Monday, August 17, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 21

Galatians 2:21 “ I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

This final verse of Galatians chapter 2 ties up this “argument” section by giving the answer to the proposition Paul made in chapter 2, verse 15 and the question posed in verse 17. Paul’s target audience here is Gentile converts, but he has also got to be speaking to the Judiazers as well – who, by the way, were also believing Christians, as in they had accepted Jesus as their Messiah. This last fact/truth is important for the final answer here to the argument. Paul had started with his criticism of Peter (verses 11-14), for Peter’s hypocrisy -- Peter was by his actions advocating the Judiazer’s position that one needed to follow the law to be acceptable to God, while he himself did not follow the law (see Acts 10:9-44). Paul then points out that despite all this, the law is impossible to fulfill (verses 15-16). He then refutes the concept that an emphasis on faith, rather than the law, leads to immorality (v. 17) by presenting the truth that a living relationship with Jesus transforms us through the power of his death and resurrection. (verses 19-20). Verse 21 brings the argument back to the Jewish Christians. The Jews of Paul’s time generally had a traditional belief in the grace of God. They believed that only if a Jewish person was manifestly disobedient to the law was this favor lost. They were “children of Abraham” – and were saved by the fact of their “ethnic connection,” unless they violated the law in a major way. To be kind, one could argue that the Jewish Christians were simply upholding this tradition when they insisted that Gentiles conform to their own pattern and follow the law. But here, Paul pulls the rug out from under them. The Judiazers believe in grace, but Paul points out that he, or any other Jew, will “will set aside the grace of God” if they rely on the law, or impliedly, rely on ethnic or cultural heritage. Then he plays his logical trump card – if Jesus, as Messiah, knew that righteousness could be obtained on our own strength at any level, they why did he have to die? The whole purpose of Jesus coming into the world (expounded on in verse 20) becomes a nullity. The conclusion guts the very essence of the Judiazer’s position – for if you accept their argument, we should all just become Jewish, and Christianity, and Christ’s sacrifice, is useless.

But this final statement of Chapter 2 does more than simply refute the arguments about the law, but one about ethnicity as well. As I said, the Jews believed that by birth, by heritage, they had a ticket to heaven, that could only be “lost” by gross disobedience. Gentiles traditionally could only get their own ticket by converting to Judaism, and following the law in all its detail. Paul’s final statement/argument shows that Christ leveled the playing field, and Jew and Gentile have equal access to God’s grace exclusively through Christ. If righteousness comes via Christ alone, then ethnicity or culture has no bearing on who we are in God. That issue had been nailed to the cross!

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