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Living From Justification, Not For It
Faith in what is done, and the one who did it.
In Galatians 2, Paul makes three moves.
First, Paul tells us that he received "the right hand of fellowship" from very notable leaders of the church at Jerusalem, Peter James, and John (Galatians 2:1-10). This is of note, because Paul spills a lot of ink in Galatians 1 to assure us that his authority comes straight from Jesus Christ, of whom he is an apostle.
And yet, Paul thinks it is important for him to share with the Galatians that he preaches the same message as that preached by the apostles in Jerusalem. In early Christianity, there were several factions, and the implications of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection were still being worked out.
Paul's opponents may have claimed some affiliation with the leaders at Jerusalem, or even have suggested that Paul was distinct from the Jerusalem leaders. Paul says that's not the case. His calling came independent of Jerusalem, but the partnership was sure. Paul was sent to the Gentiles, and Peter to the Jews.
Paul's second move: offering an illustration of a time when the gospel of Jesus was not being rightly applied to table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul tells a story of a time he confronted Peter. Peter had been dining with Gentiles at Antioch, until members of the "circumcision faction" showed up. Then, Peter withdrew, and even Barnabas (Paul's companion in ministry) was taken in.
Paul sees this as inconsistent with what God had accomplished in Christ, and tells Peter so, to his face. By demanding that Gentiles receive circumcision to become full members of the community, Peter and members of the circumcision faction were setting up "the works of the law" as the grounds of justification for right standing within the community, and with God.
Paul makes a bold and important claim: we are not justified by keeping the Old Testament commands, but are instead declared righteous by God (justified) by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who came to fulfill the Law by keeping it perfectly—and by paying the penalty for those who fail to keep it.
Jesus takes our sin to the cross and puts sin to death. And when we place our faith in Jesus, the righteousness of Jesus is applied to us—God see us "in Christ." As those redeemed by Christ through Christ and for Christ, who are in relationship to God by grace through faith, we belong to God.
Key terms: 1) justification, and 2) faith.
If you have a Bible dictionary at home, do a little research. Ask yourself, "How does the discovery that I am declared righteous on the basis of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection change my relationship with God?" And second, "What is faith? Do I have it? How do I demonstrate my faith? What does it mean for me to trust in God each day and to live by faith?"
Lastly, Paul offers a theological application of what it means to be justified by faith. He says we are "crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:15-21).
Briefly, Paul says that Jews know they cannot achieve their own righteousness. Gentiles and Jews, both, are in right standing before God on the basis of faith.
Gentiles are accepted in the Christian community as Gentiles, because Jesus has fulfilled the Law. As a result, God is making one family out of two (Ephesians 2:1-22), and the basis for membership in that family is faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is received, not achieved, as the old preacher’s saying goes.
Paul writes that he "died" to the Law. Furthermore, he wrote that he has been "crucified" with Christ. His life is now "in Christ," and Christ lives "in" Paul.
Notably, Paul notes that the life he lives in the body is lived "by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me."
Paul understood the death of Jesus as a substitution. Christ laid down his life so that he could accomplish something for Paul (and for us) that Paul (and we) could not achieve ourselves.
Paul's last statement, in Galatians 2:21, affirms that Jesus' death accomplished something those who seek justification by law-keeping could not. Jesus did something that was immeasurable, irreplaceable, and of invaluable worth. Jesus offered a one-time for all-time sacrifce that would make perfect atonement. He gave the gift of himself. He did it freely. Thus, the salvation we receive through him is a gift of grace. How do we treasure it? Well, we have to fully and rightly appraise its worth.
Doing so will move you, melt you, and deepen your love for God, which will then motivate you to live your life in service to Jesus.
Think about what Jesus has done.
A few other applications:
Paul's gospel message was received, and it aligned with other apostolic leaders in the early church. We can trust his testimony.
Paul was asked to remember the poor, which he said he was eager to do. Likewise—we are called to minister to the poor.
Paul confronted Peter and challenged him to act "consistently" with the truth of the gospel. Are we in step with the gospel? Like the "circumcision faction," do we raise barriers that run contrary to the good news message? Are we inviting everyone to live by faith? Are we living by faith?
Paul argues that we are justified "by faith." Our problem today is not circumcision or trying to keep all of the Old Testament commandments. Instead, we base our acceptance before God on other criteria: being a "good Christian," attending church, being a moral person, giving to charity, acts of devotion, Bible reading, observing certain behaviors that are in keeping with "our" people (whoever they are)...even when those things are good things, they are not the basis of our acceptance before God. We are declared righteous on the basis of what Jesus has done, and by placing our faith in him.
Paul writes that Jesus "gave himself up" to redeem Paul. Christ did something for us. This is called substitution. Jesus took the biggest bullet ever fired for us—and he did so to save us from sin, evil, and death. Substitution means more than this, but it does not mean less. The response? Gratitude.
Paul says he "lives by faith" in the Son of God. We, too, should live by faith. Give every day to God, and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.
Next week? I’m teaching Galatians 3 this Sunday. I might write about it for Friday.
I picked up and finished Eugene Peterson’s The Hallelujah Banquet: How the End of What We Were Reveals Who We Can Be. It is a collection of sermons from Revelation. There’s some quotes in there I’ll mine out, and use. For example:
The only way genuine, authentic, and deep praise is ever accomplished is by embracing what’s real. By accepting whatever takes place and living through it as thoroughly as we are able in faith. For in these moments, in these passages, we become human. We grow up into the fullness of our humanity and into the depths of Christ’s salvation that is being worked out among us.
We learn to praise through an encounter with reality, and ground floor of reality is God. In our passage through this life, there are highs and lows. We are in an in-between, waiting on redemption’s fullness. Somewhere, in our sufferings, is God, who identifies with us, and with whom we identify, through the cross of Christ. God does not always deliver us from our sufferings, but he certainly delivers us through them.
I also finished a book by Os Guinness that is forthcoming called The Great Quest.
Sights and Sounds
I’m back to a heavy rotation of Spoon blasting through my headphones.
I went to see The Batman. The pace is too slow, but Batman’s character arc is great. The Riddler, also, is downright despicable and deranged, and I hated him. And at the end, we have a hero.
I also watched Ghostbusters: Afterlife. I thought that movie was just right. I loved the sounds, the nostalgia, and Phoebe. It was great.
On the blog: I shared Neal Stephenson’s thoughts on being a bad correspondent and how that helps him do more of what people want from his work as a writer, a link to a devotional I wrote for First Methodist Killeen, and an expansion on Bernard of Clairvaux’s opening found in On Loving God.
Before I go, standard copy.
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Be well this week. Bless others.
P.S. - See those people in black? They’re swinging sword and shield.