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Jerusalem supports Paul’s gospel (2:1-10)
Fourteen years after his conversion (i.e. eleven years after the visit mentioned in 1:18), Paul went to Jerusalem again, this time with Barnabas and Titus (2:1; see Acts 11:27-30). He did not go to seek the apostles’ approval, for he had no doubts about the truth and authority of the gospel he preached. Rather he met the apostles as one of equal standing with them, and explained to them his work among the Gentiles. He wanted complete understanding with them concerning the nature of the true gospel. There was not one gospel for the Jews and another for the Gentiles (2).
Judaisers had tried to force Paul to circumcise Titus, one of his Gentile converts. Paul refused and the apostles in Jerusalem supported him. They agreed that the gospel as Paul preached it was complete; additional rites from the Jewish law were not necessary (3-6). More than that, they were in full agreement with Paul and Barnabas in their work among the Gentiles. They realized that God had called them to this work, just as he had called James, Peter and John to work among the Jews (7-9).
The only request the Jerusalem leaders made was that Paul and Barnabas remember the needs of the poor Christians in Jerusalem. This was something Paul was always ready to do. In fact, he had just brought an offering to Jerusalem from the church in Syrian Antioch (10; see Acts 11:30).
Saved by faith alone (2:11-21)
Being assured of the fellowship of the Jerusalem leaders, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch (see Acts 12:25). From there they set out on their first missionary journey (see Acts 13:1-3). On returning to Antioch at the end of the journey, they came into conflict with a group of Judaisers who had come from Jerusalem. These men claimed to have the authority of James, and taught that Christians should keep the Jewish laws concerning food, circumcision and other matters. Their teaching was so persuasive that Peter, Barnabas and most of the Jews stopped eating with the Gentiles (11-13). Paul rebuked Peter publicly for his inconsistency (14).
Jews such as Paul and Peter were saved by faith in Christ, not by obedience to the law. How useless, then, to go back to something that could not save them in the first place (15-16). To put the argument another way: if Gentile Christians are wrong for not keeping the law, Jewish Christians must also be wrong for being justified apart from the law. And since Christ is the one who justifies them, he too must be wrong. Clearly, such a possibility is absurd (17). Rather, the real sin is to go back to keeping the law after being justified apart from the law (18).
The law cannot bring life; it can only condemn to death all who have broken it. Christ took this punishment for sinners by his death on the cross. When sinners turn to Jesus Christ in faith they are removed from the law’s power (for the law can have no power over those who are now ‘dead’), and given new life, the life of Christ. Having been saved by faith without the law, they now live by faith without the law (19-20). The conclusion is that if sinners can be justified by law, Christ need not have died (21).
Justification by faith
Paul often speaks of sinners being justified (GNB: put right with God). He uses the word in a legal sense, where he likens God’s act of justification to that of a judge who declares a person to be righteous, or in the right. To justify is the opposite of to condemn, which means to declare a person guilty, or in the wrong (cf. Deuteronomy 25:1; Matthew 12:37). (‘Justify’ and ‘righteous’ are different parts of the same word in the original languages of the Bible.)
Justification does not mean that God makes repentant sinners righteous in the sense that they now have some inner power that enables them to work to achieve perfection. It means that God declares them righteous. He gives them a righteousness that is not their own - a new status, a new standing, that makes them fit for the presence of a holy God (Romans 4:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Corinthians 5:21). God now sees believers as being ‘in Christ’, and accepts them not because of anything they have done, but because of what Christ has done through his death and resurrection (Romans 3:27-28; Romans 4:24-25; Philippians 3:9).
Through the work of Jesus Christ, God is able to be righteous in justifying those who have faith in him. Because Jesus bore their sin, God can now declare them righteous (Romans 3:24-26; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 2:24). God does this freely by his grace, and repentant sinners accept it by faith (Romans 3:24; Titus 2:11; Titus 3:4-7).
Faith is chiefly concerned not with knowledge but with trust. It is not simply an acceptance of certain facts, but a reliance upon Jesus Christ for all that salvation means (Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:20-21; Galatians 3:26). Faith in itself does not save. It is simply the means by which sinners accept the salvation that Christ offers. The merit lies not in faith itself, but in the object of faith. Salvation is not a reward for faith, but a gift that God offers to undeserving sinners (Romans 3:25; Romans 5:15). When people by faith accept what Christ has done for them, God declares them righteous on account of Christ and assures them that they need never again fear the condemnation of sin (Romans 8:33-34; 1 John 5:12-13; 1 John 5:12-13).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Galatians 2". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent