Scripture: Galatians 2:11-3:8
Aim: To help the pupil understand the development of the Church and how the leaders responded to the difficulties they faced in transition from the old Jewish system of the Law of Moses, to the Christian doctrines based upon faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ at the cross.
Golden Text: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
The transition from following the Jewish traditions of following the laws of Moses, which included all the sacrifices, rituals and minute rules for daily living, to following Jesus Christ and the principles He established for the Church (New Community of believers), which is based upon faith in Christ and His work at the cross, rather than personal works, was a difficult transition. The tendency was for the Jewish beliefs to be brought over into the church. If this had been done, the church would have remained a Jewish Church. That was not the purpose or intent of Christ in establishing the church. The intent is that any and all may be a part of His salvation.
I. Peter dissimilated from consistent practice to partisan activity (Galatians 2:11-16). Peter had been closely associated with converted Gentiles, but when Jewish leaders came Peter separated from the Gentiles and fellowshipped only with the Jews (vs. 11-12). This caused Barnabas and others to do the same, thus dividing the Jewish Christians from the Gentile Christians (vs. 13).
When Peter came to Antioch, Paul confronted him and corrected the error by pointing out the true way and purpose of Christianity (vs. 14-15). He asked Peter why he required the Gentiles to become Jewish proselytes when he had been living like a Gentile. Under the Law of Moses there was a distinction between Jew and Gentile (vs. 15), but under Christianity they were equal and both were required to take up and follow the teachings (doctrines) of Christ (vs. 16, see Golden Text).
II. Paul pointed out that the Christian is to live the life of Christ after he has repented and received Christ as Savior (Galatians 2:16-21). The Christian is saved through faith in Christ (vs. 16). He is then to live according to the teaching of Christ (vs. 19-20). Not to do so is to “frustrate” (nullify) the grace of God (vs. 21). One can not be saved by the Law, or law keeping, but by faith in Christ alone. The Law shows us we are sinners, faith in Christ takes away our sins (vs. 17-20).
III. Paul asks five questions of the Galatian Christians (Galatians 3:1-9). First, who deceived you into disobeying the truth (vs. 1)? Second, did you receive the Holy Spirit by faith or by works (vs. 2)? Third, do you think you get saved by the Holy Spirit and sanctified by works? Fourth, have you suffered as a Christian in vain (vs. 4)? Fifth, did I come to you and work miracles by faith or by the law (vs. 5)?
In answer Paul points to Abraham. He believed God (had faith in God) and God counted it for righteousness to him. So Abraham was saved by faith before the Law was given (vs. 6). Peter goes even further to point out that all who are saved by faith are the children of Abraham (vs. 7).
The conclusion is simple as far a Paul is concerned. The Law was given to make men know they needed to turn from their sins to God. Christ was given to take away those sins. All who have received Christ are in one family. There is no division of Jew, or Gentile. All are members of the New Community, the Church of Jesus Christ because of their faith in Christ.
It appears that we even today still have our problems of unity in Christianity, does it not? When our Lord returns, His prayer for the unity of His followers will be answered (John 17:21).
Howard Tillery is the pastor of New Ochlocknee Baptist Church in Grady County. He lives in Cairo.