Our Identity in Christ.
Galatians 2: 11 – 21
The underlying cause of this deeply embarrassing event between the Apostles Peter and Paul at Antioch, resurfaced in the Galatian Church, and Paul’s account in his Letter to them holds significant lessons for our instruction. Without doubt, it sheds light on the near impregnability of cultural and racial conditioning or prejudice among the early apostles, in the face of their spirituality. The gist of the incident was Peter’s apparent hypocrisy in abstaining from table-fellowship with the Gentiles, with whom he had been participating earlier, until Jewish brethren from Jerusalem arrived in the city. Paul went to great lengths expositing to the Jewish believers their new position in Christ resulting from the gospel. Was Paul being facetious here as he spelt out what the gospel was all about? After all, it has been about 15 years since the crucifixion of Jesus. Re-emphasising the defining theological foundations of their beliefs was critical as these distinguish them from their Judaic faith, and unless they got this right, their identity in Christ will remain nebulous and treacherous. Here are a few expressions Paul defined.
We may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law (Gal 2:16): Despite Jewish legal prescriptions, Paul negatively asserts that no human being is ever justified or declared righteous before God by doing what the Law demands. Our sinfulness remains extant before God and nothing can change it. In fact, God’s view of sin has been constant from the beginning of time and will be into eternity. He then positively enunciates that we have been affirmed righteous only through the God-initiated process of salvific faith in Christ, due to the divine Christ’s death (Rom 5).
For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God (Gal 2:19): Being a learned Pharisee, Paul is familiar with his own efforts to gain God’s righteous acceptance; to the point of persecuting and murdering Christians prior to his Damascus Road experience. He understood that despite his religious zeal, he could never fulfil the Law. God’s Law judged him and he had to accept and be judged by it. By virtue of his objective position in Christ’s vicarious death, Paul has undergone a ‘death’ himself, whereby his relation to the law has been decisively severed, so that he might be set free to serve God without his own uprightness getting in God’s way. It would not be an understatement to conclude that in God’s eyes, our righteousness is equated with sin (Is 64:5-7).
I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20): This mystery is profound, but it is absolutely beautiful if we are able to grasp God’s way and ultimate purpose in realising Christlikeness in us! Definitively, we died when Jesus died, and we live because Jesus lives, and His obedience towards His Father becomes our motivation to obey too. That sublime spiritual reality is balanced by our down-to-earth existence, as Paul explicates that the believer is now set free from the dominion of the law for a life of consecration to God. It is not some kind of mystical depersonalisation to have Christ living in Paul, as though Paul’s humanity was absorbed into the pneumatic personhood of Christ; on the contrary, Paul fully retains his identity as an “I” who sustains an “I-Thou” relationship with Christ. This is indeed a divine privilege for fallible man.
If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (Gal 2:21): Biblical righteousness implies a right or proper relationship with another, and relating to God is always on the basis of righteousness according to His Law. If there was a possibility of anyone gaining righteousness by observing Yahweh’s Law, then there would be no requirement for Christ to have died for us; implying that Jewish laws of righteousness and purity in maintaining a separation between themselves and the Gentiles are no longer the basis of a right relationship between men and God, as God’s righteousness can only be met by God Himself.
Thus, the church’s unity in terms of the Jewish-Gentile divide would have been compromised by Peter’s and the Galatian believers’ conduct, which also went against the very basis of their new identity in Christ. Furthermore, if they carried on as they did, they would be challenging the grace of God in the life of the body of Christ, the church, in favour of the order of performance, whose principle of operation is the Law. May it never be!