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Gal 2:11-21: Faith Alone Print E-mail
Sunday, 16 April 2006

After attending the film The Passion of the Christ a couple of years ago, I remember wondering to myself while leaving the theater, ‘Why was all of that necessary?’  In other words, why did Jesus have to die such a horrible death?  It was one of the questions that was not explicitly addressed by the film and yet, it is one of the central questions addressed in the New Testament.

The question of why Jesus had to die is intimately related to another question that I have called the central question of the Bible, namely how can a holy God have anything to do with sinful men?  These two questions are crucial to understanding the Christian faith.  In order to answer the question of how can God have anything to do with us, you must answer the question of why Jesus had to die.  Again, these two questions are closely related and crucial for us as believers.

As I have studied Galatians 2:11-21 this week, I cannot help but be amazed at the weight of what Paul is saying to us in these few verses.  In fact, although there is more to be said, Paul summarizes our answer to why Christ had to die and how God could have anything to do with us in these verses.  As he concludes his narrative section that began in 1:11 and transitions into the exhortations of chapters 3 and 4, Paul lays out the simple but glorious truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.  The importance that this doctrine has for Christianity is unspeakable.  In a very real way, the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone is what separates Christianity from every other religion and belief system in the world.  Thus, as we come together on Easter Sunday to celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is so appropriate for us to examine this text together. 

Before we begin looking at 2:11-21, we should first remind ourselves of what we have said before.  Paul is writing his letter to individual churches in Galatia which he and Barnabus started on his first missionary journey.  Unfortunately, some men from Jerusalem have come behind Paul and Barnabas and taught the Galatians that they must follow the Mosaic Law along with belief in Christ in order to be saved.  Paul has already warned them against believing another gospel (see 1:6-10) and has defended his gospel and apostleship (see 1:11-2:10).  In our passage this morning he comes to the crux of his argument against these teachers, or Judaizers.  In order to see Paul’s argument against following the Law as part of salvation, I want to break the text into three sections, which answer three important questions.  Let’s look at these together.

First, if we are not justified by the Law, then what about Peter?

This question is addressed in verses 11-14.  Look at those with me again.  It seems that a certain situation had developed in the church at Antioch.  Peter had been fellowshipping with Gentiles and sharing the table with them (referring to Communion or meals or both).  Yet, when some men came from James who were Jews, Peter drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party (v. 12).  Thus, even though Peter knew that a person is saved by faith in Christ alone (as Paul will state in verse 16ff) and that it was no longer necessary to follow the Jewish dietary laws (see Acts 10:11-15), in light of the threat from these Jews, he gave in and went against his beliefs by refusing to eat with the Gentiles.  So, how will Paul respond to such behavior?

Paul responds by publicly opposing Peter to his face (see v. 11) and by calling his actions hypocritical (see v. 13-14).  Paul does not understand how Peter could believe one thing and behave in contrast to that same belief.  How could Peter believe in justification by faith alone and then require the Gentiles to follow the Law if they wanted to enjoy Christian fellowship?  For Paul, this was nothing less than hypocrisy.  To answer our original question, Peter simply condemned himself with his actions.  In other words, Peter did not believe that a person was justified by keeping the Law, he had simply behaved in a way that was contrary to what he believed.  Thus, Paul opposed such hypocritical actions.

This whole episode in the lives of the early apostles is helpful for us.  It teaches us that we should expect conflict to arise in our churches.  We are sinful people called into community.  There will be times when we do not behave as we should, even times when we do not act according to our own beliefs (like Peter).  This should not throw us into a panic.  Rather, like Paul, when these times of conflict come, we should call one another back to the truth of the gospel.  We should watch out for one another and fight to make sure that we are living out what we claim to believe and not being hypocritical in our actions.  This is all part of Christian community and the fight to live out faithfully what we claim to believe.

Second, if we are not justified by the Law, then how are we justified?

Paul answers this question for us in verses 15-16.  Look at those verses with me.  The clear answer that Paul gives us for how a person is justified apart from the Law is that a person is justified through faith in Christ.  Paul makes this point three times in verse 16 alone.  Yet, why all this emphasis on faith alone?

In order to answer this question, we must understand the concept of justification.  The term that Paul keeps using is a judicial term.  It refers to a person being declared not guilty.  Thus, Paul is proclaiming that through faith in Christ, we are declared not guilty before God.  We have been declared righteous before a holy God.  When we go back to the question of how can a holy God have anything to do with sinful creatures, we see that the answer involves the sinful creature being declared innocent.  But how could this be possible?  How could we be declared innocent?  We are declared innocent because Christ was declared guilty for us on the cross.  Is this not what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where he writes: For our sake he (God, the Father) made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

Here is where it all comes together.  Here is where our two questions are answered.  Holy God is reconciled to sinful creatures by punishing His own Son in our place on the cross.  Jesus had to die in order to reconcile sinful creatures to a Holy God by taking their place.  Brothers and sisters, this is the glorious good news of the gospel!!  This is why the death of Christ should stir us.  Not so much because of the physical pain, which was horrible, but because Christ was becoming sin in my place.  That all my rebellion, all my wickedness, all my lust, all my pride, was thrust upon Him.  And the holy wrath for all that sin that should have fallen on me, fell on Him instead.  Why did Jesus have to die?  Because it was the only way a holy God could forgive sinful men and women like you and me.  What separates Christianity from all the other religions in the world?  The fact that we freely admit up front that we could never earn our way into a right relationship with God.  Rather, we have been justified, made right, declared innocent, through our faith in Christ. 

Brothers and sisters, let the glorious truth of justification by faith in Christ alone humble you this morning.  May you give up trying to earn favor with God and throw yourself at the feet of Jesus.  We have not been saved because we are good, no, we have been saved because Christ is good.  I pray that such truth will drive us to our knees in worship and humble adoration of our Lord.

Third, if we are not justified by the Law, then how should we live?

If we are justified by faith alone, then does that mean that we can live however we want to?  Does that mean that we can live like the Devil and still be alright with God?  Paul answers such questions in verses 17-21.  Look at those verses with me.  We are not to live as sinners.  We are not to live like the Devil.  No, as those who have been justified by faith, we are to live by faith unto God.  We are to live as those who have been united with Christ and His death and resurrection.

These verses introduce us to the glorious doctrine of union with Christ.  Through faith we have been united with Christ.  What does this mean for us?  It means that all our sin has been transferred to him and paid for on the cross.  It means, as we see in these verses, that we have been crucified with Him on the cross.  We have died to sin.  We have died to the Law.  We have died to ourselves.  It is no longer we who live, but it is Christ who lives in us.  What He has earned through His death on the cross, we receive through faith in Him.  This is the glorious good news of union with Christ.  Do not miss it as you read through the writings of Paul!!

So, if all of this is true and we are joined with Christ and dead to ourselves, then what place does sin have in our lives?  It should have no place.  Paul is pointing out that our union with Christ and His death means that we have been freed from slavery to our sin and ourselves.  We are now a slave to Christ.  These truths should give us hope and strength as we fight against temptation in our day to day lives.  Lust will not master us, for we have been united with Christ.  Gossip and slander will not reign in our bodies, because we have been crucified with Christ.  Unforgiveness will not hold us down because we have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life.  Worry will not plague us because it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us.  Let union with Christ give you strength for your daily battle against sin and doubt.  Good works do not save us for that would nullify the grace of the cross (see v. 21).  No, faith in Christ saves us and such faith leads us to life of obedience and good works (see v. 20).

So, why did Christ die and raise from the dead?  Why do we celebrate His death and resurrection?  Because by His death we have been justified in Him through faith.  He has done what we could not do, namely, reconcile rebellious sinners to a holy God.  And if He is still in the grave, then we are still dead under the Law and slaves to our sins.  But since He has been raised, and we have been raised with Him, we are free to live our lives unto God.  We are free to worship Him and praise Him and give Him the glory that He alone deserves.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 16 April 2006 )

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