Cat People and Christ Followers – Galatians 2:16

“We are natural-born Jews, not sinners from the godless nations. 16 But we know that no one is made right with God by meeting the demands of the law. It is only through the faithfulness of Jesus the Anointed that salvation is even possible. This is why we put faith in Jesus the Anointed: so we will be put right with God. It’s His faithfulness—not works prescribed by the law—that puts us in right standing with God because no one will be acquitted and declared ‘right’ for doing what the law demands.” –Galatians 2:15-16

Stand-up comedian Demetri Martin is probably the best comedian I have ever heard give one-liners. I don’t know if he is just not a fan of segues or if his brain is full of a bunch of small random thoughts. Whatever it is, Martin knows how to turn one simple thought into something laughable.

For example: “My friend Steve likes cats. People are always saying ‘Oh, Steve’s really a cat person’. No he’s not. If Steve were a cat person it’d be, like, ‘Hey, Steve never goes in the pool’.”

I love this joke because it plays on how we define and describe people. By Steve being a “cat person” most people would assume that he is an avid fan of the fur-balls-whom-shall-not-be-named. But instead Martin turns the idea around and points out that if Steve were a “cat person” he would be half man and half cat… or be a villain who fights Batman – your pick.

Sometimes people get lost in letting the things they do describe and define them instead of letting who they are define them. This is an idea that Paul addresses to the Galatians when he goes over this discourse that he had with Peter.

In the Old Testament, many people believe that what made someone belong to the people of God was if they followed the Law. This is false. The people of God weren’t the people of God, because they followed the Law. They followed the Law (or tried to) because they were the people of God. Make sense? Good. One was part of the people of God in the Old Testament, because they were born into the Jewish nation. God set Abraham apart from the rest of creation and bestowed on him a promise – that He would bless the world through Abraham and that Abraham’s descendants would be innumerable.

The Jews however lost their way. They didn’t follow the Law that God gave them, and because of this, God allowed them to fall into exile. They needed a Savior. That is when Jesus came. Christ perfected the Law in that he obeyed it to its entirety. He came and delivered the people of God from their spiritual bondage through his death on the cross. And after his resurrection, all people were welcomed to be part of the people of God. It didn’t depend any longer on what family one was born into. It didn’t matter if they followed the law. Through Christ’s act of dying on the cross, any one who came to him in faith were welcomed in as God’s people.

Paul’s focus throughout Galatians is not just how one becomes a Christian. The Galatians were already saved. He was concerned about how one continues on after they believe. And he shares here that the people of God are no longer made right with God by following the requirements of the Law.

Many have argued as to whether Paul is refuting the ceremonial law, legalism, or the whole Mosaic Law. Jesus didn’t die solely because of legalism. If salvation was just about legalism, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die. And what would Christ’s crucifixion mean if it only neutralized part of the Law. Though Christ’s death extinguished the ceremonial law, which allowed Gentiles to enter into the Kingdom of Christ, it was extinguished through Christ fulfilling the Mosaic Law in its entirety.

We no longer follow the Mosaic Law.

We now follow the Law of Christ.

Does this mean that there are some things that still apply to believers? Of course it does! Following Christ doesn’t equally Lawlessness. It means a new Law – A new Covenant. Instead of it beginning with birth and ending with legalism, it begins with faith and ends with faithfulness.

The Law was merely a symptom, showing the signs of those who deserved death, and all men were guilty. Paul is trying to show this truth to the Galatians. There are false teachers trying to have them go back to this old way of treating symptoms without being cured. But Jesus already cured the Galatians! They were made right not because they followed the Law, but because they put faith in the faithfulness of Christ.

Don’t follow a set of rules. Don’t think you can get your life right and then come to God. Only through Christ can the guilty be seen as innocent, and only through the power of the Holy Spirit can a sinner be made clean. It all starts with Christ’s death. He died in order that you can be set right with God. Don’t define yourself by any Law or rule or even by church. All those things are chaff if you don’t have Christ. You can have all the looks of a Christian and not be a Christ follower.

Christ has set the world to rights.

Seek him.

Follow him.

Justified or Condemned – Galatians 2:16

“[Yet] we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” –Galatians 2:16, ESV

Sometimes I forget that the culture where one was raised and the culture that one is currently a part of affects the way they talk. Whether it is street lingo of inner-city youths, or the proper speaking of the world’s wealthy, even to the mixed French of those in Louisiana, where one situates themselves changes their vocabulary. This is even true for those in the church. Being part of the body of Christ means that one will speak “Christianese,” at least to some degree.

However, there are words that many Christians use in their everyday vocabulary that, in reality, have definitions that are foreign to them. While I do not claim to have full understanding of each and every word used in English, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, I strive to understand them as best as I can.

So my struggle is more with common stupidity rather than ignorance.

The term, “justified” is no exception. It is a word that Paul used a lot. I still wrestle with what this word truly means in its biblical context, but that’s okay, because I’m not alone! Many scholars have argued about what exactly it means to be “justified,” as well as understanding the “justice” of God and God’s “righteousness.”

So what does it mean to be justified?

“The biblical terms often translated as ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice’ belong to a single word-group, that associated with the sdq root in Hebrew, or that based on the dik-root in Greek.” There are three words in Galatians 2:16 with this “dik-root” in the Greek. The verb form, “justified” occurs eight times in this letter to the Galatians, and 80% of the time this word is used in the entire New Testament, it is by Paul. Although this word in Greek held more of a sense of punishing someone, Paul seems to be using it in the same sense that the Hebrew authors did in the Old Testament. Being “justified” holds the idea of being made righteous (being shown justice, being vindicated, etc.).

The biggest argument that usually arises with “justification” is whether it is a change of status or a change of character. If one is “made righteous” are they a better person? Does it mean they are morally better? Or if one is “made righteous” does it mean that they were once guilty but are now innocent, and their moral character does not directly play into it?

We should broaden the scope a little bit. Did God justify the world in order to make it a better place? Indeed, though this was not necessarily God’s chief aim. God’s chief aim was to vindicate a world that was damned by the Fall. This is a change of status that, in turn, causes a change of character. To understand “justification” as anything other than a change of status creates a misunderstanding in the life of the Christian individual as well as to the story of Salvation History. And like many scholars, I stand that Paul has both a relational and ethical understanding as well as a forensic understanding of these terms. The term, especially here, however, seems to be more forensic in nature.

This is why Christ is the Righteous One. It isn’t that he was the “morally perfect one.” While this is true, it misses the theological significance that Christ is the One who set the world to rights through his faithful act of dying on the cross. Because Christ was faithfully obedient to dying a sinner’s death, God raised him from the dead! The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology states: “In raising Christ [from the dead], God ‘gave him justice’, vindicating him over against the world… The justifying act of God in Christ is twofold; in him God is justified in his contention with the sinner, and yet the sinner is justified.”

I may not understand “justification” completely, but I understand it enough to know that I was a sinner that needed to be “made right” with God.

Do you understand what it means to be justified? Whether you are the worst sinner in the world or have never committed even the slightest traffic violation, you are a sinner, because at one time you’ve sinned. In the heavenly courtroom God would call you “guilty.” But Christ came so that all people who were found guilty could be found innocent in God’s court of law. You just have to understand where you as a guilty sinner, and understand that Christ took your punishment so that you could have an “innocent” verdict.

You have to believe in Christ and understand his faithful act of dying for your sins.

Do you stand justified or condemned?

“But we know that no one is made right with God by meeting the demands of the law. It is only through the faithfulness of Jesus the Anointed that salvation is even possible. This is why we put faith in Jesus the Anointed: so we will be put right with God. It’s His faithfulness—not works prescribed by the law—that puts us in right standing with God because no one will be acquitted and declared ‘right’ for doing what the law demands.” –Galatians 2:16, The Voice

Sources: New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Paul and Palestinian Judaism by E.P. Sanders, and various Commentaries on Galatians (by NT Wright, James Dunn, Richard Longenecker, Ben Witherington).

Redefinition and Justification – Overview of Galatians 2:15-21

Galatians 2:15-21

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing, cause I’ve built my life around you. But time makes you bolder. Even children get older, and I’m getting older too.” –Fleetwood Mac

I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one. I’m not sure what it is like for a couple to go through a divorce after being married for years. The loss of security that comes when one loses their job after being employed for decades brings no emotional response. But I am sure it is hard. For one to completely change what they once knew, who they once were, and what they used to do because of a cataclysmic event is something I can’t really relate to.

Sure I am a child of divorced parents. Yes, I went to college out of state. And I did move across country for a job opportunity. But I didn’t have a family I was bringing with me. I am relatively new to this thing called “life,” so all these changes didn’t affect me as they would someone who was more accustomed to a certain way of life. I couldn’t imagine how it would impact me having to move across the U.S. if I had a family I would have to take with me. I couldn’t imagine the fear that would come if I would lose my job having to provide for people I love.

This section is the main idea of the whole letter to the Galatians. If someone told me to explain this letter in a couple sentences, I would just point them to Galatians 2:15-21. Here Paul takes a look back at what he went through with calling Peter out on Peter’s hypocrisy. This is probably a summary of what Paul said to Peter, along with some personal testimony, theology (ideas about God), soteriology (understanding salvation), and ecclesiology (understanding what the church is).

Witherington states: “[This] argument is not basically about getting in [to heaven], nor even about how one stays in, but rather about how one goes on in Christ and with the aid of the Holy Spirit.” Here Paul develops his argument stating that to be in Christ does not mean that one follows the Law of Moses but instead the Law of Christ. Paul balances the works of the law with the faithful act of Christ’s crucifixion. This is why he says: “One is not justified by works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16b).

Paul is saying that God wants all people to forget who they once were and get a new identity in Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Paul is saying that he has to strip his identity as a Jew, and he now has to redefine who he is in Christ. He is encouraging the Galatians to also not become Jewish, get circumcised, and follow the works of the Law. Paul is encouraging them to find their identity instead in Christ.

This would be like someone getting divorced after many years. This would be like someone changing their career right before it was time for them to retire. To be a Christian one had to completely change how they once lived. For many, this would be no easy task. Many grew up being Jewish and following the Law, or they were Gentile and merely did as they pleased. To now go from doing those things to following the Law of Christ would be like completely redefining who they were.

Have you redefined yourself since becoming a Christian? Do you see yourself as your own, or do you see your life as being one in Christ? We need to be unified in Christ! We need to discover who we are as individuals and as a community through the understanding of who Jesus is as the Christ. The gospel is the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It is about how Christ has come to set a wicked world to rights. How has the gospel affected your life? Has Christ’s faithful act of dying on a cross transformed your life?

Take time to reflect on who you once were and who you are now that you are in Christ. Take time to remember what Christ has done for you through dying on the cross – the love, the sacrifice, and the implications of that event. Take a moment to remind yourself of your new identity in Christ.