affects the way we live, and this is what the apostle is highlighting in verse 20. The Cross is not just for salvation as some think, but sanctification too. It is designed to work its power in daily life. Victory over sin, self and Satan is always through the Cross. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). Not any old faith in something, because the Jews had faith in the Law, and the Gentiles in their particular deity, both of which were ill founded. The faith John writes about is exactly that which Paul speaks of, that is, faith in Christ, and since without the Cross faith would be as powerless as the Jewish and pagan belief systems, it must be in what was done on Calvary for us and in our place.
“The life I now live”. This is where the power of the Cross plays out in our everyday life. We are dead to the religious laws but alive in Christ. This life is the resurrection life of Christ in us. One minister told me that he had moved on from the Cross to the Resurrection, but that was not Paul’s theology. The Cross was part of his daily life. The Holy Spirit was giving him the power to live the new life in Christ. We understand that unless Christ rose again, the work on the Cross would have been of no use. “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). But let us not forget that there could be no resurrection without the Cross. Sin was not washed away at the tomb, instead it is through the Blood that we are saved. Move on from Calvary! That is sad and bad theology.
The resurrection of the Lord is clearly an important subject, but it is more than the physical rising again of the Saviour, for it must impact upon our daily lives. If we were crucified with Him, then we must be raised together with Him also. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4) … “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6:5). This resurrection life is the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to walk a new life rather than patching up the old. We must see that the old life was dealt the mortal blow at the Cross. Unless it was fatal, we are still dominated by the flesh rather than living in the Spirit. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul will say as much in Galatians 6:15, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature”. It is certainly true, because we are living in a fallen world, and that which kept us from Christ in the past, can tempt us away from Him today. This is why we need to keep reminding ourselves that we are not what we used to be, and now we have the power to resist and overcome temptation. “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Because of this we can stand in faith and “Likewise reckon [ourselves] to be dead indeed unto sin” (Romans 6:11 parenthesis mine) … “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6).
New life is not merely a possession but a person. It is not a reconditioned old life. It is Christ in us rather than self “not I”. He is the source of our everyday walk. We died on the Cross with Christ. His resurrection life is in us. He is living in us “Christ liveth in me”, what a wonderful thought! And why is this so? Did He go to the Cross because there was something in us that merited it? Were we so holy and righteous that He simply had to save us? Did He do it because we are worth it? No, He did it because He loved us. He did not love a few, an elect, instead His love is unlimited and universal. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16) … “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). For this reason we know that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Because of its theological base, Calvinism creates a problem that it thinks impinges on the Sovereignty of God. It asks, “If God loves the human race in totality, and Christ died for all, why is not every one saved?”, which brings the second of their questions, “Does not that mean that Christ failed in His mission?” Because of this self-created error, they go on to twist the Scripture by making out that Christ only died for the elect (within Calvinists supposedly). The answer is simple, though the problem would not exist if there was no Calvinism. The offer of salvation is universal, but the power of it is applied individually by faith. In the Calvinist mind faith becomes a work, which it is not of course. This ploy is simply to defend the false notions of the Augustinian theology that Calvin bought into. Faith in the finished work of Calvary saves. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Sadly they will twist this text also to make it say that faith is the gift. No, grace is the free unmerited favour or goodness of God. The “it” can only be referring to grace rather than faith. If both were the gift, Paul would have written them instead. Faith in the unmerited grace of God is where our salvation stands. Is faith a work? If it is, then it is the one Jesus said God approves of. “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29).
He gave Himself for us for two reasons, one being to save us from sin the moment we placed our faith in the finished work on the Cross, the other being that we receive the power to live well pleasing unto God. “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). He did not redeem us to be an idle bystander in our lives. He wants to use us to be powerful witnesses in this world. Living by religious laws will only reveal that we are failures, and that is no testimony of God’s power. Living the Christ-centred life on the other hand is the greatest display of His power in this world since the Cross and the Resurrection.
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain (Galatians 2:21).
Paul’s objection to the Judaizers was that God’s grace is not undermined by the message of the Cross. The word “frustrate” here means ‘to set aside or render meaningless’. He shows that by obeying the ceremonial laws to gain a right standing with God, they were actually frustrating the righteousness of God and grace that comes by the Cross. Therefore they were guilty of making both meaningless. If what they say is true, then there is no need for Christ at all, and everyone might as well, for what it is worth, aim to obey all aspects of the Law. But justification by works renders grace useless and discredits the God who offered it. The words “frustrate” and “vain” are the same Greek word in this verse, so whoever does frustrate grace also frustrates the death of Christ on the Cross, and both are equally “vain”. You cannot divorce grace and the Cross.
Earning salvation by personal attrition or good works is praiseworthy to the flesh, and will earn only the applause of men. If the believer seeks the victory of the Cross then he or she must obtain it through faith in Christ, and no longer work for it. This means that salvation and sanctification cannot be purchased by the deeds of the flesh. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah
55:1). Religionists say, “I can do it”. Born again believers say, “Christ did it”.
Righteousness is never available through the Law, for if it was, it would imply that any type of law can save. If Jewish rituals, feasts and laws can merit eternal life, then surely the righteous acts of the Gentiles should receive the same. I am looking at this from the Christian perspective which renders both Jews and Gentiles incapable of pleasing God through good deeds. But if the believer resorts to Judaic practices, then he is stating that Christ is insufficient, and that being the case, he might as well become a pagan. All this is nonsense of course, for justification is only by faith. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Conforming to any law nullifies faith and grace. Many are going to be shocked on Judgement Day, for in promoting Hebrew Roots, they have rejected and despised God’s plan. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10).
The Law itself is not at fault here, for it is only doing the job that God intended for it. The fault lies with those who both misinterpret and misapply the Law. “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Galatians 3:2122). Therefore obedience to it cannot save the soul. “And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Romans 7:10-13). This tells us that we need a Saviour. The Law can only reveal our sinfulness and our need for the grace of God in Christ Jesus. “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20).
Grace points us to salvation in Christ alone. 1600 years of sacrifices could not save anyone. Yes, animal sacrifices covered sin temporarily, but both the guilt and condemnation remained. All were still sinners before God. But when Christ came, that is, when He died on the Cross, the power of the Law was broken forever for them who believe. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). Not the end of the need for the Law as such, but we who are in Christ, know that the Law is not our guide now. “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God” (Galatians 2:19). Therefore “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Unfortunately there will always be those who preach and teach an alternative route to God, one which bypasses grace and adopts hard work, sacrifice, rituals and laws to gain God’s good favour. We must always be alert to this, for it is so easy for something that sounds Scriptural to slip under our spiritual radar. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh” (Colossians 2:8-23).
As we close this chapter, let us remind ourselves of the most important truth of all, one which all of our other beliefs must be built upon. Christ alone perfectly kept the Law, and only He could save us from sin through His sacrificial death on Calvary’s Cross. Also, since Paul is discussing the errors of the Judaizers, let us not forget that it was those under the Law who committed the worst sin ever, they crucified their own Messiah. Yet amazingly grace still availed for them.