Justification: The Foundation of Christian Unity
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. Galatians 2:16
Where does one begin after last week’s post on this subject. The following in Galatians is not the easiest of passages to understand. It is difficult to see where Paul’s rebuke of Peter ends and his exhortation against the church in general begins. Perhaps it doesn’t and his rebuke of Peter is also a rebuke for the church at large.
Another reason so many people find Galatians 2:14-21 difficult to understand is they fail to see how this passage applies to them. Still others are tempted to approach them as a discussion of how a person is justified – by faith rather than works.
But, this is not what Paul is saying. He is not speaking to how an individual is saved even though what he says certainly informs our understanding of justification by faith. Rather he is addressing a social issue between Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s statements on justification arise out of his reflection on the defense of the Gentile’s entrance into the church, not out of his reflection on the question of how personal guilt is alleviated. The context is a social setting. The specific point Paul wants to make in that context is that God’s favorable judgment in Christ means by its very nature that Gentiles are included in the Christian community on no different terms than Jews. Both belong at the same table. To put it in a negative term, treating Gentiles as second-class citizens by withdrawing from the common meals rests upon a form of justification by works (that is circumcision and the keeping of other Jewish customs) and thus a “form of justification by works and thus a denial of the gospel. What Peter fails to recognize at Antilock is that Jews can be justified only together with Gentiles.” If anything, more than faith is required, then Christ died in vain (verse 21).
This issue raised is a serious one. The roots of it go back to the meeting between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles in verse 1-10 which in effect had implied that “the Jews would go on living like Jews, observing circumcision and the law, but that the Gentiles were free from these observances. Obviously, the matter couldn’t continue, because it would eventuate in two quite different mutually exclusive forms of Christianity. The issue came to a head when Peter removed himself from table fellowship with Gentiles in verses 11-13. With that all-important context in mind, we can begin to unpack the logic of verses 14-21 step by step.
We will begin to unpack this logic in our next post.