We’re continuing in our study through the Book of Galatians and come to Chapter 2. As a reminder, Paul is defending the Gospel of Grace against what he calls false brothers or troublemakers who have come to the Churches of Galatia to convince them that, in order to be saved, the Gentiles must not only believe in Jesus Christ but also must become circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. We learned last week that Paul not only calls this another Gospel but he condemns it as no Gospel at all and that he eternally condemned any man or angel that taught a Gospel contrary to the Gospel taught by Paul and the Apostles.
As we learned, this was not merely Paul’s Gospel but it was the Gospel that was taught by all of the Apostles. The Judaizers had been spreading rumors that Paul’s apostleship was not only inferior to the “pillars of the Church” – Peter, James, and John – but that he was teaching a Gospel contrary to theirs. The false teachers were dropping the names of these “pillars” to lend authority to their false doctrines.
As Paul continues in Galatians 2, he picks up where he left off in telling the “real story” of his Apostleship. He had taught as an Apostle for many years and then after seeing Peter only once before, he journeys to Jerusalem again after fourteen years and even brings a Gentile named Titus with him. When Paul and the other Apostles spoke to one another, they shared the exact same Gospel in common – salvation in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone. It became immediately apparent to all the Apostles that Paul had received a commission directly from Jesus Christ to be the Apostle to the Gentiles even as Peter was the Apostle to the Jews. By this it means that Paul was the prime worker or the one whose teaching would establish the Gospel among the Gentiles even though other Apostles would also work among the Gentiles (and Peter had been the first to preach among them in Cornelius’ house). Paul brought Titus into the presence and fellowship of the Apostles and didn’t suggest, for a moment, that Titus be circumcised. It was only the Judaizers in the Jerusalem Church that ever suggested this thing.
You need to note Paul’s firm resolve in this: “5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” What fellowship does light have with darkness? None. You see, Paul could not permit, even for a moment, the idea that Titus was even just a little less united to Christ in His death and resurrection because of his uncircumcision. He had the same Spirit, the same Baptism, the same Lord and Savior. To add works to the Gospel is to destroy the grace of the Gospel. It is to destroy the necessity of the Cross and the necessity of Christ.
But notice, also, how Paul also criticizes the attitude that the Judaizers had about his apostleship and that he is less important than the others. Christ is the one who had given Paul his apostleship. It was good that Peter and James and John recognized Christ’s commission of Paul but they added no authority to his work by agreeing with it. Paul’s authority had come from God and God is no respecter of persons. Paul’s words have authority for us because He is the spokesperson for Christ through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
In order to shock the Galatians out of their respect for the Judaizers he has to take a drastic step here and show that even someone as respectable as Peter was not perfect and that Paul himself had to rebuke him for a huge sin in front of the whole Church. I’m not sure many of you realize how ugly this episode really was and why Paul had to embarrass Peter in front of the whole Church. The fact of the matter was, though, that it was a very public sin and public sin has to be rebuked publicly or it can cause massive destruction.
Peter visited the Church at Antioch where Paul and Barnabas ministered and led the Church. Peter was eating with and having fellowship with the Gentile believers there until, one day, Judaizers from the Church at Jerusalem arrived. These love feasts were fellowship times in the early Church and it seems that the Lord’s Supper might even have been celebrated during these times. To participate in a love feast together was like saying: “We’re all part of one another – you and I have the same savior in Christ and are all adopted by the same Father.” Members would greet each other with a holy kiss of the affection that we’re supposed to share in Christ Jesus.
But then the Judaizers came along and Peter was afraid of their disapproval and so he withdrew from the Gentile believers. His hypocrisy was so great that he even tempted the great encourager, Barnabas, to withdraw from the Gentiles that he had labored among and loved.
Now, imagine for a moment that some men have come along that were saying that you have to believe in Jesus and be circumcised in order to be saved. You’re a Gentile that has been hanging out with the mighty Peter – he walked with Jesus and was a pillar in the Church. You see him withdraw from you and you see the great encourager, Barnabas, recoil from you as well. Don’t you think you’d begin to say to yourself: “Maybe if I was circumcised too then I could be like them. Maybe I’m not really serious enough about Jesus. I believe in him but, if I become circumcised like them, then I’ll really have fellowship with all of God’s saints. I have fellowship with the Gentile believers now but I want fellowship with Peter and Barnabas too….”
No! No! No! A thousand time No! This breaks my heart to think of what Peter did and I know, for a fact, that he appreciated Paul for rebuking him here. He had promised Christ three times that he would feed His lambs and care for His sheep and here he was, by his very actions, tearing down their faith!
Paul did the only thing that a man who loves Christ and loves the brethren would do. He openly rebuked Peter for his sin. Had he not done so then he might have caused some of the Gentiles to forsake Christ for they would have been forsaking the surety of their salvation that is built on nothing more than faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul uses this episode to remind Peter, all the brethren there, and us of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: “, I said to Cephas before them all, 14′If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’ 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
Peter knew this all too well. He knew that Christ had not come to round out the Law or to simply show us how to obey so that we could obey the Law like Him. This truth is expanded upon and repeated in Romans 3. Paul demonstrates, conclusively, that the keeping of the Law for salvation is impossible. Nobody, no one, not a person, not a soul has ever, is now, or will be justified by the Law. What does this mean? This means that, before God, we can never earn a reward from His hand by doing good, by obeying His word. If we stand on our own strength, before the Law, the only thing we can earn from Him is condemnation because the Law brings a curse to transgressors of the Law. You don’t get graded on a curve before God. You’re either perfect in keeping the Law or you are condemned as a lawbreaker. Peter, like James, like John, and like Paul were all saved by somebody else’s righteousness. They were saved by Christ’s righteousness. They were saved by His blood on the Cross and they were saved by His obedience to the Law. They were saved by faith in His work.
Hear me again though. They were not saved by faith but they were saved by faith in Christ’s work. Their faith was directed at something that had been accomplished by Christ. You see the truth is that we are saved by works but they are not our works but Christ’s perfect work accomplished for us by His life, death, and resurrection. Our faith is as a beggar coming with nothing in our hand and saying to Christ that we know we deserve nothing but are simply relying on the promise that Christ will save all who put their trust in His finished work.
Inevitably, when somebody starts preaching the Gospel clearly, without the addition of human works, a charge always arises from people that want to object and say that God does His part but we have to add our part to be saved: “17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin?” Do you understand what the objector to Paul is saying in verse 17 that he’s about to answer? People always want to say that God cannot call a person righteous unless they are really righteous. Some call this a “legal fiction” when we preach the true Gospel that Christ justifies the un-Godly.
You see the Gospel is not that God is saving you because you are righteous and good. No. Christ justifies the un-Godly. He justifies not because all sin has left you but because that sin has been paid for in Christ. Some say the difference between Christians and non-Christians is that Christians are transformed so that sin no longer abides in them but the Gospel says that we are both justified by God and still sinners. We cling to the Cross in faith and are saved by the Cross but we are saved while sin still remains in us. We are not saved, in the end, by God looking at how much good we’ve filled up in our heart or how much we’ve done for God’s Kingdom but are saved by falling at the feet of Christ to save us.
How can God do this? Because Christ has taken away the reproach of our sin. Because we are covered by Christ. Yes, we are being transformed by Christ. Yes He is putting to death the body of sin that remains but God is pleased to save you even though He knows what a wretched sinner you are. He is pleased to save you even though He knows you don’t deserve it. That’s right – you don’t deserve to be saved. That’s the Gospel – that God saves those who don’t deserve it! Stop trying to earn your salvation because in trying to earn it you’re not trusting in Christ’s righteousness that is alone the ground for your salvation.
Paul makes it very clear, though, that we aren’t just saved so that we can be covered by Christ and then sin all we want because we’ve got a “Get out of Hell Free” card. Absolutely not! As Paul says: “19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
This is the profound truth that those who do not pursue the Gospel of Christ by faith will never understand. The truth of the matter is that if you don’t cling to Christ by faith because you cannot keep the Law then you are not pursuing righteousness at all.
What are you saying Paul? Don’t you see the Jews trying really hard to be good people? Don’t you see them with the phylacteries on their foreheads with the list of all the commands of God? Don’t you see them attempting to obey every jot and tittle of God’s Law line by line?
Of course he knew that! He used to be one of them. But he concludes they aren’t pursuing righteousness at all because they’re trying to obey a sham. They’re obeying a fake. They’re obeying what they think the Law says. They’re obeying a list that is doable by man. But the Law of God is perfect and it condemns a man, it curses a man the very moment he breaks even the smallest part of it. Man isn’t content to believe this though so he lowers the bar to something he can do and then tells himself that God is pleased with this lower standard. After all, he’s a better person than his neighbor who doesn’t tithe his mint and cumin.
But the man who has been awakened by the Gospel sees the Law for what it is. He sees in it the perfect righteousness of God and it brings about the terror of judgment: “I can’t possibly be perfect. I can’t possibly obey with all my heart, soul, and mind.” The Law condemns us and makes us cry out: “Jesus, save me! Jesus, I know I’m condemned. Jesus, I know only you fulfilled the perfect righteousness of the Law!”
By laying hold of Christ’s feet in faith, the Christian is the only one on this earth that pursues righteousness because He is laying hold of the only One that could ever obey perfectly. The legalists of this world with all their “taste not and touch not” have all the appearance of righteousness but they are stone cold dead and are rotting flesh on the inside.
But the man who lays hold of Christ dies to the Law in Christ and is raised up in newness of life with Him. It is only after we have been freed from the burden and condemnation of the Law that we turn to our Savior and have new eyes to see Him no longer as the Judge but as our Righteousness and our very great Reward. We are now freed to obey out of love and out of gratitude for inheriting all righteousness. It is only with renewed hearts and minds that we begin to actually pursue the end of the Law which is love for each other that is an answer to the love that Christ has lavished upon us.
Indeed, as Paul notes very clearly, if we could have pursued righteousness at all apart from Christ then Christ died in vain. If all it took was for you and me to try harder at obeying the rules then Christ didn’t need to come. In fact, if God saves those who obey the best, if God justifies those who have earned it by their works, then Christ didn’t need to come for that. We didn’t need Christ to show us that God was serious about obedience. We needed Christ because we couldn’t be obedient. We needed Christ because by the deeds of the Law no flesh would ever be justified.
Are you convinced of this? Do you trust in the righteousness of Christ to save you? Do you seriously believe that God saves you not for anything He sees in you but only because you have fallen at the feet of Christ as a beggar?
Or are you holding on to the illusion that really the reason God saved you is because you’re better than the person across the street? Are you holding on to the illusion that God is weighing your good deeds against your bad deeds and sees that you’re doing your best? Are you holding on to the illusion that you dedicated yourself to God and that He’s only going to bless you as long as you continue to show Him how serious you are?
Rest Christian, rest. Take off the yoke of the Law and run to the Cross. Christ has accomplished all righteousness. Stop listening to the Judaizers of this world telling you that you aren’t going to be blessed until you sweat for God. Stop listening to their lies about grades of Christians. Look only to the Cross of Christ and what He accomplished perfectly in His life, death, and resurrection. Christ is present before you. Cry out to Him and say: “I am a lawbreaker and I deserve nothing from your Hand but I believe that You have accomplished all righteousness.”
Pursue Christ. Don’t let go of His feet until He blesses you. Believe the Gospel. Believe it and be saved!