Galatians 2:11-21

No Return to the Law
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.

14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? 15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

17 “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; 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 for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

Paul’s independence from the other twelve apostles was seen beyond the church council in Jerusalem.

Here in Galatians Paul described a rebuke he gave Peter at the church in Antioch.

Under the Mosaic system certain foods were declared clean (approved for the Jew to eat) or unclean (prohibited for Jew to eat). This law would serve not only to keep the Jewish race healthy but separate from all other peoples. This ensured a clean channel to bring salvation to the Earth. Since these foods were on the Gentile tables the Jew couldn’t accept a dinner invitation from a Gentile. This legislation was set aside at the Cross.

Peter had been given a vision by God concerning the abolishment of the Jewish prohibition of certain foods (Acts 10:9-16) prior to God sending him to preach to the family of Cornelius (see Peter’s account in Acts 11). This vision occurred before Peter’s stay in Antioch.

It had become a practice for the church in Antioch to share a meal together as part of their worship. Jews and Gentiles eating together underscored the unity each shared in Christ. Peter participated in the meal, sitting down with the church signifying the equality all share under grace. He continued this practice until a delegation from the church at Jerusalem came to Antioch. The visitors pressured Peter about eating with the Gentile believers. He gave in to their bias and withdrew from the practice. His example was so decisive that the other Jew believers in the church withdrew as well, even a believer as strong as Barnabas was caused to withdraw.

Peter’s action not only re-validated the rituals of the Jewish national religion it also implied that the Gentile needed to live “as a Jew” to receive God’s grace. This action, if left unchallenged, would force the Law on the Gentile to keep unity or either create an open division within the church.

The creation of Jewish and Gentile communities inside the church was out of the question and Paul confronted Peter publicly about his hypocrisy. The truth had already been revealed that Gentiles did not need to live as the Jews because salvation was by grace alone. Justification before a Holy God can only come through faith in Jesus Christ. The righteousness needed for salvation was the righteousness of God. Perfection. A righteousness impossible for anyone to attain through the keeping of Law, or doing any amount of good deeds. Paul continued, stating that the Jew if anything had been privileged with the Law to learn that they couldn’t be justified by it.

Later in this study we will see more fully the Law’s purpose. The Law reveals sin. Through the Law Jews were shown the need for justification in Christ — same as the Gentiles.

The Judaizers argued that just as violating the Law was sin so abandoning the Law in an effort to be justified through Christ was also sin — asserting in this way Christ promoted sin.

The Mosaic Law was set aside at the Cross. Peter’s practice of eating with the Gentiles declared the system null and void. However, when he withdrew from the Gentiles he validated the Law again. This, Paul states, makes one a transgressor — by returning to the Law. It is not sin to abandon the Law for grace, on the contrary, a return to the Law again was sin.

Destroying the Law or as Paul states, “dying to the Law,” does not mean a Christian is to ignore the Law. The Law as a means of favor with God is dead. The Christian is now free from the condemnation and penalty of the Law — he is now free to live empowered by the motives of Christ. The great principles of love and justice, the ethics of God, can now be freely enjoyed.

The Law revealed sin, condemned sin, yet gave no remedy for sin.

Christ fulfilled the Law perfectly and then gave His life as the ransom payment for sin. Through His death and resurrection He passed beyond the reach of the Law — beyond the reach of death — into life. By our faith in Jesus Christ we have passed beyond the Law (the legalistic system of favor with God) and death — into life within Christ.

Being crucified with Christ means our sinful self is dead so that I may now live. Not I ruled by me or I ruled by statute. My life is in Christ. Centered on Christ. Being led by the Holy Spirit so that Christ would be seen in me.

This new life is a person within a person. Christ living His life out through me. Not through obedience to rules but by my cooperating with the Holy Spirit inside me as He shows Christ Jesus through me. Oh if writing it made it so! Dying is daily. Yielding is moment by moment.

  • Adding law-works to faith for justification nullifies grace. Grace is free, given without money, without work, without price.
  • Legalism is a grievous vice. It comes between the soul and God.
  • There is no salvation for the sinner who depends any in the least upon good works as a means of acceptance with God.
  • If righteousness can be given based upon obedience to the Law, or good works, or merits Paul said “christ died in vain.”
  • The righteousness required to enter heaven is God’s righteousness. No matter how perfectly a man may live he can never attain that level of righteousness. It can only be given by God.