Paul cites a particular incident where he stood up to Peter about being straightforward about the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.
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In defense of the Christocentric gospel Paul would defer to no one. He had already inclusively indicated that if "any man" (1:9), even him, his associates, or an angel from heaven (1:8) should offer a gospel other than that of God's grace in Jesus Christ, he would be subject to God's anathema. Furthermore, he explained that those who were of ecclesiastical reputation (2:2,6), even "pillars" of the church (2:9), made no difference to him (2:6) in his divinely commissioned resolve to share the gospel of grace and liberty, for he was convinced that "God shows no partiality" (2:6) concerning the messenger and his alleged position. The issue for Paul, which he would defend at all costs, was the essence of the gospel in Jesus Christ alone (sola Christus), expressed by God's grace alone (sola gratia), and received by faith alone (sola fide).
Immediately after the recitation of selected events from his life which evidenced his independency from the original apostolic leadership in Jerusalem, since he had not learned the gospel from them, nor been commissioned by their authority (1:112:10), Paul cites a particular incident that places the centrality of the gospel of grace into focus. Under no circumstances, regardless of the personages involved, would Paul allow moralistic performance accretions to supplement the gospel, either directly or indirectly. That the gospel was solely the dynamic activity of Jesus Christ by the grace of God, allowing the freedom of the Christian to function by the leading of the Spirit of Christ without any legalistic requirements of ritualistic rites or behavioral regulation, was the reality that Paul would not back away from.
This letter was written at a crucial time for defense of the singular essence of the gospel in Christ. The extension of the gospel to the Gentiles, precipitated by Peter's visit to Cornelius (Acts 10:24-48), the receptivity of the Gentiles in Antioch prompting the sending of Barnabas and his subsequent alliance with Paul (Acts 11:19-26), and the commissioning of Paul as "apostle to the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:13) to which he was obedient on the first missionary journey accompanied by Barnabas (Acts 13:114:26), all contributed to a crisis of identity in the early church. The Jewish religion was known for its ingrown enculturated traditions based on racial superiority, religious exclusivism, and nationalistic rights which segregated them from all others. The early Jewish-Christians were having a difficult time accepting and allowing for integration with Gentile-Christians who did not feel obliged to conform to basic traditions of the Law in which those of Jewish heritage had found their unique identification. In particular, some Jewish-Christians were keen to preserve the rite of male circumcision as the external mark of specific identity, and their extensive food laws wherein they demarcated their purity.
The differences of opinions on these issues varied among the Christians of Jewish heritage. At one end of the spectrum was Paul, who on behalf of the Gentiles, was willing to abandon all Jewish traditions for complete freedom in Christ. Other Jewish-Christians were struggling with such broad abandonment of their heritage. The leaders of the Jerusalem church were engaged in the learning process of progressive revelation concerning the implications of the gospel: Peter had a special revelation of the inclusion of the Gentiles and the irrelevancy of Jewish food laws while on the rooftop in Joppa (Acts 10:9-23), but was still reluctantly accepting the dismissal of Jewish essentials one issue at a time. James may have been more reticent to rescind the Jewish traditions. At the far right end of the spectrum were some Jewish-Christians whose attitudes were not far removed from those of the Jewish religion. They accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but thought of Christianity as a form of completed Judaism which should retain all traditions. Among this group there was a contingent of hard-line advocates who have been called "Judaizers" (though the term is not a biblical designation), who felt obliged to defend the mandatory matters of Mosaic law with all the traditions of Judaism, with special emphasis on male circumcision which earned them the designation of "the circumcision party" (2:12; Titus 1:10). It was their tactics of activistic "politics of legalism"1 which led to the confrontation which Paul recounts in Jerusalem (2:4,5), and in Antioch (2:12-21), and was the occasion for Paul's writing of this letter to the Galatians. They took it upon themselves as a personal mission to "spy out the liberty " (2:4) of Christians, whether of Jewish or Gentile ethnicity, in order to impose or compel rigid conformity to the behavioral specifics of the "works of the law" (2:16,21), which Paul regarded as the "bondage" (2:4) of religion. They would travel far and wide from Judea (Acts 15:1) to infiltrate, agitate and intimidate Christian groups, employing pressure tactics to force and compel (2:3,14) conformity, and labeling all non-conformists as "sinners" (2:15,17) to be separated from (2:12). Claiming ecclesiastical authority by name-dropping the names of Peter and James (2:12), they regarded the Jewish traditions as essential to the gospel for Christian living, which Paul regarded as a distortion (1:7) and denial (1:6,7) of the "truth of the gospel" (2:5,14) of grace in Jesus Christ, thus calling them "false brethren" (2:4).
The conflict between Paul and this radical, hard-line "circumcision party" within the Jewish-Christian community in Judea was taking place on many fronts at the same time. When Paul went to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus for a private meeting with the Jerusalem leaders (2:1-10), which we have taken to be the famine-relief visit of Acts 11:30; 12:25, he was accosted by the "false brethren" (2:4,5) in Jerusalem. After his first missionary journey with Barnabas (Acts 13:114:26), during which time he preached in the southern cities of the Roman province of Galatia and established the predominantly Gentile "churches of Galatia" (1:2), Paul returned to Antioch of Syria and spent a "long time" (Acts 14:28) with the Christian disciples there. It was probably during this indefinite "long time" that the incident with Peter (2:11-21) took place, perhaps correlating with the delegation from Judea who were teaching that, "unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1). It is the author's personal opinion that this letter of Paul to the Galatians was also written from Antioch during this same relative "long time" (Acts 14:28). If so, the heat of confrontation was intense as Paul was defending the gospel against the Judaizers on many fronts, and this may have been the reason why he could not revisit the Galatian churches at the time, but wrote this letter to address the issue of Judaizers in Galatia before he headed off to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:2-29), where some of these issues would be clarified more carefully.
Perhaps part of Paul's purpose in relating this incident of confrontation with Peter was to continue to validate his independence from Peter and the original apostles. Since Peter was apparently held in high regard by the intrusive Judaizing traditionalists, and they may have been using his name as their prime source of authority for their propaganda of supplementation, Paul may have intended to expose the fact that he had to set Peter straight on the essence of the gospel, and Peter should not be granted undue veneration as one of the original apostles, as the hard-line legalist party was prone to do. How interesting that in later church history the Roman Catholic church which regarded Peter as their first pope, attempted to preserve Peter's reputation and veneration by arguing that Peter was just role-playing with Paul in this account, in order to drive home the truth of the gospel. Not likely!
2:11 Immediately following the report of their private consultation with James and Cephas and John (2:1-10), Paul recounts the incident "when Cephas came to Antioch," even though the first missionary journey may have intervened between the two occasions, and this latter incident may have been quite recent prior to the writing of this epistle. The connecting link is probably Paul's intent to show that Peter did not honor the consensus they had reached in Jerusalem, both by failing to stand pat in the resolve not to allow any ritualistic or moralistic additions to the gospel, and possibly by intervening in a situation outside of Judea that was largely part of the Gentile mission which Paul had been entrusted with (2:7), even though there was a sizable contingent of Jewish-Christians in Antioch also. Some have attempted to attribute the confrontation to a misunderstanding whereby Paul interpreted the Jerusalem agreement as a broad negation of all Judaic law-observances, while Peter (and perhaps James more so) thought it related only to circumcision, with Jewish food laws still a negotiable issue. This seems somewhat untenable since Peter knew full well that food laws were abolished in the new covenant after his revelation in Joppa (Acts 10:9-23). Given Peter's personality propensity to be fickle and fallible, evidenced by previous fearful vacillation and wavering leading to a denial of what he really believed (cf. Matt. 26:69-75), it is more likely that Peter just caved-in and capitulated to the pressure of the legalistic hard-liners from Judea.
The purpose of Peter's visit to Antioch is unknown, and there is no apparent reference to such in the book of Acts. Antioch was one of the largest cities in the Roman empire, and the capital of the province of Syria. It was the first major site of Christian development outside of Jerusalem, as Christians scattered by persecution (Acts 8:4; 11:19) first shared the gospel with Jews, and then later with Gentiles (Acts 11:19,20). After news of this mixed church reached Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas as a liaison (Acts 11:22). Barnabas, in turn, recruited Saul from Tarsus to assist him (Acts 11:25,26). The believers in Jesus were first called "Christians," that is "Christ-ones" or "those of Christ" in Antioch (Acts 11:26), possibly first as a designation of derogation, but later accepted as a most appropriate explanation of the reality of Christianity.
In response to Peter's defection under pressure
(which will be explained in the next verse), Paul says, "I
opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned." True
to his word, Paul was indifferent to a person's position (2:6),
and no longer a man-pleaser (1:10). Paul stood up against and
resisted Peter in the same manner that Peter (I Pet. 1:9) and
James (James 4:7) both would later indicate that a Christian
should resist the devil. It was a head-to-head, face-to-face,
eyeball-to-eyeball face-off, with Paul in effect saying to Peter,
"I don't care who you are; you're wrong!" This was
not just a personality clash or a political power-play between
apostles, but this was a rebuke of Peter's behavior that sacrificed
the truth of the gospel and the unity of the church. Peter knew
better, but once again his moral cowardice caused him to act
contradictory to his convictions. He was guilty of pretense and
inconsistency in violating his own established attitudes. What
he did was condemnable because it was a betrayal of the singular
essence of the gospel in the grace of God through Jesus Christ
alone. This was not the condemnation of divine anathema (1:8,9),
but the condemnation of misrepresentation, which every Christian
is guilty of at times.
Peter had been given a graphic lesson in the unimportance of Jewish food-laws on the rooftop in Joppa (Acts 10:9-23), so when he came to Antioch he ate regularly with the Gentile-Christians, apparently disregarding the preparatory regulations about kosher foods. Perhaps he could recall that Jesus had been criticized for eating contrary to Jewish religious scruples also (cf. Mk. 7:1-8; Lk. 15:2). So Peter, consistent with the accord reached in Jerusalem (2:1-10), and recognizing that the kingdom of God is not regulated by eating and drinking rules (cf. Rom. 14:17), exercised the freedom to eat with Gentiles (probably including the Lord's Supper observance), regarding them as equals in Christ.
Peter was not a Judaizing "false-brother" (2:4) of the "circumcision party", but stood with Paul in countering such an attitude in Jerusalem (2:5-10), even if more moderate in his stance. But when the right-wing propagandists from Jerusalem came to Antioch, claiming to be connected with and authorized by James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, Peter began to backpedal. That they really represented the opinion of James is questionable since after the Jerusalem Council James and the elders drafted a letter to the Gentile churches indicating that "some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you" (Acts 15:24).
When the law-observance advocates came to Antioch, with the opinion that social interaction with Gentile-Christians who did not observe their traditions was unacceptable, Peter "began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision." Such a group of religious fundamentalists can be very intimidating as they employ pressure tactics both directly and indirectly, threatening ostracism or excommunication (even if they don't have authority to do so), and castigating those who do not conform as "sinners" or "heretics." Peter was known for his tendency to capitulate under pressure, and true to form he began to retreat and back-off from fellowship with the Gentile-Christians. The word used for his "shrinking violet" withdrawal is the same word used of "shrinking back to destruction" in the epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 10:38,39). In so segregating and separating himself "aloof" from the Gentile-Christians, Peter was acting like the Pharisaical separatists (cf. Acts 15:5) of the "circumcision party." He was afraid of their right-wing political power in the Jerusalem church, and was still trying to please men (cf. 1:10).
2:13 Particularly bothersome to Paul was the fact that "the rest of the Jewish-Christians joined him in hypocrisy" by segregating from the Gentile-Christians also. Paul was left standing alone with the Gentile-Christians, which he was quite willing to do in order to preserve the integral essence of the gospel in Jesus Christ alone. Like sheep being led to the slaughter, the Jewish-Christians followed the lead of Peter, joining in the deceptive pretense that such law-observance was essential to Christian living. Distinguishing oneself under a false cover is the essence of hypocrisy!
Most disappointing to Paul was that "even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy," joining the Jewish-Christian contingent in segregation from the Gentile-Christians he had ministered to in Antioch. Barnabas was no narrow-minded person. He was usually reaching out to others as "the Son of Encouragement" (Acts 4:36). He stood by Paul against all odds (Acts 9:27), enlisted him for the work in Antioch (Acts 11:25,26), and accompanied Paul on the first missionary journey to the Gentiles (Acts 13:214:26), which included the Gentile-Christian recipients of this letter in Galatia. With deep sadness Paul reports that "even Barnabas" was influenced and "carried away." How interesting that Peter later used the same word in warning about being "carried away by the error of unprincipled men" (II Pet. 3:17). The subtlety of hypocrisy is that it gives false impression of reality. It is a "pose" of play-acting a charade that is contrary to one's genuine persona. Peter and those Jewish-Christians that he influenced were playing the farce of religion, and they knew better because they knew the reality of the gospel in Jesus Christ and the falsity of their hypocritical segregation.
2:14 When Paul "saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel," he initiated a confrontation with the one who had led them all down the primrose path of hypocrisy. Unlike Peter, Paul had courage of conviction and was a real watch-dog for preserving the singular essence of the gospel in Jesus Christ. He could see that the segregationists were not "straight-footing" on a straight-line that led to Jesus Christ, by "walking in the Spirit" (5:25). Instead, they were "pussy-footing" and "waltzing around the problem," creating a crooked-line that would lead others astray.
Paul was willing to defend with his life "the truth of the gospel." This was not a subsidiary issue of social table graces, nor a peripheral issue of differing opinions (cf. I Cor. 9:19-23), but the issue was the real truth of the gospel in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the truth (Jn. 14:6), the reality of the gospel that sets men free (Jn. 8:32,36) to function as God intends. The "truth of the gospel" is the vital indwelling Person of Jesus Christ; not propositions, procedures and practices of religion. What these Jewish-Christians in Antioch were doing was indicating by their example that the "truth of the gospel" was in the religious and legalistic performance of what one does or does not do. Paul could not tolerate such misrepresentation of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, knowing that it would destroy Christian freedom and Christian unity.
Taking the bull by the horns in the strength of God's grace, Paul "said to Cephas in the presence of all, 'If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?'" This is not a personal attack, but the addressing of a theological issue. Whether Paul had broached the subject with Peter personally (cf. Matt. 18:15-20) prior to the public rebuke, we do not know, but the public nature of the wrongdoing called for public exposure and remonstrance (cf. I Tim. 5:20). How unfortunate that contemporary ministerial ethics often discourage the washing of dirty theological linen in public, desiring to keep disputes under wraps where they fester as cover-ups.
Paul's question to Peter challenges his inconsistency. Peter, a Jew by race and religion, had been a disciple of the historical Jesus and had received the indwelling Spirit of Jesus as a Christian. He exercised the freedom that was his "in Christ" to live in grace rather than by every regulation of the Jewish old covenant Law. In so doing, he "lived like the Gentiles," not observing all of the social customs and religious traditions of Judaism (although he may not have abandoned all of them), but feeling free to cross-over to different cultural, racial and religious practices. When he came to Antioch he was practicing such freedom. "Why, then," Paul asks, "when you had the freedom to live like the Gentiles in the liberty of God's grace, do you now force the Gentile-Christians to conform to the performances of the Jewish Law, when you did not previously feel obliged to do so?" Such flip-flopping inconsistency is hypocrisy! It is a double-standard! You can't have it both ways! "By your example, Peter, you compel the Gentile-Christians to conform to Jewish customs, thereby, at least indirectly, indicating that such external practices are necessary and essential to genuine Christian life as tests of faith. In so doing you diminish the reality of God's grace in Jesus Christ by supplementation. You, Peter, need to decide what the truth of the gospel really is, and stick with it!"
2:15 There is a question whether vss. 15-21 are a continuation of Paul's remarks to Peter or whether they are theological summarization and application addressed to the Christians in Galatia. Without a doubt there is a transition from historical narrative to theological explanation, and it is almost imperceptible where one ends and the other starts. Since Paul's personal life and the gospel message were both defined by Jesus Christ, he could move effortlessly from personal autobiography to essential theology. The gospel dynamic of Christ was the living dynamic of his life. But in order to understand what is written here, we must attempt to discover Paul's intent, for such will determine the interpretation of his words. Some English translations punctuate with quotation marks from vs. 14 through vs. 21, considering the entire passage to be an extended quotation or synopsis of Paul's remarks to Peter (ex. NASB and NIV), while others conclude Paul's quotation at vs. 14, considering the remaining verses to be general explanation of theological summation (ex. NRSV and NAB). The lack of a clear-cut break between vss. 14 and 15, alongside of the obvious connection of the following verses to the incident with Peter (as we shall note), lend credence to the view that these thoughts were first directed to Peter. The indirect intention of Paul may have been that the Galatian Christians should understand the theological argument made to Peter, and take note, because they were also being influenced by similar performance piety proponents, and were in danger of the same forms of inconsistency that sacrificed the Christocentric gospel.
The statement, "We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles," appears to be a recapitulation of the polemic language employed by the Judaizing traditionalists, as they retained and maintained their Jewish prejudices of racial distinction. Paul restates their boastful pride of heritage in order to project such as a typical and traditional Jewish conception lodged in the minds of those of Jewish heritage, and held-over even by many of those who had become Jewish-Christians. He sets it up in order to refute the notion in the next verse. The Jews took great pride in their birthright as the "people of God," considering such natural, physical privilege to benefit them spiritually as favored and chosen before God. Paul had reveled in such pride of superiority himself (Phil. 3:4-6), but God had revealed the fallacy and bankruptcy of such physical priority and legal performance (Phil. 3:7-10). The Jews may have had precedence in the timing of the revelation of God unto them (Rom. 3:1,2), but they had no precedence of place before God. On the other hand, the Jews regarded all other ethnic groups as Gentile "sinners" because they were "strangers to the covenant" (Eph. 2:12) who were not given the Jewish Law (Rom. 2:12,14) in order to be righteous, and were thus vulgar violators of the Law of God. The Judaizing separatists may have been using a variation of the theme by regarding even the Jewish-Christians who did not retain their purity in performance rites, and instead "lived like Gentiles" (2:14), to be "sinners among the Gentiles," using such as a derisive label to hurl at nonconformists. Paul will combat such, for he knew that "both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin" (Rom. 3:9), "by nature, children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3); that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (I Tim. 1:15), so that all men, "Jew or Gentile, might be one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28) as redeemed and restored humanity.
2:16 Granted, this traditional Jewish attitude of prejudice was retained by many Jewish-Christians, and narrowed even more by the separatistic Judaizers to impinge on the less strict nonconformists, but this is not a Christian perspective. Paul contradicted this prejudiced view of racial and religious privilege, as well as the hard-liners deprecation of nonconformist "sinners," stating, "nevertheless we know that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus..." The general message of the Christian gospel which every genuine Christian should know is that no man is made right or declared right with God on the basis of performance conformity to the legally prescribed behaviors of the Law, but only on the basis of the receptivity of the performance activity of Jesus Christ by faith. This is basic Christian knowledge that differentiates Judaic religion from Christianity. Neither the generalized performance of the Mosaic mandates, including the Ten Commandments, nor the specific "works of the Law" in circumcision and food-laws being compelled by the Judaizing exclusivists, are essential to rightness with God and the expression of His righteous character.
Long and intense have been the theological debates over "justification by faith," especially since the Protestant Reformation when this issue became the banner of protest against the performance-righteousness allegedly advocated and practiced by Roman Catholicism. Reacting against the Roman concept of an endowment of "infused grace" which could be employed to align oneself with ecclesiastical rules and regulations, Luther, Calvin, et al, objectified righteousness into legal and forensic categories of a declared and imputed placement or status of rightness before God, the heavenly Judge. Such an overreaction to internalized and behavioral righteousness, and the adamant objectification of justification in juridical concepts, has led to a detached concept of soteriological benefits and blessings on which a Christian is encouraged to mentally "reckon" as objective truth. This Protestant emphasis sells short the behavioral implications of God's grace in Jesus Christ, whereby He manifests His righteous character in Christian living.
Included in Paul's understanding of being "justified" (used three times in this verse), are surely both the objective elements of being acquitted and declared righteous by the historically objective righteous acts of Jesus Christ, thus being imputed with right standing and status before God in Christ; as well as the subjective elements of receiving Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; II Tim. 4:8; I Jn. 2:1; Rev. 16:5) in regeneration (Jn. 3:1-6; I Pet. 1:3), thus being "made righteous" (Rom. 5:19; II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 12:23) spiritually in derived identity with Christ, allowing for the expression of the righteous character of God by His grace (Rom. 6:13-20; I Cor. 1:30; Phil. 1:11). Both objectively and subjectively such righteousness is alien to man who is incapable of effecting or generating such, but can only derive rightness and righteousness contingently by the receptivity of Christ's activity, both past and present, by faith. All of these concepts seem to be compressed into Paul's understanding of being "justified."
Paul continues to make his point more personal by noting that "even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law..." This is not a tautologous repetition, but a procession of thought that brings the point home to Peter, who along with Paul and all other genuine Jewish-Christians (in contrast to the "false brethren" (2:4) of the Judaizers), once thought (and were taught) that they were "Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles" (2:15), but now have "believed into Christ Jesus" in a personally relational spiritual union. This is not just a general theological tenet or theory of Christianity, but we have personally received the righteous activity of Christ into ourselves as a subjective and experiential reality. Such "believing" is not just cognitive assent to historical and theological data, but is a personal reception of the ontological reality of the Righteous One, Christ Jesus, allowing for a righteousness that is both vital, as well as judicial, and can be expressed behaviorally by the grace activity of God in Christ in the Christian. It is not a righteousness "derived from the Law" (Phil. 3:9) by performance of old covenant regulations to earn meritorious favor before God, nor by the specific "works of the Law" in circumcision and food-laws being touted as essential by the Judaizing false-teachers, but a righteousness derived through faith in Christ, as we are receptive to His righteous activity.
As final documentation Paul seems to loosely quote or at least allude to the words of the Psalmist in Ps. 143:2, stating, "since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified." Later in his epistle to the Romans (Rom. 3:20) Paul would again refer to the words of David that "in Thy (God's) sight no man living is righteous" (Ps. 143:2). No "flesh," no human being from among finite humanity, is capable of generating or effecting righteousness, which is the character of God alone (Ps. 11:7; 119:137,142; I Jn. 2:29; 3:7). No performance of man will make one righteous either objectively or subjectively, forensically or vitally. Paul had tried his hardest to keep the Law in order to be righteous (Phil. 3:4-6), and had to agree with Isaiah (Isa. 64:6) that all such self-effort attempts were futile. The Law (whether in its general Judaic form, or in its more restricted Judaizing form) is "weak through the flesh" (Rom. 8:3), providing no dynamic of grace. It is proposition with no provision, regulation with no resource, document with no dynamic, letter with no life, expression with no energizing incapable of being the basis of the behavioral expression of God's righteousness; capable only of exposing man's inability and his need to discover such in Jesus Christ.
2:17 Hypothetically rebuilding the argument of the Judaizers in order to refute it, Paul speculates, "But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!" "If we, (Peter, Paul and others) as Jewish-Christians, desiring to be right with God and live righteously by faith in Christ which allows His grace to manifest His righteous character through our behavior, are then mistakenly discovered to be "sinners," as charged by the Judaizers for violating their self-prescribed food-laws and eating with nonconformist Gentiles contrary to what these hard-line conservatives consider acceptable, does this imply that Christ functioning in us is the empowering agency of sinful behavior? Impossible, and absurdly not true!" The character of Christ, as God, is absolute righteousness. Christ was sinless, is sinless, cannot sin, does not sin, and does not lead the Christian to sin (cf. James 1:13). Christ only acts and energizes in accord with His own character of righteousness, so the Judaizing thesis of being "sinners" by acts of nonconformity to their legalistic interpretations must be patently invalid.
2:18 The other side of the argument, in contrast to that proposed by the Judaizers, is that "if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor." If Paul or Peter or any other Jewish-Christian should attempt to reconstruct the system of attempted performance righteousness by legalistic law-observance which they had determined to be broken down and demolished, abrogated and razed by the radical transformation of God's grace in Jesus Christ, then they would be constituted as blameworthy transgressors, walking contrary to the grace of God, the "royal law of Christ" (James 2:8; Gal. 6:2). Paul thought that Peter, by behaviorally suggesting that law-observances were a test of Christian fellowship, needed to beware of such a reconstruction of a reformed Judaic-Christian religion, which would be a trampling of and trespass of the grace of God in Christ. Paul had thoroughly accepted the demolition of the Law to participate in the dynamic of God's grace in Christ, and was calling on Peter and other Jewish-Christians to make an either/or choice of whether they were going to subscribe to Judaism or Christianity, grace or Law; it couldn't be both for they are antithetical one to the other in their functional operation.
2:19 As for Paul, he knew where he stood, "For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God." Paul had made every attempt to find meaning, life and righteousness through the Jewish Law. Such perfunctory performance leaves a person utterly exhausted and frustrated, never able to do enough or do it perfectly enough. The moralistic codifications of religious rules and regulations unrelentingly beat a person to death, for "the letter kills" (II Cor. 3:6). The Law is impotent and sterile in its mandate to produce "dead works" (Heb. 6:1; 9:14); it is inadequate, incapable and powerless to produce any spiritual vitality (3:21). But the Law does play a role in exposing human inability, for "through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20; 7:7) and the awareness of its impotence to forestall such sin and its consequences. The Law had served its purpose in Paul's experience. He realized he could never accomplish righteousness or arrive at spiritual life by keeping the Law, so he chose to "die to the Law" in order to "live to God" by the grace extended in Jesus Christ who is life (Jn. 14:6). The Judaizers still thought they could engage in Christian living by performing the "works of the Law, but Paul had jettisoned all allegiance to the Law, having "died to the Law" by considering the Law as lifeless and inane. The Law no longer had authority or jurisdiction in Paul's life as a religious force that might attempt to dominate, motivate, intimidate, or control by making one feel guilty for failing to live up to the standards. Paul was oblivious to the moralistic performance expectations of the old covenant strictures, including circumcision and the food-laws advocated by the Judaizers.
Paul had discovered "eternal life in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:23), being spiritually regenerated unto eternal life (Jn. 3:3-16), and made "alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:10). Such life in Christ was not just a spiritual deposit for futuristic benefits in heaven, but was the vital dynamic whereby "the life of Jesus might be manifested in our mortal bodies" (II Cor. 4:10,11), and we might live to the glory of God by allowing His all-glorious character to be expressed in our behavior. Paul now lived in the jurisdiction of God's grace with the divine dynamic to fulfill all of God's demands, which are nothing more than consistent expression of His character.
2:20 Paul expresses the objective historical basis of his "dying to the Law" by exclaiming, "I have been crucified with Christ..." This concept of co-crucifixion with Jesus when He died on the cross is intrinsic within the biblical and theological explanation of the vicarious and substitutional death of Jesus on behalf of all men. Christ died for us. He died in our place. He died as us! When Christ died, the old sinful self of every man was effectively put to death. Thus Paul can write that "the old man has been crucified with Christ" (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9), and we have become a "new man" (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), an entirely "new creature in Christ, so that old things have passed away and all has become new" (II Cor. 5:17). If the old identity of "sinner" (Rom. 5:19) has been exterminated, then the new identity of Christian "saint" cannot be intimidated or convicted by condemnatory guilt (Rom. 8:1) by the Law after an individual has allowed this spiritual reality to become efficacious in his life by the receptivity of faith. The tense of the verb that Paul employs makes it clear that this co-crucifixion is a matter of historical objectivity, and has nothing to do with the alleged subjective experience of what some have called "dying to self."
Moving from the objectivity of inclusion in Christ's death, Paul proceeds to explain what it means to "live to God" (2:19) by the subjectivity of the indwelling presence of Christ in our spirit (Rom. 8:9). "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me..." The ego-centric "I" of Paul's former spiritual identity as an "old man," struggling to perform righteousness and thereby to live, is dead. It has been replaced and exchanged for the ontological reality of Christ's life, forming the basis of a new identity as a "Christ-one," for Christ by His Spirit (Rom. 8:9) now lives in Paul. The vital dynamic to be and do all that God wants to be and do in expressing His character of righteousness in us is present in the Christian by the presence of the life of the risen Lord Jesus. "Do you not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you...?" (II Cor. 13:5), Paul asks the Corinthians. "This is the mystery... Christ in you the hope of glory" (Col. 1:26,27), he advises the Colossians.
Avoiding all mystical detachment from time and space, Paul explains that the spiritual condition of Christ's indwelling will inevitably affect one's behavioral expression, for "the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." As we continue to live in the physical, bodily existence of "the flesh," retaining physical conditions such as race, gender and limitations, as well as psychological conditions of personality and patterned propensities to selfishness or sinfulness, we live behaviorally by the out-living of Christ's indwelling life, and that by the receptivity of His dynamic grace-activity, not by conformity to Judaic Law or any other behavioral performance. As we received Christ Jesus initially in regeneration by the receptivity of His activity, so we continue to walk the Christian life by the receptivity of His activity (Col. 2:6) in faith. Such ongoing faith is the responsibility of each Christian, for it is not Christ's faith (KJV), but our receptivity of His activity.
Paul brings his statement full circle by recognizing again the historical objectivity of God's grace in the sacrificial love of the Son of God who substitutionally gave Himself on our behalf in crucifixion and resurrection. Avoiding extremisms of inordinate subjectivity of the expressions of God's grace in Christians, Paul connects the spiritually indwelling Jesus and the behaviorally out-living Jesus with the historical Jesus who lived in Palestine and died to take the death consequences of our sin; "the Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us" (Eph. 5:2,25).
2:21 Paul caps off his argument to Peter and other Jewish Christians by affirming, "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly." What a powerful climactic conclusion to his argument! Under no circumstances will Paul sacrifice the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. The living Lord Jesus is the essence of the gospel, and grace is the dynamic of His expression. Paul is adamant about refusing to set aside the reality of God's grace realized through Christ (Jn. 1:17). He will not accept grace as but an expression of God's historical mercy and election of physical Israel. He will not allow grace to become a theological theory of "undeserved favor" or free benefits derived from Christ. He will not allow grace to be diminished to nothing more than the "threshold factor" of God's redemptive and regenerative work. Paul's conception of grace was inclusive of everything God has done and continues to do in Christ, comprising the singular essential dynamic of the entirety of the Christian life. Paul's assertion was that it was the legalistic Judaizers from Judea who were nullifying the grace of God by advocating that uniformity of thought and conformity of action concerning circumcision and food-laws comprised Christian living and righteousness, and if that be the case then the entirety of Christianity is annulled.
Paul's argument is shockingly conclusive. If righteousness comes through Law-performance as the false Judaizing religionists propose, then the entire message of Christ is a sham and a charade. His death was nothing more than a theatrical "show" a psychodrama "staged" on the stage of Palestinian history for the psychological effect of appealing to people with the sympathy factor of a martyr symbol a farce and a fraud. If objective right-standing before God or subjective expression of righteous behavior can be acquired or manufactured by conforming to religious rules and regulations, then Christ's life and death were not necessary they are a superfluous and trivial irrelevancy; nothing more than the curious blip of a tragic mistake in Palestinian history. If rightness with God or righteous character can result from right principles, right procedures, right practices, other than through the ontological dynamic of the Righteousness of the Person and work of Jesus Christ, then the death of Jesus is an unnecessary redundancy. Or as one person2 stated it so starkly: "Jesus died for the fun of it!" Such a statement should, and will, assault the spiritual sensitivities of every genuine Christian whose spiritual identity is defined by the living reality of Jesus Christ.
Paul knew that the death of Jesus on the cross initiated and set in motion the "finished work" (Jn. 19:30) of God, whereby Jesus Christ has done and continues to do all that needs doing on man's behalf, functioning in and through receptive Christians to manifest the righteous character of God to the glory of God. If anything else is required other than the simple receptivity of Jesus Christ as the reality of one's life and the basis of one's righteousness, then the death of Jesus Christ was insufficient and does not suffice, for the "finished work" is not finished, necessitating endless acts of moralistic performance on the part of Christians in order to attempt to finish the job. Paul knew by experience the fallacy of such a legalistic system of religious performance. It negates and nullifies the grace of God, and abrogates the efficacy of the cross (5:11). Righteousness will never be achieved by the human effort of legal performance, for man is incapable of generating the character of God. The cross and resurrection were necessitated to allow Jesus to take the death consequences of man's sin and to restore the righteous character of God to man through Jesus Christ, the Righteous One in the resurrection. Christian righteousness is singularly, exclusively and absolutely the result of the righteous character and righteous acts of Jesus Christ, or there is no such thing as righteousness. Yet, so much of both Catholic and Protestant theology to this day continues to view righteousness as either a benefit bestowed or character achieved, ever so subtly detached from the ontological reality and dynamic of righteousness in the Person and activity of Jesus Christ.
There is no doubt that Paul is "straightforward about the truth of the gospel" in contrast to the charge that he makes against Peter (2:14). Intolerant of perfidious perversion of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, Paul stood up to Peter and was willing to stand alone with the Gentile Christians of Antioch in adamant opposition to any supplemental behavioral requirements considered to be tests of Christian faith or fellowship. Thereby Paul was stating indirectly to the Gentile-Christian recipients of this letter in Galatia that he would stand up against such in their situation also, and they should stand firm in their resolve to allow Jesus Christ to be the totality of the gospel, in like manner as he did against the Judaizers and the Jewish-Christians in Antioch (including Peter and "even Barnabas") who caved-in to their intimidating pressures. "Don't fall into the hypocrisy of Peter and Barnabas," is Paul's message between the lines. "To accept the legalistic thesis of the rigid Jewish-Christian traditionalists is to sell-out the truth of the gospel and repudiate the necessity and efficacy of Christ's death on the cross." This was, no doubt, a heavy load of theological implications for the Galatian Christians to consider.
As Christians read these words of Paul today they are prone to project the incident here related completely into its first-century context with its specific issues of Jewish circumcision and food-laws. Many find it difficult to make the application of contemporary issues where behavioral requirements are being added to the singularity of God's grace. Perhaps this is due to the fact that current religious teachers of legalistic behavioral conformity are just as effective as were the Judaizers in imposing and compelling such required actions as essential to the gospel and Christian living. May God grant us the clarity of spiritual discernment to recognize that such issues as alcohol consumption, clothing styles, entertainment options, interracial marriage, church attendance, tithing, and the theological interpretations of baptismal modes, eternal security, eschatology, and spiritual gifts are often posed as mandatory supplements to the gospel. Would that we might see so clearly, stand so firmly, and defend so straightforwardly as did the apostle Paul, the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ as the sole basis of all life and righteousness.
1 Ortlund, Bud, sermon
entitled "The Politics of Legalism." Preached July
22, 1979 at the Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California.