If Chapter One’s controversy centered on circumcision, then this week focused on table fellowship. Paul makes the compelling argument for one table for all. He calls out Peter for having changed practices – once dining with Gentiles but now trying to avoid them all together. Peter has been pressured by those “false brothers” we met in chapter one. Barnabas falls victim to the same pressures. Paul wants the Galatians to know that the church leaders in Jerusalem know of his preaching and his ministry to the Gentiles and they have no issue with it. They haven’t corrected this theology and they have offered him the “right hand of fellowship.” Paul’s language becomes quite militant and we realize that Paul very much believers there is a war at hand. The battle is over the freedom from the law. Paul believes the false preachers are enslaving people to the law. Thereby “nullifying the grace” given to us in Christ’s act on the cross. It is the cross, which cuts away all systems used to divide us from others. So those who are separating themselves from others because of what they were eating were not appreciating the full love and grace given in the act on the cross.
Doctrine of Justification We have made new in Jesus Christ. Justified before God because of our Savior. Luther called this doctrine “the article on which the church stands or falls.” Calvin called it, “the hinge on which religion turns.” Paul said it this way, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” We cannot justify ourselves to God by our close adherence to the law. Jesus only can justify us; this is a liberating truth for those who know we fall short.
Modern Uses of the Law Think about how we experience the dos and don’ts of religion – are they bringing us closer to God or given us an illusion of self-righteousness? When it came to the law, Jesus always found a way to help the disciples see the big picture and understand the spirit of the law. In this way, Christ reminds us we have been liberated from the law, justified before God, and free to serve joyfully.
Prayer after the study Heavenly Lord, forgive us for putting contrived limitations on one another and ourselves. Forgive us for trivializing the work of the cross by not living into your grace and mercy. Help us Lord to understand the spirit of unity and community you have envisioned for us. May we grow in our own understanding of the radical impact you had on our world and live into that mystery each and every day. Amen.