Justified by Faith

Imagine a dispute between two of the apostles—and that in public! In Galatians 2:15–16 Paul gives what lies behind his strong rebuke of Peter, which he describes in the last half of Galatians 2.

You are not justified by observing the law. The question about justification arose because of Peter’s actions. Justification, as Paul uses the term here, refers to God declaring sinners not guilty, or just in his sight. We’ll come back to the concept in a few minutes. One of the reasons, a subordinate one, for Paul bringing up this conflict that had taken place in the past, was to emphasize that his apostleship was not dependent on the earlier apostles. Not only had his call as an apostle come directly from the Lord Jesus, but he was not subordinate to the other apostles. Acts 11 contains the account of the church expanding at Antioch to include Gentiles as Christians. And there the title “Christian” was first used. A huge barrier between Jews and Gentiles were the dietary laws of the Old Testament. In Acts 10 you have the record of the vision the Lord gave Peter to show him that he could go to the home of the Gentile centurion, Cornelius. In Antioch, Peter first ate with Gentile Christians, but when some Christians from Jerusalem arrived, he withdrew, and ate only with Jewish Christians. (The men coming from James does not imply that James approved their actions.) Paul is concerned about Peter’s action, strongly enough concerned to rebuke him to his face. While we must pursue the peace of the church, it is not peace at any price. Some sins and errors are serious enough to warrant public rebuke. Not only was the unity of the church threatened, but the truth of the gospel was at stake. “A man who tries to earn his salvation, or to do anything towards earning it, has, according to Paul, done despite to the free grace of God.” (J. Gresham Machen, Machen’s Notes on Galatians, p. 143). Continue reading

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Freedom!

The sound of military jets doing touch and go landings is apt to be described as “the sound of freedom.” In Galatians 2:1–10 points you to something more important than political or economic freedom. It is the freedom you have in Christ.

You are free in Christ. Jesus Christ has set you free. Having described his conversion in Galatians 1, Paul goes on to describe his limited contact with the apostles and other leaders of the church in Jerusalem. In that context he uses the language of espionage, attempted conquest, and enslavement to describe the efforts of false brothers to force Titus to submit to the ceremonial regulations of the leaders of Israel. What is the freedom you have in Christ? Christ has set you free from the condemnation of the law. The law can only condemn and bring death, Romans 7:7–10. The law cannot set you free from condemnation, not because of any defect in it, but because of the sinfulness of flesh (human nature), Romans 8:1–4. You cannot be justified by the works of the law, Romans 3:19–20. God does not grade on a curve. Salvation by works is bondage. (Keep that in mind as you witness to members of cults, or to American pagans.) You are free from the guilt, condemnation, and punishment of your sins, for that has been borne by Christ and you have been united with him in his death and resurrection. Christ’s righteousness, his death and resurrection, is all that saves. The Exodus is the great picture of salvation in the Old Testament. God’s people were slaves in Egypt, and the Lord stretched out his arm and set them free. What the Passover lamb pictured is now a reality in Christ. You have been set free, not from the hard labor slavery, but from bondage to sin and from the punishment that the law of God pronounces upon it. “Law, as law, has no expiatory provision; it exercises no forgiving grace; and it has no power of enablement to the fulfillment of its own demand. It knows no clemency for the remission of guilt; it provides no righteousness to meet our iniquity; it exercises no constraining power to reclaim our waywardness; it knows no mercy to melt our hearts in penitence and new obedience…. The word ‘grace’ sums up everything that by way of contrast with law is embraced in the provisions of redemption…. Believers died with Christ and lived again with him in his resurrection (cf. Romans 6:8). They have, therefore, come under all the resources of redeeming and renewing grace which find their epitome in the death and resurrection of Christ and find their permanent embodiment in him who was dead and is alive again.” (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, pp. 185–186). Continue reading

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The God Who Called You

When did you become a Christian? (You may or may not know when, but the more important question is, Are you a Christian?) How did it happen? Few conversion accounts are more dramatic than Paul’s. In Galatians 1:11–23 Paul tells of his conversion because how he came to know Christ is crucial to defending the truthfulness of his gospel.

Respond to God’s call. God set you apart from before you were born. God is the author of your salvation. God’s plan is not simply based on fore-seeing who will love him, see Ephesians 1:3-6. God’s fore-knowledge is a choice made in love, Romans 8:29, 30; Amos 3:1, 2; Hosea 13:5; 2 Timothy 2:19. God’s setting apart goes back to birth, and even before, cf. Jeremiah 1:5. Isaiah 49 describes the call of the Servant, the Messiah. He is set apart for the Gentiles—and Paul recognizes that God’s call of Paul also has a focus on the Gentiles. God separated you from rebellion. Paul had been intense in persecution, v.13. He had been successful in the religion and traditions of the fathers, v.14. The point is that this is not where he had learned the gospel. The works religion of the Pharisees was not a gospel, not good news. Although you may not have been involved in the kind of rebellion that Paul was, you too are a rebel by nature. God has called you from darkness into the glorious light of the kingdom of his Son. Continue reading

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No Other Gospel!

If someone offered you a Rolex watch for a mere $500.00 would you buy it? If you checked the web and discovered that Rolexes are selling from $2,000.00 on up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and millions for some collector’s items, you’d properly conclude that this watch was a fake. Galatians 1:6–10 reminds you that a counterfeit gospel is no gospel at all.

There is no other gospel. There is another gospel. Missing from this letter are not only usual expressions of praise for the recipient church, but also a section of thanksgiving. The heart of the gospel is at stake, and Paul must warn the Galatians. Gospel means good news. The first four books of the New Testament bear that name, because they are the account of the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul summarized his gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5. The churches are in the process of leaving the gospel Paul preached and are turning to another teaching. Paul can appropriately call this another gospel. Paul is astonished at the speed of the desertion from the true gospel to a false by the Galatians. The present tense “are deserting” indicates an ongoing process, not something that is an accomplished fact in history. There is still room to hope, because the desertion is not complete. “And not only is the truth more than the highest ranking minister of God, but as the gospel — which constitutes the norm of the divine redemption in the world — it is so holy that anyone who independently modifies it brings the curse of God down upon his head.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia, p. 50). Continue reading

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Christ Gave Himself for You

Sometimes a weather person on TV seems to be filling air time. But, were you in North Carolina today, there would be a different tone as Florence moves inland. The language becomes terse, almost telegraphic. He or she is trying to convey the essential information you need—because your life depends on it. In Galatians 1:1-5 the Apostle Paul is terse—because eternal issues hang on what he says.

Listen to Christ’s messenger. This is a “not” letter from the apostle. An apostle is a “sent one.” His authority is not his own but that of his sender. An insult to an ambassador is an insult to the country which sent him. Paul’s apostleship was not from man. the source of his authority was not human, contrary to allegations made by false teachers in Galatia. (Note that Paul does not hesitate to stress the negative when necessary.) Paul’s apostleship was not even by man. Man was not even the means of commissioning Paul. Paul is countering allegations of having a derived apostleship, see 1:11-2:21. Paul defends his apostleship because that is a vector of attack by false teachers against the gospel. “May God send us men who are not deceived, men who will respond to the forces of unbelief and compromise…. The Epistle to the Galatians is a polemic, a fighting Epistle from beginning to end. What a fire it kindled at the time of the Reformation! May it kindle another fire in our day—not a fire that will destroy any fine or noble or Christian thing, but a fire of Christian love in hearts grown cold!” (J. Gresham Machen, Machen’s Notes on Galatians, p. 8). Continue reading

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