Galatians 2:15-18 KJV (NIV link below)
15We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
16Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
17But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
18For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
Shifting Focus of Grace
Paul’s main point for chapter two can be found here. The question with which Galatians is primarily concerned is the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the early Church. There’s a bit of subtlety here and if we read to quickly we’ll miss it. Paul declares that, formerly, he was a Jew “by birth.” The covenant established with Israel at the time of Moses was not a covenant of righteousness achieved by works. It was a covenant by grace. He was a Jew “by birth” and not by any act he had performed. This was not earned; he did not deserve a favored status. Nevertheless, there were some in the Galatian church (and elsewhere) who were trying to take this covenant of Grace and add works to it. This group correctly understood that the covenant had changed in its scope because of Christ; grace had expanded and the gentiles could now be included. And so, this group, whom are sometimes called “Judaizers,” sought to understand the old revelation of the covenant in light of this new revelation found in Jesus by maintaining the same relationship they had previously had with the gentiles. According to the covenant, those within the covenant are considered righteous; those outside are sinners. In order to avoid being counted as a sinner, the Judaizers argued that one must keep to the old signs of the covenant, particularly circumcision. This was an outward expression that marked people as part of a special covenant relationship with God. The mistake was, however, that they confused the outward sign with the inward reality. As Moses declared in Deuteronomy: it is a circumcision of the heart that matters, the inward commitment. The justification of the righteous, or circumcision of the heart, is found not by any work of the law, but is now in Christ alone.
This is Grace: we needed to be made just and righteous. Since no human on earth is righteous, we needed God to meet us and transform us in our sin toward righteousness. Previously, Israel had been able to meet God in the law (see my Valentine’s post for more on this). Now, in Christ, God came and met us in a single person, Jesus who is the Christ. It is no longer by the law that God is near, but by his incarnation in Jesus. The intermediary has been removed and we have a direct connection with God.
Paul then relays the objection the Judaizers had. If we no longer meet God in the law, and if our justification is apart from the law, then does that mean that sin doesn’t matter, that Jesus encourages sinful behavior? No! exclaims Paul. Sin is incredibly devastating. It required Christ to die in our place. That’s how damaging sin is. To ignore that sacrifice, though, and put hope only in the law is to set God himself aside. That is why we don’t go back to the law, but to Christ alone.
What do you think? Add your thoughts or ask questions. If you need help getting started, here are some things to think about: Do you sometimes feel like you need to do something to make yourself more acceptable to God? Does knowing that Christ is completely sufficient for our freedom take some of the stress off of you? What does understanding the severity of sin, along with the all surpassing grace of God in Christ mean to you?