A Point of Contention and Contrast.
Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. – Galatians 2:16 NLT
To some, this whole confrontation between Paul and the Judaizers may appear overblown. Paul may come across as petty and too harsh in his opinions. After all, how can he be so sure that he’s right and everyone else is wrong? Aren’t they welcome to their own opinions? Can’t there be more than one way for people to be made right with God? According to Paul, no. And he has already made it perfectly clear why he could be so adamant in his opinion – because it’s NOT his opinion. It is the word of God given to him by Jesus Christ Himself. For Paul, this was serious stuff. It wasn’t just a matter of a difference of opinion, it was a case of truth versus falsehood, the word of God and the lies of the enemy. Paul was so firm on this point that he was willing to confront one of the recognized leaders of the early church, the former disciple of Jesus, Peter.
On a visit to the region of Galatia, Peter had sat down and eaten a meal with Paul and some of the Gentile Christians – even though the men in this group were uncircumcised and not converts to Judaism. But later, when some Jewish friends of James, another former disciple of Jesus, came to Antioch, Peter snubbed the Gentile Christians, refusing to associate with them. It seems that Peter did not want to offend his Jewish comrades. Evidently, these men were not willing to associate with the Gentile believers because they were uncircumcised and, therefore, unclean. Peter’s actions appalled Paul. And in spite of Peter’s rock star status in the early church, Paul confronted him. As far as Peter was concerned, his actions were giving credence to the message of the Judaizers and leading others to believe that faith in Christ was not enough. But Paul made it clear: “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law” (Galatians 2:17 NLT). Case closed. Because otherwise, if these Gentile believers had come to salvation through faith in Christ alone, and then discovered that they were actually sinners because they had refused to keep the law, then the message Jesus had given Paul would have been the impetus or cause of their sin. As far as Paul was concerned, that was ridiculous and impossible. Jesus never taught that salvation was some combination of faith in Him PLUS adherence to the Jewish law. The law was never meant to save anyone. It simply revealed the full extend of man’s sinfulness. The law was intended to stand as a standard of God’s righteous expectations. It was His measuring stick, by which He judged the righteousness of men. And no one measured up. No one kept the law in its entirety. The law exposed man’s sinfulness and revealed just how far he fell short of God’s righteous standard. Paul says, “For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me” (Galatians 2:19 NLT).
But Jesus came to fulfill the law. He took on human flesh, lived as a man, and kept the law of God to perfection. He did what no other man could have ever done. He satisfied the righteous standard of God. Which is what made Him the perfect sinless sacrifice, worthy to offer His life in place of ours, as a payment for our sins. And when He died, we were crucified with Him. Our old selves, our sinful selves, were put to death. And by dying with Christ, we were freed from having to keep the law. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ” (Romans 7:4 NLT). As a result, we no longer have to try to keep all the requirements of the law in order to be made right with God. This is not about self-effort anymore. It is about faith in Christ – alone. To try to add to this message or require anything more for salvation to be available, is to treat the grace of God as meaningless. It is to treat the death of Christ as insufficient. “For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die” (Galatians 2:21 NLT). But He did die because He had to. It was a necessity. “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NLT).
Father, man is always trying to figure out a way to play a more significant role in his own salvation. We so desperately want to earn or deserve Your grace. We want a set of rules to keep or standards to live up to. But we can’t even keep the rules we make, let alone the righteous standard You demand. And yet, You offer us a restored relationship with You through Jesus Christ – completely apart from our own self-effort, and then we try to add things to it. Help us grasp the unbelievable nature of what Christ has made possible through His death. He is the key to our salvation, nothing more, nothing less. There’s nothing more that needs to be done. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men