Aug 06, 2010
In Galatians 2:11-13 Paul tells how he confronted Peter in his hypocritical actions when the Judaizers came up from Jerusalem. Peter did not want to offend the Judaizers, so he deferred to their refusal to eat with "Gentiles," even though he had eaten with them all the time without the knowledge of the Judaizers. Paul confronted him and exposed his little secret to the Judaizers.
It is interesting that Luke makes no mention of this incident in the book of Acts. It is likely that Luke considered the incident to have been corrected sufficiently, and no further need existed to expose Peter's faults any further. But in Paul's letter to the Galatians, this was a very important issue that was central to the purpose of his letter. Because of the urgency of the moment, Paul reveals a highly enlightening incident that otherwise would have been lost to history.
Paul explains the situation and sets forth his position beginning in Gal. 2:14,
(14) But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles [when the Judaizers were not around to witness this] and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? (15) We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; [Do I detect a bit of sarcasm here?] (16) nevertheless, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified."
Verse 16 is the core of the argument. It states plainly that there is only one way to be justified before God, and that is through faith in Christ Jesus. Paul makes it clear that no flesh is justified by the works of the Law, and that all are justified in the same manner. There is only one path to justification. This verse ought to lay to rest any distorted gospel that allows for two methods of justification. Jews are not justified by the Old Covenant, nor is anyone else. The Dual Covenant theology is part of the distorted gospel included in Paul's anathema.
Paul's use of the term "Law" (at least in this particular context) includes not only the divine Law itself but also the traditions of men which misunderstood the Law. Paul was talking generally of works as a means of justification. The Old Covenant said "If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant," (Ex. 19:5), making salvation conditional upon man's obedience--that is, not only his vow to obey but also his ability to keep that vow perfectly. Paul's argument is that all have sinned, no one has been capable of keeping his promise of obedience, all have fallen short of the glory of God, both Jew and Gentile alike.
Hence, no matter what one's understanding of the Law is, whether it be a true understanding or a mere "tradition of men," all have violated the Old Covenant, rendering it null and void. The Old Covenant was a conditional covenant, one that depended upon both parties (God and man) to fulfill their promises and vows, in order to keep the covenant valid.
Israel violated the Covenant from the start, and even though God was patient with them, His patience only served to give the nation time to be totally without excuse. Time only proved that the nation was irretrievably corrupt. So in discussing the Old Covenant, Heb. 8:9 says, "For they did not continue in My Covenant." In verse 13 the conclusion reads,
(13) When He said, "A New Covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
So in Galatians 2, Paul does not seek to distinguish between the true Law and the traditions of men as Jesus had done in Matt. 15:1-9. To Paul, it was a moot point insofar as the present argument was concerned. Regardless of any man's view of right and wrong, all men have violated their own understanding of the Law. All are self-condemned by their own standards.
(17) 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!
When Paul says "we ourselves," he was continuing the thought from verse 15, when he says, "We are Jews by nature." We can then paraphrase verse 17:
"But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we who are Jews by nature have also been found sinners [such as the sin of hypocrisy], is Christ then a minister of sin?"
Keep in mind that sin is lawlessness, or the violation of the law. 1 John 3:4 gives us the biblical definition of sin:
(4) Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.
So any time we read the word "sin," we can substitute its definition, or equivalent, "lawlessness." A sinner, then, is a law-breaker, one who violates the law. In the humanistic world, such a law-breaker is called a "criminal." Sin is the biblical word for crime against the law of God.
So Paul is saying in verse 17 above that if Jews--particularly Christian Jews--are also found to be hypocrites, then it might be asked if Christ is a minister of sin? In other words, did Christ come to condone the sin of hypocrisy? "May it never be!"
The question Paul puts forth here is this: If we as Jews by nature have accepted Christ as our Passover Lamb who justifies us from sin, and then we are "found sinners," can we justify ourselves by insisting that Christ now gives us a free pass to sin whenever we wish? In other words, are we now allowed to sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1). Having been justified by faith, having seen our sins forgiven and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, are we now free to sin without consequence?
If anyone thinks that they have such freedom, they hold a distorted gospel. Grace does not give us the right to continue violating the Law of God. In fact, if you read Paul's dissertation in Romans 6, you find that we should have DIED to the old man of sin. We ought to be yielding our "members" (body parts) as servants of righteousness (lawfulness), rather than allowing them to continue in sin as if they are free to disobey God at will.
(18) For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
Paul has not destroyed the Law. By faith he has identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. The old man has died. The old Adam, the original sinner, has been destroyed, and the life that he now lives is Christ in Him. So we should understand verse 18 as follows:
(18) "For if I were to resurrect the old Adam by continuing in his lawless ways--whom I destroyed (put to death) when I became a believer in Christ--I would prove myself to be a transgressor (of the law).
(19) For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. (20) I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and 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.
It is not the Law that died. It is the old Saul that died. When Saul was converted, he "died to the Law" as a means of justification. He found a new way in Christ. This new way did not kill the Law or put it away, but satisfied its righteous demand by the life and Sacrifice of Christ.
This is the seventh part of a series titled "Galatians." To view all parts, click the link below.