This section of scripture is an eye-opener for anyone who thinks that they can
be righteous in the sight of God by keeping the works of the law. In this section it is made evident that there is no justification by works of law, and in fact in some cases the works of law may even be opposed to the truth of the Gospel.
This is not to say there is anything wrong with the law, but the application of it can be problematic.
The Apostle Peter in this section was in fact following one tenet of the Jewish law, but it opposed the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And it took Paul to identify and point his error out because the rest of the Jews were being swayed by Peter’s actions and could have been led astray.
Breaking Down Prejudice
Under the Jewish law, Jews were not to associate and mingle with Gentiles, and if they did or had to associate with Gentiles for some reason, there was an extensive process of “cleansing” themselves when they returned to normal Jewish society.
In essence, this law enshrined a position of bias and prejudice into the law designed to maintain the purity of the Jewish people.
But when Christ came and He installed the teachings of the Gospel, He removed the law through His death for those who are baptised in His name and receive the free gift of righteousness by faith. And in doing so, Jesus equalised all people so that there should no longer be any prejudices between one race or another.
People in the world today have been pressing for the removal of prejudice and all distinctions between people. We only need to look at the civil rights movement of the 1950’ and 1960’s in America, the removal of the apartheid laws in South Africa, women’s rights in western societies and the like, to see how mankind has been trying to equalise all people. And still there is prejudice and bias that does not go away in spite of government intervention.
However, in Jesus Christ we see this equalisation done away with completely as Paul described.
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28)
Every person on earth is equal in the sight of God when they come to Jesus Christ. There is no prejudice on the basis of race, sex, social status, or any other way that people compare themselves to each other. In His sight we are all equal.
And that is why Paul was so concerned about the actions and behaviours of the Apostle Peter when he came to the church at Antioch.
Peter mixed and mingled with the Gentiles freely in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ, until a contingent of Jews also arrived at Antioch. When these other Jews came arrived, Peter feared what they would think of him mixing with the Gentiles, so he drew back from the Gentiles in the church and separated himself.
What Peter was doing was reverting back to the tenets of the Jewish law rather than living and acting in accordance with the truth of the gospel. And if anyone should have known better, it should have been Peter because it was he who was first instructed that there was no difference between Jews and Gentiles. It was Peter who was first told to go to the Gentiles and bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to them when he was called to go to the house of Cornelius, who was a Roman centurion. It is worth reading that sequence of events in Acts chapter 10.
Paul had to pull Peter aside and speak to him about his behaviour because it was affecting the actions of the rest of the people. Peter’s insincerity in this matter was a recipe for disaster for it would have caused a division in the church between the people, and that is NOT what Christianity is about.
First, it must be noted that there is NO place for prejudice of any kind in Jesus Christ. And second, we must remember that we have been set free from ALL the laws of Moses, and believe it or not, that means we have been set free from the Ten Commandments too. It does not mean we ignore the laws or can do the opposite of what the laws teach, for in the law we find great wisdom. But what it does mean is that we are no longer bound under the law and are set free to do what is right.
And this teaching between Peter and Paul is a perfect example of doing what is right. It is right to reject prejudices that are enshrined in law because prejudice causes division where Jesus came to bring equality. It is right to accept all people at face value and not to reject them on the basis of race, beliefs, lifestyle or whatever. We must understand that every person, whether a believer or not, is firstly our neighbour and entitled to the love for a neighbour, and then potentially a brother or sister in Christ as well if they choose to follow Him or a called by God to find Christ. We do not have the right to judge anyone because judgement rests with God, not man.
No Justification By Works of Law
When we understand all of these things we begin to see how and why there is no justification by works of law. When the law causes a division between peoples, as we saw in Peter’s example above, then it cannot lead us to become justified in the sight of God.
To be justified is to be made righteous in the eyes of God. To be righteous is to be sin-free. To be righteous is to be holy.
This can never come about through being under the law exclusively because it is the law that brings the knowledge of sin. Sin is the breaking of the law, and no man can keep the entirety of the law. We are born with the sin factor in us that leads us to break the laws of God and there is nothing we can do by ourselves to break the cycle of sin in mankind.
That is why we cannot be justified by the law, and is why there is no justification by works of law.
We have to step outside of the law if we are to be justified in God’s sight. We have to be removed from the law if we are to receive the free gift of righteousness, and that is why Jesus came and died for us.
There were three parts to the death of Jesus that we need to understand. First, He died to atone for our sins. He was the Lamb of God and the perfect sacrifice for our sins. But His death was greater than just a sacrifice for sin.
The second purpose of His death was to establish, ratify and bring into effect the New Covenant. Just as Moses sacrificed a lamb to establish and ratify the Old Covenant, so too Jesus’ blood ratified and established the New Covenant. There was no New Covenant before Christ died because it was ratified only at His death to supersede and replace the Old Covenant. This is why one of the signs that attended the death of Jesus was the tearing of the curtain in the temple from top to bottom indicating that now ALL people have direct access to God, not just the priests.
The third purpose of the death of Jesus was to remove us from the law. The law still exists as much today as it ever did, but those who come to Christ and take on His death through baptism are removed from the law. It’s not that the law has been taken away, but rather we have been taken away from the law through Christ, because the law is in force only while people are alive. When people die, the law no longer has any effect because the law does not pass through death. And God in His grace allows us to take on the death of Jesus Christ NOW as if it were our own real death, which we receive by faith, so that we can be separated from the law. And when we believe this, God bestows on us His free gift of righteousness by and through faith, just as He did with Abraham.
When we are set free from the law, we cannot sin because we are no longer under the law. We are no longer sinners because we are dead to the law in Jesus Christ, and the law is dead to us.
It doesn’t mean we don’t screw up. But what it DOES mean is that when we do screw up it is not counted as sin because you cannot break a law you are not under. And God forgives us when we do screw up because that is what His grace is for.
These things are just the beginning of the walk with Christ because the purpose of our walk with Him is to come into perfection in Christ. He wants us to be perfect as Christ and the Father are perfect. We cannot do it alone and that is why God has opened the path for us to receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands so that the Holy Spirit does the work of transformation in us.
But not every Christian knows or believes these things. Yet this is how the New Covenant is meant to work for we all must be perfect if we are to stand before God because no sinner will come into His presence.
Seek the truth. Pray about these things. Ask questions. Send me an email or a comment on this post if you want to know more, and know for a fact that there is no justification by works of law. The law cannot and will not save you.
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