Are we justified because of what we do or because of who we believe in?

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the GALATIANS – Chapter 2

1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.
2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. – Galatians 2:1-2

Fourteen years later Paul goes back to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus. So seventeen years after his conversion Paul goes again to see the apostles. He received a revelation from the Lord that he should share his understanding of the gospel that had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. He wanted to ensure that they were in agreement especially as Paul had a great understanding about the grace of God. Paul did not learn the gospel by being a disciple of the apostles but by revelation through the Spirit. However he did respect the apostles and recognised their spiritual authority. We need to be submitted to Christ and a practical application is that we need to be hidden in the church, the body of Christ:

so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. – Romans 12:5

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. – 1 Corinthians 12:12

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. – 1 Corinthians 12:27-28

His has given us protection through being humble among our brothers and sisters in Christ who can speak the truth in love to us when we may be going astray:

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, – Ephesians 4:15

Thank God for fellowship with believers. It is the place of safety and the place we grow In the knowledge and grace of God.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. – 2 Peter 3:18


3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.
4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in-who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery-
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. – Galatians 2:3-5

Titus was a gentile. He had not been circumcised. He was saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He was not practicing the traditions of the Jewish religion and culture. The hot debate at this time in church history that this letter addresses was the question: should gentile converts to Christianity submit to the law of Moses, be circumcised and follow the Jewish laws and traditions? Soon after this letter was written there was a conference in Jerusalem on this issue and the outcome was, that circumcision had no bearing on salvation, so should not be forced on gentile believers. In this passage Paul is showing that, even before the conference, the apostles in Jerusalem did not insist that Titus be circumcised which therefore showed they were in agreement with Paul on this issue. The people who were pushing this agenda were “false brothers“ according to Paul. They literally looked to see (spied out) if a brother was circumcised. These people may have had good intentions, to preserve the culture of the Jewish people but they did not understand the liberty in Christ. Jesus came to fulfill the law:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. – Matthew 5:17

He paid the debt we owed by taking the penalty we deserved for our sins.

3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4

This is the truth of the gospel. We have been given what we do not deserve: the righteousness of God imparted to us through Christ that we might be free from the law. The law led us to the place of realising we are sinners. Grace led us to the love of God shown to us through Jesus.


7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised
8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), – Galatians 2:7-8

It is fascinating how God choses those who He will use to minister (to work, to serve) in certain areas. The Lord has a way of choosing the most unlikely candidates. Let’s start with these two. Peter was an uneducated, impulsive, bombastic fisherman yet God chose him to minister to the Jewish people in Jerusalem. He would deal with educated and respected Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees all of whom prided themselves in their education and knowledge. But God chose Peter. The book of Acts records:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. – Acts 4:13

And that was the point. Peter had been with Jesus. He lived with Him for over three years and now he was empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel, and no amount of education was of more value than that.

Now Paul was the opposite. He was a highly educated Pharisee:

3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.
4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, – Acts 22:3-4

3 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; – Philippians 3:5

Paul had all the credentials to minister to the Jewish people but God chose him to minister to the Gentiles (those people who were not Jews). You only have to look in the Old Testament to see the same happening. Moses: a man who could not speak properly (Exodus 4:10) and a murderer (Exodus 2:12), Gideon: who was weak and scared (Judges 6:11), Jonah: a rebellious man (Jonah 1:3) and David: a shepard boy, to beat a champion warrior (1 Samuel 17:4) to name but a few. God uses the weak to defeat the strong so that no one can boast in His presence. It is all of God.

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,
29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, – 1 Corinthians 1:27-30

And that is what He wants to do in our lives. We face temptation and we fail. When we are strong and proud we fall and sin. Yet God loves us so much that He has made a provision for us:

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

When we are weak we can see God move in our lives, giving us His grace, mercy and compassion so we can be strong in Him.


9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. – Galatians 2:9-10

Paul Barnabas and Titus met with James (the half brother of Jesus, [Mark 6:3]),Cephas (Peter-the rock [Matthew 16:18]) and John (who lay on the chest of Christ [John 21:20 ]), three of the people who were closest to Jesus while he was here. And they offered the hand of fellowship. This meant that Paul was totally accepted and his ministry approved. It is all about grace. Each of these men understood that. James and rejected His half brother as being the Massiah throughout the time he was alive. He even was among those who called Jesus mad. Peter rejected and denied Jesus when He was arrested and John also fled. In their own way they had all turned away from Christ but He poured His grace on them and restored them so they became pillars of the young church, known as Apostles as they had been with Jesus. And of course Paul had persecuted the early church consenting to inprisonment, beatings of Christians and the murder of Stephen (Acts 22:4, Acts 8:1). But they all repented and looked to Jesus for their salvation. These men give us such hope. When we turn our backs on Jesus we can ba assured that when we turn to Him and seek His face we receive His mercy and grace to forgive us all our sins. Repentance – to change our mind – is all it takes, yet sometimes it is our pride that prevents us from receiving the grace that God has for us. We think that what we have done is to terrible to be forgiven. But actually the worst thing we can do is NOT receive the forgiveness that is freely given to us, that was bought at such a high cost, by the shed blood of Jesus.


11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Galatians 2:11-14

This passage reveals a number of things. Firstly the issue of legalism can creep into any area and any persons mindset insidiously. Peter was a pillar of the church, an Apostle and yet in his behaviour he revealed he still felt he needed to please the Jews and live by their tradition of remaining separate from the gentiles. This was a huge stumbling block as it caused division within the church. The very thing Jesus specifically prayed against:

that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. – John 17:21

How easy it is for us to try and please those around us especially if they have our respect

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10

Secondly Barnabas, the son of encouragement, in that moment when Peter and his companion moved away from eating with their gentile brothers in Christ, he in a split second made the wrong decision and identified with them. We can so easily made a wrong decision in a moment that causes us to misrepresent the heart of God. Actions speak louder than words and how we act towards a person will speak much louder than what we say. Moses fell onto that trap:

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”
11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. – Numbers 20:10-11

Moses got into trouble for this act. He did what he felt was right, misrepresenting the heart of God to the Children of Israel. He allowed his anger and frustration to rule when God had compassion for His people.

Thirdly Paul had courage. He stood up for what he believed, for what had been revealed to him of the gospel of grace.

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. – Acts 20:24

He did not cower to the Apostles but was willing to speak the truth in love. Would we find the courage to stand up to our elders and leaders if they appeared to be misrepresenting God? Pray that the Lord gives us His courage and His wisdom in all situations and for us to be conscious of split second decisions that could be motivated from the flesh.


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. – Galatians 2:15-16

So here is the crux of the matter. Paul teaches that the law does not make us justified before God but we are made “just as if we never sinned” by faith in Jesus Christ. How can God look at us as if we never sinned? Well, He has placed us in Christ. We now have the righteousness of God imparted to us through His Son. No matter if we are “Jews by birth” or “gentile sinners” we all have fallen short of the glory of God. But now we are hidden in Christ:

3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. – Colossians 3:3-4

And seated with Him in glory:

and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, – Ephesians 2:6

Even though now we continue to dwell her on earth with faith in the promises of God, we live as strangers on this world:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. – Hebrews 11:13

Faith sees that which is not as if it is. Jesus prayed before he even went to the cross that He has finished the work God sent Him to do even though he would be betrayed and crucified in a few hours time:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. – John 17:4

He knew that His Father’s plan would be accomplished even though at that moment in time Jesus had not been humiliated and crucified and abandoned by God, He still had to face that terrible ordeal in time. But He had faith that God would accept the sacrafice and raise Him from the dead. The power of faith. Not believing something might happen but believing the promises of God it will happen just as He says. Not empty hopes but a sure foundation of the promises of God. We are justified because God says so. We just have to believe it. Amen.


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? Certainly not!
18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. – Galatians 2:17-18

This passage is not easy to understand, especially if taken out of context. Remember the situation here is that Paul saw Peter, Barnabas and the other Jewish Christians sitting seperatly from the gentile believers at Antioch. The Jewish believers had taken the stance that you could only be a true christian if you subsequently followed the laws of Moses and the traditions of the fathers. So the teaching that salvation was by faith alone to them meant that the message of Christ allowed you to become a servant of sin – a person who did not follow the law was a sinner, a servant of sin. They thought that you could only be right with God through the Jewish traditions. Paul argued strongly agains this. He taught the gospel of grace as he had learned it. For him to tear that down, to forsake it, would be to forsake Christ, making himself a transgressors. Who have to be so careful who we copy:

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:9

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 11:1

6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. – 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7

That is the example we want to follow. So we can become an example for others of the true nature of Christ.


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. – Galatians 2:19-21

I think this passage is one of the most liberating in the bible. If I am dead then nothing in this world can effect me. I no longer have to fear death. The bible says I was in Adam when he sinned and by my genetic human nature I was born a sinner.

21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. – 1 Corinthians 15:21-22

But when Christ was raised from the dead I was raised with Him. All in Christ shall be made alive. And the life I now live I live by the faith of Jesus Christ

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. – Romans 7:4

The law has no power over a dead person. There will be no law in heaven just the presence of God, the glory of God. We will not be controlled by a set of rules but by love manifest in Jesus Christ who died for us and was raised for us the perfect sacrafice to make us righteous before God. Perfect as He is perfect.

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:48

17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. – 1 John 4:17-18

It was Christ’s faith that made me perfect. Now I can live that life by faith in Him, there are two ways that this verse are translated. The KJV says: “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Where as many translations say: “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God”. Whether it is faith IN Jesus or BY the faith of Jesus is debatable but the message is still clear that the faith of Jesus saved me and my living by receiving His faith in me saves me. No law can make me righteous. If that we the case then Christ would have died in vain, for no purpose. No, we are saved by faith in Jesus and nothing more.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

 

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