Galatians 2.15-21

December 17, 2007 Series: Galatians

Topic: Gospel Passage: Galatians 2:15–2:21


Galatians 2.15-21

December 15, 2006

Last week we read about how Paul confronted the most respected leader of the Christian church and challenged him to align his life with the gospel.  Having experienced a vision from God; having declared that Gentiles were in fact saved in the same way that he himself was; having agreed that they need not follow any of the ceremonial food laws, circumcision, or other laws in order to be saved, in a moment, went against all of it for the approval of men.  In our study today, Paul will continue where we left off.  The last question he had asked Peter, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" 

This question sounds eerily similar to the question Peter asked of the Judaizers in Acts 15, "Now therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor have we been able to bear? 

Paul will, in the next six verses put forward the doctrine on which the church falls answering the question, HOW CAN WE BE RIGHT WITH GOD.   These verses are the heart of his letter, the thesis of his argument, the cornerstone of Christianity.  The question of HOW CAN WE BE RIGHT WE GOD, similar to questions:


Before the Protestant Reformation, in other words, in a time when there was basically only the Catholic Church, there were those who attempted to answer the question with the Jesus Plus program.  If you partook of communion, if you were baptized, if you paid this or that indulgence, and many other things to add to the insufficient blood of Jesus Christ.  What was even worse was, at that time, the religious authorities of the time stated that YOU CAN'T BE RIGHT WITH GOD, or THERE IS NO SALVATION OUTSIDE the CATHOLIC CHURCH. 

One dark evening in Germany in the midst of a terrible lighting storm, a young lawyer named Martin Luther committed to serving God if only God would spare his life.  He did and Martin Luther enrolled in the Monastery at Erfurt, Germany, with a desire to save his soul AND be right with God.  Medieval theology taught that you had to be as perfect as God to enter heaven.  So Martin Luther, like many monks before him, tried very hard to become perfect enough for God to accept him.  He goes through all of the religious disciplines, rituals, and ceremonies of the Catholic church.  He even goes so far as to sleep on a rough floor without blankets to mortify his flesh.  He was zealous committed to the monastic life, going so far as to fast so long that people though he might die. 

Of the many rituals of the Catholic church, Luther found the most peace in the sacrament of confession.  Confession is the process by which you go before the priest and confess the sins. This can be done as often as we sin which is all the time but usually follows some sort of individualized visitation routine.  Martin Luther would spend hours confessing his sins.  The Priest he confessed to eventually got fed up with the six hour stints of confession and said,

"Luther!  The next time you come here, let it be for some big sin, not all of these little peccadilloes, not all these little sins."


 Sadly, Martin Luther was theologically right but spiritually wrong.  He was correct in that the smallest of sins will separate us from God forever.  His means to perfection was out of alignment with the gospel. 

Nevertheless, this good pharisee-like-monk, driven by pure motives to be perfect before His God, confessed and confessed and confessed.  He soon realized, however, that he could only confess those sins that he remembered.  If he couldn't remember them he wouldn't be forgiven of them.  Then, he realized that he would never stop sinning.  Even if he could remember everything TODAY, there is tomorrow where he might miss one, and the next day, and the next day.  And what about the sins that he didn't remember because he didn't even consider them sins...but God did?    He found himself in helpless despair.

The saddest thing about this all is that he'll never make it.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that he won't make the cut for perfection, but he won't even come close.  In the Catholic Church, the doctrine of purgatory is based on the fact that NOBODY, not even the most pious of monks, dies righteous enough to get into heaven directly.  You have to be perfect to get into heaven so, at best, you die imperfect and spend a few or hundreds or thousands of years in purgatory where you are "perfected" by some sort of righteous suffering.  Eventually, at some point your deemed clean enough by God to come in. 

I'm not convinced that the experience of Martin Luther is much different than our own.  I believe that many have lost or never known the truth of the gospel and, as a result, live a life full of guilt, fear, pride, and despair.  They hear about the grace of God, but they really don't believe it in such a way that it touches their soul and impacts there daily life. 

If we could really wrap our heads around the acceptance we have in Christ and realize HOW God sees us this very moment, I think we would have much more joyful lives.  Living for Jesus would no longer be duty, it would be a natural reaction to our irrepressible feelings about what he has done for us. 

In these six short verses, Paul will explain the reason why the Jewish works-based, legalistic, man-approval-seeking mentality goes against the heart of the gospel.  In this third section of Galatians chapter 2, Paul explains the heart of his opposition to Peter and ultimately the heart of our faith as Christians.  In this section he deals with the very thing that Martin Luther struggled with...answering the question, how can we be right before our God? 

EWWW...You're not clean

As we begin this section, remember Paul is still talking to Peter and the Jews who are around.  The issue for Peter is that traditionally, Jews did not eat with Gentiles because they were "unclean." This is what circumcision and the food laws and all the ceremonial laws were about in the Old Testament. You had to be clean to go to worship, to be acceptable in the eyes and presence of God. Though the word "clean" does not show up in Galatians 2:11-13, that is what "circumcision" (v.12) and eating and all the rules and regulations were about. When Peter refrained from eating with Gentiles, Paul reminded him of what he had learned through revelation (Acts 11:8-10; 15:8-9) - that in Christ we are "clean."



Now Paul is going to begin his defense by telling him that not only do we become ALL CLEAN in Christ, but before we believe in Jesus, we are ALL DIRTY.

Being a Jew by birth meant in that you were part of God's chosen people, in a sense, you were clean.  Anyone not part of God's people, like Gentiles, was considered unclean-sinful.  Paul includes himself in his statement and basically says that we KNOW that we are all SINNERS, regardless of what we do.   They KNOW this because the law reveals how evil they all are!  It is sad how often we try to convince ourselves that we're not that bad.  Like the Judiazers, we have some kind of confidence in the appearance of piety (ESPECIALLY IN COMPARISON TO OTHER "SINNERS) regardless of what is going on in our heart.  The Bible is very clear as to what kind of people we are:

Romans 3.9-20

9 What then? Are we Jews1 any better off?2 No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both kJews and lGreeks, are munder sin, 10 as it is written:


"     None is righteous, no, not one;

11           no one understands;

          no one seeks for God.

12      All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

          no one does good,

          not even one."

13 o "     Their throat is pan open grave;

          they use their tongues to deceive."


"     The venom of asps is under their lips."

14      r "     Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."

15 s "     Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16           in their paths are ruin and misery,

17      and tthe way of peace they have not known."

           18      u "There is no fear of God before their eyes.

" 19 Now we know that whatever vthe law says it speaks to those who are under the law, wso that every mouth may be stopped, and xthe whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For yby works of the law no human being3 will be justified in his sight, since zthrough the law comes knowledge of sin.


The gospel is the great LEVELER, breaking down any walls of exclusivity between the Jews and the Gentiles, the Christians and the Pagans, the church goers, and the unchurched.  Just as in Christ there is equal access to the Father now, there is also a common curse of depravity.  We're all UNCLEAN...meaning, none of us are RIGHT with God!


We're not just UNCLEAN, we're GUILTY and sentence to DIE!  The first thing we must realize is that we are ALL LEGALLY guilty before God, sentenced to die for our crimes, in desperate need of a pardon.  We stand condemned, guilty of having broken God's law.  I know we don't like to often think of God as a judge, but that is what He says he is.  Yes, he is loving, patient, and kind, but we also have a God who is wrathful-meaning, he inflicts his judgments upon those who are not righteous or RIGHT with him. 


That is us.  We have broken God's law and now fall short of the perfection God demands for us to be with him.  We are cursed, we are sentenced to die, and we are unable to save ourselves.   Luther was right in that God demands perfection, but even our best efforts do little to get us there.  Much like the Jews are doing, we like to delude ourselves into believing we're actually good people.  We play the compare game, like showing scars at a party, thinking that if we can think of ONE person worse than us, then we must be in some way good.  None of us are good. 


Exodus 34.7

And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and fproclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, gThe Lord, The Lord God, merciful and hgracious, longsuffering, and abundant in igoodness and itruth, 7 ï»¿kkeeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and lthat will by no means clear the guilty;[i]  


We sit under the righteous wrath of God.  We mustn't make the justice of God out to be a bad thing or the law an evil thing.  We all want law.  We desire to see the evil punished and justice prevail.  We want a just God who punishes evil.   The problem is that we cannot meet God's requirements.  Perfection is too difficult for us.   We stand before the judge of the universe without excuse, without argument, without anything acceptable to give him in order to pardon us.      


Many of us think, well, I'm not that bad.  Remember though, you've sinned against God.  The gravity and debt of a sin is measured by the person against home you have committed the sin.  We have sinned against the infinite perfect God.   YOU are just as guilty as any man who spit, hit, cursed at, or denied Jesus Christ.   The debt we owe is greater than any sin anyone could ever commit against you.  Regardless, you've sinned.  And James tell us that to fail in one point of the law, makes us guilty of all.  Jesus himself, in Matthew 5 clarifies for us the true nature of sin.  


Regardless, even our good is not good.  Outside of Christ, any "good works" we do DO NOTHING to help us become any less innocent.  Your good works are similar to some sort of pathetic bargaining as you are sitting before the judge who is preparing to sentence you.  It is not enough to improve behavior, follow some new law you've created.  You can't do what Martin Luther did either, it is not enough to pray more, confess more, or like Luther, fast until you're nearly dead!  ALL HUMAN RIGHTEOUSNESS we could possibly do, all added together, will never attain the righteousness of God.  Even our good behavior is not acceptable to God.


Isaiah 64.6

6 v     We have all become like one who is unclean,

          and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.

w     We all fade like a leaf,

          and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.




We are guilty, but made innocent AND MORE by faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul introduces a big theological term, "JUSTIFICATION" to defend his calling out of Peter publicly.  He uses it quite a bit throughout all of this writings.  Out of the 39 occurrences of the verb JUSTIFY in the NT, 29 come in the Epistles or recorded words of Paul.  Within these seven verses he uses the term four times within verses 16-17 and in the noun form again in verse 21. 


 ‘Justification' is a legal term borrowed from the law courts. It is the exact opposite of ‘condemnation' ‘To condemn' is to declare somebody guilty; ‘to justify' is to declare him... righteous.


Justification is the result of the cross.  It is God's act of 1)  remitting the sins of guilty men, 2) accounting them righteous, 3) doing so freely, by his grace, 4) through faith in Christ,  5)  on the ground, not of their own works, but of the representative, law-keeping and redemptive blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus Christ on their behalf."


Romans 5.18-21

18 Therefore, as one trespass5 led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness6 leads to justification and life for fall men. 19 For as by the one man's gdisobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's hobedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now ithe law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, jgrace abounded all the more, 21 so that, kas sin reigned in death, lgrace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.[ii]  


CHRIST'S DEATH:  In other words, our sin is credited to Christ's account.  So God does what we could not do.  God, in the form of a man, comes to earth to die for the creation that could not follow the laws he made and they broke. 


Jesus does it, and he does it willingly.  He stands before the judge who sentences us to death and tells the judge he will accept the punishment for me.  That he does this is only half of the glory, the judge ACCEPTS the offer.  Jesus is sinless, but now LEGALLY, he becomes guilty of adultery and extortion and child abuse and alcoholism and self-righteousness and all of the sins that God hates. Our sin is credited or applied to Him. 


2Corinthians 5.21

21 qFor our sake he made him to be sin rwho knew no sin, so that in him we might become sthe righteousness of God. 


CHRIST'S LIFE His righteousness and purity is credited to us.   It is not enough to simply be declare INNOCENT. We are still not perfect enough to enter the kingdom of God.  Justification goes a step further.  In order to remember Justification, people used to often say JUST AS IF I HAD NOT SINNED or JUSTICE SATISFIED...neither one is correct.  We are declare innocent, then we are declared righteous.  The cross declared us clean but the LIFE of Jesus declares us righteous.


If righteousness is applied to me in this life, I can go from this life directly into Heaven and stand in God's presence as perfect as Christ himself-because I am saved on the basis of the merit of Christ and not by my own righteousness.  So He gets what He doesn't deserve OUR SIN, and we get what we don't deserve HIS


GOD, THE JUDGE, ACCEPTS THIS PRICE ONLY!  Jesus Christ satisfied the claims of God's law upon us. Now, GOD TREATS US LIKE JESUS:  The moment the man believes in Jesus Christ, his guilt is taken away.  Once we are justified, made RIGHT before God, we are justified irreversibly forever.  I am as Justified now as the moment I first believed.




Faith is the means whereby the righteousness is received and justification bestowed.   Believers are justified by or through faith.  Faith is not the grounds of the justification, otherwise that would make it a work and God would only be giving us what we deserve.  I believe that Ephesians 2.8-9 teaches that the very faith we have to believe is in fact a gift, but it is without question, not a work. 


What is faith?  Faith is simply a whole hearted reliance on God's promise.  It is confessing that your worth, value, and acceptance come on the basis of Jesus Christ.  When you stand before the judgment seat of God, and you are asked the question, why should you enter the kingdom of God?  The only answer a man of faith has is that I have nothing to offer but that which Jesus has done for me. 


What isn't faith?  When you come to Christ you don't come making a promise that you're going to follow him. You don't come promising anything.  You come to receive something.  That is the simplicity of is not the CHRIST PLUS PROGRAM, Not Christ and good works,...just Jesus.

Luke 18.9-14: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

9 He also told this parable to some cwho trusted din themselves that they were righteous, eand treated others with contempt: 10 "Two men fwent up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, gstanding by himself, prayed1 hthus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 iI fast twice a week; jI give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, kwould not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but lbeat his breast, saying, ‘God, mbe merciful to me, a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For neveryone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."


Faith declares that we are guilty.  Faith declares that we are not worthy. Faith accepts mercy because the faithful knows they cannot save themselves, that their good is worthless, and their bad is too great to pay for.



But we try, don't we.  Like the Judaizers, we build up that which we think can save us.  We hold tight to our laws and do little more than reveal how sinful we are.  In verse 18, Paul speaks to those Jews, like Peter, who revert back into trying to follow the law.  The LAW in fact proves that we are sinners.  The Law shows us how guilty we are and reveals how incapable we are to satisfy it. 

In essence, we replace with Jesus with some idol that cannot save us.  To do so leads only to condemnation and despair, like the Jews, the very thing we THINK is leading to life in facts leads to true death.  Ironically, we do so because we refuse to die. 



The only way to live is to die.  

Romans 6.1-14

What shall we say then? aShall we continue in sin, that bgrace may abound? 2 ï»¿cGod forbid. How shall we, that dare dead to sin, live any longer therein? 3 Know ye not, that eso many of us as ||were baptized finto Jesus Christ ||were gbaptized into his death?4 Therefore we are hburied with him by baptism into death: that like as iChrist was raised up from the dead by kthe glory of the Father, even so lwe also should walk in newness of life. 5 For mif we have been nplanted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: 6 knowing this, that oour old man pis crucified with him, that qthe body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. 7 For rhe that is dead is sfreed from sin.8 Now tif we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: 9 knowing that uChrist being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. 10 For in that he died, whe died unto sin xonce: but in that he liveth, he yliveth unto God. 11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be zdead indeed unto sin, but alive aunto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 12 Let not bsin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. 13 Neither cyield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but dyield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.14 For bsin shall not have dominion over you: for eye are not under the law, but under grace. [iii]


How am I different?  If I don't have "religion" and I'm justified by nothing more than free grace, can't I just live it up?  Whoever asks that question is probably not saved.

  • We are transformed into new creations and
  • REBORN by the Holy Spirit who now lives within us and
  • gives us new desires, new aspirations, a new desire to serve him,
  • we become different people. 


2Cor 5. also says, "the love of Christ dcontrols us, because we have concluded this: that eone has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, fthat those who live might no longer live for themselves but gfor him who for their sake died and was raised."

What if I sin? But what if I still sin?  How do I know I haven't lost Christ?  That question is not whether or not you can lose Christ, but whether Christ can lose you.  He can't.  But let's just imagine you accept Christ and sin that next day, hour, even moment after you have confessed belief.  Confession of sins is a good thing but a lot of people confess-especially those guys who get caught! 


You don't get saved through the confession of your sins.  You get saved by receiving Jesus Christ as your sin-bearer, the ONE whom you trust to reconcile you to God.






ver. 17; [Eph. 2:3, 12]


ch. 3:11; See Acts 13:39


Or counted righteous (three times in verse 16); also verse 17


See Rom. 9:30


Or through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ


Rom. 3:20; [Ps. 143:2]


Greek Are we


Or at any disadvantage?


ch. 2:1-29


ch. 1:18-32


Gal. 3:22; [ver. 19, 23; ch. 11:32; Prov. 20:9]


ver. 10-12, cited from Ps. 14:1-3; 53:1-3


Cited from Ps. 5:9


Jer. 5:16


Cited from Ps. 140:3


Cited from Ps. 10:7 (Gk.)


Cited from Prov. 1:16; ver. 15-17, cited from Isai. 59:7, 8


Luke 1:79


Cited from Ps. 36:1


John 10:34; 15:25


Job 5:16; Ps. 63:11; 107:42; Ezek. 16:63; [ch. 1:20; 2:1]


See ver. 9


Gal. 2:16; [Ps. 143:2; Acts 13:39]


Greek flesh


ch. 7:7; [ch. 4:15; 5:13, 20]


ch. 33. 19.


So Num. 14. 18. 2 Chr. 30. 9. Neh. 9. 17. Ps. 86. 15. & 103. 8. & 111. 4. & 112. 4. & 116. 5. & 145. 8. Joel 2. 13.


See ch. 22. 27.


Ps. 57. 10. & 108. 4.


Ps. 57. 10. & 108. 4.


ch. 20. 5, 6. Deut. 5. 9, 10. Jer. 32. 18. Dan. 9. 4, 9. So Ps. 103. 3. & 130. 4. 1 John 1. 9.


Nah. 1. 3 (Heb.). So ch. 23. 21. Josh. 24. 19. Job 10. 14.


More in Galatians

March 18, 2007

Galatians 6.11-18

March 11, 2007

Galatians 6.1-10

March 4, 2007

Galatians 5.22-26