Justified from His Faith

Paul presents the points of agreement and disagreement with his Judaizing opponents in Galatia – Galatians 2:15-21.

What identifies the people of God and determines membership in His Assembly is Jesus, especially the Messiah revealed on the cross, and nothing else! This does not mean that the Law of Moses served no purpose, but it is not the basis for determining who is acquitted of sin by God. Right standing before Him is obtained “through the faith OF Jesus Christ,” and not “from the deeds of the Law.”

In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul explains how he received his Gospel for the nations by revelation, and the leaders of the Jerusalem Church confirmed his commission. He compared the situation in Galatia to the “false brethren who were smuggled in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus” in the earlier conflict in Antioch.

Church illuminated - Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash
[Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash]

Certain men from Jerusalem” infiltrated that Assembly and disseminated disruptive teachings, especially the claim that it was inappropriate for Jewish believers to eat with uncircumcised Gentiles.

Their policy would have prevented Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus from participating together in communal meals. The pressure to conform was so great that even Peter and Barnabas were entangled in the practice. Therefore, Paul confronted Peter over his hypocrisy:

  • When I saw that they are not walking straightforwardly regarding the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all: ‘If you, being a Jew, are living like Gentiles and not like Jews, how are you compelling the Gentiles to Judaize?’” - (Galatians 2:11-14).

The controversy concerned the status of Gentile believers. Were they acceptable members of the community without submitting to circumcision? The key phrase in Paul’s statement is - “COMPELLING the Gentiles to Judaize.”  The Greek verb is a strong word, and it means just that - “To compel, to force” (anangkazō – Strong’s Concordance - #G315).

The infinitive translated as “to judaize” occurs only here in the New Testament. It represents a Greek word applied to someone who lived like a Jew, and in Paul’s usage, it meant to adopt a Jewish lifestyle - (Strong’s Concordance - #G2450).

This was the crux of the matter. Some Jewish believers were pressuring Gentiles to conform to Jewish customs, and by refusing to eat with Gentiles, these men were insinuating there was something defective in the faith of the Gentile members of the congregation.

Paul’s opponents did not deny the necessity for faith. However, circumcision was presented as a necessary addition to the faith of Jesus to “complete” the Gentile believer’s faith - “Having begun in Spirit, are you now to be COMPLETED by the flesh?” - (Galatians 3:1-5).

PAUL’S ARGUMENT


Paul’s opponents had a strong case. Circumcision was given to Abraham by God as the “sign” of His “everlasting covenant.” Any male not circumcised was “cut off from Israel” since “he has broken my covenant.” Because the Church originated from the religion of Israel, confrontation over this was inevitable once the Gospel was offered to the Gentiles - (Genesis 17:7-14, Acts10:44-48).

Galatians is the Apostle’s response to these agitators. He argues why it is a mistake for Gentiles to submit to circumcision. If they adopted circumcision, they would place themselves under the Law with all its requirements - (Galatians 3:10, 5:2-3).

The first disciples were Jews, and the Gospel was preached initially to the Jewish people and proselytes of the Jewish faith. The Church did not view itself as a new religion but as the fulfillment of the beliefs and traditions of Israel.

So, how do Gentile believers become acceptable members of God’s people? If they are not acquitted before Him “from the works of the Law,” what was the purpose of the Law? Paul addresses both questions in Chapter 3. To become full members of the covenant people must Gentiles add circumcision to the faith of Jesus? Paul’s emphatic answer was, “NO!

Paul explained his position in Chapter 2. He presented what he held in common with his opponents (verses 15-16), and then summarized the areas of disagreement (verses 17-21).  He began by describing the basis on which a man is acquitted before God:

  • (Galatians 2:15-16) - “We ourselves by nature Jews and not sinners from among the Gentiles, know that man is not declared righteous from the works of the law but through the faith of Christ Jesus; even we believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be declared righteous from the faith of Christ and not from the works of the law; because from the works of the law will no flesh be declared righteous.”

The statement opens with an emphatic Greek pronoun translated as “we ourselves.”  Paul was referring to something on which he and his opponents agreed. A man was not put in right standing with God “from the works of the Law but through the faith OF Jesus Christ.” This was common ground.

The Greek clause does not read “BY faith in Jesus,” but “through the faith OF Jesus.” Its genitive construction refers to something that Jesus possessed or did, not what the believer does, at least, not at this point in the process. Justification is achieved through the faith of the Son of God.

Paul also referred to justification “from the faith of Jesus” in verse 16. The Greek preposition translated as “from” (ek) points to the “faith of Jesus” as the source, the grounds, or the basis of justification.

The Greek noun ‘pistos’ can be translated as “faith” or “faithfulness.” Here, it is shorthand for the faithful obedience of Jesus “unto death.” This is confirmed by verse 21 - “I live by faith, the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up on my behalf.” Man is justified by the “faith of Jesus,” his death - his self-sacrificial act.

Acquittal before God is based on his act of obedience, not by performing the deeds required by the Law. Paul’s opponents wished to add things to this faith, and here, he reminds his audience that these Jewish believers also responded to the Gospel by putting faith in Jesus (“even WE believed in Christ Jesus”). Exercising faith in what God did in His Son is how the believer responds to the faithfulness of Jesus.

The underlying issue was not good works in general or human effort, but a specific category of works, the works of the Law, namely, the deeds required by the Mosaic Legislation, and in this case, especially circumcision.

DISAGREEMENTS


Next, Paul presented the key areas of disagreement:

  • (Galatians 2:17-21) - “Now, if in seeking to be set right in Christ we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!  For if the things that I pulled down these again I build, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For I, through the law, died to the law that I might live to God. With Christ have I been crucified; and I am living no longer, but living in me is Christ, as long as I now do live in flesh, I live by faith, the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up in my behalf. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if through the law is righteousness, then Christ died without cause.”

Most likely, the agitators claimed that if the Law did not regulate the Assembly, moral anarchy would be the result. According to Paul, that would make Jesus responsible for all subsequent sins, a charge he adamantly rejected.

Church sunset - Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash
[Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash]

To return to the Law after being freed from its jurisdiction and “
curse” is the real transgression. If we insist on faith plus any of the “works of the Law,” we declare openly that Jesus “died in vain,” and that his sacrificial death was powerless to justify and save us.

That would be a transgression of the worst sort since we would thereby declare that his death was insufficient to acquit us of the guilt of sin before God.

What defines the people of God is identification with Jesus and his faithfulness in death on the Cross, not circumcision or submission to the other regulations and rituals of the Mosaic regulations. Our justification by God is based on the “faith OF Jesus,” and nothing else. The penitent man can do nothing more than respond to his gracious act and sacrifice with repentance and faith in the Son of God.



RELATED POSTS:
  • Circumcision - (Paul anchored all that God has done in the resurrection of Jesus, which also inaugurated the Messianic Age - Galatians 1:1-5)
  • Sign of the Covenant - (The Gift of the Spirit demonstrates beyond question who belongs to the covenant community of Jesus, and who does not)
  • Christ is Risen! - (With the new era inaugurated by Jesus, circumcision is no longer the required sign of membership in the covenant community)

Comments

POPULAR POSTS

Ekklésia - Assembly of God

Going on to Perfection