A Note on Justification
For us to fully understand Paul’s teaching in verses 16-20 of Galatians chapter 2 we need a better grip on his view of justification. Way to often it is described in terms of a court of law that condemns people or declares them guilty but then justifies or declares them not guilty or righteous.
As good as that explanation is, it does not take in Paul’s full usage of the world. Justification, or righteousness (for they are the same word in Greek). In Jewish thought is a covenant concept. Thus, to be righteous means that a person is in the right relationship with God. In the old testament righteousness, or justification, is much more than an impersonal standard of justice; it is a personal concept. Essentially it is the fulfillment of the demands and obligations of a relationship between two persons. To be right with God, therefore is to trust in his gracious promises and to act accordingly.
That thought on the relationship aspect underlies one of Paul’s key phrases in Romans: that being “the obedience of Faith” (Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26). In short, obedience does not lead to a saving relationship with Christ, but it does flow out of it as Christ lives out His life in us (Galatians 2:20).
Therefore, “Justification” for Paul always leads to ethical living. This is the bases for the entire book of Galatians with chapters 3 and 4 highlighting justification by faith and chapters 5 and 6 focusing on the ethical outcome of saving faith. Many a person has concentrated on the distance between justification and sanctification in Paul’s writings. Yet when carefully studied in their correct light, there is no separation between the two, rather they are connected, with sanctification being the result of justification.
Yet Paul in Galatians 2:21 demonstrates that just because a close connection exists between justification by faith and ethical living by faith does not mean that we should confuse them or lump them together. For Paul “Grace” is the only way “For if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” The only reason He died is because humans could not attain righteousness by their own efforts. His substitutionary death, as Paul sees it, was an absolutely essential part of the plan of salvation.
Now that we understand, with this being so, all people – both Jew and Gentile – are justified through faith. No other way exists. As a result, there is only one fellowship table, and Peter and his associates were dead wrong in separating themselves. In doing so they undercut not only equality before God in justification but the very nature of the church itself. It then becomes a gospel until themselves and not a Gospel of the saving power of Christ.
Let us daily, thank God that we are all equal in Christ. Amen.