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. -(Galatians 2:15-21 ESV)
Baseball season is here. What we've covered in chapter two of Galatians so far has been a lot like a pitcher's windup. Although Paul has made some strong points, he's about to transition to a more direct appeal and elaborate on several of the redemptive threads he's been laying down in order to weave a powerful message of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.
In verses 15 and 16, he's continuing to denounce Peter's actions of retreating from the Gentiles in order to remain with the Jews. This is one long sentence, so let's unpack it a bit by looking at the "yet" and the "so". Even though both Paul and Peter are both Jews, Paul asserts that they both know that justification is not through works but through faith. Paul wasn't denying Judaism, rather that adherence to the totality of the Jewish law (moral, ceremonial, and judicial) was inadequate for justification. That makes "so" the hinge. So they believed in order to be justified by faith and not by lawful obedience. This was such a big deal that it was one of the rally cries of the Reformation.
Verses 18-21 bring it down to the personal level. Look at how Paul has been saying "we" up to now. By shifting to the first person, Paul can contrast his actions to Peter's. Let's jump back to verse 7 for a moment.
"On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised"
Let's stop and consider how Jewish Paul remained. We know that it was his custom to first go to the synagogue (Acts 17:2) in a town (meaning there were at least 10 Jewish men there). We know that he upheld Jewish customs when he was around Jews (1 Corinthians 9:20). So how does this match up with his statements about not being under the law, and how does it contrast with Peter's actions? Is this just some irrelevant curveball?
We know from Romans 9-11 that Paul makes an impassioned plea for the salvation of the Jews.
"Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved." (Romans 10:1)
Again, Paul is not denying his Jewish background. Elsewhere he reminds us that he is a an elite Jew (Philippians 3:4-6, Acts 22-23). However, the key difference between him and Peter here is that all of Paul's Jewish practice was for the sake of the unbelievers' consciences (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). With them, he upholds the law in order to make the gospel shine. This is what he means by dying to the law through the law in order to live to God. He knows that lawful obedience isn't going to do one bit of good toward his standing with God. Jesus took care of that. Peter, on the other hand, was acting out of a weak conscience and attemping to please men rather than God. Peter had already been direct revelation from God that he should not refuse to associate with Gentiles:
"And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean." -(Acts 10:28)
So here's Peter, having seen a magnificent vision from heaven and who was present not only when the Holy Spirit fell on the Jews but also came to the Gentiles, and he's having an unsteady conscience. That's massively important to our understanding of the contrast between the actions of Paul and Peter.
Let's not get too hard on Peter though. There are plenty of examples of his failures and generally being slow on the uptake. Let's thank God that the same patient and enduring love he had for Peter he also has for us. We know that Peter received the rebuke and repented.
"And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters."
2 Peter 3:15-16
So there's the windup. Paul is now going to give us the pitch as he brings in Old Testament covenant, Law, an adoption metaphor to show us that righteousness has ALWAYS been through faith. Don't worry if you're not familiar with some of these. We'll explain as we go so that together as a church we can walk through the Word and walk in the Spirit.