I love the book of Galatians and never cease to marvel at the depth of God’s love expressed in the book. Paul is in top form as he unloads on the “false teachers” who have invaded the churches of Galatia to confuse and bind them to the Torah, the laws of Moses.
These false teachers are not denying that a sinner is justified by faith, but they believe there is more to salvation than simply believing in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf. They probably spoke to the Galatians something like this:
“You know Paul is a great guy, but he is no Peter or James. The gospel he is preaching is good as far as it goes but he’s not giving you the full picture. We are the sons of Abraham, the chosen race that the Messiah is coming to save. We are happy for you Gentiles that you have heard what you have but now you need to enter into the meat of the gospel. You need to be like us, circumcised, accepted under the Law of Moses and then you can be a complete believer.”
Since we don’t know what they actually told the Galatians at least my poetic license may be fairly close to the truth of what they said and taught. So, here is a story in Galatians that may help us understand what exactly Paul was teaching and how it impacted those around him.
Galatians 2:11-21 tells the story of Peter eating with the Gentiles, but when certain Jews (false teachers) showed up he reverted to his old ways of not eating with Gentiles. And it was not only Paul but also Barnabas and some other Jewish Christian converts reverted back to the clean and unclean laws. A little background will help here.
The Jews believed themselves a separate people and through their rituals and rites they outwardly expressed their separation from the people around them. They had a great number of rules concerning clean and unclean. If you touched a dead body or mildew you could be considered unclean until purified. They only ate clean meats and had rules that pertained to their clothing. Since the Gentiles never bothered with these rituals, the Jews soon began to look down their noses at Gentiles and felt they were unclean spiritually as well as unclean in their habits.
But God had given Peter a vision that the Gentiles were not unclean but were to be evangelized. This is the famous vision of the unclean foods being lowered down to Peter on a blanket as recorded in Acts. As a result, ever since Peter had been fellowshipping with Gentile converts and eating with them. But, when legalistic Jewish Christians arrived Peter shrank back into his old ways of racism.
Now this is what I want us to pay attention to. Peter’s problem is the same that many of us Christians have to this very day—we don’t really understand the Gospel. Here is what I mean by that. The Gospel teaches that we are saved by grace and when we accept that we are saved. The result is we live our lives under the Law of Christ from then on. We allow the love of God to flow into our hearts and fill us with joy, assurance, peace, comfort and love for each other. There is no rule to make us do this it is simply the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Romans 5:5 says, “and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”
The way, unfortunately, many Christians view their experience is much different and that included the “false teachers.” They believed the same as Paul, that you are saved by grace, BUT they added you must obey all God has to say and then, and only then will you be saved.
Many of you are shaking your heads and saying I don’t believe that, and of course you don’t, but you probably live like you believe it. Are you ever nervous about your salvation, wonder if you are good enough, or if you will ever get your sinful habits under your thumb? Do you sometimes wonder if God could possibly love you enough to save you? That all comes from believing Jesus died for your sins but there is more to being a Christian “than just that.” If you believed you were saved by grace without works of any kind wouldn’t that lead to cheap grace?
Skip down to Galatians 2 verse 20 for a moment. “I have been crucified with Christ; 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.” Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ,” so what does that mean?
The moment you believe you are crucified with Christ and that means that through Jesus you actually hung on Calvary’s cross. You died on that cross. When God the Father looks at you He sees a person who has been to Calvary through His Son. That is the unity you have with Jesus. That is why we must be born again. It is because we died with Christ.
Paul, in his writings, also says that he was “raised with Christ,” and that means God accepted us because of Jesus and we are assured our place in salvation. Are not these amazing and wonderful thoughts? When God sees you and me He sees us as crucified in Christ and raised in Christ through His sacrifice at Calvary and acknowledges the Son’s redeeming claim on us. The Father looks at us as “sons and daughters” of the Kingdom.
Now, back to Galatians. Paul says to Peter why are you drawing back from these Gentiles just because of these legalists. “Yet we know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we 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 shall no one be justified.” (2:16)
We are saved by God’s grace, and that is both Jews and Gentiles. No works are involved so it isn’t faith plus works equals acceptance. The Father accepts us through our faith in Christ who died as our great substitutionary redeemer.
In light of all this Paul asks Peter, “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you though a Jew live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like a Jew?” Galatians 2:14
Paul is saying Peter (Cephas) you know that you and the Gentiles are all saved by grace so why are you resorting to Old Covenant ritual in light of that Gospel of grace? There is no more clean and unclean because God Himself revealed that to you on the rooftop. Jesus makes all things clean through the cleansing power of the Gospel so why hang onto those Jewish laws that have no power or meaning for a Christian?
Listen; if we believe that Justification by faith is salvation then our show of obedience and the result is we have a good shot at salvation we get ourselves in the same theological mess as Peter. If we understand that when we accept Christ we are declared clean and there is nothing we can do to add one iota to that redemption then the simple response is to live in harmony with the love of God that washes over us in redemption.
When you accept Christ your redemption is assured. I am sure Peter understood that better than any of us ever will, but he fell back into legalism with ease. We must ever be on the watch for those things in our lives that drive us back to feeling we need to do more, be better, act better, overcome more in order to make God love us more. He can never love us more than He already does and it is impossible for His love to ever cease. We are loved and that is that.
* Please take the time to read some of the stories of Christians who are experiencing persecution for their total commitment to Christ. They need our support and prayers.. http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…