COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 18
Gal 2:15 “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Gal 2:15-16)
PAUL’S CONFRONTATION OF PETER, #3
This text is a continuation Paul’s words to Peter. They confirm the seriousness of outward conduct being out of harmony with the message of the Gospel. We are living in a time when this kind of thing is hardly known. There is far too much explanation for, and tolerance of aberrant, or deviate and anomalistic behavior within the church. Unlike the approach of Paul to Peter, flawed living is approached as though correcting it was a kind of project to be spread over a rather lengthy period of time. This is a totally false concept, and constitutes a flagrant contradiction of the nature of salvation. Ponder the domination of certain people prior to belief of the Gospel. Those on the day of Pentecost took the Lord’s Christ and put Him to death (Acts 2:23). Later Peter told some people in the Temple they had “denied the Holy One and the Just,” and even “killed the Prince of life” (Acts 3:15). Some years later, Stephen told the Jewish council they were the “betrayers and murderers” of “the Just One” (Acts 7:52). At a later time, Paul himself told Jews in Antioch of Pisidia that “though they found no cause of death in Him, yet desired they Pilate that He should be slain” (Acts 13:28). When it comes to deviate moral conduct, the killing of Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression. It indicated a bondage to sin that is staggering to consider. Hardness of heart was at its pinnacle. How could they recover from such bondage? How lengthy would be the process required to recover from that state? It all happened instantly, when there is a call upon the name of the Lord at the belief of the Gospel. Regeneration corrects flawed behavior, else it can in no be called regeneration, or a new birth. Either all things become new or they do not – and if they do not, there has been no new creation (2 Cor 5:17). Justification by faith is more that an idea. It is something so real that conduct that is in contradiction of it must be ceased immediately. If God can create the worlds in six days, how can a new creation be spread over years, or even decades? All of that is wrapped up in this text, and accounts for the severity with which Paul addressed Peter, doing so to his face, and before the brethren that were there. There can really be no tolerance of conduct that belies the Gospel.
WE KNOW A MAN IS NOT JUSTIFIED BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW
Gal 2:15 “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16a knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law . . .”
WE WHO ARE JEWS BY NATURE. Verse sixteen is a continuation of verse fifteen, being separated by a comma (a semi colon in the NASB). The NIV also makes verses fifteen and sixteen a single sentence: “We who are Jews by nature . . . know that.” This is not a mere doctrinal statement, but represents the reasoning Paul presented to Peter. More modern versions, namely the Good New Bible, and New Living Translation, place a period after verse fifteen, making it a sentence of itself. This, as I understand it, is not a correct representation.
The reference here is not to Jews in general, but to Jews that have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. The knowledge that is here declared is not characteristic of Jews in worldwide, but of those who are in Christ Jesus. In the immediate context, it would be the Jewish brethren that were present at the meeting of reference. In general, it would be true of all believing Jews.
KNOWING. Other versions read, “nevertheless knowing,” NASB “yet we know,” NRSV “Yet who know,” RSV “being conscious,” BBE “even so, we have come to realize,” CJB “but knowing,” DOUAY “and yet we Jewish Christians know very well,” LIVING, and “because we know.” WILLIAMS
Here the appeal is to what is known of salvation itself – and every jot and tittle of that knowledge has been procured by revelation. No preaching or teaching concerning the procurement of salvation is based upon human reasoning. It is all based upon revelation. It is as though Paul was saying, “We Jews who have believed know what the Lord has said concerning salvation, and we have understood and embraced it.
Right here it is important to note that salvation involves an economy of knowledge, as compared to one of feeling, emotion, or intuition. The knowledge of reference is not academic knowledge. That is knowledge acquired by training, and is primarily theoretical, not yet translated into living. The knowing of this text is experiential knowledge – knowledge that has been put to practical tests and has been proven true in the experience of life. It is not just factual knowledge, but a very real understanding that is based upon revealed and established facts.
This is an area in which human wisdom cannot traffic. Apostolic doctrine often appeals to what believers have come to know, or comprehend. “We know” is associated with profound realities. For example: “that the law is spiritual” (Rom 7:14), “that the whole creation groaneth” (Rom 8:22), “that all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28), “that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building” (2 Cor 5:1), “that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18), “that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2), “that we have passed from death unto life” (1 John 3:14), and “that whosoever is born of God sinneth not” (1 John 5:18). These are all depictions of understanding, discernment, and comprehension. This is the kind of knowledge that includes confidence, assurance, and holy acquaintance.
A MAN IS NOT JUSTIFIED BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW. Other versions read, “by observing the Law,” NIV “ on the ground of his legalistic observance of Torah commands,” CJB “on the principle of works of law,” DARBY “their own efforts to live according to a set of standards,” GWN practicing the law,” NJB “obeying the law,” NLT “the deeds of the law,” PNT”following law.” IE
The issue here is being “justified,” or “made righteous” (Rom 5:19) in the sight of God. This does not speak of a mere change of God’s attitude, but of a fundamental change in the individual – a change that causes them to be “acceptable” to (Eph 1:6), and “received” by Christ to the glory of God (Rom 15:7).
Law – any law – cannot work an essential change in the basic makeup of man. It cannot alter the heart, or bring the strength required to fulfill its mandate. Men CANNOT be made different by what they do. The very use of terms like “born again,” “regeneration,” and “new creation” confirm that the change has been wrought by someone other than ourselves. “The works of the law” refer to what men do – not what God does. In the case of the Law, God gave the law, but it was man who did it. In the case of salvation, it is God who did it, and man who receives it. That is why salvation is effective – because of Divine involvements.
There is no example in the book of Acts where justification is said to have been appropriated by means of a Law, a rule, or a procedure. Categorically we are told, “by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified” (Rom 3:20). If this is true of the Law given by God, you may be sure it is true of any law or procedure created by men. No person can be made acceptable to God by a work outlined by law – any law. If people say they have been made different, or are closer to God, because of some routine or habit they have adopted, they have simply not told the truth – even though they may have convinced themselves, or have been convinced by some other person, that what they say is right.
The believing Jews knew that the Law was a yoke they were unable to bear (Acts 15:10), and that if they were going to be saved, it would be “through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:11). This knowledge is what made Peter’s action unacceptable.
JUSTIFICATION IS BY THE FAITH OF CHRIST
2:16b “ . . . , but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ . . .”
Paul not only tells Peter the means through which we are NOT justified, but quickly defines the means through which we ARE justified. This was not a new view for Peter, but was something that believing Jews knew. That is why they had originally fled to Jesus for refuge.
BY THE FAITH OF JESUS CHRIST. Other versions read, “faith in Christ,” NKJV “through the Messiah Yeshua's trusting faithfulness,” CJB “believing in Jesus Christ,” GWN “faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” NET “through faith and [absolute] reliance on and adherence to and trust in Jesus Christ,” AMPLIFIED “committing oneself to Jesus Christ,” IE “simply trust in Christ,” WILLIAMS and “personal faith in Jesus Christ.” MESSAGE Versions reading “of Jesus Christ,” DARBY/DOUAY/GENEVA/PNT/RWB/TNT/YLT/MONTGOMERY
The various versions have introduced some confusion on a most critical matter: how men are justified. At least three differing views are seen in the versions. (1) The faith is the one that has its origin by Christ, and is given to us. (2) The faith is what we have in Christ Jesus. (3) The faith refers to the faithfulness of Jesus Himself.
Here, we must take into account the doctrine of faith that is made known in Scripture. First, the whole of salvation, including faith, is “by grace through faith” – that is, it is “the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). Second, the grace of God was “exceeding abundant with faith” (1 Tim 1:14). Third, faith “came” to us (Gal 3:23,25; Rom 10:17). Fourth, faith is “obtained” (2 Pet 1:1). Fifth, we believe “through grace” (Acts 18:27). Sixth, it was “given” to us to believe (Phil 1:29). Seventh, Jesus is the “Author” of our faith (Heb 12:2). Eighth, it is “by” Jesus that we “believe in God” (1 Pet 1:21). Ninth, faith is said to come “from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 6:23). Tenth. Faith is said to have been “delivered” (Jude 1:3). Eleventh, the “door of faith” is something that is opened by the Lord (Acts 14:27).
It is not possible that a statement of Scripture can contradict the doctrine of Scripture. The faith that justifies does, in fact “come” to us from God, and we are said to have “obtained” it, believing through grace, being given to believe through Jesus Christ. And how could it possibly be otherwise? Precisely what natural aptitude does man have that enables him to be convinced of things unseen, and to hope for what is not apparent to any earthly senses? And, if such a thing is possible, what is the difference between being persuaded of heathen mythology and the truth of God. The truth of the matter is that we really have nothing we have not received (1 Cor 4:7) – and that includes our faith, which we are categorically said to have “obtained.”
Technically, faith itself is not the cause of justification, but the means through which it is appropriated. Faith itself is nowhere said to itself justify. It is rather written that God “justifieth the ungodly” (Rom 4:5), and “It is God that justifieth” (Rom 8:33). The means through which God justifies is the faith that comes from Christ, and thus is obtained by men. Although multitudes do not see it, the appointed means of obtaining benefits from God cannot be something having its genesis with man himself. That which is born of flesh “is flesh” – and faith is not of the flesh. Both what is received, and the appointed means through which it is received, come from the Lord. That is why it is written, “all things are of God, who hath reconciled us unto Himself” (2 Cor 5:18). And again, “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom 11:36).
THAT WE MIGHT BE JUSTIFIED. Other versions read, “in order to be justified,” RSV “so that we might get righteousness by faith,” BBE “in order that we might be declared righteous,” CJB “in order to receive God’s approval,” GWN “so as to be reckoned upright,” NJB and “so that we might be set right with God.” MESSAGE
This, then, is the fundamental consideration – how God sees us; as being righteous or unrighteous. Until this matter is settled, nothing else is worthy of extended thought. And on this subject, human opinion is utterly worthless. Justification, together with the appointed means through which it is appropriated is something to be comprehended. It is also something around which human conduct is to be shaped. No person is right, or can possibly be right, who lives as though this was a secondary consideration, or not a consideration at all. Knowing that one is justified is the basis for assurance and confidence. It is the source of boldness and the stimulus for perseverance. If a person does not know he is justified, he is shut up to an erratic life – and that is sure to conclude in a falling away. Further, the faith that justifies is the same faith that “the power of God” employs to keep us (1 Pet 1:5).
The reason for this unusually strong word by Paul is that Peter had acted out of consideration for what men thought, not with a due regard for the Lord Himself. Further, the Galatians had done the same thing – except on a larger and more extended scale. When they gave their ear to another gospel, and chose to live by law instead of by faith, they were not thinking of being justified by God, but of pleasing men. The relevance of the case with Peter is that if inconsideration was out of place for him, it certainly was inappropriate for the Galatians.
NO ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW
2:16c ", and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."
The reaffirmation of this truth underscores how difficult it is for men to receive it. More profound than this is the consideration that unacceptable human behavior has a direct bearing on the ability of men to comprehend the truth. Those who imagine that what they do has no impact on how they think, or their capacity to embrace the truth, have only confirmed the reality of what I have just said. The Christian community is plagued with direct teachings and implications that lead men to believe their conduct and their capacity to please God are not inextricably tied together. When a person does not live up to the truth that he knows, his capacity to receive the truth is diminished, for the dominance of fleshly considerations makes the things of God appear foolish. That required capacity to love and receive the truth can only be renewed by faith. Because faith “cometh by hearing,” Paul restates what had been momentarily obscured.
WORKS OF THE LAW. This phrase is mentioned three times in this verse: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” The phrase is mentioned three more times in Galatians (3:2,5,10). It is also mentioned in Romans 9:22. It is imperative that we have a proper view of this phrase. It equates to the expression “deeds of the law,” which is mentioned in Romans 3:20,28).
The “works of the law” are what is done independently of faith, yet seemingly toward God. These are “works” that are not done because a person has faith, or because they have believed. These are done out of a sense of obligation – like paying your taxes, or observing the speed limit. This depicts a life that is being lived according to a rule book or requirements, rather than out of a sense of trust in, and in preference for, the will of the Lord.
The Law provided excellent reasons for keeping it: i.e. “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Ex 19:6), and “then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is mine” (Ex 19:5). An additional incentive was given: “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee” (Deut 28:15). In Israel we have a classic demonstration of the impotence of flesh – even religious flesh. Although those were two most excellent reasons for keeping the Law perfectly, Israel did not do it. You see, “the Law was weak through the flesh” (Rom 8:3). It required more than the flesh could give. That is why the scribes, Pharisees, and elders concocted traditions that modified the Law, thereby making human attempts equal to achieving the will of God.
What is true of God’s holy Law is true of all law – in every attempt to regulate human conduct by rules, allowing for imagined and gradual development of righteousness by human effort. All such rules are designed to accomplish moral mastery by habits and patterned conduct. However, such an approach cannot change man’s nature (Col 2:20-23). It cannot confer the power that is resident in the Gospel, or produce faith, by which men must live. The “works of the Law” place the matter wholly in the hands of men. Their acceptance by God depends completely on what they can do within the confines of nature, or “the flesh.”
SHALL NO FLESH BE JUSTIFIED. The mandate has come down from heaven, and cannot be effectively contradicted. God will not make a person acceptable because they have done this or that – even if it is supposedly obeying His commandments. If a person is not convinced that what Jesus has accomplished is a thorough and effective basis for Divine acceptance, nothing pertaining to salvation will be realized. If that persuasion is present, God will give the person faith, which always obtains the victory, always pleases God, and is always obedient. Having enabled the individual to believe, God now has a just basis for personal acceptance, direction, and sanctification. None of these things can be realized by mere efforts to do what is required.
The Jewish believers were apparently appeased and satisfied with Peter’s conduct – but God was not. They may have thought that his action was right, and could be justified, but that was not at all the way in which the Savior viewed it. In Peter’s case, there was an effort to do what was right in the sight of his Jewish peers. However, this was not sufficient to please God, for it misrepresented the effectiveness of the Gospel. Remember, those Jews based their reasoning on the Law. We are not speaking of those who shape their lives according to standards that are purely human. The fact, for example, that a person who has successfully stopped being a drunkard, outlines the procedure by which he accomplished this feat is far beneath “the works of the Law.” Yet, the religious woods are filled with men who are peddling such approaches to marriage, the home, finances, and even health – all in the name of the Lord. But these cannot make a man righteous in God’s eyes, or compel Divine acceptance, which is everything!