Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.
Barnabas was the first Christian in Jerusalem to recognize the hand of God on Saul’s life. Joseph Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36). He became one of Saul’s closest friends and most important coworkers.
But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.
(a) Liberty is one of the many blessings we enjoy as a result of being in union with Christ. See entry for Philemon 1:6.
(b) In Christ Jesus. All of God’s blessings are experienced in union with Jesus. See entry for Union.
and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
The grace that had been given to me. Although Paul was an educated Pharisee, it was the grace of God that qualified and empowered him to be a gospel herald and a minister of the new covenant (1 Cor. 3:10, 15:10). “I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace” (Eph. 3:7). You are not qualified or disqualified on account of your pedigree or education; you are qualified by the Lord and empowered by his grace.
They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.
(a) Remember the poor. Some give to the poor out of duty while others give because they believe God will reward them with mansions in heaven. But giving to the poor for these sorts of reasons accomplishes nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). We remember the poor because when it comes to the gospel, they are the low-hanging fruit.
When Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), he was saying the poor are closest to salvation. It’s harder for the rich to enter the kingdom because their comforts and concerns numb them to matters of eternal significance. Jesus said he had been anointed to preach good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). It’s not that he had anything against the rich, it’s just that the poor are more receptive to the gospel of grace.
(b) The very thing I also was eager to do. Paul was prepared to become all things to all people and travel the known world to win souls for the Lord. And he was eager to remember the poor because he knew that the poor were a good investment.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.
(a) When Cephas came to Antioch. Cephas, or Simon Peter to use the name that Jesus gave him (John 1:42), visited the church in Antioch. Perhaps he came in response to Barnabas’s glowing report (Acts 11:23). The church in Antioch was thriving under the grace of God and many people were turning to the Lord. Barnabas and Paul were teaching “great numbers” of people (Acts 11:26), and Jews and Gentiles were fellowshipping together.
Peter came from Jerusalem to see these things for himself and he liked what he saw. Even though he was a Jew, he was happy to join in and eat with the Gentiles. But it didn’t last.
(b) Certain men from James makes it sound as if the men were representing James, the leader of the Jerusalem church. But Paul clarifies that these men belonged to “the party of the circumcision” which James famously opposed (Acts 15:24). They came to Antioch to push law on the young church.
(c) He began to withdraw and hold himself aloof. When the legalists from Jerusalem arrived, Peter withdrew from the Gentiles in fear. He went and sat with the Jews. Peter’s behavior was so astonishing and Paul’s subsequent rebuke was so confronting that some of the Church Fathers had trouble believing that this was the same Peter who preached boldly on the Day of Pentecost.
Peter had a revelation that Christ died for all people, both Jews and Gentiles. He even had a vision where God told him it was okay to eat food that the Jews dismissed as unclean (Acts 10:9–28). As he allowed the heart of Christ to be revealed in his own life, Peter began to accept Gentiles even to the point of eating with them. But when the law-lovers showed up, he drew back in fear.
Sadly, Peter’s fall from grace is not uncommon. A believer gets a taste of grace and is set free from the endless demands of DIY religion. But soon a preacher of law tells them that they need to balance grace with other things. They need to become holy, they need to pray more, they need to evangelize and attend every meeting. “Jesus died for you, what will you do for him?” The believer faces a crisis of faith. Will they stand firm on grace or will they withdraw like Peter?
(d) He stood condemned. Because the legalists were more confident of their self-righteousness than he was of his righteousness in Christ Jesus, Peter’s conscience began to condemn him. Doubts began to creep in, and instead of bringing these doubts to the Lord, he caved.
The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
(a) Hypocrisy. They believed one way but acted another. Peter and the Jewish Christians knew that it was okay to eat with Gentiles, but when the law-lovers showed up, they acted like it wasn’t.
(b) Even Barnabas. Did Paul weep when he wrote these words? Barnabas was his best friend. It was Barnabas who had brought him out of obscurity and preached alongside him in Antioch. Yet even Barnabas, the preacher of grace, turned tail when the law-lovers showed up.
These defections give us pause. If Peter and Barnabas can be intimidated out of grace, anyone can. We need to pay attention to what we have heard and what we are hearing, so that we do not drift from grace and wander from our first love.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
(a) Not straightforward. Peter and the other hypocrites were no longer walking in the truth of the gospel. They had turned to another gospel, which was no gospel at all.
(b) I said to Cephas. Because Peter’s hypocrisy inspired others to turn from grace, Paul opposed him publicly. It was a pivotal moment for the young church. The stakes could not have been higher. On the one side were the legalists, who were no doubt thrilled that Peter and Barnabas had joined them. But opposing them was the lone apostle of grace, and this is what he said:
(c) “If you, being a Jew…” Paul exposed Peter’s double-standard by saying, “First you embrace the Gentiles, then you shun them. You shared a table with them, now you won’t. You can’t have it both ways. Make up your mind.”
“We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;
Having exposed Peter’s hypocrisy, Paul cut to the heart of the matter by discussing righteousness. “If anyone has reason to have confidence in their own righteousness, it is God’s chosen people, the Jews, rather than sinful Gentiles.”
“Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
(a) Justified. To be justified, is to be made right with God. See entry for Justification.
(b) Not justified by the works of the Law. We are not justified or made righteous through our behavior, but by faith in Christ who gives us his righteousness. This claim was central to Paul’s gospel (see entry for Rom. 3:20).
(c) The Law; see entry for Gal. 2:19.
(d) Through faith in Christ. A better translation is the faith of Christ. We are justified and declared righteous because Jesus was faithful.
In the new covenant, God takes the lead and we respond. We love because he first loved us, and we believe because Christ first believed in us. He is our supplier of faith, hope, and love. See also Gal. 2:20.
(e) No flesh will be justified. No one will be counted righteous through their law-keeping, because no one can keep the law perfectly.
“But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!
In Christ: All the blessings and promises of God are experienced in Christ.
(a) We are alive to God and have eternal life in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11, 23). The grace and kindness of God are found in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:4, Eph. 2:7) and his forgiveness is found in Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:32). There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1), we are justified in Christ (Gal. 2:17), and our salvation is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:10). Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). We have freedom and are sanctified in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2, Gal. 2:4). We are seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6). The peace, faith and love of God are found in Christ Jesus (Php. 4:7, 1 Tim. 1:14). In Christ we are brand new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). We are complete in Christ (Col. 1:28) and blessed with every blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3). All the glory goes to God because it is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:30). See entry for Union.
(b) If we ourselves have also been found sinners. We all struggle with sin and temptation so how can we say we have been justified by Christ? If Christ makes us right, why do we still do wrong? These are the questions Paul had to deal with when dealing with the law-preachers.
(c) A minister of sin? If we who are seeking to be justified by faith occasionally sin, does that make Christ a minister of sin? Of course not. Just as grace is not a license to sin, Christ is not a minister of sin. Jesus is the author of faith, not sin; he is the giver of life, not death.
From time to time, we will stumble in sin. What do we do next? Do we turn to the law in a futile quest to make ourselves righteous, or do we trust in the One who justifies sinners? This is the question Paul answers in the next verse.
“For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
(a) If I rebuild what I have once destroyed is a reference to the old covenant system of justification by law. Paul knew from painful experience that relying on the law only empowered sin and left him wretched (Rom. 7:24).
(b) I prove myself to be a transgressor. Since sin derives its power from the law, relying on the law merely reveals that one is a sinner. Worse, trusting in the law is like saying Jesus died for nothing, that his sacrifice is inferior to your own (see Gal. 2:21). It’s like saying, “God, your grace is insufficient, you cannot be trusted, and I can save myself.”
“For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.
(a) The Law refers to the Law of Moses, the commandments, ordinances, punishments, and ceremonial observances given to the nation of Israel through Moses (Jos. 8:31, John 1:17). This law is sometimes referred to as the law of commandments (Eph. 2:15) or the law of the Jews (Acts 25:8). See entry for The Law.
(b) I died. We who died with Christ have died to any relationship we might have had with the law (Rom. 7:6).
“I have been crucified with Christ; and 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 up for me
(a) I have been crucified with Christ. Many Christians are trying to crucify the flesh or their old self, but the good news declares, “You died.” The sinful person you used to be was crucified with Christ, and no longer lives. You are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).
This is just about the most important thing that happened to you, yet many Christians are ignorant of it. They do not know that when they were baptized or placed into Jesus, his history became their history. His death and resurrection are your death and resurrection. What does this mean? It means you no longer have to reform the old man (he’s dead). It means you no longer have a sinful nature (also dead). It means you are hidden in Christ who is your life (he’s lives!). See entry for Rom. 6:2.
(b) With Christ. What a wonderful affirmation of our unbreakable union with the Lord. The believer has been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:8, Col. 2:20, 3:3), been raised and made alive with Christ (Rom. 6:8, Eph. 2:5, Col. 3:1), is heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17), is clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27), and now reigns with Christ (Eph. 2:6, 2 Tim. 2:12). Truly the believer is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). See entry for Union.
(c) Christ lives in me. Here are two great truths that will set you free from sin: One, you died with Christ; two, Christ lives in you (2 Tim. 2:11). You have been raised to new life and given a brand new nature. You are not a sinner but a saint because Jesus makes you so.
Christianity is not a religion characterized by rules and rituals. Nor is it a philosophy that seeks to answer the question, “What would Jesus do?” Christianity is Christ living in you.
(d) In the flesh. In this body.
(e) I live by faith in the Son of God. A better translation may be the faith of the Son of God. We who have been justified by the faith of Jesus Christ (Gal 2:16) now live by the faith of Jesus Christ (Gal 2:20).
We were justified and declared righteous because Jesus was faithful (Gal. 2:16) and we continue to live in Christ because he remains faithful. It is his love and faith that enable us to love and trust him.
(f) Who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Cold religion alludes to a cold love from distant deity, but the gospel of grace reveals that God loves you personally. He “loved me and gave himself for me”. The cross is the proof.
Further reading: “What happened to me at the cross?”
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
(a) I do not nullify the grace of God. We nullify, set aside, or frustrate the grace of God in our lives whenever we rely on our own abilities instead of trusting in the Lord. This is what happened to Galatians. They had heard the gospel of grace and put their faith in Jesus. But then they heard another message, one which led them to rely on their own understanding and effort. They didn’t lose their salvation, but they set aside grace. Instead of allowing Christ to live his life through them, they cut themselves off (Gal. 5:4).
(b) The grace of God refers to the goodwill, lovingkindness, and favor of God that is freely given to us so that we may partake in his divine life. See entry for The Grace of God.
(c) If righteousness comes through the Law. The law is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:12), but no one was ever made righteous by keeping it (see entry for Rom. 3:20).
(d) The Law; see entry for Gal. 2:19.
(e) Then Christ died needlessly. If you think you can do anything to improve your standing with God, you are effectively saying “Christ died for nothing.”
From verses 15 to 21, Paul has been telling the Galatians what he said to Peter. In the next chapter, we will hear what Paul has to say to the Galatians.
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- Galatians 2:1
- Galatians 2:4
- Galatians 2:9
- Galatians 2:10
- Galatians 2:11-12
- Galatians 2:13
- Galatians 2:14
- Galatians 2:15
- Galatians 2:16
- Galatians 2:17
- Galatians 2:18
- Galatians 2:19
- Galatians 2:20
- Galatians 2:21