His All-Sufficiency

Membership in God’s people is determined by our submission to Jesus Christ, especially the Messiah who was revealed on the Cross, and nothing else! The forgiveness of our sins is obtained “through the faith OF Jesus,” not “from the works of the Law.” His self-sacrificial death is the all-sufficient basis of our acquittal of sin’s guilt before God.

Consequently, it is pointless to impose additional conditions and deeds that believers must perform to earn acceptance by God. Discipleship certainly requires righteous conduct from us, but we are declared guiltless by God based on the Death and Resurrection of His Son.

Cross Mountain - Photo by Anna Scarfiello on Unsplash
[Photo by Anna Scarfiello on Unsplash]

In
Galatians, Paul explained how he received his Gospel through revelation from Jesus, a commission confirmed by the apostles in Jerusalem. He compared the situation in Galatia to the “false brethren who were smuggled in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus” in the city of Antioch.

There, “certain men from Jerusalem” infiltrated the Assembly and disseminated disruptive teachings, especially the claim that it was inappropriate for Jewish believers to eat with uncircumcised Gentiles. This development would have prevented Jewish and uncircumcised Gentile believers from participating together in communal meals.

The pressure to conform was so great that even Peter and Barnabas were entangled in the practice, and so, Paul confronted Peter with his hypocrisy:

  • When I saw that they are not walking straightforwardly regarding the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all: ‘If you, being a Jew, are living like Gentiles and not like Jews, how are you compelling the Gentiles to Judaize?’” - (Galatians 2:11-14).

Were Gentiles acceptable members of the community without their submission to circumcision? The key phrase in Paul’s statement is “COMPELLING Gentiles to Judaize.”  The Greek verb is a strong one and means just that - “To compel, to force” (anangkazō – Strong’s - #G315). The infinitive translated as “to judaize” occurs only here in the New Testament. It is from the Greek word applied to someone who lived like a Jew, and it meant to adopt a Jewish lifestyle - (Strong’s - #G2450).

That was the crux of the issue. The men from Jerusalem were “compelling” Gentiles to conform to their ancestral customs. Their refusal to eat with Gentiles insinuated something was defective in their faith.

Paul’s opponents did not deny the necessity for faith, but circumcision was presented as a necessary addition to faith in Jesus to “complete” the faith of Gentiles - “Having begun in Spirit, are you now to be MADE COMPLETE by the flesh?” - (Galatians 3:1-5).

PAUL’S RESPONSE


The men from Jerusalem could make a strong case. Circumcision was given to Abraham as the “sign” of His “everlasting covenant.” Any male not circumcised was “cut off from Israel” since “he has broken my covenant.” Because the Church originated from the religion of Israel, confrontation over this matter was inevitable once the Gospel was preached to Gentiles - (Genesis 17:7-14, Acts10:44-48).

If Gentiles submitted to circumcision, they would place themselves under all the obligations of the Law, including its dietary calendrical regulations. The first disciples were Jews. The Church did not view itself as a new religion but as the fulfillment of the beliefs and traditions of Israel- (Galatians 3:10, 5:2-3).

So, what was the basis on which Gentile believers became acceptable members of God’s people? If they were not acquitted before Him “from the works of the Law,” what was the purpose of the Law? Paul addresses both questions in Chapter 3 of Galatians. Must Gentiles add circumcision to their faith? Paul’s emphatic answer was “NO!

In Chapter 2, Paul presented what he held in common with his opponents (verses 15-16), and then summarized the areas of disagreement (verses 17-21).  He began by describing the basis on which a man was acquitted before God:

  • (Galatians 2:15-16) - “We ourselves by nature Jews and not sinners from among the Gentiles, know that man is not declared righteous from the works of the law but through the faith of Christ Jesus; even we believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be declared righteous from the faith of Christ and not from the works of the law; because from the works of the law will no flesh be declared righteous.”

The statement opens with an emphatic Greek pronoun translated as “we ourselves.”  Paul was referring to something on which he and his opponents agreed. A man is not put in right standing with God “from the works of the Law but through the faith OF Jesus Christ.” That was common ground.

Believers are justified “through the faith OF Jesus.” The genitive construction of the clause refers to something that Jesus had or did, thus, acquittal before God is achieved through the faith of the Son of God. The Greek preposition translated as “from” (ek) points to the “faith of Jesus” as the source or basis of the believer’s justification.

The Greek noun ‘pistos’ can be translated as “faith” or “faithfulness.” Here, it is shorthand for the faithful obedience of Jesus “unto death.” This is confirmed in verse 21 - “I live by faith, the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up on my behalf.” It is the “faith of Jesus,” his death, that justifies men.

Thus, acquittal is based on his obedient act, not by performing the deeds required by the Law. Paul’s opponents wished to add things to this process even though they had also responded to the Gospel with faith in Jesus (“even we believed in Christ Jesus”).

Exercising faith in what God did in His Son is how believers respond to the faithfulness of Jesus. There is nothing to add to the all-sufficiency of his death, and therefore, believers live from the "faith of the Son of God" who gave himself for them.

  • (Galatians 2:17-21) - “Now, if in seeking to be set right in Christ we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!  For if the things that I pulled down these again I build, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For I, through the law, died to the law that I might live to God. With Christ have I been crucified; and I am living no longer, but living in me is Christ, as long as I now do live in flesh, I live from faith, the FAITH OF THE SON OF GOD who loved me and gave himself up in my behalf. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if through the law is righteousness, then Christ died without cause.”

Most likely, the agitators claimed that if the Law did not regulate the Assembly, then moral anarchy would reign. However, that would make Jesus responsible for all subsequent sins, a charge he adamantly rejected.

Mountain sunrise Norway - Photo by Andrew H on Unsplash
[Photo by Andrew H on Unsplash]

To return to the requirements of the Law after being freed from its “
curse” would be the real transgression. By insisting on faith plus any of the “works of the Law,” believers would declare openly that Jesus “died in vain,” and that his death was powerless to justify and save them.

That would be a transgression of the worst kind since we would thereby declare that his death was insufficient to acquit us of sin before God.

What defines the people of God is identification with Jesus and his act of faithfulness on Calvary, not circumcision or submission to the rites and regulations of the Mosaic Law. Our justification is based on the “faith OF Jesus,” and nothing else. The penitent man can do nothing but respond to this gracious act with repentance and faith in Jesus.



RELATED POSTS:
  • The Circumcised Heart - (The promise of the Spirit is integral to the redemption of humanity and the Covenant of God with His people)
  • The Spirit of Life - (The Spirit of God imparts life, especially the everlasting life of which the Gift of the Spirit is the First Fruits, foretaste, and guarantee)
  • Christ is Risen - (Paul anchored all that God has done in the resurrection of Jesus, which also inaugurated the Messianic Age - Galatians 1:1-5)

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