Galatians 2: 11 – 21.
Amidst a glaringly candid narrative of an earlier reprehensible encounter at Antioch between the apostles, Peter and Paul, and by implication, James (Gal 2:11-12), Paul interjected one of Scriptures’ most profound dictum (viz., Gal 2:20). What was the underlying factor which initiated this rather remarkable declaration? Some clarification of the Antioch incident may be necessary. The arrival of Jewish believers sent by James from Jerusalem, on a fact-finding mission, altered Peter’s behaviour towards dining with Gentile believers. Barnabas, Paul’s co-worker, and other Jewish members, likewise, withdrew from eating with non-Jews. The controversy was over kosher meal preparation and dining arrangements that were exclusive to the Jews. Peter, despite his earlier visions with respect to Cornelius, which categorically included Gentiles into the faith community (Acts 10), seemed to vacillate in the presence of representatives from the mother church. His apparent chauvinism launched Paul into a confrontation with racial and theological overtones (Gal 2:15-21), propounding that Jewish believers are not made righteous with God by observing the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. So, if they no longer observed the detailed tenets of the law, they were not sinning against the law because they had died to the law through Christ. Christ bore their punishment at the cross and paid the price for their sins – He fulfilled the law on their behalf and set them free from the curse of the law (c.f., Gal 3:11-14; Gal 3:22-29). In reality, Christ by His Spirit lives in us, and in living our lives, we, ought only to express Him exclusively (Gal 2:20; John 14;15-17).
The importance of a true representation of the gospel was a priority over any apostolic harmony, as misrepresenting it, totally undercuts the basis of our salvation, of sins forgiven, and reconciliation with God, irrespective of Jew or Gentile (c.f., Gal 1:8-9). James and Peter did not anticipate how the Gentiles’ coming into the faith would complicate Jewish practices at the time. But Paul had thought through its repercussions, having experienced the interactions between the Christian Jewish diaspora with Gentile believers during his first missionary journey in Asia Minor, and had taught about it among the Galatian cluster of churches. Nevertheless, the controversies persisted, until the Council at Jerusalem finally settled them. In humility and with the wise guidance of the Holy Spirit, the leaders in the mother church decided to chart a new course in matters of practice with respect to the law for all believers (Acts 15:1-21). Even today, issues to do with the law and the practice of faith, quite apart from the theological elements which may undergird them, has not always been clear-cut to delineate and accommodate the perplexities of the modern life. However, what we can be certain is that the practice of Biblical truth cannot be devoid of the presence of agape.
To be more like Jesus is to learn to walk in step with His Holy Spirit on the basis of His substitutionary atonement, with the unswerving love of Christ practiced in all walks of life. That was how the Apostle Paul saw himself, as a model for the Galatian believers, when he declared that “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). The gospel is the commencement of a faith process in discipleship that leads us towards spiritual maturation in community with other believers (c.f., Eph 3:16-19); a transformation that would eventually make us more Christ-like (Gal 4:19). That is the consequence of Jesus’ death and resurrection (viz., our justification and sanctification) – the fruit of the Cross of Christ.