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.

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The Highest Hypocrite – Galatians 2:11-14

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” – Galatians 2:11-14

It isn’t easy being a pastor. I haven’t been doing it long, but I now understand why many young college graduates don’t stay in it for long. Don’t get me wrong I love what I do. There are just a lot of things I didn’t expect about being a pastor. Many people don’t understand the work put into ministry. A pastor never truly has a day off. Statistically it is one of the lowest paying professions. Not to mention the toll it takes mentally and spiritually to look over and disciple a church.

The hardest thing I have faced since starting in ministry has been my appearance to those in church. In a sense, many pastors are seen as the prime example of Christlikeness. Many expect the pastor to be perfect, which makes sense since the pastor should have the characteristics of Christ. Unfortunately, pastors, like all people, are fallible. They may get life mostly right, but they will still mess up. They will get angry for unjustifiable reasons. They might hold false opinions that they think are in line with Christ. But people don’t expect a pastor to be human. They don’t think of him or her as a person who needs time on their own. They don’t think of them as someone in need of a friend.

My biggest struggle is wrestling with this balance of being seen as the closest representative to Christ to my congregants while dealing with my own humanity.

It is rather scary.

Peter was the person in Acts whom God revealed the revelation to about eating animals. Peter was the one who shared with the other Christians that God had repealed the food laws of the Torah. While this revelation to the apostles opened up the realization of the Gentiles’ inclusion into the faith, it also freed the Jews up from the Law as well. Even Peter broke these old food rules and started eating like the rest of the world.

But at one point, a group came to Peter while Peter was in Antioch, and they roused Peter into eating with the Jews again. Even though Peter didn’t follow the food laws, he broke away from his mixed Christian group of Jews and Gentiles, and he went back to the non-Christian Jews of the Temple. This caused a huge divide between the Jews and Gentiles as many of the Jewish Christians started excluding their brothers in Christ for their former brothers of the Jewish faith.

When Paul got to the area he couldn’t believe what had happened. In Galatians, Paul writes that Peter stood condemned before God! This is a heavy accusation to put on this pillar of faith. But Paul was right. Peter had not only gone to the former way of living, but he had also caused a rift between the People of God. Paul was not pleased! He called Peter out for his hypocrisy. He called Peter out for his humanity.

This passage is a good reminder to me that even the greatest pastors fail. Not only so, but if you follow Acts, it seems like Peter repented and that all was right in Acts 15 and throughout the rest of the book. Paul was willing to write about this pillars disobedience. Peter was willing to change.

It is a great picture of love, of accountability, of humanity, and of repentance.

Are there areas in your life where you are hypocritical? Do you have a higher standard for others than you do for yourself? Do you love some more than others? Do you have grace on some while condemning others? Or are you like Peter, and exclude people who don’t fit into your circle?

Remember that it is okay to fail. It is okay to mess up. Even Peter had faults. I know I need to be reminded of that sometimes. But don’t use your humanity as an excuse to sin and act hypocritically. Find accountability. Change your ways. Love God and love people.