Notes on Galatians 2

Galatians 2  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Chapter 2
After fourteen years he went up again to Jerusalem, precisely on account of the Judaizing Christians; false brethren, unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out the liberty, which the Gentiles had in Christ Jesus, that they might bring them into bondage. It is probably this to which Acts 15 refers. Barnabas accompanied him and he also took Titus with him. Paul and Barnabas had greatly withstood these false brethren, who had come down from Jerusalem; but God had not allowed them to succeed, in order no doubt, that it might be Jerusalem and the apostles as linked with the assembly at Jerusalem, who should recognize the liberty of the Gentiles. There would otherwise have been two churches; a church bound by the law at Jerusalem, and a church free from the law at Antioch. Thus, by the wisdom of God, it was Jerusalem itself who declared Christians from among the nations, to be not subject to the law, and thus all remained united.
But we find here other important points relating to the subject treated of by the apostle, important for us also. First, we see that Paul (such had now become his name) went up by revelation. In Acts, nothing is spoken of, but the decision to which the Christians at Antioch had come. We may often accept and follow the advice of others, though if we are keeping near enough to the Lord and learning of Him, our decision may depend upon the communications that are made to us by Him. In this case, it was a direct revelation; but the principle is the same for us. I do the thing because I know the will of God, although I may do that which is the fruit of the counsels of others. Paul went as sent of God, and this inspires confidence, and gives firmness in the path. We feel that we are doing the will of God.
Moreover, Paul speaks of it here, to show that he went up only because it was the will of God, not because it depended upon the authority of those at Jerusalem. As however, the gospel itself was in question, he was content to communicate to the others what he himself had preached; but privately to those who were pillars, lest in any way he should have run in vain. But neither was Titus who was with him, being a Greek, compelled to be circumcised: he would not yield to them, not even for a single moment, as though he were subject to them, whether at Antioch or Jerusalem, in order that the truth of the gospel might continue with the Gentiles.
Besides he had received nothing from those who seemed to be pillars in the assembly at Jerusalem: " whatsoever they were," says Paul, " it maketh no matter to me; God accepteth no man's person." And again, those who were in the greatest esteem among them, had added nothing to him. For him, God was all; Christ had sent him, he had learned the truth by revelation; all the rest, for him, were but men-beloved brethren indeed, each one of whom he owned in his special place, but he drew his authority from Christ alone: independent of all men in order to obey Jesus, yet necessarily through love to Him, at the service of all men. But we find yet more.
These brethren of Jerusalem, pillars of the assembly, James, Peter, and John, saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision, that is of the Gentiles, had been committed to Paul, as the gospel of the circumcision, that is of the Jews, was to Peter.
For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in Paul toward the Gentiles; they gave therefore to Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that they should go to the heathen, while they themselves went to the circumcision. We find here facts and principles of the highest importance.
He puts James first among the pillars, as we see in Acts 15. He held the first place at Jerusalem; when he speaks of gifts and the apostleship he only names Peter. Apostleship in the work of the gospel depended upon the gift of God. Now as God had wrought among the Gentiles by means of Paul and Barnabas, He had likewise wrought among the Jews by means of Peter. He had wrought powerfully in the one toward the Jew, and in both, though chiefly in Paul, toward the Gentiles; and owning the grace of God in the work, they agreed that each should labor according to their gifts, in the spheres entrusted to them of God. Paul thus became the apostle to the Gentiles, to whom Christ had sent him: Peter, to the Jews only, among whom God had blessed him. Peter had however, begun the work with the twelve, and God had used him at the first, to open the door to the Gentiles; but he did not continue to labor among them, and renouncing the commission given to him in Matt. 28, he left the apostleship of the Gentiles wholly to Paul and Barnabas, who had been sent to that work, and blessed in it by the Lord.
This latter-Barnabas-soon disappeared; he was too much linked with Mark, his kinsman according to the flesh, and Paul remained as apostle of the Gentiles throughout the whole world, and of the assembly of God which united both Jews and Gentiles in one-a subject of which he alone spoke-the assembly composed of true Christians, united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, the body of Christ, in which there is neither Jew nor Greek; for the two have become one assembly, one body, united to Christ the head of the body, and members one of another. Such is the apostle to the Gentiles: with them Peter had nothing to do.
It is evident that these facts are of great importance in the history of the church of God. How often have we not heard Peter spoken of as head of the church. That Peter, ardent and full of zeal, began the work at Jerusalem, the Lord working mightily by his means, is certain; we see it plainly in Scripture. But he had nothing to do with the work carried on among the Gentiles. That work was done by Paul, who was sent by the Lord Himself, and Paul entirely rejected the authority of Peter. For him, Peter was but a man; and he, sent by Christ, was independent of men. The church among the Gentiles, is the fruit of Paul's, not of Peter's work: it owed its origin to Paul. and to his labors, and in no way to Peter, whom Paul had to resist with all his strength, in order to keep the assemblies among the Gentiles free from the influence of that Spirit which ruled Christians, who were the fruit of Peter's work. God maintained unity by His grace; had He not kept the church, it would have been divided into two parts, even in the days of the apostles themselves.
It is marvelous that so many should hold as head of the church among the Gentiles, Peter, who was the apostle of the circumcision, and who openly left the work amongst the heathen to Paul-who had already labored in it independently for more than fourteen years, sent and blessed by the Lord and by the Holy Ghost, without any reference to Peter, and who had, moreover, expressly rejected Peter's authority, which the false brethren sought to impose upon the Gentile churches. Peter, though greatly blessed by the Lord, is the apostle of the circumcision and of the circumcision only: Paul, of the uncircumcision, that is, of the Gentiles. Paul alone among the apostles, speaks of the church, the body of Christ: this truth was confided only to him as its administrator.
Verse 11. Paul recalls another case: one in which he had been compelled to reprove and withstand Peter, who had come to Antioch, where the church had been founded among the Gentiles, though there were Jews among them also. Poor Peter! he showed himself at the beginning, quite ready to eat with the Gentiles, he was free from the prejudices of his countrymen: but alas! when certain came down from Jerusalem, from James, who was the leader of the work and of the assembly in the civil and religious capital of the Jews, where the law was still observed by the Christians-then Peter, full of ardor but sensitive to the opinion of others, and timid in the presence of reproach, withdraws, and no longer eats with the Gentiles.
This was to destroy the divine work, which had already been wrought at Jerusalem-an evident act of unfaithfulness. The more a man is honored-and in this case, there was true ground for respect-the greater the stumbling-block to others, if he fail, and thus it happened here. All the Jews and even Barnabas also, dissembled with Peter, and no longer dared to walk with the Gentiles. The unity of the Spirit was lost, as also the truth of the gospel. Paul could not let this pass; and when he saw that Peter walked not uprightly, he reproved him before all. Authority cannot make evil good nor good evil. We see moreover, that Peter had not the very smallest authority over Paul; and this is why the latter recalls the fact. Peter deserved to be rebuked, and Paul rebuked him in the presence of all, saying: " If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? "
This leads us away from the history and from the question of owning Peter's authority, to that of the truth of the gospel, which he was imperiling. Not only did Peter show a false and deceitful spirit-boasting of his liberty one moment, and the next, concealing what his previous walk had been-but he was establishing error; and there was danger; for inasmuch as in him lay, and as far as it depended upon his authority he was destroying the truth of the gospel: " we " continues Paul, " who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor."
Paul begins here to treat of doctrine, not merely of Peter's authority, leaving aside the question of the work committed to him among the circumcision. He reasons thus. Peter, being a Jew like the rest, was building again the system of the law, when he refused to eat with the Gentiles; he was seeking to be justified by works and by the exact observance of legal ordinances. But he had abandoned this means of justification, in order to believe on Christ, that he might be justified by the faith of Christ; and in building again the system of the law, he made himself a transgressor in having left it. But it was Christ who had led him to do it. Christ then was the minister of sin! this could not be. If he built again the things he had destroyed, he became a sinner in having destroyed them-and Christ had led him to do it! The apostle then gives an admirable compendium of individual truth, in respect of his Christian position.
The law requires righteousness in man: it could not do otherwise, for it was the perfect rule of such righteousness. But neither Paul nor any other had fulfilled it; therefore it pronounced the sentence of death and condemnation, not death only, but also condemnation. He now sets forth how this sentence had been carried into effect, how he had escaped the condemnation and had died to sin: yet he was not dead; Christ had taken the condemnation upon Himself: thus his death was but the death of the old man, and this was an immense gain. The law had slain him, but Christ had died in his stead: once dead, the law could do no more, it had dominion over a man as long as he lived. If a criminal dies in the hands of the officers of justice, or in his prison, the law cannot punish or take action against a dead man: all behind him is closed, he lives no longer in the life he had previously possessed.
In Christ, all this is accomplished for us, but there is yet more. He took the condemnation and passed through death: we are associated with Him, and thus dead to sin without there being any condemnation for us; moreover, He is become our life.
Thus we are dead to the law that we might live to God. I, said Paul, have been crucified with Christ, who has taken the curse of the law; nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. This is death, both to the flesh and to the law. Thus, there is no condemnation for me, since Christ has taken it, inasmuch as He charged Himself with my sins, and bore them upon the cross, abolishing them by His death. Sin in my flesh is condemned, and in the cross of Christ I was crucified with Him. (Compare Rom. 8:1-31There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (Romans 8:1‑3).) Thus, are we set free, not only from the guilt of our sins, but from the power of sin in the flesh, the old man is for the believer, crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:66Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:6)), that the body of sin might be destroyed. Having been redeemed, we are not subjected afresh to the law, to which we have died as if our salvation were still uncertain; for the flesh is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be; but through faith, we hold ourselves to be dead, crucified with Christ, who risen from among the dead, has really become our life. Christ lives in us, and we can thus reckon ourselves to be dead to sin (Rom. 6:10, 1110For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. 11Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:10‑11)), and alive unto God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
We are no longer debtors to the flesh, which for faith is dead: but since Christ who has died is our life, we, living by this life, reckon ourselves dead; for Christ who is our life has died, and the power of the Spirit which acts in this new life, sets us free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:22For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)). Thus, Christ being in us, the body is dead; for if it lives of its own proper life, it only brings forth sin; and the Spirit is life, the source of practical righteousness in us. Thus the wisdom of God, instead of placing the flesh under the law, to which it was not and could not be subject, gives in sovereign grace a new life in the risen Christ, who died for us. There is therefore no more condemnation to them that believe, and we reckon ourselves to be dead, since Christ who is our life has died. We are by the law dead to the law, crucified with Christ, nevertheless we live, yet not we, but Christ liveth in us. The bond of the law is broken; not that its authority is despised, but that I am dead; it can no longer touch me, for I am dead. Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but it is Christ who lives in me, a life which is holy, just, and good.
But another truth is found in this passage. It is not merely a holy life (being that of Christ Himself), but this life has its object, its manner of living. All life in the creature has an object, we cannot walk without one. If the Lord Jesus is our life, He is also personally the object of the life and we live by faith in Him. The heart sees Him, looks to life, feeds upon Him, is assured of His love, for He gave Himself for us. The life that we live in the flesh, we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Happy certainty, blessed assurance! This is not a subject of hope: the glory, though it belongs to us, is a hope; but in this we know the love in which He has given His life for us. It is a new life, the old man is crucified, and Christ whose perfect love we know, is the object of faith and of the heart. One cannot give more than oneself.
The conclusion drawn by Paul is of the utmost importance. " We do not frustrate the grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." Let us suppose that a righteous man could knock at the door of heaven, and claim to enter by right on the ground of his own works. Such an one would never know God; love would not have introduced him there, and God is Love. It would have been the wages of his own work, he would have deserved to enter. But it is not love when a workman is paid the wages he has earned; it may be done with courtesy, but it is always a debt-there can be no love in it. It is love that has saved me. It is the operation of love in God's gift of His Son, and in the blessed Savior's own sufferings for us, when He drank the cup which the Father gave to Him, the cup of death and of the curse which our sins had filled. By this we understand through grace the love of God.
But if righteousness can be obtained by observing the law, the death which Christ in His infinite grace suffered for us, is not needed: I am righteous by my own deeds: I frustrate the grace of God. " If righteousness is by the law, Christ is dead in vain "; a principle of the utmost importance. Legal righteousness (that is righteousness by works) and Christianity cannot go together, the one annuls the other. It is not that the law is bad or imperfect: it is the perfect rule of human righteousness, the righteousness which becomes the children of Adam; but no righteousness is found in them, they are sinners. There is none righteous, no, not one. The law being perfect condemns us, but we have died in Christ who bare our sins in His own body on the tree, and the law can no longer slay or condemn us. The Savior has borne all for us who through grace believe on Him. Moreover He has given us, or rather He is in us, a new life, which is holy and obedient.
Thus, we are dead to the law, that we might live to God; righteousness is obtained, for we have become the righteousness of God in Christ, sins are put away by His death. But if I had obtained righteousness by keeping the law, there would have been no need that the Son of God should die for me. If Christ has put away my sins and become my righteousness before God, I am not justified by works of law but by faith in Him. If my righteousness is by works of law He is dead in vain.