Galatians 2:15-18

Sunday Evening Service

May 22, 2005


Paul is writing to a group of churches which he had helped to establish.

After having established these churches, there were a group of teachers called “Judaizers” who came in and began spreading their own doctrines, teaching the young Gentile believers that they needed to become Jewish and become circumcised before they were really saved.

Paul has been relating a story about Peter’s visit to the Gentile church at Antioch.

(Gal 2:11-14 NLT)  But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. {12} When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who don't bother with circumcision. But afterward, when some Jewish friends of James came, Peter wouldn't eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these legalists would say. {13} Then the other Jewish Christians followed Peter's hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was influenced to join them in their hypocrisy. {14} When I saw that they were not following the truth of the Good News, I said to Peter in front of all the others, "Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you trying to make these Gentiles obey the Jewish laws you abandoned?

:15-19 Saved by grace

:15 "We who are Jews by nature,

by naturephusis – nature; birth, physical origin

Those who are born Jewish.

Paul is appealing to Peter's “Jewish-ness”, and the fact that he knows the truth.  There was an advantage to being a Jew, having grown up knowing the Scriptures.

:15 and not sinners of the Gentiles,

Paul isn’t using this in the technical sense as if all Gentiles were sinners and Jews were not.  He’s using this sacrcastically, how he and Peter might have used it in their days before knowing Jesus.  The Pharisees would talk about the “publicans and sinners”.  They used the term to apply to anybody who wasn’t a good Jewish person.

Paul is saying that as good Jewish boys, they ought to know better about how a person is made right with God …

:16 "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ,

justifieddikaioo – to render righteous or such he ought to be; to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be

Paul was reminding Peter of something they had both learned, that a man was not made right by doing the works of the Law.

A man was made right in God’s sight only through trusting in Jesus.

:16 even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Paul is reminding Peter that this is why they came to trust in Jesus, because they found they could not be made right by doing good things.


Saved by grace, not works

Paul could have even used Peter's own words before the church council in Jerusalem when they faced the issue of whether or not Gentile believers needed to become circumcised and to submit to the Law of Moses in order to be saved.

(Acts 15:10-11 NKJV)  "Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? {11} "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they."

Paul himself wrote much about this subject.

(Rom 3:20-28 NLT)  For no one can ever be made right in God's sight by doing what his law commands. For the more we know God's law, the clearer it becomes that we aren't obeying it.
The Law is great at pointing out our shortcomings.  It reminds us how far we fall short.
{21} But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight--not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. {22} We are made right in God's sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. {23} For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard.
When we share our faith, I think it’s important to remind the person we are talking to that ALL of humanity is in the same boat.  They’re not the only sinner in the world.
{24} Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. {25} For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us.
This is how salvation occurs.  Jesus died on a cross to pay for our sins.  He paid the penalty for our sins.  And we receive this gift of forgiveness by trusting in Jesus.
God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. {26} And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus. {27} Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. {28} So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

We are not saved because we attain to some measure of perfection.

None of us could ever attain to that measure.  And if we could, we would have a problem with all the sin we had in our life beforehand, sin that would require judgment.
We are only saved because of what God has done graciously through Jesus Christ.
We have nothing to boast about of ourselves.  But we can boast in Jesus Christ.

A story, as told by Billy Graham …

Velma Barfield was a woman from rural North Carolina who was charged with first degree murder; no one could have surmised the effect her life and death would have upon so many people.  In 1978 she was arrested for murdering four people, including her mother and fiance.  She never denied her guilt, but told the chilling story of her drug-dazed life, beginning with the tranquilizers which were prescribed following a painful injury.

Velma was a victim of incest as a child and the abuse of prescription drugs as an adult.  After she admitted her guilt, she was taken to prison and confined in a cell by herself.  One night the guard tuned into a twenty-four-hour gospel station. Down the gray hall, desperate and alone in her cell, Velma heard the words of an evangelist and allowed Jesus Christ to enter her life.  She wrote, “I had been in and out of churches all my life and I could explain all about God.  But I had never understood before that Jesus had died for me.”

Her conversion was genuine.  For six years on death row she ministered to many of her cellmates.  The outside world began to hear about Velma Barfield as the story of her remarkable rehabilitation became known.  Velma wrote to Ruth and there developed a real friendship between them.  In one letter Ruth wrote to Velma, “God has turned your cell on Death Row into a most unusual pulpit.  There are people who will listen to what you have to say because of where you are.  As long as God has a ministry for you here, He will keep you here.  When I compare the dreariness, isolation, and difficulty of your cell to the glory that lies ahead of you, I could wish for your sake that God would say, ‘Come on Home.’”

My daughter, Anne, received special permission to visit Velma Barfield many times and was touched by the sadness of her story and the sincerity of her love for Christ as well as the beauty of her Christian witness in that prison.

Before her final sentence, Velma wrote to Ruth: “If I am executed on August 31, I know the Lord will give me dying grace, just as He gave me saving grace, and has given me living grace.” On the night she was executed, Ruth and I knelt and prayed together for her till we knew she was safe in Glory.

Velma Barfield was the first woman in twenty-two years to be executed in the United States.  She walked through the valley of the shadow for many years and at her memorial service the Reverend Hugh Hoyle said, “She died with dignity and she died with purpose.  Velma is a living demonstration of “by the grace of God you shall be saved.’”

:17 "But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!

Some look at this verse in this way:  “When we become a Christian, we will still sin.  Does this mean that Jesus encourages people to sin?”

The problem with this is that it doesn’t seem to fit the context.  The following verse doesn’t make any sense in this light.

I think there’s a better understanding of what Paul is saying:

Apparently the Judaizers had made an accusation about Paul’s theology.  They claimed that since Paul was abandoning the Law as a way of making a person right, that the person who believed in Paul’s theology slips down into the same category as those Gentile “sinners” who didn’t have the Law.  The idea is:  “If we are justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law, doesn’t that make us “sinners” because we’ve abandoned the Law”.

If this were the case, then that would make Jesus a “minister of sin” because believing in Him would put a good Jewish person down on the level of a horrible, dirty Gentile.

Paul says this is ridiculous.  Jesus doesn’t make you a sinner.

Jesus died to save you from your sin.

:18 "For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.

I think Paul is referring to how Peter first ate with the Gentile believers, then pulled back from them.  Paul is being nice and using “I” instead of “you”, giving a hypothetical case to Peter.

Peter “destroyed” the Law of clean and unclean things, making it null and void when he first decided to hang out with the Gentile believers.

But later, after he changed his mind and pulled back from the Gentiles, he showed everyone that he decided the Law was supposed to be followed after all and in doing that, he made himself a “transgressor” because he had broken his own law earlier by eating with the Gentiles.

Paul’s point is that rather than becoming a “sinner” by abandoning the Law for grace (vs. 17), actually the opposite was true.  Peter had become a “sinner” by showing that the Law was valid and that … oops, he had already broken the law by eating earlier with the Gentiles.


Get your theology right / the importance of correct theology

Sometimes I wonder just how much we think through the implications of what we believe.
Peter should have known better.  He knew that he was saved by grace and that that even Gentiles were saved by grace.
Yet he wavered when he was around “influential” people.
We ought to think through what we believe.
Some folks will tend to believe what “influential” people tell them.  It may be a family member, it may be a certain pastor or teacher.
It’s important that we base our “theology” on what the Scripture teaches.
Be like the Bereans:
(Acts 17:11 NKJV)  These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
And even when we think we have our “theology” down, I think we need to be open to continually testing and challenging our ideas as we continually study the Scriptures.
I think that a person’s ideas about God ought to be changing and growing as they get older.  Not necessarily big changes, but tweaks here and there.
We all grow up under a theological “grid” of sorts.  It may be the church you grew up in, it may be a Bible school you go to, but you have to start somewhere.  You are taught basic concepts about God and those are your initial “grid”.  As you read your Bible, you will take that “grid” and hang the Scriptures on it in a certain way.  Your “grid” will influence the way you interpret certain Scriptures.
But hopefully as you mature in the Lord, there will be little adjustments you have to make to your “grid” because you will find that your grid had a few shortcomings.  I think this is good.
For example:  I grew up in a fairly “Calvinistic” background.  I was taught “once saved always saved”.  I was taught that I was chosen and predestined before the foundations of the world.  And for the most part I still hold to much of those truths because they are in the Scripture.  But each time I read the Bible, I will encounter certain Scriptures that are simply difficult to hang on that particular “grid”.

If a person can’t lose their salvation, then how do you explain these Scriptures in Galatians:

(Gal 5:3-4 NKJV)  And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. {4} You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

How can you be “estranged from Christ” and be saved?

(Gal 5:19-21 NKJV)  Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, {20} idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, {21} envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

I know plenty of people who as Christians “practice” these things.  Are they saved?

Please understand, I know how a Calvinist will handle these questions, but as I get older, I simply have a hard time with answers that are so twisted you can’t come to them very easily.

When it comes to predestination, there are those who teach that only those who are “predestined” are going to be saved.  They will even go to the extent to say that Jesus only died for those who were “predestined”.

I have a couple of problems with this.

If the “saved” are predestined, and there is nothing that can happen to change that, then why do we bother wasting so much time to “reach the lost”?  Why bother preaching the gospel?  And yet that is what Jesus told us to do.

The other problem has to do with God’s love.

(John 3:16 NKJV)  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Did God really love the world if He only sent Jesus to die for those predestined to get in? How can that be love?

What I’m learning is that I need to keep working on my theology.  Don’t be afraid to have your theology tested.

Why is this important?
My theology will affect the way I relate to God and the way I relate to others.
Peter’s theology ended up hurting some of the Gentile believers in Antioch as he pulled away from them.