Galatians 2:16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
This passage is the thesis statement of this entire epistle. This verse is to Galatians what Romans 1:16-17 is to Romans. It is the unifying principle that ties everything together in the letter. Further evidence of this truth is found in verses 5 and 14 which Paul calls “the truth of the gospel”.
Galatians 2:5,14 (5) But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. (14) But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Peter had found himself in quite a mess. He recognized the assurance of salvation upon the faith in Christ apart from the works of the Law but denies the same to the Gentiles (cf. “knowing” v.16). This hypocrisy is in the fact that in order to become a Christian, he had to acknowledge the truth regarding the Law that it was unable to save him. If the Law could not save a Jew, then how in the world could that same Law ever save a Gentile? A simple way to convey their disposition is like this, “In order to become a Christian, you must first become a Jew.” This behavior leaves an impression that he regarded the Gentiles as unclean, therefore implicating that they are not saved. Unfortunately, it is not just Peter who is doing this. Barnabas and other Jews were behaving similarly towards their Gentile brethren and in doing so, they were denying justification by grace through faith.
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law…”
How did any of the Jews come to know or understand this principle? For the Jew who understood that Abraham was justified by faith. Romans 4:3 “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” The Greek word for righteousness is “dikaiosyne” and it is used interchangeably as justification in scriptures as well. It would be correct to read the verse like this, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for justification.” Abraham was justified because of his faith in God. The Law condemned the sinner and the only time it would ever justify anyone is if that individual remained sinless. Galatians 3:11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
This idea of Abraham being justified by faith was not a singular act. It was an action that he continually expressed within his life and this statement in Genesis 15 was not a one-time act. This is a general truth that described the life of Abraham of how he was justified by faith throughout his life. When God called for him to leave in Genesis 12; Abraham believed God, trusted in God, and obeyed God. Therefore, he was justified by faith. As God was preparing Abraham and Sarah for the birth of their son, Isaac, we see Abraham believing, trusting, and obeying God in the offering of Isaac.
Genesis 22:5;8-12 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”… Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said “Abraham, Abraham!” and he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
If we are not careful, we will be influenced to believe this idea that Abraham was justified by a one-time act and that it did not matter what he did after the fact. If that were true, why was he asked to offer up his son only to be stopped just before slaying him and it is said “for now I know that you fear God.” This was a continued action in the life of Abraham of him believing in God. The scriptures make it abundantly clear that belief and obedience are not separate functions.
Hebrews 11:8-10;17-19 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God…By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Issac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “in Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.
We are justified by faith just as Abraham was. The grounds is the death of Jesus Christ, the means is through the Gospel, the conditions is my obedient faith, and the result is eternal life.
by Lee Elkins