By Sam E. Stone
During the first two months of this quarter, we studied how God established an everlasting covenant with his people. Lessons from Genesis and Exodus showed the Lord protecting the Israelites, just as he had promised. This month we will study Paul’s letter to the Galatians, showing that Gentile Christians are now a full-fledged part of God’s family also.
The Galatians had been led astray from the original gospel. A group known as the Judaizers were telling people that a Gentile had to become a Jew before he could become a Christian. This amounted to requiring every person to keep every aspect of the Old Testament law.
Even Peter had gone along with these Judaizers (Galatians 2:11-15). Although originally Peter had been the first person to affirm that Gentiles could become Christians (Acts 10), he “waffled” on that position because of peer pressure. The apostles and elders convened a conference in Jerusalem (about AD 51) to confront the issue (Acts 15). Galatians 2:1-10 contains Paul’s account of that meeting.
Later on another occasion, Paul confronted Peter because he had changed his position. “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong,” Paul explained (Galatians 2:11). In the meeting he told Peter, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (v. 14). Our printed text begins here.
Justified by Christ
Those Christians who were Jews by birth considered themselves superior to those they called “Gentile sinners.” To some of the Jewish believers, the Gentile Christians were wrong for not observing all of the details of the Old Testament law as they tried to do.
“That’s not the way it works,” Paul said in essence. No one will ever be justified by observing the law. He reminded his readers that all of them had been justified when they put their faith in Christ Jesus. That’s how every person is going to be saved, whether Jew or Gentile. Paul’s argument can be summarized: “We Jews believed, we had to believe (in Christ), and we were not saved or justified until we did believe. The same plan exists for both Jew and Gentile.”
The Jews were sinners already in spite of being Jews. Christ simply revealed to them their sin. Then Paul asks, If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! Some translations read, “God forbid!” Ten times in his epistles Paul uses this strong expression to repel with the utmost horror some suggestion that has been made (see Romans 3:4, 6:2).
Peter would be involved in a hopeless contradiction if he tried to defend the Judaizers. “When he lived like a Gentile, he tore down the ceremonial law. When he lived like a Jew, he tore down salvation by grace” (A. T. Robertson). The correct view is restated by Paul in verse 19. Through the law he died to the law, in order that he might live unto God.
If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. It is self-defeating to return again to the Old Testament regulations while saying you follow Jesus. In accepting Christ, you died to the law (Romans 7:1-6). The law brings us to Christ, and then we live for God in Christ.
Crucified with Christ
Galatians 2:20, 21
In one of the most striking pictures in Scripture, Paul declares, I have been crucified with Christ. When we are fully identified with Christ through our baptism into him, our old life is dead and buried in a watery grave. When we are raised, it marks the start of a new life (Romans 6:1-7). We then can say with the apostle, The life that I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God. We are made alive by the presence of the Lord in our souls. Now Christ lives in us (Galatians 5:24; 6:14). Jesus described our close relationship with him by comparing it to a vine and its branches (John 15). This helps us understand Paul’s victorious cry, “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.