PASTOR DON'S CHRISTIAN ED NOTES
Why Religious Systems Can Never Produce a Free or Holy Life
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Sunday, November 8, 2009 -

Galatians 2:15-21 - “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; [16] yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. [17] But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! [18] For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. [19] For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. [20] It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [21] I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

Our text today is a continuation of Paul’s rebuttal to Peter for his behavior in Antioch. Peter caved in to the fear of the Judaisers who came from Jerusalem. Up to that point he had maintained fellowship and broken bread with the Gentile Christians in the Galatian church. But when these Judaisers came from Jerusalem and began to insist that Christians keep the Jewish purity laws in addition to exercising faith in Jesus Christ, Peter backed off and separated himself from the Gentile Christians. Paul’s strong point at the very end of today’s text is that this kind of behavior nullifies the grace of God in Christ (2:21).

1) THIS IS A WONDERFUL TEXT TO SHOW THE PRACTICAL IMPORTANCE OF SOUND THEOLOGY FOR SAFE CHRISTIAN LIVING - Galatians 2:15-16 - “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; [16] yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Paul says two things about himself and Peter, linking them together. First, he says they are both “....Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners”(15). And second, he says they both knew “....that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ....”(16).

(One important side note: when Paul says he and Peter are not “sinners from among the Gentiles” (15), what does he mean? He can’t mean that he and Peter are sinless, because he calls himself the “chief of sinners” in 1 Timothy 1:15. No. He means that from a Jewish perspective, both he and Peter have spent their whole lives keeping the purity laws of ethnic Judaism. They aren’t “sinners” like the Gentiles, in that sense. You’ll see why this side point is important when we come to verse 17.

But notice here the way Paul uses sound theology to deal with Peter’s failure in Antioch. Paul knows Peter understands the same things he does. That’s what verses 15 and 16 are all about. Peter knows better than he is living in Antioch. And it’s important to see how Paul deals with Peter’s failure. Peter’s fear turned him into a hypocrite in Antioch. He simply caved under the pressure of the moment. Peter’s feelings held more sway over his actions than his knowledge.

This is a common problem in all of us. What we know and what we feel are the two internal engines that drive our behavior. But Paul knows that feelings are blind guides. They need sound, Scriptural understanding to keep them in check. Remember, sound theology is the Holy Spirit’s way of keeping your life out of a mess.

2) LIVING FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST MUST OVERRIDE AND REPLACE ANY OTHER RELIGIOUS SYSTEM OF MERIT BEFORE GOD - Galatians 2:17-18 - “But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! [18] For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.”

Remember, Paul is using the word sinner in verse 17 the same way he used it in verse 15. This is “sin” from the old Jewish perspective - the “sin” of eating with the Gentile Christians. But Christ isn’t a minister of sin because eating with the Gentile sinners is not a sin. Those regulations found their completion and demolition in Christ Jesus.

These verses speak to a very contemporary issue. We minister the gospel to a world full of different religious systems and personal beliefs. How shall we proclaim it? What shall we say to people who come to Christ after they have already given their devotion to religions that have left Jesus Christ out of the picture? Paul’s answer is very clear. The commitment to Jesus Christ and His Cross must override and replace any reliance on earning merit before God through any other religious system.

3) THE REAL SIN IS NOT EATING WITH GENTILES BUT CHOOSING ANOTHER ROAD TO RIGHTEOUSNESS RATHER THAN TRUSTING IN THE CROSS OF JESUS CHRIST, GOD THE SON - Galatians 2:18-19 - “For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. [19] For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ.”

For these Judaisers it was a sin to rebuild a religious system that was only designed to prepare the world for Jesus Christ. Paul says he finally came to see this through his own experience of frustration with a Law that could never change his heart or bring peace with God (2:19). These two verses also explain why other religions, based on human accomplishment and earned righteousness, can never be pleasing to God, even when practiced diligently and sincerely.

4) SO HOW DOES ONE KNOW IF HE OR SHE IS PERSONALLY COMMITTED TO JESUS CHRIST IN A CONVERTING MANNER? - Galatians 2:20-21 - “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [21] I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

There are two important thoughts here: First, conversion only comes after an experience of personal crucifixion analogous to Christ’s own execution. And second, my new life in Christ is maintained solely by faith in Him and a deep, sustained contemplation of his love for me.