A Help to the Message: The Role of the Law in Leading to Life (2:19–20)
Before we throw out the law altogether when it comes to justification, we must remember that the law is not useless. After all, is it good when used in a lawful way (cf. 1 Tim 1:8–11). When someone attempts to live according to the law, his sin will show him time and again that he cannot live according to its demands and must suffer its penalty of death. Coming to this realization is actually one of the good purposes of the law. It shows one just how much he cannot attain his own righteousness by keeping the law because he can never perfectly keep it (cf. Gal 3:19–25). In this way he dies to the law, through the law, and is led to live to God in another way (Gal 2:19). Or, as Paul put it, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God” (Gal 2:19). That other way is justification by faith in Jesus Christ.
Remember that Christ lived out the law perfectly under the era of the law. And remember that He died the lawbreaker’s penalty of death without ever having broken the law. And remember that faith unites us to Christ. So, when we believe, we are united to Christ in His death, and thus we can say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20). And it is who we were under sin as exacerbated by the law that died with Him at the cross.
Moreover, our union with Him is to be united to Him in life, so much so that we could even say again with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Even now, while in our physical bodies, we can have be justified by faith in Jesus Christ: “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20).
And for those who have faith, we are compelled to love the Savior all the more because it is He “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
The Hope of the Message: Righteousness through the Death of Christ (2:21)
Having said the above, we can claim that is actually us who do not deny God’s grace in salvation because we are not seeking God’s declaration of righteousness by living according to the law (cf. Gal 5:4). Were we to try such a thing, we would effectively dismiss the purpose of the death of Christ—to sinlessly die the sinner’s death so that all might live through Him (2:21). As Paul stated, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal 2:21).
The Heart of the Message: Justification by Faith in Christ (2:15–16): Our passage comes off the heels of Paul telling Peter he was wrong to withdraw from eating with the Gentiles (Gal 2:11–14). Peter’s problem was to imply through his behavior that the Gentiles needed to add obedience to the Mosaic law to their faith in Christ in order to be seen as righteous before God. In clarifying the matter further, Paul pointed out to Peter that even their privileged ethnicity as Jews in receiving the law did not make the law effective in bringing about their justification: “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know 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.”
To be justified is to be declared by God as righteous, and the works of the law are not works produced by the law but works done in obedience to the law. And while we know that Jesus was perfectly faithful in His obedience to the law, “faith in Jesus Christ” is just that—the believer’s faith in Him and should not be translated as “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” The difference between the two options would be that our own faith is left unmentioned in the matter of justification if we speak only of the righteousness of Christ, not to mention we would be speaking of Christ in way that would be altogether unique in the NT.
Our faith in Jesus Christ is to have faith in who He is and what He has done for us. Not only did He as both God and man live perfectly according to the law, but He also suffered its penalty of death that you and I deserve. To believe, trust, and have faith in Him is to believe in a number of truths: (1) we have violated God’s law and stand condemned before Him; (2) Jesus lived out the law sinlessly and perfectly and merited a righteousness that we could never gain for ourselves; (3) Jesus died an undeserved death on our behalf and was vindicated as sinless at His resurrection (cf. 1 Tim 3:16); (4) His death and righteousness are our own when we believe in Him.
So, in putting these things together, our faith in Christ unites us to Christ and His righteousness becomes our own. The Father obviously approved of His Son when He raised Him from the dead, and we are thus approved and declared righteous by virtue of our standing in Christ. What a truth!
In previous studies, we matched the events of Galatians 1–2 to the book of Acts and concluded the following: Paul’s conversion and subsequent missionary endeavors are recorded in Acts 9:1–25 and Gal 1:11–17 (cf. 2 Cor 11:32–33); Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion and departure to the Gentiles are recorded in Acts 9:26–30 and Gal 1:18–24 (cf. Acts 22:17–21); and Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem is recorded in Acts 11:27–30 and Gal 2:1–10.
After describing his first and second meetings with Peter and others (Gal 1:18–21; 2:1–10), Paul recounted one more episode involving Peter in order to demonstrate that Peter was not the source of his gospel. In Gal 2:11–14, Paul confronted Peter in Syrian Antioch because Peter’s “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” that he had previously affirmed (Gal 2:14; cf. 1:18–2:10).
If “then” (Gal 1:18, 21; 2:1) and “when” (Gal 2:11) lay out for us a chronological series of events, Gal 2:11–14 occurred after Gal 2:1–10, which means that Gal 2:11–14 occurred sometime after Acts 11:27–30. And, if Galatians was written before Acts 15, our window for confrontation is somewhere in Acts 12–14.
Peter was imprisoned in Acts 12, released, and “went to another place” (Acts 12:17; cf. 12:1–17). Paul was in Antioch in Acts 13:1–3 before his missionary journey in Acts 13:4–14:25 and returned to Antioch to report about his journey in Acts 14:25–28. Peter could have visited Paul in either Acts 13:1–3 or 14:24–28 or even sometime between Acts 14:24–28 and the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.
As to the last of these options, Luke records, “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1 ESV).
“Some men” in Acts 15:1 are not the “certain men” who “came from James” in Gal 2:12 because James held to the same gospel as Paul (cf. Gal 1:19; 2:9; 1 Cor 15:7, 11). If anything, based upon Peter’s agreement with Paul in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:7–11), we could conclude that Peter responded positively to Paul’s rebuke (cf. Gal 2:11–14) and headed back to Jerusalem. “Some men” then “came down from Judea” to respond with their false gospel in light of what they heard about the matter (Acts 15:1). Then, “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them” (Acts 15:2), and Paul sent his letter to the Galatians at this time, having heard that they were experiencing this same debate. Then Paul went with Barnabas “up to Jerusalem…about this question” to settle the matter once and for all (Acts 15:2 ESV).
While we obviously cannot be certain about this timeline, it gives a possible explanation for how to coordinate and match the timing and events between Galatians and Acts.
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.