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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Welcome one and all to HBS.
For all those who are relatively new to our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, Paul, Barnabas, and Titus left their predominately Gentile church in Antioch to meet with the pillars of the Jewish, Christian Church, James, Peter, and John, and the elders at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-11).
Paul received a revelation from the (risen) Lord commanding him to go to Jerusalem to settle the issue of adding works to God’s faith-based gospel in order to be saved (Acts 15:1-2, 5; Galatians 2:2). There was much disagreement and discussion from both sides re: this issue. Then without being asked, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and Believe (Acts 15:7). After receiving a vision from God twice, which Peter clearly didn’t understand, God instructed him saying, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15). God showed him the vision a third time and then took it away. Peter met with the 3 men who were sent to find him from Cornelius. After receiving instructions from the Holy Spirit, Peter went to the home of this Gentile named Cornelius in Caesarea, as ordered, but against his will. It was according to God’s expressed will however. Cornelius’ prayer to God had been answered (Acts 10:30-33). Peter spoke to the household about Jesus of Nazareth from the beginning to His resurrection and while he was still speaking these Gentiles were saved and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:34-44; 15-8-9).
Once the Jerusalem Church leaders heard Peter’s testimonial about Gentiles being saved and then heard Paul was performing miracles they could not deny God was involved in his ministry amongst the Gentiles. Therefore, the pillars, and the elders, along with Paul and Barnabas were in agreement at this point, it is through God’s Grace that one is saved, and not by keeping the Law of Moses (Acts 15:10-11).
You’d think the issue would have been settled, but sometime later Judaizers from the Jerusalem Church entered the Galatian churches preaching a different gospel from which our Apostle Paul preached (1:6-7). They believed Jesus was the prophesied Messiah, they just didn’t believe in Paul’s apostleship or his gospel; that a person could be saved by faith apart from obeying the law. These men were most likely believing Pharisees from Jerusalem who obeyed the Mosaic Law. We recently learned Jewish converts didn’t abandon the Law and its customs entirely after their conversion, but we also noted the twelve did not impose the rite of circumcision on Gentiles.
The book of Acts 13-14 records Paul planting several churches that had mixed congregations. Most of these churches were made up of Gentile Believers with some Jewish converts in the mix. Based on Galatians, it’s clear Paul taught the members of these churches they did not have to keep the Mosaic Law, especially circumcision (Acts 21:21, 28; 1 Corinthians 7:18). He also taught them they did not need to obey the Jewish dietary laws or continue to adhere to those laws re: Sabbath worship. These were the “big three” for Jews living in the Diaspora, i.e. the exile of Jews from Israel after the Babylonian conquest of the Judean Kingdom in the 6th century BC and again following the Roman destruction of the 2nd Jewish Temple in 70 AD (Genesis 17:10, 13; Leviticus 11:45-47; Exodus 31:16-17; Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:14).
After Paul established these Galatian churches and re-visited them once to appoint leaders (Acts 14:21-28), he returned to Antioch and reported that God “had opened a door of faith” among the Gentiles. Sometime after Acts 14, false teachers arrived in these Galatian churches preaching a different gospel. The Judaizers told the Galatians, “You’re not there yet;” they had to convert fully to Judaism in order to be members of the Jerusalem Church, i.e. be circumcised, and obey the Mosaic Law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ. In doing so, they obliterated the true Gospel of Grace.
Please open your Bible at Galatians 2:15-16.
We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not (what) justified by the works of the Law but through faith (alone) 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 (Acts 13:39).
Many Bible scholars say these two verses mark a shift in this letter. They say Paul’s no longer addressing Peter’s inappropriate behavior for which he stood condemned. They are saying these verses actually represent a summary statement of the truths of the gospel he preached “always” in comparison to the false claims of the Judaizers.
However, even though Paul has been known to “change horses’ midstream,” and I’m referring to the direction of his thoughts while writing to the Gentile churches, I’m not seeing it here. When you consider the entire passage, his discourse with Peter proceeds through to verse 21, and his entire dispute is in accord with his opening line at verse 11. The conversation shift comes at the beginning of chapter 3, when Paul begins to address all the Galatian churches.
We are Jews by nature – Paul includes himself in this short statement; he’s saying we we’re born Jews. We we’re not born estranged as the Gentiles were, i.e. excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). That sounds horrible, but it’s absolutely true; this was the position of every Gentile before God called Saul of Tarsus to be His apostle to the Gentile, after that event every Gentile had hope (Acts 9, 11:19; Genesis 12:1-3).
And not sinners from among the Gentiles – Paul is not saying Jews are free of sin; that would be absurd and untrue (Romans 2, 3). He is saying the Jews were born with certain religious advantageous the Gentiles did not have such as the knowledge of the one true God and the way of salvation (Romans 3:2).
Nevertheless knowing that a man is not (what) justified by the works of the Law but through faith (alone) 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 (Acts 13:39).
Paul uses Peter’s hypocrisy to his advantage here and mentions one of the Church Doctrines, i.e. foundational truths the risen Lord had revealed to him. It may be the first time the Judaizers heard Paul talk about this, but Paul included it in his preaching to the Galatians. Peter heard Paul speak about it at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).
The Doctrine of Justification is an important subject, so we won’t skip over it, assuming everyone knows what Paul’s talking about. Every Believer should know why it is referred to as the “corner stone” of our faith.
I’ll begin with an illustration. My nephew found a home he wanted to rent in Indiana. It was a two-story wood frame, built in 1880. But there were problems with the house. The owner let it sit vacant for years because of the cost of fixing it up. My nephew agreed to perform a lot of the work for six months of free rent. He spent all his spare time working on that house: repairing windows, doors, plumbing fixtures, patching holes in walls, scraping wallpaper off of walls, re-hanging doors, etc. The “To-Do List” seemed endless, but he really wanted to live there. Then one day reality hit him like a 2x4 between the eyes. While working on walls, he couldn’t help noticing they weren’t squared. He also noticed for the first time when walking toward the front of the house he was walking uphill and downhill when walking toward the kitchen or toward the rear of the home. He went outside to look at the foundation and discovered it was cracked and had shifted in places. This caused the walls and flooring to twist at odd angles. It also explained why some of the flooring had been forced up and out of place in a few of the rooms. As I said, reality finally set in. Every time he finished a project, another project loomed large. The place was a “money pit.” This venture taught my nephew a valuable lesson. Never overlook the importance of a good, solid foundation.
Leaving the physical world for the spiritual, in the Old Testament, the LORD God commanded His covenant people, the Israelites, for centuries to stop calling on, and relying on, the false gods of the pagans around them and instead lean on Him, the Rock. The LORD God is informing His people He is always faithful and true in all His ways and a shelter for those in need: The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Psalm 18:2; Exodus 20:1-3; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 71:3).
In the New Testament, Jesus was sent to minister to His covenant people, but the majority of them did not receive Him (John 1:6-11). The prophet Isaiah said He would be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both houses of Israel (Isaiah 8:14) and Jesus shared this bit of wisdom with them at the close of a parable: “He looked directly at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written: “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNERstone’? (Luke 20:17, 24:25-27).
The corner stone of an ancient building served as an alignment stone for the foundation. The Koine Greek word for corner stone is Akrongoniaios (ak-rog-o-nee-ah’-yos), Adjective, Strong’s Greek #204, meaning: at the extreme angle or corner, in the corner (of a building). It refers to the crucial stone that was laid in setting the parameters for a foundation. The angle of the corner stone was precise, and it determined all of the subsequent line and other angles of the building. Therefore, it was the standard for the bearing of the beams and walls in the construction of the entire building.
This is why Jesus Christ is the foundation of God’s Church. He is the supporting structure upon which everything else is aligned and the entire Church is being built upon. Getting back to Paul, Peter, the Judaizers, and the Galatians for a brief moment, the teaching of the Church must “line up” with the teachings of Christ. This is why our Apostle Paul said: having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11). You see, the church which is founded upon the teaching of the apostles and the prophets has to, in turn, have a true alignment for that teaching.
“How do we know if the teaching of the apostles and prophets is correct?” “What if there is a disagreement,” as there obviously was when Paul challenged Peter to his face in Galatians 2:11. “Who is the absolute authority that establishes the correct teaching in God’s Church?” Our Apostle Paul said it is “Christ Himself being the corner stone.”
The Apostle Peter echoes Paul’s words saying Jesus Christ is the CORNERstone, “For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him (See God’s Prophetic Program) will not be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6).
No, Peter wasn’t looking over Paul’s shoulder when he wrote this remark… for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:21).
The Doctrine of Justification
Why is this Church Doctrine so important to our faith? It separates us from every other religious system on this planet. In every other belief system, people are trying hard to please their God through “works;” they’re trying to “earn” their salvation. But those who believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ are saved as a result of God’s Grace through faith (alone). Justification isn’t something we do; it’s a completed work of God, and it’s instantaneous (1 Corinthians 1:18). Our role in God’s salvation arrangement is quite simple. All we need to do is trust in what God has said about His Son dying for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This is called faith. The best definition for faith I’ve ever heard is “Taking God at His Word. God said it, I believe it; over and out.”
Our Apostle Paul uses the word justified 3 times in verse 16, so he’s definitely trying to get everyone’s attention, but he doesn’t discuss any of the details in the text. He does this in his letter to the church in Rome however. Let’s all turn to the book of Romans, chapter 3. As this book says, everything begins and ends with God and He has said:
THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; (3:10b)
for all (both Jews and Gentiles) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23).
In Galatians 2:16, Paul stresses we are justified by faith in Christ Jesus and not by the works of the Law. The word justified is a legal term meaning righteousness. Put another way he’s saying the Believer is in “right standing with God.” Justification is the opposite of condemnation. Since God said we’re all sinners, then it goes without saying our spiritual condition as humans is one of unrighteousness. Our standing with God is “not right,” from birth, either judicially or morally. This puts every human being in a lost state; meaning we’re born into this world alienated from God. Scripture says we are rebellious, we’re declared sinners and enemies of God (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21). That’s not the side of the fence you want to be on!
Throughout the O.T., when we consider the character of the LORD God, we find, “The LORD is righteous…” (2 Chronicles 12:6; Lamentations 1:18; Ezra 9:15), and the Judge: The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether (Psalms 19:9). Because God is the righteous judge, He will fulfill the responsibilities that go along with His perfect righteousness. To that end, Paul teaches us: “each one of will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). And: “but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).
So, this is Paul’s argument, now that we’re in the Dispensation of God’s Grace, “we’re no longer under the Law, we’re under Grace.” Turn with me to Romans 3:19, but first, please don’t misunderstand what Paul’s saying. There’s nothing wrong with the Ten Commandments or the Mosaic Law. They came from God so they’re perfect. But here’s the thing; the Israelites were not. They were flawed creatures due to sin (the flesh). This book says those who are under the Law cannot argue their case against the righteous Judge; and all the world may become accountable to God; because you can’t earn God’s favor through works of the Law. God gave the Law to His people to show them their sin: for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20).
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become (what) accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be (what) justified in His sight; (Romans 3:19)
Let’s all turn to Romans 5:21-26: But now (in the Church Age) apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness (the righteousness of Jesus Christ) at the present time, so that He (Christ) would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith (alone) in Jesus.
The rebellious sinner is saved by believing Jesus Christ died, shedding His blood for their sin, He was buried, and was resurrected from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4); justification follows immediately after. If the individual truly believes with all their heart, if they’re willing to take a stand for this truth, then they are truly saved; nothing else is needed to obtain salvation. Anyone teaching otherwise is preaching a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-7; Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5).
Let’s go to verse 17.
17: “But if, while seeking to be (what) justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!
The key to unlocking the meaning of this verse is “we ourselves.” This takes us back to Paul’s comment in verse 15: “We are Jews by nature.” Paul’s referring to himself and Peter. The conflict between Paul, Peter, and the other Jewish Christians arose because of their practice of breaking the Jewish dietary restrictions and purity laws by eating with Gentiles. When you consider the previous context, it becomes clear the term sinners in v17 refer to breaking these laws. This interpretation makes sense of their accusation that Christ is then a minister of sin. The accusers understood correctly the Jewish Christians in Antioch were eating with Gentile Believers, because of their common faith in Christ. Therefore, their faith in Christ led them to sin or to break these well established Jewish laws. If identification with Christ promoted unlawful identification with Gentiles, then, they argued, Christ promotes sin.
Paul jumped on this argument saying, “May it never be! Or, “You’ve got it all wrong!” They were saying eating with Gentiles is sinful, because the law forbids it. But from Paul’s perspective, (he is the Apostle to the Gentiles) eating with Gentiles is not a sinful act, because the gospel of God’s Grace demands it! Withdrawing from the table of fellowship with Gentiles and the Jewish Christians was absolute hypocrisy; it violated the truth of gospel in that Jesus Christ died once for all (Romans 6:10; 2 Corinthians 5:15).
18: “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
What’s Paul saying here? Look back to his statement in Galatians 2:14: and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. In Philippians 3:5-6, he said: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin; a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to righteousness under the Law, faultless. Get the picture? Paul was a faultless, law-keeping Jew. Paul’s life and lifestyle changed after he met the risen Lord on the Damascus Rd. Once the gospel was revealed to him, his ancestral traditions were of no value to him any longer (Philippians 3:8). Now Paul’s saying, “If I put Believers back under the Law commanding them to be circumcised, obey the dietary laws, and the Sabbath laws, then I’m rebuilding what I once destroyed or considered rubbish” (See Colossian 2:14)
Paul finishes out the sentence saying, “I won’t do that,” or I prove myself to be a transgressor. God communicated these truths to him through revelations and Paul wasn’t about to turn his back on God.
19: “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.
This is a fundamental Church truth which Paul explains in detail in Romans 6. If we must die to the Law to live to God; it’s a sin to pressure people to live under the Law again. Paul said,”I died to the Law;” there was no life in the Law; it could only produce two things: reveal one’s sin and then condemn them to death. Paul’s saying his death to the Law was accomplished by identifying with Christ’s death on the cross. Because of this great sacrifice of love he now lives to God (Romans 5:8-9). Time is running short, so we’ll pick this subject up again in Galatians 3:13 when we can devote more time to it.
20: “I have been (what) 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 (how) by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
“I have been crucified with Christ” – Paul’s actually saying a couple of things here:
#1: Paul returns to his statement in verse 16, “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus…” to demonstrate he has no intention of dropping the subject. He’s taking a stand for the gospel; Peter, a Jewish leader of men, should have done likewise. The Law was never meant to save anyone; it could only reveal sin and condemn those under the Law. Therefore, every man, woman, and child needed a divine Savior, someone who is without sin to intervene for them. But instead of reading what I write, what does this book say? For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).
God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become (what) the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21 – Berean Study Bible). A Bible synonym for righteousness is justification.
#2: from God’s perspective, Paul has already paid the price for his sin, past, present, and future. The Lord Jesus Christ’s shed blood paid the penalty for his sins on Calvary (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:15-22, 10:11-12, 14; 1 Timothy 2:5). Meaning, he’s been saved nothing more needs to be done (Romans 6).
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 delivered Himself up for me – Paul’ saying salvation is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9); it’s absolutely free for the asking. The Lord Jesus Christ answered God’s call and did what man could never do. He became God’s sinless blood sacrifice. But even though salvation is free, it costs the Believer everything they are from the moment of their conversion on for they are called to Christlikeness. Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, which is your spiritual service of worship (Romans 6:10-12, 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Hebrews 9:22).
21: “I do not nullify (set aside) the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.
An individual sets aside the grace of God when they add or take anything away from it. Paul’s talking about works or human effort here. It’s the “I have to “____________” (fill in the blank) to be saved syndrome. This could be any human effort such as: baptized by water, join a particular church group, tithe a certain amount regularly, be the best person I can, attend every church service, pray a certain prayer, etc. If you’re guilty of attempting to build a stairway to heaven by adding human effort to God’s Grace, then you are saying righteousness comes through the Law; therefore, Christ died needlessly.
What does this book say? Our Apostle Paul wrote: So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness (speaking of Jesus’ substitutionary death on Calvary), there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many (who come to faith in the Gospel of God’s Grace) will be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19).
(To be continued)
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