Paul is writing to a group of churches that he’d planted but which had drifted away from the pure Gospel, after some Jewish Christians came and told them they needed to follow Jewish Law to be saved. The Jewish Christians were using their Jerusalem connections as leverage to influence the Galatians. So, Paul tells the Galatians about the time he met with the Apostles and Jerusalem Council, and later had to confront Peter over the Gentile controversy. He is re-establishing his authority as an Apostle and the authenticity of his message, so the Galatians will be receptive to the teaching that follows in the rest of the letter.
Paul Presents Himself and His Message to Jerusalem Council
After another revelation from the Lord, Paul goes to Jerusalem to meet Peter, James, John and the Jerusalem Council. All this happened nearly 18 years after Paul had been converted on the road to Damascus. He came to submit his message to them for scrutiny, even though he was fully confident of what he was teaching. He came because God told him to, and out of respect for them as the original disciples, not because he had doubts or because he was in awe of the council,. It was not easy for Paul to present himself to the council, so it took a revelation of God to get him to go. As one who gave 110% to everything he did, the Damascus experience had been devastating to his ego and self-confidence. Now, after nearly 18 years of dedicated service, God was asking him put it all on the table again. No wonder he felt a little concerned. Had he got things wrong again? How relieved he must have felt when they vindicated his Gospel and upheld his stand on circumcision for the Gentiles. They officially commissioned him saying that God had called him to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, while Peter was called to take the Gospel to the Jews.
In chapter 2, Paul continues to re-establish his credentials with the Galatians, and to show that these false teachers did not reflect the position of the Apostles or the Jerusalem Council. He wanted them to see that his ministry and message was legitimate and had been fully endorsed by Peter and the Church leaders of Jerusalem.
Paul confronts Peter hypocrisy over the Gentiles.
Paul now moves forward in time to events that happened at Antioch (mission base and more after 70AD) where he had to contend with the Apostle Peter’s inconsistency over the Gentile controversy. (Many of the Jerusalem Christians seemed to think that the Gospel was only for Jews and those who were willing to become Jews. I suspect that many of them somehow thought that it was their job to reach all the Jews in Judah and the world (Diaspora), but that the Gentiles would only be welcome if they became Jewish Christians.)
Paul knew that Peter had been given a special revelation from God about the Gentiles many years ago through a vision (see Act 9: 32–10: 1–48). Then some men came to take him to see a Centurion called Cornelius. When Cornelius (a Gentile) and his household believed and received the Holy Spirit, Peter understood what his vision was about – the Gospel was not just for the Jews.
So, when he saw Peter contradicting his own vision because of the intimidation and pressures of certain Jewish Christians, Paul rebuked him publicly. He said, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews.” Peters own revelation and experience showed him that God was doing a lot of things differently, and that Law and many of its practices had been fulfilled by CHRIST. This was a transition time when the Church was trying to establish what being a Christian meant in the light of having Jewish roots.
Then he reminds Peter, “We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; NEVERTHELESS, knowing that a person is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus (and all that He did), EVEN WE have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law, SINCE by the works of the Law shall no flesh (Jew or Gentile) be justified. As Paul discusses his confrontation with Peter it is clear that he is using this to introduce the teaching that follows in the rest of the letter. He is setting the scene for chapter 3 when he goes on the offensive and calls the Galatians back to the pure and unadulterated Gospel that they first believed.
Finally, Paul makes two important statements as he shows the implications of Christ for the Law.
He says in Gal 2:19-20, “For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.”
When we put our faith in Christ, His death under the Law becomes our death, and His life after the resurrection becomes our life. We are released from the Laws power (it doesn’t apply to dead people) and given the Holy Spirit so we have the power to live for God. The Law can only condemn but IN CHRIST we no longer have to fear condemnation.
Paul also says in Gal 2:21, “…for if righteousness comes through the Law (works), then Christ died needlessly.”
In other words, when we think we need to do works to become right with God, we are implying that all that Christ did was pointless – we don’t need Him. But, how do you know you have done enough, and what about the sins you have already committed? Surely, our good works cannot undo or reverse the bad. Our dilemma is solved when we see that Christ fulfilled the Law (including our obligations to it) by dying in our place (substitute).
IN CHRIST, we are no longer under the Laws jurisdiction, because we have been crucified with Christ. But, that doesn’t mean we can sin with impunity. Rather, we have been redeemed (bought back) by God and given a new life that involves walking with God. CHRIST is the ONLY KEY that reconciles us to God. We need to believe, and live accordingly.
1. Is there a place for the Law (10 commandments) for the Christian? Note that the 2 greatest commandments are positive statements about love. The 10 commandments help to define them by stating 10 negative things that will break them.
2. What does it mean to you “to live for God.”?
3. Paul had to confront the Apostle Peter about hypocrisy. Why is it so difficult to confront people over things – even important things? Do you have an experience to share?