September 17, 2017

Don’t Set Aside the Grace of God

Galatians 2:11-21


When we hear Paul say “I do not nullify the grace of God,”  perhaps our first thought is who would do such a thing?!  Who after receiving the sweet and precious promises found in the gospel – enteral life, true righteousness, relationship with God, fellowship with the Holy Spirit, abundant life – who would set these things aside? And set them aside for what?  We’ll see in the passage this week that this is exactly what the apostle Peter had done.

#1 What Peter Did

12For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.  Galatians 2:12-13

In the passage from last week we saw that Peter and Paul were together in Jerusalem and that there was agreement between the two of them on the gospel and the question of whether or not Gentile converts would be required to follow the Jewish ceremonial law.   Now the setting changes from the Jewish city of Jerusalem to the Gentile city of Antioch.  When Peter first comes to town, he enjoys fellowship with the Gentile believers.  This in itself was no small step for Peter.  Remember Peter’s roof-top vision recorded in Acts 10?  It literally takes a voice from heaven  to convince him that the Jewish ceremonial law is dead.  Get up Peter; kill and eat.  He comes to understand that the Holy Spirit is poured out on all who believe — Jew and Gentile alike.

So when Peter first comes into Antioch, there is no problem.  He is eating with the Gentiles.   But suddenly he pulls back.  He separates himself.  Why?  Paul says that he is afraid of the circumcision party.  So what changed?  It’s hard to imagine that Peter’s convictions surrounding the gospel changed.  No, it wasn’t his convictions but rather his behavior.  Paul calls it hypocrisy.  When our behavior doesn’t match the convictions we say we have.  And what is worse Peter’s hypocrisy was infectious.  And why wouldn’t it be?  He is an apostle after all!  Even Barnabas, Paul’s ministry partner, is led astray.  Many Bible commentators have surmised that if this hypocrisy went unchecked, it could have led the creation of two churches – a Gentile church and Jewish church.

#2 What Paul Did

11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned….14But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with 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 force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”    Galatians 2:11,14

The “fight” we saw in the passage last week between Paul and the false brothers seems mild in comparison to this.  In his commentary on Galatians John Stott writes, “This is without doubt one of the most tense and dramatic episodes in the New Testament (The Message of Galatians, p.49).”   It is dramatic because it is not a fight between true and false brothers but between two Jesus-appointed apostles.

It’s important to see that Paul did not grumble behind Peter’s back. He didn’t go home and “go off” on those who would listen to him explaining what a tough job he has as an apostle and how it is impossible to find faithful people any more.  No, he goes right to Peter.  He opposes him to his face.  And not privately but publicly “before them all.” Paul is a pretty direct guy!

It was important for Paul to confront Peter publicly since Peter’s sin was a public sin.  Notice that Paul says his “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.”  Paul brings it back to the gospel.  He is saying in effect The gospel has implications for us in how we live our lives.  Paul holds up the truth of the gospel for Peter and shows him how his actions do not line up with the gospel.

#3 What Jesus Did

15We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet 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.

17But 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! 18For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20I 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. 21I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.   Galatians 2:15-21

On the heals of this great confrontation comes a deeply encouraging explanation of what it means to be “in Christ.”

Paul is describing our justification.  The word “justify” (dikaioo in the Greek) has a variety of uses in the New Testament but can be simply defined as “to declare righteous.”  This is a legal term that could have been used in the court system in Paul’s day.  Someone is charged with a crime and after the case is heard the judge could declare him “justified.”  That is to say he is declared “righteous” in relation to the charges brought against him.   What is the opposite of justification?  If the judge doesn’t declare the defendant justified, he would declare him “condemned.”  That is “not righteous” or “guilty.”

The question that Paul is considering in verses 15 to 21 is this “How is it that I am justified (declared righteous) before God?” By withdrawing from the Gentiles, Peter was giving credence to the false view of the Judaizers who taught that justification came through obedience to the law.

Paul is very clear on this point.  Justification (righteousness) does not come through obedience to the law!  “A person is not justified by works of the law.” “By works of the law no one will be justified.” “If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

How then is one justified?  Paul says it in verse 16 – “through faith in Jesus Christ.”  This is the good news of the gospel.  There is a righteousness available to us that comes not from the law but through faith in Christ.  If the Apostle Peter needed to be reminded that true righteousness comes from faith and not from the law, certainly we do as well!

Consider these words from Martin Luther (this is a longer quote but well worth a slow read!):

“Anyone who can judge rightly between the law and the Gospel should thank God and know that he is a true theologian.  In time of temptation, I confess that I myself do not know how to do this as I ought.  The way to discern the one from the other is to place the Gospel in heaven and the law on earth, to call the righteousness of the Gospel heavenly and the righteousness of the law earthly, and to put as much difference between the righteousness of the Gospel and of the law as God has made between heaven and earth, between light and darkness, between day and night (Commentary on Galatians, p.83).”

“When your conscience is terrified with the law and wrestles with God’s judgment, do not look to the law or reason for advice, but rest only on grace and the word of consolation.  The light of faith assures us that we are saved by Christ alone, without any law.  Thus the Gospel leads us above and beyond the light of the law and reason, into the deep secrets of faith, where the law and reason have nothing to do (Commentary on Galatians, p.82).”

What is the purpose of the law?  To show us our need for a Savior!  To show us that we will never be good enough.  Should we then discard the law altogether?  Certainly not!  The law serves as a guide for us to continue to show us our sin.  The law serves as a guide showing us how to live.  There is still a purpose for the moral law.  But we must be clear.  Righteousness will never come through the law.

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.  Galatians 2:21

Since all of this is true, Paul says I will not set aside God’s grace to follow the law.  Why would I? It would get me nowhere.  If it were possible to gain righteousness through the law, then Jesus’ death was a wasted life.  Let us not set aside the grace of God!

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe what is taking place in verses 11 to 14.  Where are they?  Who is there?  What is taking place?
  2. Why do you think it is such a big deal to Paul that Peter is separating himself from the Jews?
  3. What do we know about Peter’s motives for separating himself?  Can you relate in anyway?
  4. Paul publicly rebukes Peter.  He holds up the gospel for him and says in effect “you are not walking in step with truth of the gospel.”  Can you think of a time that you were grateful for someone’s loving confrontation of you?  What hinders you from speaking the truth in love to others as Paul does here?
  5. Discuss Paul’s view of the law as it is presented in this passage.  What can the law not do for us according to Paul?  Why is it so difficult for us to believe that righteousness does not come from the law?
  6. What do we learn about Christ and the gospel in this passage?
  7. What does Paul mean in verse 20 when he says that he is “crucified with Christ?”  What would this look like for us?
  8. In what ways are you tempted to “nullify” the grace of God?  How does this passage encourage you to not set aside God’s grace?


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