A. Paul presents to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem the gospel of grace revealed to him by Jesus.
1. (1-2) Paul’s later trip to Jerusalem.
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain.
a. Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem: In Galatians 1:18-19, Paul described a trip he made to Jerusalem three years after Jesus met him on the road to Damascus. Now, he describes a second trip to Jerusalem, fourteen years later.
i. Remember Paul’s point from Galatians 1. He demonstrated that his gospel came by a revelation from Jesus, not from man, not even from the apostles in Jerusalem. Two visits to Jerusalem over 14 years shows that Paul did not sit at the feet of the disciples of Jesus to learn the gospel.
b. With Barnabas, and also took Titus with me: Traveling with Paul to Jerusalem were both Barnabas (who was well respected among the leadership in Jerusalem according to Acts 4:36-37 and 11:22) and Titus (a Gentile convert).
i. Titus was a remarkable man and associate of the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 2:13, Paul refers to Titus my brother, and says how he had no peace when Titus was absent. 2 Corinthians 7:6 says how Paul was comforted . . . by the coming of Titus. 2 Corinthians 8:6 shows how Paul trusted Titus to receive a collection from the Corinthians. 2 Corinthians 8:16 says that Titus had the same earnest care that filled the heart of Paul. In 2 Corinthians 8:23, Paul says If anyone inquires about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. In 2 Corinthians 12:18, Paul speaks again of Titus, and how he shares Paul’s heart: Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps? In Titus 1:4, Paul calls Titus a true son in our common faith. Paul loved and trusted Titus, and regarded him as a valuable associate.
b. And I went up by revelation: The idea is that Paul went to Jerusalem by the express direction of God. He did not go because any man called him to come; it was because God told him to go.
c. And communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles: This trip to Jerusalem is most likely the one mentioned in Acts 11:27-30, when Paul brought a gift from Christians in other cities to the Christians in Jerusalem, who suffered under famine. When Paul was in Jerusalem at this time, he assured the leaders in Jerusalem that he was obedient to God in his presentation of the gospel to the Gentiles.
i. At this time, there was a contention rising over the place of Gentiles in the church. God used Peter to welcome Gentiles in the church in Acts 10. But some Christians from a Jewish background said that Gentiles could indeed be saved, if the made themselves Jews first, and brought themselves under the law of Moses. Their idea was that salvation in Jesus was only for the Jewish people, and Gentiles had to become Jews before they could become Christians.
ii. “The believing Jews, however, could not get it through their heads that circumcision was not necessary for salvation. They were encouraged in their wrong attitude by the false apostles. The result was that the people were up in arms against Paul and his doctrine.” (Luther)
iii. Knowing this contention was present, the leaders of the church in Jerusalem wanted to know what Paul taught, and when he visited Jerusalem it was the perfect time to tell them, so Paul communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles.
d. But privately to those who were of reputation: Paul knew he had the true gospel; but he didn’t know how everyone of reputation in Jerusalem would receive it. Perhaps some of the apostles themselves were wrong on this point, and needed to be corrected! But if there was any confrontation to be done, Paul did it privately to those who were of reputation. He did the best he could to not publicly embarrass those who were of reputation in Jerusalem.
i. What love and sensitivity on Paul’s part! It would have been easy for him to say, “I’m right and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong, and I can’t wait to get in their face publicly.” But he didn’t. He knew that being right didn’t give you the privilege of being rude.
e. What made Paul fear that he might run, or had run, in vain? It probably wasn’t the fear that he himself would fall away. Probably it was the fear that an unnecessary conflict with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem leaders might damage his reputation and ministry in some way. Also, the danger was that false teachers – if encouraged in some way by the leaders in Jerusalem – might undo Paul’s work in planting churches and raising disciples for Jesus, and would make his work in vain.
2. (3-5) The issue over the circumcision of Titus.
Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
a. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: Paul’s point is that the leadership in Jerusalem accepted Titus, a Gentile convert, even though he was not circumcised in accord with the Mosaic law. This shows that the Jerusalem leadership accepted Paul’s gospel of grace.
i. Why would anyone compel someone like Titus to be circumcised? Why was it even an issue? Because circumcision – the cutting away of the male foreskin - was the sign of initiation into the Jewish faith and the Mosaic covenant. If a Gentile man wanted to become a Jew, he would have to be circumcised as an adult. Jewish men were circumcised as babies. Since all Jewish men were circumcised, and most all Gentile men were not, it was an easy way to refer to “those part of the covenant” and to “those outside of the covenant of Moses.”
ii. “Of course, if any man was going to live a life in obedience to the law he must start by being circumcised.” (Morris)
iii. “Paul did not condemn circumcision as if it were a sin to receive it. But he insisted, and the conference upheld him, that circumcision had no bearing upon salvation and was therefore not to be forced upon the Gentiles.” (Luther)
b. Yet, the lack of circumcision in Titus became an issue because of false brethren who attempted to bring Paul and other Christians into bondage.
i. It is significant that Paul calls these men false brethren. That’s a heavy title! Of course, they did not think of themselves as false brethren. They thought of themselves as true brethren. But because they opposed and contradicted the gospel revealed to Paul by Jesus Christ, they really were false brethren, according to the standard of Galatians 1:6-9).
ii. It is significant that Paul says these men secretly brought in and came in by stealth. They did not come in with name badges that said, “False Brother.” They did not come in with a purpose statement that said, “We have come to spy out your liberty in Jesus, and to bring you into bondage.” These men probably had the best of intentions, but they were still dangerous men who had to be confronted!
iii. Stott on secretly brought in: “This may mean either that they had no business to be in the church fellowship at all, or that they had gate-crashed the private conference with the apostles.”
iv. It is significant that Paul says these men might bring us into bondage. For Paul, this wasn’t just an issue between the false brethren and Gentiles. It might be easy for Paul to say, “This doesn’t affect me. After all, I am a Jew and have been circumcised under the law of Moses. I’ll let Titus or other Gentiles deal with this problem, because these false brethren have a problem with them, not me.” Paul realized that if the message of the gospel was compromised, it wasn’t just bondage for the Gentiles, but bondage for everyone who named the name of Jesus.
c. In response, Paul remained steadfast: we did not yield submission even for an hour. Some might react this way out of pride or just plain stubbornness. But Paul did it so that the truth of the gospel might continue with you (the Gentile Christians like those in Galatia).
i. But make no mistake. Because the issue was so important, Paul was stubborn. Martin Luther later expressed the same heart: “Wherefore, God assisting me, my forehead shall be more hard than all men’s foreheads. Here I take upon me this title . . . “I give place to none.” Yea, I am glad even with all my heart, in this point to seem rebellious and obstinate. And here I confess that I am and ever will be stout and stern, and will not give one place to any creature.”
ii. “If they had asked for it on the plea of brotherly love, Paul would not have denied them. But because they demanded it on the ground that it was necessary for salvation, Paul defied them, and prevailed. Titus was not circumcised.” (Luther)
iii. “The passage is grammatically difficult . . . Clearly Paul was deeply moved when he wrote this and was not greatly concerned with the niceties of grammar.” (Morris)
3. (6) Paul summarizes his point: his gospel or apostolic credentials did not depend on any sort of approval or influence from men, even influential men.
But from those who seemed to be something; whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man; for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me.
a. But from those who seemed to be something: Paul knew that in his day, there were leaders of high reputation – “famous” Christians, if you will. But they did not overly impress or intimidate Paul; whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man.
b. Even though Paul met with influential and “famous” Christians a few times, they did not give him the gospel he preached. He could say, those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. The leaders in Jerusalem added nothing to the gospel Paul preached or the apostolic authority he possessed.
i. Paul didn’t wait for someone else to make him a great Christian. He knew that it came down to a personal relationship between himself and Jesus. This isn’t to say that Paul received nothing from others, or that no one else could ever bless him. But his Christian life was not built upon what other people did for him.
ii. “Paul’s words are neither a denial of, nor a mark of disrespect for, their apostolic authority. He is simply indicating that, although he accepts their office as apostles, he is not overawed by their person as it was being inflated (by the false teachers).” (Stott)
4. (7-10) The leaders of the church in Jerusalem approved Paul’s gospel.
But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
a. When they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me: The leaders of the Jerusalem church (James, the brother of Jesus; Cephas, also known as Peter, and John) accepted Paul and his ministry to the Gentiles. They approved Paul’s ministry, knowing that Paul did not require the Gentiles to come under the Mosaic Law to find favor with God.
b. The gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter: Paul’s main ministry was to Gentiles, and Peter’s main ministry was to Jews. These distinctions were not absolute; each did minister to the other groups.
i. “For the partition was not one that fixed hard and fast boundaries that they must not pass, like those of kingdoms, principalities, and provinces.” (Calvin)
ii. Yet, the distinction is interesting, especially because Roman Catholics claim that the Pope is the successor of Peter – but where is his ministry to the Jews? “But if Peter’s apostleship pertained peculiarly to the Jews, let the Romanists ask by what right they derive from him their succession to the primacy. If the Pope of Rome claims the primacy because he is Peter’s successor, he ought to exercise it over the Jews. Paul is here declared to be the chief apostle of the Gentiles; yet they deny that he was the bishop of Rome. Therefore, if the Pope would enter into the possession of his primacy, let him assemble Churches from the Jews.” (Calvin)
c. “When he says that they seemed to be pillars he is not speaking contemptuously but quoting the general opinion and arguing from this that their acts ought not to be lightly set aside.” (Calvin)
d. The only caution from the leaders in Jerusalem was that Paul should remember the poor. In this case, probably the poor saints in Jerusalem, whom Gentile believers should not forget.
i. Paul certainly did remember the poor in Jerusalem; he put a lot of effort towards gathering a contribution among the Gentile churches for the sake of the saints in Jerusalem.
B. The setting of Paul’s confrontation with Peter regarding the acceptance of the Gentiles.
1. (11-13) The reason for Paul’s public rebuke of the apostle Peter.
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
a. Peter had approved of Paul’s gospel and ministry when Paul came to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9); and God used Peter himself to welcome Gentiles into Christianity without the precondition of becoming Jews (Acts 11:1-18).
b. He withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision: Though Peter had been in agreement with welcoming Gentiles into the church without bringing them under the Law of Moses, when Peter came to Antioch (Paul’s home church), it was another story. He refused to associate with Gentile Christians once certain Jewish believers from Jerusalem came.
i. These men were Christians of Jewish background – Paul calls them certain men . . . from James and those who were of the circumcision – and Peter knew they would be “offended” at his fellowship with Gentiles who had not come under the Law of Moses. In their eyes, these uncircumcised Gentiles were not really Christians at all, so to please them and avoid a conflict, Peter treated these Gentile Christians as if they were not Christians at all.
ii. Peter had known that God did not require Gentiles to come under the Law of Moses for salvation. He learned this from the vision God gave him in Acts 10:23. He learned this from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles who believed (apart from being circumcised!) in Acts 10:44-48. He learned this by the agreement of the other leaders of the church in Acts 11:1-18. Now, Peter turns back on all that he had known about the place of Gentiles in the church, and he treats uncircumcised Gentiles as if they are not saved at all.
iii. “He seems to have taken this action shamefacedly. As Bishop Lightfoot says, ‘the words describe forcibly the cautious withdrawal of a timid person who shrinks from observation.’” (Stott)
iv. “It is perhaps curious that nobody seems to have recalled that Jesus ate ‘with publicans and sinners’, which can scarcely mean that he conformed to strict Jewish practice.” (Morris)
v. Sadly, others will follow Peter’s lead. “The sins of teachers are the teachers of sins.” (Trapp)
c. The matter was so serious that Paul boldly withstood Peter to his face, because he was to be blamed. Paul had a public confrontation with Peter over this issue (I said to Peter before the all, Galatians 2:14).
i. This was also serious because it involved the issue of eating together. Before the certain men came from James, Peter would eat with the Gentiles. But once they came, Peter withdrew and separated himself. This separation was probably at the church potluck dinner, which they called “the agape banquet” or the “love feast.” They would also remember the Lord’s death at this dinner, and take communion together. Therefore, Peter put these Gentile Christians away from the communion table!
ii. “It may be that the observance of holy communion was involved in this, for it seems that often in the early church it was celebrated at a meal shared by all the believers. If this was the case at Antioch, there would have been a division of believers at the table of the Lord.” (Morris)
iii. “Paul had no small matter in hand, but the chief article of the Christian religion. When this article is endangered, we must not hesitate to resist Peter, or an angel from heaven.” (Luther)
iv. “Paul not hearing this from the report of others, but being an eye-witness to it, doth not defer the reproof, lest the scandal should grow: nor doth he reprove him privately, because the offence was public, and such a plaster would not have fitted the sore.” (Poole)
d. Why did Peter do this, when he knew that God welcomed Gentiles into the church without placing them under the Law of Moses? Paul says Peter was fearing those who were of the circumcision. Peter acted against what he knew was right out of fear. “Peter perhaps felt that if the members of the embassy went back and told the Jerusalem church that he was eating with Gentiles it would compromise his position with the leading church.” (Morris)
i. It is easy to criticize Peter; but every person knows what it means to do something you know is wrong. Everyone knows what it feels like to go against what you know very well is right. Everyone knows what it feels like when social pressure pushes you towards compromise in some way.
ii. “Their withdrawal from table-fellowship with Gentile believers was not prompted by any theological principle, but by craven fear of a small pressure group . . . He still believed the gospel, but he failed to practise it.” (Stott)
iii. This is the kind of behavior that dominated Peter’s life before he was transformed by the power of God. This is like Peter telling Jesus not to go to the cross, or Peter taking his eyes of Jesus and sinking, or like Peter cutting off the ear of the servant of the High Priest when they came to arrest Jesus. We see that the flesh is still present in Peter. Salvation and the filling of the Holy Spirit has not made Peter perfect; the old Peter is still there, just seen less often!
iv. We might be surprised that Peter, who did know better, did this; but we are only surprised if we don’t believe what God says about the weakness and corruption of our flesh. Paul himself knew this struggle, as he describes it in Romans 7:18: For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
v. “No man’s standing is so secure that he may not fall. If Peter fell, I may fall. If he rose again, I may rise again. We have the same gifts that they had, the same Christ, the same baptism and the same Gospel, the same forgiveness of sins.” (Luther)
e. We don’t know what it was about these certain men from James that made Peter afraid. Perhaps they were men of very strong personality. Perhaps they were men of great prestige and influence. Perhaps they made threats of one kind or another. Whatever it was, the desire to cater to these legalistic Jewish Christians was so strong that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. When these men from James came, even Barnabas treated the Gentile Christians as if they were not Christians at all!
i. This is amazing. Barnabas was Paul’s trusted friend and associate. Barnabas stood beside Paul when he first met the apostles (Acts 9:27). Barnabas sought out Paul and brought him to Antioch to help with the ministry there (Acts 11:25). Acts 11:24 says of Barnabas, he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. Yet, Barnabas fails at this critical test also.
ii. “The defection of Barnabas was of a far more serious nature with regard to Gentile freedom than the vacillation of Peter . . . Barnabas, the foremost champion of Gentile liberty next to Paul, had become a turncoat.” (Wuest)
iii. “It is not impossible that this incident, by producing a temporary feeling of distrust, may have prepared the way for the dissension between Paul and Barnabas which shortly afterwards led to their separation: Acts 15:39.” (Lightfoot)
f. The rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him: It was bigger than just Peter and Barnabas! Peter first made the compromise of acting as if the Gentile Christians were not Christians at all. Then Barnabas followed him. Then the rest of the Jews at the church in Antioch followed Peter and Barnabas.
i. This shows what a heavy responsibility it is to be a leader. When we go astray, others will often follow. Satan knew that if he could make Peter take the wrong path, so would many others.
g. Played the hypocrite . . . carried away with their hypocrisy: How was this hypocrisy? The word hypocrite, in the original language of the Bible, means “one who puts on a mask,” referring to an actor. In this case, Peter, Barnabas, and the rest of the Jewish Christians in Antioch knew that these Gentile believers were really Christians. Yet, because of the pressure from the certain men from James, they acted like they were not Christians at all.
i. But there was more to it than this. Peter withdrew and separated himself from Gentile believers, when before he would eat with the Gentiles. In fact, he used to eat with them often. iii. Stott writes about the phrase he would eat with Gentiles: “The imperfect tense of the verb shows that this had been his regular practice. ‘He . . . was in the habit of eating his meals with the gentiles’ (JBP).”
ii. But now Peter refused to eat with Gentile believers! When a Jew refused to eat with a Gentile, he did this in obedience to Jewish rituals. Peter had already learned that obedience to Jewish rituals (such as keeping kosher) was not essential for salvation, for either Jews or Gentiles (Acts 10 and 11). Peter had stopped keeping these Jewish rituals for himself, but now he is acting as if he does keep them, to accommodate the legalism of the certain men from James. Peter no longer kept a strict observance of the Law of Moses for himself, but by his actions, he implies that Gentiles believers must keep the law – when he himself does not!
2. (14a) Paul confronts Peter publicly.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all.
a. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel: At the foundation, this wasn’t an issue of seating arrangements at the church potluck. It wasn’t about table manners and being a good host. It wasn’t even about being sensitive to another brother’s conscience. Paul saw the issue for what it was; it was about the truth of the gospel.
i. When the certain men from James, and Peter, and Barnabas, and the rest of the Jews of the church in Antioch would not eat with Gentile Christians, they declared those Gentiles unsaved unbelievers. They said loud and clear, “You can only be right with God if you put yourself under the demands of the Law of Moses. You must be circumcised. You must eat a kosher diet. You must observe the feasts and rituals. You must do nothing that would imply partnership with someone who is not under the Law of Moses. This is the only way to receive the salvation of Jesus.” That message made Paul say, I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel.
ii. Clarke on were not straightforward: “They did not walk with a straight step.”
iii. “Peter did not say so, but his example said quite plainly that the observance of the Law must be added to faith in Christ, if men are to be saved. From Peter’s example the Gentiles could not help but draw the conclusion that the Law was necessary unto salvation.” (Luther)
b. I said to Peter before them all: What a scene this must have been! There they are, at the church of Antioch potluck. The Gentile Christians have just been asked to leave, or are told to sit in their own section away from the “real” Christians. They also wouldn’t be allowed to share the same food that the “real” Christians ate. Peter – the honored guest – goes along with all this. Barnabas – the man who led many of the Gentiles to Jesus! – goes along with all this. The rest of the Jews in the church at Antioch go along with all this. But Paul won’t stand for it. Because this is a public affront to the Gentile Christians, and because it is a public denial of the truth of the gospel, Paul confronts Peter in a public way.
i. It must have been hard, knowing who Peter was. Peter was the most prominent of all the disciples of Jesus. Peter was the spokesman for the apostles, and probably the most prominent Christian in the whole world at the time.
ii. It must have been hard, knowing who Paul was. This was before any of Paul’s missionary journeys; before he was an apostle of great prominence. At this time, Paul was far more famous for who he was before he was a Christian – a terrible persecutor of the church – than he was for who he was as a Christian.
iii. It must have been hard, knowing who was in agreement with Peter. First, Paul had the strong, domineering personalities of the certain men from James. Then, Paul had Barnabas, who was probably his best friend. Finally, Paul had the rest of the Jews. Paul was in the minority on this issue – it was him and all the Gentile Christians against all the Jewish Christians!
iv. As hard as this was, why did Paul do it? Because he knew what was at stake. This wasn’t a matter of personal conduct, or just personal sin on Peter’s part. If that were the case, it is unlikely that Paul would have first used such a public approach. This was a matter about the truth of the gospel, proclaiming, “This is how a man is right before God.”
C. What Paul said when he publicly rebuked Peter over the issue of the acceptance of Gentile Christians.
1. (14b) Paul exposes Peter’s hypocrisy in appearing to live under the law.
“If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?”
a. If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of the Gentiles and not as the Jews: Paul first reminded Peter that he himself did not live under strict obedience to the Law of Moses. “Peter, you eat bacon and ham and lobster. You don’t keep a kosher diet. Yet now, before these visitors, these certain men . . . from James, now you act as if you keep these laws all the time.”
i. Imagine the scene! They had all been having a good time, until Paul spoils the party. He probably wasn’t shouting, but he did speak with firmness in his voice. And as he tells everyone that Peter doesn’t live under the Law of Moses, the certain men . . . from James look amazed. Their jaws drop! “What? Peter, the most prominent of all the apostles, Peter doesn’t live under the Law of Moses? Peter eats bacon and lobster? Peter eats with Gentiles?” As for Peter, his face gets red, his heart beats faster, and he just feels sick to his stomach. Everyone else just feels awkward and wishes the whole problem would go away.
ii. How was Paul? Nervous? Bold? Shaking? It’s impossible to know until we get to heaven, but Paul did not necessarily have a commanding physical presence. Others said of Paul – and it was probably at least partially true - his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible (2 Corinthians 10:10). However Paul acted, his words were memorable, because he recalls them exactly here!
b. Lightfoot on being a Jew: “Here it is very emphatic; ‘If you, born and bred a Jew, discard Jewish customs, how unreasonable to impose them on Gentiles.’”
c. Why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? Perhaps Peter and the others might say, “We’re not making them live as Jews.” But of course they were; because their message was, “Unless you live as Jews, you aren’t saved!”
2. (15-16) Paul reminds Peter that they are justified before God by the work of Jesus, not by their keeping of the law.
“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”
a. We who are Jews by nature . . . knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ: “Peter, we all grew up as observant Jews. Yet we know very well that we were not considered right before God – justified – by the works of the law that we did. We know that we, even though we grew up as observant Jews, are considered right before God by faith in Jesus Christ.”
i. Not justified by the works of the law: This is Paul’s first use of the great word dikaioo (justified, declared righteous) in his letter to the Galatians. “It is a legal concept; the person who is ‘justified’ is the one who gets the verdict in a court of law. Used in a religious sense it means the getting of a favorable verdict before God on judgment day.” (Morris)
b. Even we have believed in Christ Jesus: Paul knew that even a strictly observant Jew such as he was could never be considered right before God by what they did under the Law of Moses. Instead, he, and Peter, and every single Christian must have believed in Christ Jesus.
i. “‘Faith in Jesus Christ’, then, is not intellectual conviction only, but personal commitment. The expression in the middle of verse 16 is (literally) ‘we have believed into (eis) Christ Jesus.’ It is an act of committal, not just assenting to the fact that Jesus lived and died, but running to Him for refuge and calling on Him for mercy.” (Stott)
ii. “It would be hard to find a more forceful statement of the doctrine of justification than this. It is insisted upon by the two leading apostles (‘we know’), confirmed from their own experience (‘we have believed’), and endorsed by the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament (‘by works of the law shall no one be justified’). With this threefold guarantee we should accept the biblical doctrine of justification and not let our natural self-righteousness keep us from faith in Christ.” (Stott)
iii. “In order to have faith you must paint a true portrait of Christ. The scholastics caricature Christ into a judge and tormentor. But Christ is no law giver. He is the Life-giver. He is the Forgiver of sins. You must believe that Christ might have atoned for the sins of the world with one single drop of His blood. Instead, He shed His blood abundantly in order than He might give abundant satisfaction for our sins.” (Luther)
c. The emphasis is plain: That we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law. “Peter, we were not justified by being under the Law of Moses, but by faith in Jesus.” By refusing fellowship with Gentile Christians, Peter said in his actions that we are – in part – considered right before God by the works of the law. Paul couldn’t stand for this, because it wasn’t the truth.
d. For by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified: Here, Paul emphasizes the point in the strongest way possible. No flesh – not Gentile, not Jewish, not anyone – will be considered right before God by the works of the law.
i. Lightfoot on for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified: “The words are therefore to be regarded as a free citation of Psalm 143:2.” (For in Your sight no one living in righteous).
ii. “The scholastics explain the way of salvation in this manner. When a person happens to perform a good deed, God accepts it and as a reward for the good deed God pours charity into that person. They call it ‘charity infused.’ This charity is supposed to remain in the heart. They get wild when they are told that this quality of the heart cannot justify a person.” (Luther)
iii. Since this is true, it’s plain to see how foolish and wrong it was for Peter to separate from these Gentile Christians because they had not put themselves under the Law of Moses. Because by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified, then what difference does it make if a Gentile is circumcised according to the Law of Moses? What difference does it make if a Gentile keeps a kosher table? All that matters is their faith in Christ, because that is how we are made right before God.
3. (17-18) Paul answers the main objection against the truth that we are made right before God by faith in Jesus and not by works of the law.
“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.”
a. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Now, Paul deals with an objection that the certain men from James would raise. It’s important to remember that Paul made this statement publicly, with the concerned parties right in front of him. On one side of the room are the certain men from James, who believed that God would not accept the Gentiles unless they put themselves under the law of Moses. Peter is sitting with these men, and so is Barnabas, who is Paul’s best friend. In fact, all the Christians of Jewish background are sitting with these Christians from Jerusalem who don’t believe that the Gentiles in the church at Antioch are really saved at all. In a real-life setting like this, Paul can’t just speak his mind without answering the objections – spoken or unspoken – of those who disagree with him.
i. As the men from Jerusalem saw it, the idea that we are made right before God by faith in Jesus alone wasn’t “real” enough. After all, Christians still struggled with sin. How could they have the “accepted by God” issue settled if they still battled sin? In their thinking, this made Christ . . . a minister of sin, because Jesus’ work of making them right with God apparently didn’t make them right enough!
ii. “If God justifies bad people, what is the point of being good? Can’t we do as we like and live as we please?” (Stott)
b. Certainly not! Paul’s answer is brilliant. First, yes, we seek to be justified by Christ, and not by Jesus plus our own works. Second, yes, we ourselves also are found sinners, that is, we acknowledge that we still sin even though we stand justified by Christ. But no, this certainly does not make Jesus the author or approver of sin in our life. He is not a minister of sin.
i. “To give a short definition of a Christian: A Christian is not somebody who has no sin, but somebody against whom God no longer chalks sin, because of his faith in Christ. This doctrine brings comfort to consciences in serious trouble.” (Luther)
c. Why? For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. Paul’s answer is subtle, but brilliant. If he were to build again a way to God through keeping the Law of Moses, then he would make himself a transgressor. Essentially, Paul says “There is more sin in trying to find acceptance before God by our law-keeping than there is sin in everyday life as a Christian.”
i. These certain men from James thought they had to hang on to the Law – for themselves and for Gentiles – so there wouldn’t be so much sin. What Paul shows is that by putting themselves under the law again, they are sinning worse than ever!
ii. How is it a sin to build again a way to God through the Law of Moses? In many ways, but perhaps the greatest is that it looks at Jesus, hanging on the cross, taking the punishment we deserved, bearing the wrath of God for us, and says to Him, “That’s all very nice, but it isn’t enough. Your work on the cross won’t be good enough before God until I’m circumcised and eat kosher.” What an insult to the Son of God!
iii. Of course, this is the great tragedy of legalism. In trying to be more right with God, they end up being less right with God. This was exactly the situation of the Pharisees that opposed Jesus so much during His years of earthly ministry. Paul knew this thinking well, having been a Pharisee himself (Acts 23:6).
4. (19-20) Paul describes his permanently changed relationship to the law.
“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 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 gave Himself for me.”
a. For I through the law died to the law: Paul makes a bold statement, saying that he has died to the law. If he is dead to the law, then it is impossible for the law to be the way he stands accepted by God.
i. Notice that it isn’t the law that is dead. The law reflects, in its context, the holy heart and character of God. There was nothing wrong with the law. It isn’t the law that died, but Paul died to the law.
ii. How did Paul die to the law? I through the law died to the law. The law itself “killed” Paul. It showed him that he never could live up to the law, and fulfill its holy standard. For a long time before Paul knew Jesus, he thought God would accept him because of his law-keeping. But he came to the point where he really understood the law – understanding it in the way Jesus explained it in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) – and Paul realized that the law made him guilty before God, not justified before God. This sense of guilt before God “killed” Paul, and made him see that keeping the law wasn’t the answer.
iii. “To die to the law is to renounce it and to be freed from its dominion, so that we have no confidence in it and it does not hold us captive under the yoke of slavery.” (Calvin)
iv. The problem with the certain men with James was that they were not thinking and living as if they were dead to the law. For them, they were still alive under the law, and they believed keeping the law would make them accepted by God. Not only were they living under the law, but they wanted the Gentiles to live under the law also!
b. I through the law died to the law that I might live to God: When Paul died to the law, then he could live to God. As long as he still tried to justify himself before God, by all his law-keeping, he was dead. But when he died to the law, then he could live to God.
i. “When a person is a Christian he is above law and sin. When the Law accuses him, and sin wants to drive the wits out of him, a Christians looks to Christ. A Christian is free. He has no master except Christ. A Christian is greater than the whole world.” (Luther)
ii. “We are not to think that the Law is wiped out. It stays. It continues to operate in the wicked. But a Christian is dead to the Law. For example, Christ by His resurrection became free from the grave, and yet the grave remains. Peter was delivered from prison, yet the prison remains. The Law is abolished as far as I am concerned, when it is has driven me into the arms of Christ. Yet the Law continues to exist and to function. But it no longer exists for me.” (Luther)
iii. “Blessed is the person who knows how to use this truth in times of distress. He can talk. He can say: ‘Mr. Law, go ahead and accuse me as much as you like. I know I have committed many sins, and I continue to sin daily. But that does not bother me. You have got to shout louder, Mr. Law. I am deaf, you know. Talk as much as you like, I am dead to you. If you want to talk to me about my sins, go and talk to my flesh. Belabor that, but don’t talk to my conscience. My conscience is a lady and a queen, and has nothing to do with the likes of you, because my conscience lives to Christ under another law, a new and better law, the law of grace.’” (Luther)
c. I have been crucified with Christ: Again, Paul anticipates a question from those who disagree with him. “Paul, when did you die to the law? You like pretty alive to me!” Paul is happy to answer, “I have been crucified with Christ. You want to know when I died to the law? I died to the law when Jesus died on the cross. He died in my place on the cross, so it is like it was me up on the cross. He died, and I died to the law when He died.”
d. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me: Since we died with Christ on the cross, we have a different life. Our old life, lived under the law, is dead. Now we are alive to Jesus Christ, and Jesus is alive in us (but Christ lives in me).
i. Paul realized that on the cross, a “great exchange” occurred. He gave Jesus his old, try-to-be-right-before-God-by-the-law life, and it was crucified on the cross. Then Jesus gave Paul His life to life – Christ came to live in him. So Paul’s life isn’t his own anymore, it belongs to Jesus Christ! Paul doesn’t own his own life (that life died); he is simply “managing” the new life Jesus gave him.
ii. The life Jesus lives in us is glorious. “Christ is no sheriff. He is ‘the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world.’ (John 1:29)” (Luther)
e. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith: Paul can only “manage” the new life Jesus gave him by faith. You can’t live the new life Jesus gives on the foundation of law-keeping. You can only live it by faith.
i. When Paul says I now live in the flesh, he doesn’t mean that he lives a chronically sinful life. “By the term ‘flesh’ Paul does not understand manifest vices. Such sins he usually calls by their proper names, as adultery, fornication, etc. By ‘flesh’ Paul understands what Jesus meant in the third chapter of John, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh’. (John 3:6) ‘Flesh’ here means the whole nature of man, inclusive of reason and instincts. ‘This flesh,’ says Paul, ‘is not justified by the works of the law.’” (Luther)
ii. The point of this verse isn’t the flesh, it is faith. “Faith is not simply a topic about which Paul preached from time to time. Nor is it a virtue which he practised occasionally. It is central in all that he does.” (Morris)
iii. “Faith connects you so intimately with Christ, that He and you become as it were one person. As such you may boldly say: ‘I am now one with Christ. Therefore Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are mine.’ On the other hand, Christ may say: ‘I am that big sinner. His sins and death are mine, because he is joined to me, and I to him.’” (Luther)
f. In the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me: The faith Paul lives by is not faith in himself, faith in the law, or faith in what he can earn or deserve before God. It is faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ – who loved me and gave Himself for me!
i. Before, Paul’s relationship with God was founded on what he could do for God – his faith was in himself. Now, the foundation is what Jesus Christ has done for him – his faith is in Jesus. And Paul found a marvelous person to put his faith in! It is a person who loved him. It is a person who demonstrated that love when He gave Himself for Paul.
ii. What confidence Paul can have in giving his life to, and living His life for, someone who loves him that much! When we realize the great love God has shown for us, it makes everything in the Christian life easier.
g. Who loved me: Paul can confidently give himself to Jesus because of the love Jesus has demonstrated in the past. “It is true that he loves us now, but Paul also wrote truly, ‘Who loved me.’ The verb is in the past tense. Jesus loved me upon the cross; loved me in the manger of Bethlehem; loved me or ever the earth was. There never was a time when Jesus did not love his people.” (Spurgeon)
i. Loved . . . gave Himself: The past tense is important. William Newell, in his commentary on Romans, speaks to the importance of the past tense in the word loved. “It is this past tense gospel the devil hates . . . Let a preacher be continually saying, ‘God loves you, Christ loves you,’ and he and his congregation will by and by be losing sight of both their sinnerhood and of the substitutionary atonement of the cross, where the love of God and of Christ was once for all and supremely set forth.”
ii. “Did the Law ever love me? Did the Law ever sacrifice itself for me? Did the Law ever die for me? On the contrary, it accuses me, it frightens me, it drives me crazy. Somebody else saved me from the Law, from sin and death unto eternal life. That Somebody is the Son of God, to whom be praise and glory forever.” (Luther)
h. Gave Himself for me: “For me is very emphatic. It is not enough to regard Christ as having died for the salvation of the world; each man must claim the effect and possession of this grace for himself personally.” (Calvin)
i. “‘Loved me, gave Himself for me.’ He appropriates to himself, as Chrysostom observes, the love which belongs equally to the whole world. For Christ is indeed the personal friend of each man individually; and is as much to him, as if He had died for him alone.” (Lightfoot)
ii. “If any man might have said, ‘The Son of God, whom I have loved, and to whom I have given myself,’ it would have been the apostle . . . but here he thinks not of himself, or of what he had been led to do for the Lord, but only of what the Lord had done for him.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Take these blessed words of the apostle, and put them in your mouth, and let them lie there as wafers made with honey, till they melt into your very soul: ‘Who loved me, and gave himself for me.’” (Spurgeon)
5. (21) Paul shows why the issue of law-righteousness is so important.
“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
a. I do not set aside the grace of God: Paul concludes his public confrontation with Peter with strength. For these Jewish Christians from Jerusalem to require for themselves or anyone else to live under the law of Moses to be right with God is to set aside the grace of God - the very thing Paul does not do.
i. “To nullify grace would be to put one’s trust, not in salvation as God’s free gift, but in one’s own efforts. To do this is to reject grace altogether, and relying on one’s puny effort means that one nullifies that grace.” (Morris)
ii. “They think it noble to try to win their way to God and to heaven. But it is not noble; it is dreadfully ignoble. For, in effect, it is to deny both the nature of God and the mission of Christ. It is to refuse to let God be gracious.” (Stott)
iii. “We despise the grace of God when we observe the Law for the purpose of being justified.” (Luther)
b. This is because if righteous comes through the law, then Jesus died in vain, because you can be righteous before God by law-keeping, and you don’t need the work of Jesus to make you righteous.
i. In Jesus’ prayer in the garden (Matthew 26:39-42), He asked that if there be any other way to accomplish what stood before Him at the cross, He asked to be spared the cross. But Jesus was not spared the cross, because there is no other way to accomplish what He did.
ii. This is also the great problem with seeing the grace of God as something that helps us get to heaven, as if we put forth the best we can, and then grace supplies the rest. Never! Grace doesn’t help, it does it all. All of our righteousness comes from the work of Jesus for us.
iii. “Our opponents turn everything topsy-turvy. They make Christ over into a murderer, and Moses into a savior. Is not this horrible blasphemy?” (Luther)
iv. “What awful presumption to imagine that there is any work good enough to pacify God, when to pacify God required the invaluable price of the death and blood of His own and only Son?” (Luther)
v. “If my salvation was so difficult to accomplish that it necessitated the death of Christ, then all my works, all the righteousness of the Law, are good for nothing. How can I buy for a penny what cost a million dollars?” (Luther)
vi. “Those who intend to obtain righteousness by their own efforts do not say in so many words: ‘I am God; I am Christ.’ But it amounts to that. They usurp the divinity and office of Christ. The effect is the same as if they said, ‘I am Christ; I am a Savior. I save myself and others.’” (Luther)
c. How did this confrontation end up? We don’t know the immediate effect, other than to say that Paul obviously made a bold stand for the truth. Yet we know that over time, Peter came to his senses and took Paul’s words to heart. We know this from Acts 15:6-11, where Peter, in Jerusalem, before James and Paul and Barnabas and the other apostles, proclaimed that Gentiles did not have to come under the Law of Moses to be saved.
i. We know that Peter was already in agreement by how Paul states the case in Galatians 2:15-17: We . . . even we have believed . . . we might be justified by faith . . . we seek to be justified by Christ. Paul is calling Peter’s attention to something that Peter believes but isn’t acting according to. You may believe that Jesus saves you, and you don’t save yourself; but are you acting and thinking that you save yourself?
d. We can trust that God used this awkward encounter in Antioch for everyone’s good.
· It was good for Paul, because he stayed true and proclaimed the gospel.
· It was good for Peter, because he was corrected, and as a result became more firm in the truth than before.
· It was good for Barnabas, because he came to the correct belief on this matter.
· It was good for the men who came from James and started the whole mess, because a line was drawn at the true gospel, and they had to decide.
· It was good for the Jewish believers in Antioch, because they had the truth spelled out clearly before them.
· It was good for the Gentile believers in Antioch, because their faith and liberty in Jesus was strengthened.
· It was good for us because the truth still lives today!
e. All this good came, but only because Paul was willing to do something totally right, but uncomfortable. Peter was willing to do that too, when he admitted he was wrong. Peter and Paul were willing to sacrifice their comfort zone for what was right; are we?
© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission