Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
We began a couple weeks ago a study of
Paul's letter to the Galatians, and are continuing in that this
morning. And as I noted two weeks ago, Paul's letter contains
more autobiographical information than any other source that we
have about Paul.
In chapter 1, he describes his conversion from a life of
violence and persecuting the followers of Jesus, to Christ, as
the result of that direct revelation that he had from God on his
way to Damascus. And that's a critical point because Paul is
responding to critics who evidently have charged that he is out
of step with the apostles in Jerusalem. And who, therefore, do
not recognize his claim to apostleship.
Then in chapter 2, he goes on to describe his meeting with those
very same apostles in Jerusalem, an event that is also described
in the 15th chapter of Acts, where it is agreed that Peter has
been entrusted with the gospel to be circumcised (that is, the
Jews), where Paul has been entrusted to the gospel to the
uncircumcised (the Gentiles). With no preconditions, other than
that they remember the poor in Jerusalem. Bible scholars will
recall that in acts 15 there's a slightly different recollection
that they're also to keep a kosher diet, but that's another
story we won't go into this morning.
Paul then describes a run-in he has with Peter in Antioch over
that very issue, where Peter is eating with the Gentiles
(presumably an un-kosher meal), until certain folks come from
Jerusalem and he suddenly changes his tune and he goes to eat at
their table (a kosher table), and Paul lashes out at Peter for
his hypocrisy in verse 14 of chapter 2, quoting himself to
Peter, he says: ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and
not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like
And the text that follows is our text for this morning, but
first I want to to note one little secret that Bible scholars
are very aware of. And that is, there are not quotations in
Greek -- they hadn't invented quotation marks yet. So the only
way you can tell when something is a quotation is by the
context. And that leads to some interesting variations in
interpretation. Bible scholars are pretty evenly divided over
whether or not this text that follows is a continuation of that
quotation of Paul speaking to Peter (and sort of dressing Peter
down for his hypocrisy), or, if it is now Paul's summation of
the situation as he addresses the church in Galatia.
So, that means that we really can't know for sure who the "we"
is in this text, with which it begins. When Paul says 'we' is he
referring to himself and Peter in Antioch, or is he referring to
himself and his opponents who are also Jewish Christians in
Galatia. Minor little point, but leads to some interesting
variations of interpretation. You'll notice in the pew Bible,
the New Revised Standard Version, that it follows the reasoning
of the latter case, so this is not a quotation then of Paul's
address to Peter. Some other Bibles go the other direction.
So at at any rate, the text for this morning, from chapter 2,
verses 15 through 24:
We ourselves are
Jews by birth and
not Gentile sinners;
16yet we know that a
person is justified
not by the works of
the law but through
faith in Jesus
Christ. And we have
come to believe in
Christ Jesus, so
that we might be
justified by faith
in Christ, and not
by doing the works
of the law, because
no one will be
justified by the
works of the law.
17But if, in our
effort to be
justified in Christ,
we ourselves have
been found to be
sinners, is Christ
then a servant of
sin? Certainly not!
18But if I build up
again the very
things that I once
tore down, then I
demonstrate that I
am a transgressor.
19For through the
law I died to the
law, so that I might
live to God. I have
been crucified with
Christ; 20and it is
no longer I who
live, but it is
Christ who lives in
me. And the life I
now live in the
flesh I live by
faith in the Son of
God, who loved me
and gave himself for
me. 21I do not
nullify the grace of
God; for if
through the law,
then Christ died for
The word "justify" here has been laden
with all kinds of theological meetings over the centuries. But
it's really a very simple concept. It simply means "to be made
How many here know how to justify a
column? Seriously? :) Could you do it on a typewriter? How many
know how to do it on a typewriter? Remember in typing class, for
me it was in 7th grade, you get to the end of a line, and what
do you do? You put in slash marks, until you come to the end of
your margin and your typewriter won't type any more, right? And
the you count the number of slash marks, and your spread out the
spaces in the sentence. And there are rules abot how many spaces
in-between the letters, according to the height of the letter.
You remember all of that? Of course not! In this day and age you
push the button on the computer :). Where wuold you be without
your elders teaching you these essential things that you need to
know? Life without computers, right.
Well, it's the same concept -- to "make right", make straight,
to justify. To be made right with God. And by the way, the Greek
word for 'justification' is the same word that we also translate
as 'righteousness'. It's the same word. That's not a 'holier
than thou' attitude that we often associate with the word
'righteousness', it's simply someone who is right with God.
So the question Paul is addressing is how do we get right with
God? It's not about how we get into heaven, although one might
safely assume if one is right with God then presumably then
you're going to be OK in the next life. But that's not Paul's
primary concern. Getting right with God is about so much
more than anything do with the next life.
And there's a second misconception many have about this text
(and about Paul in general) that Judaism is all about law and
works, and Christianity is all about faith and grace. And it's
simply not true. You've heard me about that before. And I've
said it before and will say it again, Paul is not seeking to
refute Judaism, his argument is with his fellow Christians who
also happen to be Jewish. He contends that to be a good follower
of Jesus you also need to be Jewish as Jesus was Jewish, and
abide by the Torah, the Jewish law, in order to be made right
with God. And that's the notion that Paul is addressing, and he
rejects one has to be both.
And so to that, Paul says 'no', faith in Christ alone is
sufficient, just as the Jew might say faith in the Torah alone
is sufficient. For both Jew and Christian, it is still a matter
of faith. And therefore we should see Judaism and Christianity
not as in competition with one another, but rather complementary
to one another.
But what that faith means for one's daily life was pretty clear
for the Jew in that ancient world. There were centuries of
tradition. There's a book. Thre's all of that history. The
Psalms and the rituals, and the stories -- guides for all kinds
of situations. But these new Christians were like that
18-year-old headed off to college who no longer has to live
under the rules of their parent. Pretty exciting, right? For the
kids! Pretty scary for the parents. And so in some of the chaos
and confusion that resulted in this new freedom, going back to
the house rules of those parents was one of the options that
made perfect sense. Jesus was a Jew, the apostles were all
Jewish, the only scriptures they had at that point came from the
Jewish tradition, so it just make sense to go back to that.
The challenge then, for Paul, in his
mission to the Gentiles, is to explain how one can be right with
God without having to be Jewish. And the answer that Paul gives,
please note he does not contrast law versus faith as often is
assumed, but rather the works of law versus the works of faith.
And we do de-emphasize works because of the negative connotation
that we give to 'works righteousness', that idea that one can
earn their way into heaven by good deeds. Paul does not have
that concern, however. For Paul, there may be be works without
faith, but faith without works is not conceivable. For faith
that is true and in Christ always leads to good works.
And thus Paul emphasizes the importance
of faith first, because it will lead to the right works..
Whereas the right works may not lead to the right faith. And in
Galatians 5, he says the only thing that counts is faith working
In his letter to the Philippians, he writes: 'work out your own
salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work
in you, enabling you to will and to work or his good pleasure'.
So the idea that Paul rejects works over faith is simply
nonsensical--it's two sides of the same coin.
Now it is true that Paul casts the law here in a rather negative
light, but that is simply the nature of polemics. Paul has to
define his understanding of the gospel over against those who
relied too much on the law, especially circumcision for men and
Kosher diet for all. And therefore he responds in kind.
We, however, do not need to define ourselves in such ways
anymore. And therefore do not need to be concerned with such.
What we do need to be concerned with is the way in which our
faith is manifested, the works of faith. Or, as Paul calls it,
the fruit of the Spirit. Remember Galatians 5:22, many people
probably have that memorized or are at least familiar with it:
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That
last one is probably the tough one for many of us :).
In this text, he summarizes all of that by simply saying it is
no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. To live in
Christ is the primary work of faith. As our banners so
beautifully say, from that quote from Teresa of Avila -- Christ
has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet
but yours, and so forth.
Or, as St. Francis, in my favorite
saying, has said: "Preach Christ at all times. If necessary, use
Now, just one more nuance to this text, that I would be remiss
in my role as a teacher and Bible scholar wanna-be if I did not
point it out. For years, I have admonished faithful Bible
students to do what? Footnotes! Read the footnotes!
Get out your text people, and I'm not
talking about the editorial comments that the publisher makes,
that are often put at the bottom of the page in some Bibles. I'm
talking about the footnotes that explain variations in the text,
or variations in interpretation of the text. We struggle with
that concept, we want our text to be black-and-white, crystal
clear, but there's a lot of ambiguity in the text that is
important for us to be aware of, because in that ambiguity often
times, paradoxically, is the power of the gospel.
So let me show you what I'm talking about. Verse, 16, if you
look in your pew Bible, and if you have a different Bible,
compare and see, that's a good way to see how good your Bible
is, or the publisher is, whether or not is has these footnotes.
In verse 16, there are 3, actually, little footnotes. The first
one I've already explained, you'll note after the word
'justify', there's a little tiny letter, and look down below it
also says it can be translated as 'righteousness'.
But the next two, 'not by works of law, but through faith in
Jesus Christ', little letter 'd', and 'we have come to believe
in Jesus Christ so that we might be justified by faith in
Christ', little letter 'e'. You look down below, what does it
say? It says "faith of Jesus".
That's a different idea, how do you respond to that except to go
"huh?". Rather than faith in Jesus, we are justified,
made right with God, by the faith of Jesus. Huh. Or,
maybe it's Huh?
The Greek preposition is ambiguous. It can be either. Which does
Paul mean? Does he mean one, or the other, or both?
You see, when we say 'faith in Jesus', or to believe in Jesus,
it's about what we do. And some charge that's just
another form of works righteousness, earning our way into
heaven. But when when we say we are justified, made right by
God, not because of what we do but because of the faith of
Jesus, then it's truly about what Jesus has done, not
about what we do.
So, if you want to avoid making that act of believing another
form of works, then speak of salvation not as faith in
Jesus, but rather from the faith of Jesus. For Paul to
live in Christ is not so much to believe in Jesus as it is to
have the faith of Jesus. And what is that faith?
To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. To
love your neighbor as yourself. To love your enemies and pray
for those who persecute you. To do unto others as they would do
unto you. To proclaim the good news to the poor, and to set the
To have the faith of Jesus is not just to believe those things
to be true (as Jesus says, even the demons do that), it is
rather to show your works by your faith and your faith by your
works. By such we are not only justified, made right with God,
by such faith, the faith of Jesus, to live differently in this
world, to follow the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of
justice and peace, the world will be made right with God.
And so by and with our faith, we seek no less than to transform
lives, to transform Christianity, to transform the world.
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