Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Galatians 2:15-21

V15-21 –15We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.’ 17If, 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! 18If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!’ [Some interpreters end Paul’s quote to Peter after v14; others, after v16, or even v21.]

Vincent Cheung begins his commentary on this passage by saying, “Regardless of where Paul’s speech to Peter concludes, it is v15 that marks the transition from historical narrative to theological argument. Until this point he has been defending the original and authority of his message and ministry (Galatians 1:11-12), and only now does he begin to engage the actual doctrine that is at the center of the controversy… The current passage begins the theological portion of this letter, and both summarizes and assumes several key points in Paul’s theology. The main assertion here is that no one can be saved by observing the law or depending on his own works; rather, the only way that one is saved is by faith in Jesus Christ apart from the law or works.”

The central message of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians may be seen in v15-16 – “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Kim Riddlebarger says, “The key to understanding this passage is really two-fold. Negatively speaking, we have Paul’s unequivocal assertion that we cannot be justified by our obedience to the law of Moses. Positively speaking, we have Paul’s equally unequivocal assertion that we are justified only by faith in Christ.” Paul says that Jewish Christians, such as James, John, Peter, Barnabas, and himself, who have the law know this. Simply put, works do not save; faith in Christ Jesus does. But Paul’s argument is more extensive than that, especially in light of his Gentile audience. The phrase “observing the law” is translated “works of the law” in other translations, and it specifically refers to the very thing that separated Jew from Gentile. Paul brings it up primarily to note that there is to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile when it comes to the gospel. He is saying that Jews, who have the very Law of God as given to Moses, know that justification is by faith. That truth necessarily excludes justification by the Law, and even more, justification by any law.

In other words, if Jews can’t be justified by their God-given Law, then neither can Gentiles be justified by law of any kind or origin. Calvin paraphrases Paul’s thoughts, as if he were saying, “We, who appear to excel others, who, by means of the covenant, have always enjoyed the privilege of being nigh to God, (Deuteronomy 4:7) have found no method of obtaining salvation, but by believing in Christ. Why, then, should we prescribe another method to the Gentiles? For, if the law were necessary or advantageous for salvation to those who observed its enactments, it must have been most of all advantageous to us to whom it was given; but if we relinquished it, and betook ourselves to Christ, much less ought compliance with it to be urged upon the Gentiles.”

This passage is often compared and contrasted with James 2:24, Romans 3:19-22, and Psalm 143:2. The Psalm seems to indicate, as Vincent Cheung says, “The law itself testifies that no one can stand righteous before God if judged according to his own effort to follow the law.” The Romans passage shows that the Law was not a failure; we just misunderstood its purpose to reveal sin, silence us accountable before God, and drive us to Christ. And the James passage, which seems to contradict Paul at first glance, is speaking not of the fact of justification, but of the evidence of justification. Therefore, James is saying that works are evidence that a person has been justified by the faith in Christ that Paul asserts as solely sufficient.

V21 ties to v15-16, and Paul shows his passion on this important issue. Vincent Cheung says, “V21 is a condemnation against, not only the attempt to attain righteousness through observing Jewish laws and customs, but any other system of law, ethic, philosophy, or religion… Either Christ’s death is insufficient or unnecessary, or it is impossible to obtain righteousness through the law. To say this another way, one who preaches righteousness through the law is compelled to deny the sufficiency and necessity of Christ’s redemptive work. And by definition, to deny the sufficiency and necessity of Christ makes one a non-Christian. Thus it follows that the Judaizers were in reality non-Christians. They preached a non-gospel, an anti-Christian message. Therefore, having already believed on the gospel of Jesus Christ as preached by Paul, the Galatians had no reason to accept the Judaizers’ message.”

Before some concluding remarks on v17-20, which deserve attention, let’s explore the doctrine of justification by faith a little further. Vincent Cheung says:

“Justification is by faith not in the sense that you can save yourself by your faith; rather, the doctrine teaches that you can do nothing to save yourself, but that you must totally depend on someone else to save you. Therefore, the doctrine is teaching justification not by faith as such or by itself, but it is teaching that justification is by Christ alone. It is Christ who saves you, and not faith itself. Faith has a role because it is Christ who saves you by means of giving you faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8-9; Hebrews 12:2).

Further, the doctrine of justification by faith alone does not imply that we are justified before God because we managed to work up enough faith in and by ourselves to believe in Christ, which is impossible in the first place. Rather, the doctrine contrasts faith against works – which is why it is meaningful to speak of justification by faith in Christ rather than only justification by Christ – emphasizing that we are justified by God through faith apart from works. This faith is itself not a work – that is, not a work of man, but a work of God in man. Faith is a gift of God purchased by Christ for all those whom God has chosen for salvation. It is a gift even though it has been purchased by our Mediator because it is God who sovereignly decreed to save us through this Mediator in the first place. It is God who has sovereignly chosen those whom He would save by His grace through Christ, so that all of salvation is a gift of God – it is a sovereign gift of God, unmerited by man, that at the same time fully satisfies divine justice, since it has been merited by Christ. Thus salvation is from the grace of God alone, through the work of Christ alone, and by means of faith alone (that is, in contrast to works).

Therefore, when discussing the doctrine of justification by faith, we must not portray faith as a condition for salvation that God requires from us, as if we could produce faith in and of ourselves prior to regeneration and apart from the Spirit’s power. So, although it is correct to speak of faith as our necessary response to the gospel, this ‘response’ of faith is in fact one of the very things that Christ’s atonement purchased for His elect, and that God bestows upon His chosen ones by His Spirit. In other words, God is the one who produces this response of faith in His elect. This is another reason why it is incorrect to speak of faith as an inherent power… Salvation comes from God through Christ alone. We cannot boast about our faith, since it is a sovereign gift of God, merited by Christ for the elect.”
Paul refutes hypothetical arguments as we come to the end of chapter 2. According to Kim Riddlebarger, “Paul [offers] a negative assertion of what he does not mean in v17-18 and then…a positive statement of what he does mean in v19-21.” In v18, his point is to say that “the lawbreaker is not the one who turns from the law to Christ for justification; it is the one who turns from Christ back to the law,” for they are fighting against the gospel. And likewise in v19, Paul is saying, “Death to the law does not violate the law, for Christ met the law’s demands. It is therefore ‘through the law’ (Christ’s fulfillment thereof) that believers are released from the bondage and condemnation of the law.”

Finally, v20 gives a challenging yet beautiful image of how every true Christian can be described in their union with Christ. He loved and so He gave Himself. And Paul, united to Christ in that death, now lives through Christ in him. Vincent Cheung says, “Paul is referring to ‘a complete change in his way of looking at all things, a ‘reorientation of thought’, to use modern jargon, which involves a total change of life.’
Christ has replaced the law as his reference and motivation behind all his thinking and behavior.” John Piper says, “There is a new ‘I’ – I do still live. But look who it is. It is no longer an ‘I’ who craves self-reliance or self-confidence or self-direction or self-exaltation. The new ‘I’ looks away from itself and trusts in the Son of God, whose love and power was proved at Calvary. From the moment you wake in the morning till the moment you fall asleep at night, the new ‘I’ of faith despairs of itself and looks to Christ for protection and the motivation, courage, direction, and enablement to walk in joy and peace and righteousness. What a great way to live!”

And obviously, as we noted above, we are saved by grace through faith. But it is the object of our faith that saves, as long as that object is Christ, the God-man, fully divine and fully human, the crucified Christ, the risen Christ. Any professing Christian who denies the full divinity of Christ, the full humanity of Christ, the propitiatory and substitutionary, atoning death of Christ, and the justifying resurrection of Christ is a sham-Christian, a “false brother” from v4.

Cheung concludes his commentary on this passage by saying, “One commentator remarks that if Paul had ended his letter here, he would have already made his point. Indeed, he has answered his opponents regarding his personal history, his relationship with the Jerusalem leaders and their position on the doctrine at issue, his role in the Antioch incident, and the theological reasons for the gospel of justification by divine grace through faith in Christ as opposed to a doctrine of justification by human effort through the works of the law. Relative to the arguments of the Judaizers, it is not necessary for Paul to say more – he has already won by this point. Yet God inspired the apostle to provide additional clarifications and arguments… Subsequent passages will expand on the foundation now established, reinforcing Paul’s doctrine from several perspectives.”

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