Galatians 2:11-21 ESV
“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
This passage involves Paul confronting Peter (Cephas) for acting one way around the Gentiles, and another way around the Jewish leaders. But to truly appreciate the claim Paul makes in Galatians 2:20 (“I have been crucified with Christ”), first consider the symbol of the cross in Jesus’ day. An excruciating, shameful death by crucifixion was reserved for society’s worst criminal offenders. So why would Paul choose to align himself with the cross? The Gospel flips everything on its head. Not until his conversion did Paul really see what the cross stood for. Only God could turn a horrible death on the cross into something beautiful. On the cross, Jesus exchanged the punishment we deserved for his grace— a gift so profound and so complete that nothing could be added to it.
So Paul couldn’t understand why the church leaders would want to make symbols of righteousness through Jewish law requirements for salvation. He stood firm in his belief: either salvation was through faith alone or it wasn’t (v.15)! For the believer, works are not a prerequisite for salvation; rather, they are a response to salvation. Paul’s identity with Christ’s crucifixion symbolized the reality that Jesus removed the stain of his sin once and for all, and brought life, grace, and freedom to this former persecutor of the church. His letter to the Galatians reinforces the completeness of this transformation to convince them that nothing needed to be added to their faith to assure their salvation.
With Jesus, the entire concept of “the cross” was changed to the point that Paul would “boast… in the cross of… Christ” (6:14). He would never belittle the cross by adding elements of the Jewish law to it—elements that fell short of true righteousness before God. Christianity centers on complete change—a change in our status before God, in our view of the present world, and even in the way we think about the cross. Paul emphasized that Christ’s one sacrifice covers all of our sin completely; we need not add even one more thing to that sacrifice to somehow earn more favor with God.
I think the reminder that we are saved through faith and faith alone is so needed. It can be easy for us to fall into the rhythm of making sure we get all of these boxes checked each week— so much that we end up feeling burnt out, or even begin to find less joy in those things. I want to reiterate this: works ARE NOT a prerequisite for salvation, but they are rather a response to the gift of salvation. Over-booking our schedule not only burns us out, it can also have many other implications in our personal life and those around us.
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for all that you have provided for us. Thank you for sending Your Son to die on the cross so that we may live through You. Please help us to continue to seek You out in all aspects of our lives, so that all we do is centered around glorifying You. In Your Heavenly name I pray, Amen.
Author: Justin Artymenko