Reading for Thursday, May 17: Galatians 2
I love this quote from the study notes in the Tree of Life New Covenant Bible (a NT translation by the Messianic Jewish Family Bible Project group): “In Galatians, Paul points us beyond divisions to the unity that we all share in Messiah — a unity of equal opportunity to come into relationship with God (3:28 – the same access); a unity of the same way of salvation (2:16 – through faith in God’s Messiah); and a practical unity that manifests itself in behavior (5:14 – love and self-sacrifice).” In this light, Paul is opposing those who would sow seeds of discord within the body of Christ. If we truly live in a “present evil age”, we should seek to maintain the unity of the body of Christ as we wage against the forces of darkness and evil — the “real” enemy.
Paul’s opposition to the Judaizing group — even his opposition of Peter that he describes in this chapter — is rooted in a desire to preserve the unity of the body of Christ and defend the nature of the true Gospel. Unity is always a central theme in Paul’s writing (especially Ephesians; see the “in Christ” language he employs there). But Paul clarifies what he means by “unity”. It’s not a watered down ideology that acquiesces to every opinion or position. What unifies the church is assent to a common reality: the grace of God manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church is unified in the confession of our common failings; think of Romans 3.23, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The church is unified in the confession of our common life, now found in the Triune life of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. God invites us into this life through Christ and — because this is solely HIS work — He doesn’t require our assistance to aid Him. Salvation is His work, His business. Those who are advocating circumcision in Paul’s day are elevating human works and corrupting the Gospel, creating a “different gospel” altogether. Against this position, Paul says “we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you,” (v5).
Paul wants to focus the faith-conversation not on ourselves — this is too limiting, a dead-end discussion. Instead, he directs us to the grandness of God’s faithfulness manifest through Christ Jesus. I love how N.T. Wright parses this in The Kingdom New Testament translation of Gal. 2:16: “But we know that a person is not declared ‘righteous’ by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. That is why we too believed in the Messiah, Jesus: so that we might be declared ‘righteous’ on the basis of the Messiah’s faithfulness, and not on the basis of works of the Jewish law. On that basis, you see, no creature will be declared ‘righteous’.”
It’s about Christ’s faithfulness. This is where we find our life. This is where the Law finds its fulfillment. And this is where I am declared righteous in the sight of God.
This is the Gospel.