Neither Jew Nor Greek
Justified By Faith
1. Jesus Christ was a Jew. Jesus' disciples were also Jews. The very first church was made up of only Jews. But, the gospel of Jesus Christ did not remain within a Jewish bounding box, but was communicated broadly unto the Greco-Roman world. Paul the writer of this epistle was the one who did the main work in the evangelistic mission to the Gentiles.
2. While the Gentile mission of Paul was progressing with Syrian Antioch as the base point, a difficult problem, that had once been dormant, came to the surface. It was the problem of how the Jews and the Gentiles might be able to form one community (the church). How to resolve this issue was not a side issue for Paul, but was for him a situation directly related to the true nature of the gospel. As a result, Paul sought a resolution for this issue and repeatedly went up to Jerusalem.
3. What it looked like in that time is recorded from chapters one and two of this epistle. The first time was when about three years had passed after Paul had established the mission work there. At that time, Paul had interviewed Cephas (Peter). But, a turning point event occurred at the time of his second visit. It was fourteen years after his first visit. The scripture says, "Concerning the gospel which I myself have proclaimed to the Gentiles, speaking personally with the people, especially with the leaders, I sought an opinion over whether I am running or I was running in vain," (Galatians 2:2). Then, something happened that would affect church history afterwards and even world history.
4. Please look at chapter two and verse nine. "Furthermore, they recognized the grace given to me, then James, Cephas, John, namely the leaders seen as pillars, held out to Barnabbas and me their right hands as a sign of agreement. With that, we went to the Gentiles and they went to those who had received the circumcision," (Galatians 2:9). In this manner then, James, Cephas, and John went to the Jews and Paul and Barnabbas went to the Gentiles taking the gospel with them, but it was adamantly affirmed that the church was still one, and that it was one community that could still surround one table of the Lord and share in one bread.
5. But then, something terribly sad happened that would break against this affirmed fact of reality. As the scripture says beginning in chapter two and verse eleven, Cephas (Peter), who had been eating with the Gentiles up to then without any problems, stopped eating with them after some men came from James' side. Because in the church back then no distinction in form was made in the regular meals, what Peter did, to be brief, meant that he was no longer worshipping with the Gentiles by surrounding the Lord's table with them. Then the other Jews, even Barnabbas also, started to imitate him on this.
6. The details are not certain as to who were these "certain ones" who had come from James, and under what circumstances did Peter come to take such actions. But, it is clear what the actions that Peter had taken had meant. Whether or not Peter had intended it is one thing, but his actions effectively signified that he required the Gentiles to become like the Jews. It meant that unless the Gentiles became like the Jews, they could no longer gather around the one [and the same] table with Peter and his group. Therefore, Paul criticized Peter and said the following: "While you are a Jew, even though you do not have a Jewish way of living, but are living the lifestyle of a Gentile, why do you force the Gentiles to live the lifestyle of a Jew?," (Galatians 2:14).
7. Why did his forcing them ever come to take place? Why did it come to pass that they couldn't become one without assimilation of the others? When you get Paul to address this, [he says] it is because "You are not walking straight in conformance with the truth of the gospel," (verse fourteen again). That is to say, it is a problem directly related to the essence of the gospel. Therefore, Paul reiterates on the truth of the gospel in verses fifteen and following. We can even understand this [section of scripture] as a continuation of his message to Cephas.
"Born as Jews, we are not sinners like the Gentiles. However though, we know that a person is not [justified] by the deeds of the law, but is only justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and so we too have believed in Christ Jesus. This is the reason we have received righteousness, not by the works of the law, but by faith in Christ. For, by the deeds of the law, no one will be justified," (2:15-16).
9. Of course, neither Paul nor Peter were "sinners like the Gentiles." They were not sinners ignorant of the law of God. Yet, weren't the Jews, Paul, Peter and them, who had the law of God, sinners? "For, by the deeds of the law, no one will be justified," he said.
10. This has a lot of persuasive power in it because they are words from Paul, [a man] who has lived totally observant of the law. The conclusion of Paul who had kept the law always willing and ready to fulfill God's demands to a tee, was that "I am not righteous. I am not recognized by God as righteous." In this way then, no Jew was justified or righteous. No Gentile was righteous either. But, what does the truth of the gospel say? Both Jew and Gentile, who are not justified by works, "are justified by faith in Jesus Christ." Whether we're a Jew or whether we're a Gentile, we are accepted by God and can live as God's people by faith in Jesus Christ, the one who redeemed our sins on the cross. Therefore, quite naturally as a result of this, the people of God should come to include Gentile and Jew just as they are.
11. As you know, this passage is often quoted as a scripture passage that teaches [the doctrine of] "Justification By Faith." But, as we've already seen, the words that speak on "Justification By Faith" were not spoken from the mindset over the issue of "What should a sinner do in order to escape God's judgment and be able to go to heaven?" They were words spoken from the perspective of how the Jews and the Gentiles could form one community (the church). Therefore, a person, who can only think about personal salvation and can only taken up the issue of one's eternal destiny, will not see the truth of "Justification By Faith." The person who cannot truthfully consider the topic of breaking down the dividing middle walls and becoming one with others who are different from him or her will not be walking straight in obedience to the truth of the gospel.
One In Christ Jesus
12. Well, we can probably understand today's passage of scripture well enough in [this context and] flow of things. In verse twenty-six, we find the phrase "son of God" in the text. More than likely the first thing we think of by the title "son of God" is "Jesus Christ" the son of God. But, as we go back into the Old Testament, the title "son of God" is used for the people of God, Israel. For example, in Exodus chapter four, the word of the Lord is recorded, saying, "Israel is my son, my eldest son," (Exodus 4:22), and in Deuteronomy chapter fourteen, the text says, "You are sons of the Lord, your God," (Deut 14:1). In other words, what is being said here is about the people of God as being in a relationship with God as parent and child. Therefore, even in verse twenty-nine which I read you today we find the words in the text, "the descendants of Abraham," "inheritors according to the promise." This is another phrase that is pointing out the people of God.
13. Since we are sons of God, since we can live in a relationship with God as God's people, where is the basis for this? As already discussed, the scripture tells us that the basis for this does not lie in our deeds. For, even if the revelation of God's will has been given as the law, "No one is justified by the practice of the law." By the practice of the law no one can become a son [or a daughter] of God. For that reason, the basis for it does not lie on our part, but lies solely with God. It lies in Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is written as follows: "Everyone of you is joined, by faith, to Christ Jesus and is a son of God," (verse twenty-six).
14. The original meaning of "joined to Christ Jesus" is "being in Christ Jesus." Since we cannot be sons of God by our own righteousness, we only place ourselves in Jesus Christ the son of God by faith. By doing that, we just receive this, we have him make us one with Jesus Christ for us. Of course, it is a spiritual reality given to us according to the working of God's Spirit, through [our] faith. Spiritual realities in and of themselves are not visible to the [human] eye. But, thankfully, we are given not just what is invisible but what is visible as grace gifts. Even though Christ cannot be seen, we can see with our eyes the church as Christ's body. The holy sacraments performed in the church are also visible to us. Therefore, Paul continues here and goes on to address baptism, which is visible to us. "For, everyone of you who has received baptism and been joined to Christ are wearing Christ," (verse twenty-seven), he said.
15. The phrase "wearing Christ" means the same thing as "being in Christ" which we saw earlier, but it seems to be a bit richer of an expression. When we are in Christ, God no longer sees us as naked sinners. He sees us through Christ. As partakers of the redemption of our sins, as wearers of Christ he see us. So, when "wearing Christ" has decisively great significance for us we'll be able to say the next words that come after that. "Wherefore, you are no longer Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, male or female. For, you are all one in Christ Jesus," (verse twenty-eight).
16. We honor baptism. We honor the Lord's Supper. We consider how believing in Christ and being in Christ is terribly important. We believe this is the healthy way for a church to be. When baptism is not honored in the church, when believing in Jesus Christ and being in Christ is not viewed as terribly important, when we start to say that "It's no different whether you're a Christian or not," then other various different elements will always start to have influence over things. All the many differences between us will [regretfully] take on importance -- whether you're a Jew or a Gentile, a slave or a free person, a male or a female, rich or poor, learned or illiterate, you hold certain political views or not, a right winger or a left winger. Then, because of this, it becomes difficult to become one.
17. Paul is not saying here "Become one" right now. He is saying "For, you all are one in Christ Jesus." Both in this world and in the world to come, we are made one by a bond that has the greatest of significance. We're already made one. The important thing for us to do is not to try to become one by cooperation in different kinds of mutual understandings of one another. We are to recognize the fact that we are already one.