Galatians 2:15-21 Crucified with Christ
For the next few weeks I’ll be speaking on Sunday evenings and following our series in Galatians.
Incidentally, for those who really can’t sleep, the sound file for Matthew 26:57-75 is now available here.
Some weeks ago our speaker made a comment
Jesus + anything = nothing
I’ve thought about that a lot in recent weeks. Is the statement true? Surely if there is something of Jesus in it, it must be good? If we take an analogy of a meal. A meal may be very tasty, contain the right quantities of your five a day, containing a minimum amount of fat, salt and sugar. There is only one problem; poison has been poured over it. Of course a good meal + poison = poison.
The gospel is sufficient and adding anything to it is to say that the death of Jesus is not enough to save us. Jesus + anything is indeed nothing.
Five headings today;
- A new way – justified by faith
- A new community – one in Christ
- A new hope – Christ lives in me
- A new understanding – did Christ die for nothing?
- A new motivation – the Son of God loved me
A new way – justified by faith. The key words justify, law and faith are first mentioned here. Many would say that they are the key verses of the epistle. The word justify is a legal term meaning to be declared righteous. It is much more than merely being pronounced not guilty as it means that the person is not just innocent but righteous.
Faith means to place total trust in something or someone. It starts with knowledge and grows until it is something that involves investing a person’s life and destiny. The phrase in the middle of verse 16, “put our faith in Christ Jesus” means literally “put our faith into Christ Jesus” this is a personal commitment.
In verse 16 Paul repeats the same thing three times
- “a man is not justified” – general
- “So we, too, have put our faith” – Paul and Peter
- “because by observing the law no one is justified” – quoting Psalm 143:2
It is so clear that you have to wonder why we so often get it wrong. A person is made right with God through faith in Christ and in what he achieved for us on the cross. In Ephesians, Paul spells it out again
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)”
A new community – one in Christ. There is some dispute among commentators as to where in this section Paul ceases to quote his remarks to Peter and resumes instructing the Galatians directly. Paul believed Peter was “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (v14). What Peter actually did is revealed earlier in the chapter.
”Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group (v12).”
So we see that Paul’s problem is that believers are not eating together.
The Jews believed that they were the covenant people of God. They had their own food regulations and these had developed to the stage where if a Jew ate with a gentile it was considered a sin. When gentiles began to trust Christ, they were not bound by the Jewish food regulations and so for Jewish and gentile Christians to eat together there was this major obstacle. There were different classes of believer and deep divisions in the church and there are always casualties when there are divisions.
Paul will develop his arguments towards his great statement in 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The basis of fellowship is being in Christ and not obedience to the law.
There is some debate among commentators as to the nature of the sin to which Paul is referring. Some believe that he is defending justification by faith against the potential criticism that grace gives people a licence to sin. He makes this same point in Romans 6:1-23
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)
It’s a strong argument particularly since he uses the phrase “crucified with Christ” in both passages.
Other commentators argue that the Galatian believers are not involved in using grace as a licence to sin, the sin Paul identifies is that they are not eating together. A brief look through the New Testament demonstrates just how important eating together was for first century believers. The list is too long but you wouldn’t have to think for long to come up with a sizable number of significant meals in the New Testament.
Paul will not rebuild the law because the greater law of the gospel stands. Galatian Christians should be able to eat together what ever their background or status. The obvious conclusion is that eating together should be important to us. This goes back to some of the thoughts we had on home groups recently. I believe one of the groups are going out for a meal tonight for a change, I feel sure that if Paul were to comment he would be pleased. We can see how passionate he became when Christians refused to eat together.
A new hope – Christ lives in me. At the cross a mystical union has taken place. The old way of life has gone. In a sense it died with Christ on the cross and we now live this new resurrection life through him. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)” Christ lives in me this is not a matter of take it easy and Christ will do the rest. Paul makes it clear that we have a responsibility; he writes “I live by faith in the Son of God”. We have a role to play. “To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:28)”
A new understanding – did Christ die for nothing? Paul could not make things any clearer. “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (v22) The words are startling and bold. How is it that we often get it so wrong? “I need to do a, b, and c in order be acceptable to God and yet when we think that through we are saying that “Christ died for nothing,” because I can make it on my own. To look again at Christ’s prayer in the garden is to bring it all back into focus.
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
If being obedient to the law had been enough, Christ’s death would have been for nothing. There was no other way. That’s why the ultimate price was paid by Christ.
A new motivation – the Son of God loved me. These words have been precious to countless Christians through the ages. The ‘Prince of Preachers’ CH Spurgeon has said it far better than I ever could.
“Take these blessed words of the apostle, and put them in your mouth, and let them lie there as wafers made with honey, till they melt into your very soul: ‘Who loved me, and gave himself for me.’” (Spurgeon, from Enduring Word Media)
The Son of God. The eternal Word, through whom the universe was made.
Loved me. This is personal, we know that God loved the world, we know that he loves the church but that he loved me?
Gave himself. The giving involved the word becoming flesh, born into poverty laid in a manger. Enduring the small town questions of his birth. Being despised and rejected. Beaten, spat upon, whipped, mocked and nailed to a cross when all along he could have said “I’ve had enough” but he gave himself. As the Isaiah puts it
“I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6)
For me. I am valued, he did it for me. In my youth I used to sing a lovely song by Len Magee which takes up this theme
I saw on a hill in a far away land
Hanging on a tree
The form of a man with nails in His hands
Crucified for me
For me – how can it be?
I heard a sweet prayer from that far away land
From the man on the tree
‘Forgive them Father, they don’t understand’
‘Twas a prayer for me
For me – how can it be?
What is this love I see from this man?
What is this love? I don’t understand
I don’t understand
I don’t understand
I stood on a hill in a far away land
With people like the sea
And millions were crying ‘All praise to the Lamb
Who shed His blood for me’
For me – how can it be?
For me – Lord help me to see
For me – Yes even me
For me – Lord how can it be?