Do Christians have Christian laws we are supposed to follow in order to be right in God’s eyes? Can you think of any?
This is a tricky subject because Christians are called to live a certain way, so how is that different from following the Old Testament Law? We’re about to discover that this was a huge issue in the early church. Frankly, I find it to still be a big issue in our day. Many Christians are confused about our relationship to the Law. In our Deuteronomy series, I wrote about it starting here. But it is coming up again. Actually, I find that in my pastoral ministry at Faith Church, it comes up multiple times every year. Many Christians have a hard time wading through the muddy waters of law and grace. Perhaps what Paul has to say in our study of Galatians 2 can help us, as it seems the Galatian Christians, and even a top leader of the church, were just as confused.
As we saw in the previous post about Galatians chapter 2, Paul became a follower of Jesus, believing in and teaching the true story of Jesus. We learned that at one point during his ministry of traveling around the Roman Empire in the First Century, heralding the story of good news in Jesus, Paul sharply confronted the Apostle Peter.
What did Peter that had Paul so concerned? Paul says that Peter allowed himself to fall in with the Judaizers. The Judaizers are the false brothers Paul referred to in Galatians 2, verse 4. Now Paul describes them a bit more. They were people who believed that Christians still needed to follow the regulations of the Old Testament Mosaic Law, especially the practice of circumcision. This became a major issue in the early church, because when Gentiles, people who are not Jews, became Christians, believing in the Good news of Jesus and following him, those new non-Jewish Christian had never been circumcised.
Paul taught them the true gospel which is about believing in and following the way of Jesus, and which is not about following the Old Testament Law. Therefore non-Jews who became Christians didn’t need to be circumcised. Thus Paul is saying the Judaizers were wrong when they came to Peter and swayed him to their view. And Peter was wrong to be swayed.
So Paul strongly opposes Peter. Peter knew the truth of the Gospel, but he was caving – he was allowing other things to get in the way of the truth of the gospel.
We don’t struggle today with whether or not to be circumcised. It’s not a religious issue for us. What do we struggle with? What are the laws that can enslave us away from the Gospel? Over the years on this blog, I’ve talked about numerous such contemporary laws. Usually they’re unwritten laws, but they can hold power over us nonetheless. There are the classics like not working on Sundays, which can include things like washing the car, mowing the lawn or doing laundry. We’ve talked about what people should or should not wear.
But at our weekly Faith Church sermon roundtable when we discussed this sermon, I learned some new ones! Two ladies remembered that lipstick was a big deal in their day. Christians didn’t wear lipstick.And then another person said that his father-in-law was not allowed to be on his church leadership board because he smoked a pipe. These are all things which are not a part of the Goods News of Jesus, but they are conditions added by man.
What we’re talking about is Law vs. Grace. Peter was allowing himself to be swayed by the people who said that Christians needed to follow the stipulations of the Old Testament Mosaic Law, and Paul was shocked because the true gospel he taught was the story of how Jesus brought us freedom from the Law. So Paul writes the Galatian Christians because he hears they were getting swayed the same way Peter had! In other words, Paul brings up the story about the time he confronted Peter to illustrate the truth. And what is the truth?
That’s what he talks about next. We might call it a theology of grace. Look at what he says in the rest of the chapter, Galatians 2:15-21.
Paul’s focus is on God’s grace. We cannot be justified, Paul says, by following rules and laws. We are justified by God’s grace, through placing our faith in Jesus. That word justified is important. He uses it a bunch of times in verses 16-17. It means “to be made right.” We are not made right in the eyes of God by following the law. We are made right (that is, brought into a right relationship with God) by placing our faith in Christ who was right for us. This is what Paul gets at in verse 21, where he uses the word righteousness. In the Greek language Paul wrote in, this is the same root word as justify in verses 16-17. Paul is saying that we absolutely need God’s grace to be made right, to be brought into a right relationship with God. We can’t be made right on our own. If we could be made right on our own by following rules and regulations, then Christ died for nothing, Paul says. So the good news of Jesus is that though we could never be made right on our own, Jesus died and rose again, winning victory over sin, over death and over the devil, so that we can place our faith in him and be made right.
Paul is rightly concerned, therefore, that the Galatians were starting to believe a different story. They were believing the old story, the one that said you had to follow all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament Mosaic Law in order to be made right before God. Paul is saying, “No! You are free from the bondage of having to follow the Law because Jesus fulfilled the Law for you, setting you free through his life, death, and resurrection!”
That leads to a great question, the obvious question, I think. Since we have been freed in Christ, does that mean we can live however we want, do whatever we want? Check back in to our next post as we see how Paul answers that important question.