Galatians Part 2 – A Universal Gospel
After introducing his concern for the Galatians in the first half of the first chapter, Paul goes on to demonstrate that the gospel is not only for observers of the Jewish traditions but is for all people. He explains how he tested the gospel he had been preaching against what the other Apostles had been teaching when he travelled up to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and the other apostles (Gal 2: 18). 14 years later he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and a gentile believer called Titus (2: 1). He immediately presented the gospel he had been teaching to the ‘heavies.’ “Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.” (2: 3). This verse is often overlooked but this is world changing as the apostles ratified the gospel as a universal message for all peoples (see v7-9). This was the moment that the covenant promises originally made to Abraham spilled over to bless all the nations—which includes you and me.
Later however Paul was compelled to confront Peter when he was visiting Antioch because Peter had fallen back into his Jewish traditions and had lost the essence of the gospel. Essentially Peter was making it necessary to observe kosher food, circumcision and sabbath keeping rules to be fully accepted as a Christian. Peter had let the gospel slip out of his hands. Not because the gospel is slippery, but rather because his grasp on it was slippery and he lost his hold on the gospel. Of all people Peter should have got it and held it fast better than anyone. It was left to Paul to confront Peter on this matter but fortunately Paul was not daunted by Peter’s reputation and status.
Paul then makes use of Israel’s history to illustrate his point. In Galatians 2: 15 he lays it all out clear as day showing that if anyone should know that a person cannot be justified by law then it should be the Jews, with their thousands of years of history, they at least ought to be aware that keeping the Jewish law is impossible and that even Jews are no better off than the gentiles in this regard. As Peterson has it in his translation, “We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over “non-Jewish sinners.””
The world’s best batter could stride out onto a cricket field and be clean bowled on the first bowl. It has certainly happened in history. All his ability and experience would make no difference to the final score than that of a total novice. Paul wants to say something like that concerning the Jews. Despite all their advantages, they were no better off than the gentiles as far as righteousness was concerned. Even the best of the Jews could not stand before God and say, “I did it.” Their score was zero; exactly the same as the gentiles. If anything, the Jews ought to know from their long history that no-one is justified by law. With this in mind I have paraphrased Galatians 2: 17-18 thus,
If, by putting faith in Christ for righteousness we abandon confidence in the observance of the law for righteousness, and it dawns on us that we are as lost as any gentile sinner, does that mean that Christ amplifies sin and helps sin to advance? Of course not! That’s crazy! In truth if we, or anybody else for that matter, has pulled down the old system of law in order to gain access to Christ, then goes back to rebuild it again, surely in the light of the fact that law cannot save us, I show myself to be as sinful as ever. To rebuild the old system constitutes a whole new kind of sin”
What Paul is saying is that faith in Christ displaces faith in self. If we then try to rebuild the old law system, then we are repudiating Christ who has saved us. It would be like rebuilding the Berlin Wall all over again. It was bad enough that it was built in the first place and it would be even worse to rebuild it again.
Paul goes on the explain that the law ultimately kills off our push for self-justification (v19.) In the end we discover that we have been crucified with Christ, which is to say all our self-made systems of justification and moral self-esteem, are put to death. Therefore, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2: 20).
Only Christ can make us righteous and all we can do is receive the grace that God is giving in naked trust.