Tuesday, 8 March 2016
…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Galatians 2:16
Paul’s words here, probably spoken to Peter as correction, are also as direct and obvious on the surface as they could be. Even though they are spoken to Peter, they are to be used as doctrine and for correction. They develop the very basis of justification by faith and they clearly show that deeds of the law can do nothing to either bring about salvation or keep one saved. And yet, these words are completely ignored by legalists, heretics, and false Christians. It is as if Paul’s words have no meaning at all to them.
And this is exactly why Paul is so often maligned. Theories about the corruption of his letters at an early point in history are spoken of as fact in order to negate the authoritative nature of what he says. In calling into question the reliability of the letters of Paul which we now possess, the only choice one then has is to throw them out of one’s theology and to fall back on a reliance of the law.
But this approach demonstrates a rather incompetent “god” who cannot even secure his word enough to bring it to us in a manner which shows us what is expected of us. If Paul’s words are suspect, then all of the other books of the Bible are too. Such conspiracies are destructive and are put forth by legalists and nut jobs. Ignore such perverse people entirely!
In this verse, Paul begins with “…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law.” These words are based on his introductory thought that said, “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles.” In other words, he is speaking to Peter, in the presence of the other Jews who had removed themselves from the Gentiles. They (meaning these believing Jews) already knew this point. They had received Christ’s justification by grace, when they believed in Him and what He had done.
They had grown up under the law and yet Christ had come. If they could be justified under the law, then there would have been no need for Christ at all! However, He did come. Because He did, then there must have been a reason for it. And the reason is perfectly obvious – no man is (or ever could be) justified by the works of the law because no man can meet the expectations of the law. The law only brings a consciousness of sin, and the law only brings condemnation because of that sin which it reveals. Christ needed to come and fulfill the law for us. In so doing, we are justified “by faith in Jesus Christ.”
It is faith in what Christ did, and faith alone, which justifies a man in God’s sight. The Jews Paul is speaking to found this out. They placed their faith in Christ and they received the Spirit of promise. Those who did not place their faith in Him did not receive the Spirit. The obvious truth then is that only those who trust in Christ, and in Him alone, will be saved. They had done nothing to deserve this state of justification except to believe in Him.
As Paul says, this applies to “even we have believed in Christ Jesus.” Those who hadn’t believed did not receive. Nothing could be clearer. Not only are Paul’s words here not corrupted by a later source, they are merely an obvious explanation of what occurred in the book of Acts. Rather than being corrupted words of a Gentile-led conspiracy, they simply reveal what the historical record of Acts clearly and poignantly shows.
The account in Acts (which Paul is recalling to the mind of Peter and the other Jews now) shows that when they “believed in Christ Jesus,” it was so that they “might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law.” All of the Jews in Acts fall into one of two categories: 1) Those who had trusted in Christ, believing that He was the fulfillment of the prophetic utterances of their people, or 2) Those who had rejected Christ.
For the first category, they received the Spirit without having done anything according to the law during the process. In fact, the Spirit came at Pentecost, many months before the annual Day of Atonement. And yet, despite not having that year’s sins atoned for, they were granted the Holy Spirit. Those in the second category had rejected Christ, continued to pursue the law, and did not receive the Spirit. They were not justified in God’s sight.
And the reason for both of these categories is that “by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Anyone who is shown this logical and obvious verse given by Paul and then rejects what it shows is self-deluded. It reveals exactly what Acts reveals and it was spoken to the very person who in Acts 2 was a participant in the reception of the Spirit. He then spoke under the influence of the Spirit to the rest of the Jews who had not yet believed. Those who then did received the Spirit. Those who did not did not receive Him.
Paul is calling this incident to mind for Peter to remember and to rely on. And he is doing so in order that they wouldn’t become a stumbling block to the Gentiles who never had the law in the first place. There is one truth in Christ – we are saved by grace through faith and not through any works of the law. They are entirely excluded. Why can’t people see this and simply accept it at face value?
Life application: Why is it so important to be able to refute people who say we cannot eat pork or that we must observe a Sabbath Day in order to be pleasing to God? The reason is that if we do those things in order to be pleasing to Him, then we can never be pleasing to Him. Only by faith in what He has done through Christ can we ever hope to please our heavenly Father.
Lord God, I place my trust in Christ alone. Amen.