“Live by Faith Alone”
Justification by faith alone. John Calvin called it “the main hinge on which religion turns.” Martin Luther called it “the doctrine by which the church stands or falls.” For the apostle Paul, justification by faith alone was at the heart of the Gospel. For all these men of God, denying this teaching amounted to denying the Gospel, denying Christ, and denying the Christian faith.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written in response to the Judaizers. The Judaizers were a group of Jews who claimed to be Christians, but Paul informs us in Galatians 2:4 that they were actually “false brothers” (Gal. 2:4). They had “turned away” from God and His grace to a false gospel that was based on works (cf. 1:6). You may be surprised to learn that the Judaizers were so convincing that even the apostle Peter was temporarily fooled by their subtlety.
Today’s passage recounts the first major showdown in the church over the Gospel. Would the “truth of the gospel” overcome the devil’s attacks (Gal. 2:5)?
Please turn in your Bible to Galatians 2:11-21: 11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision [i.e., a Jewish sect called the Judaizers]. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? 15 "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. 17 "But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! 18 "For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 "For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." (NKJ)
Hear the Lord say to you, Live by Faith Alone!
Galatians 2:11-12 “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.”
Peter (or Cephas in Aramaic) was a bold and outspoken follower of Christ, but he often displayed his lack of faith boldly as well. When Peter denied that Jesus would have to be killed and raised up the third day, Jesus responded to his statement of unbelief, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men" (Matt. 16:23). In fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, Peter later denied Christ three times (Luke 22:56-60). Now, Peter the apostle, failed once again, showing his own human weakness. Giving in to sinful fear, Peter withdrew from Gentile believers to fellowship with the heretical Judaizers. Through his actions, Peter was denying the Gospel and thereby denying Christ once again.
Since his actions gave the appearance that he supported this false gospel, Peter was bringing discredit to the Gospel of grace that Paul preached. So when Peter arrived at Syrian Antioch, the location of the first church that included both Jews and Gentiles, the apostle Paul felt compelled to oppose him, to confront him publicly, “to his face”.
Peter should have known better. He should have known that the Judaizers’ teaching was in error. After all, in Acts, chapter 10, when the apostle Peter was sent to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and his household, Peter testified, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. . . . I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (10:28, 34-35).
Additionally, Peter knew that the Jerusalem Council had ruled that it was not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised in order to become Christians. Acting on this knowledge, Peter ate with the Gentile Christians in Antioch, regarding them as his Christian brothers. But all that changed when certain men who claimed to have come from James, the half-brother of Jesus, appeared on the scene. Based on the ruling of the Jerusalem Council, it is most likely that the Judaizers’ claim (to have come from James) was a lie. Nevertheless, when these Judaizers arrived, Peter kept his distance from the Gentiles, separating from them once again. Why did Peter do this? Because he “feared those who were of the circumcision,” that is, Peter feared losing favor with the legalistic Judaizers.
Just as he had earlier denied Christ three times out of fear, Peter denies his Gentile brothers in Christ out of fear. Fear was one of Peter’s great weaknesses. Peter sinned because he feared men more than God. Fearing the Judaizers, Peter allowed this perversion of the Gospel to take root. Peter’s failure should cause us to ask ourselves, Do we care more about what others think of us or what God thinks of us? If we fear men more than God, then we need to repent of our sin.
Furthermore, that an apostle of Christ could fall back into sin serves as a warning to each of us. If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall as Peter did! Peter spoke from experience when he warned us in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” So “resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Pet. 5:9, NAS).
Galatians 2:13 "And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.”
Not only did Peter succumb to hypocrisy, but so also did the other Jewish believers in Antioch and “even Barnabas.” What was Peter’s hypocrisy? Peter was eating with the Judaizers but declining the Gentiles’ invitations to eat with them. Through his practice, Peter was rejecting the Gospel of grace that he had earlier preached. He was treating the Gentiles as if they were “unclean” and affirming the very dietary restrictions that he had earlier confessed that God had abolished. Surely Peter was committed to the Gospel of grace, but his actions suggested that he accepted the legalism of the Judaizers. He was failing to practice what he had earlier preached. This was indeed hypocrisy.
The Judaizers were self-righteous hypocrites who preached a false gospel. Clearly, they were serving Satan, not God. Jesus had warned Peter to “watch and pray, lest [he] enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). Sadly, Peter had once again given in to the temptations of the devil.
Paul continues by recounting his response to Peter in the remaining verses of Galatians, chapter 2. Let us continue with Galatians 2:14: “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?””
Peter and the other Jewish Christians were not being “straightforward about the truth of the gospel.” Prior to the arrival of the Judaizers, the apostle Peter, who was a Jew, had lived “in the manner of the Gentiles,” sharing meals with them. He did not regard them as “unclean.” He could not be accused of hypocrisy, for he treated the Gentiles with the same Christian love that we owe to all our brothers and sisters in Christ. But, now, Peter had consented to the Judaizer heresy. He was compelling Gentiles to become Jews in order to be saved, in order to be Christians. In doing so, he was denying the Gospel!
Are you straightforward about the gospel? Do you add to the gospel or subtract from it? Do you leave out those parts of the gospel that might offend? The good news of the Gospel is not only that God loves us and is our friend but also that He died for us on the cross to deliver us from God’s wrath. Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day, in body and spirit, so that His people shall also be raised.
Paul publicly confronted Peter in accordance with the instructions he gave Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:20: “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” Peter apparently repented of his grave error, as he affirmed Paul’s apostleship and teaching and acknowledged the danger of heresy in 2 Peter 3:15-16, where Peter writes, “. . . our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand [like justification by faith alone], which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”
Let us beware of those who twist the Scriptures and distort the Gospel. Paul publicly rebuked Peter for the sake of the purity of the Gospel. Are we willing to take such a bold stand for God and His Truth? I hope so.
Galatians 2:15-16 "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.“
Gentiles were sinners by nature because they did not have the law from God as the Jews had. Without the law, they had no special revelation from God that could lead them to salvation or to living a righteous and holy life.
The Judaizers claimed that to be a Christian, a person had to be circumcised and keep the works of the law. What are “the works of the law”? “The works of the law” refers to the “works” commanded by the law of Moses in the Old Testament. These “works of the law” include circumcision and the requirements of the ceremonial law, including the Jewish dietary restrictions, holy days, and religious festivals. But the “works of the law” may also include any attempt we might make to earn God’s favor on our own (cf. Acts 13:38-39).
Galatians 2:16 may be regarded as the theme verse of Galatians. Three times in this verse the apostle Paul declares that we are justified by faith and not by the works of the law. So what was the purpose of the law? The purpose of the law was to act as a mirror to reveal man’s sin and drive him to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, for salvation. The law could never save someone, for in order to enter heaven by our own good works we would have to be perfect. James 2:10 warns that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
Why is God’s standard so high? Because God is an infinite being; He is infinite in His holiness and justice. To sin, even just one time, against such a being is to be guilty of cosmic treason. Sinning against the infinite God requires an infinite penalty. And, we as finite beings could never pay an infinite penalty. That is why God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. He was both God and man. At Calvary, Jesus bore the sins of all His chosen people. He paid the infinite penalty that was rightfully ours.
What does it mean to be “justified”? “Justification” is a judicial term, a term used in relation to a courtroom. When a man is justified, God as Judge declares him to be “not guilty.” He is freed from the penalty that was rightfully his.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines justification this way: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us, and received by faith alone."
In His grace and mercy, God justifies the ungodly. In justification, the Lord pardons all our sins. He says we are “not guilty”. And He accepts us as if we were righteous, not because we are righteous but only because we have been imputed with the righteousness of another—namely, the righteousness of Christ. Christ’s perfect righteousness was earned by His living a perfect, sinless life, and in submitting to the will of God the Father in His crucifixion.
Justification entails what theologians call “double imputation.” When I am justified, my sins are “imputed,” or “reckoned” or “transferred” to Christ. And Christ’s perfect righteousness is “imputed,” or “reckoned” or “transferred” to me. As believers, we are clothed with Christ’s robe of perfect righteousness. When God looks at us, He sees Christ’s righteousness covering all our sins. Thus, He can declare us to be “not guilty,” righteous, holy, and forgiven.
”Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”
Paul says in Galatians 2:16 that we are “not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”
Are you justified? To be justified you must believe in Christ Jesus and in no one else, in nothing else. Peter said in Acts 4:12: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." We are justified in Christ alone.
While most churches teach that people are justified in God's sight both by faith and by their own good works, Bible-believing churches proclaim that we are justified by faith alone. Why do we say “faith alone”? Because here Paul teaches that we are justified, declared innocent before the law, by faith in Christ and NOT by the works of the law. Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans, as well as this summary verse, Galatians 2:16, leave no room for a doctrine of faith PLUS works. If we are not justified by the works of the law, then we must be justified by faith alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 express it clearly, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Have you trusted in Christ alone by faith alone for salvation? Is He the Savior and Lord of your life?
Let us recall the words of the hymn “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.”
Not the labors of my hands can fulfill
Thy law’s demands;
The Judaizers accused Paul, like the Gentiles, of being a “sinner” because he did not observe the Jewish dietary laws and the ceremonial law. Like all false religionists, they had created their own standard of what constitutes a "faithful" and pious believer. In fact, Peter, Barnabas and the rest of the Jewish Christians would also have been “sinners,” for they had been eating with Gentiles, whom the Judaizers considered to be “unclean.” If they were correct, then Christ also was a sinner. For Jesus said in the Gospel of Mark: “Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.)” (Mark 7:18-19)
Peter’s refusal to fellowship with Gentiles was a rejection of Christ’s teaching that the Jewish dietary laws were abolished. In caving in to the Judaizers, Peter was in effect rebuilding the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile that Christ had broken down (Eph. 2:14). For Paul to accept such a teaching would be for him to return to the Pharasaical, legalistic form of Judaism that he held to prior to his conversion on the Damascus road and which since then he had boldly renounced as worthless. To reject Christ and His gospel and return to the law would be a grave sin with eternal consequences. Thus, in the strongest of terms, Paul refutes Peter. Is Christ a liar? Is He a minister of sin? “Certainly not!”
By faith alone, Paul had been united with Christ in His crucifixion and resurrection. Paul died to the law and was raised with Christ so that he might live to God. Since Christ, being sinless, met the law’s demands in full, through the law He sets us free from the law. Paul explains in Romans 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” The Mosaic law brought sin and death. But Christ, through His fulfillment of the law, sets us free from that bondage and makes us truly able to die to sin and live for righteousness.
Have you trusted in Christ alone for salvation? Then you know the Truth, and the Truth has set you free from sin and death!
Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Paul teaches elsewhere that by nature we are slaves to sin and destined for God’s wrath (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 2:3). But when a man places his trust in Christ alone for salvation, God justifies him. Our old man is “crucified with Christ.” Our sin is transferred to Christ’s account. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Paul cannot contemplate returning to his old ways, to the bondage and legalism of the corrupt religion of which he was once a part, for he is now a Christian. Christ has set him free, and Christ lives in him. Paul calls us to live for Christ, to live by faith alone. As a Christian, Paul lives “by faith in the Son of God, who loved [him] and gave Himself for [him].” And that is how God calls us to live, too. “The just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38).
Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:15 that “those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”
Are you a new creation in Christ?
As Christians we are called to become more and more like Christ. How do we mature in Christ? God says that we must renew our minds as we study, memorize, and meditate upon His Word, and as we pray, worship, and fellowship with other believers. We must “put off” sin and “put on” holy, Christlike living. We must present our bodies to God as living sacrifices, as the temple of the Holy Spirit. We must no longer allow this world to conform us to its ways; rather, we must be transformed, as we renew our minds by God’s Word. We must live by faith in the Son of God. We must live by faith alone.
Galatians 2:20 should be the testimony of every Christian: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. “
Paul concludes his sermon to Peter in Galatians 2:21: "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."
The Bible teaches that to be justified before God and thus go to heaven when you die, you must trust in Christ alone by faith alone. By taking his stand with the Judaizers, Peter was in effect denying Christ, just as he had done three times before the Crucifixion. Peter was setting aside the need for God’s grace. If a man could earn his salvation by keeping the law, then Christ died needlessly. The death of Christ was not necessary; He died in vain.
To attack the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works or justification by faith alone, to attack the doctrine of double imputation, is to attack Christ Himself. It is to make void the Gospel. It is to deny the necessity of Christ’s atonement. What good news is there in telling a person that he must contribute to his salvation, when James tells us that if we stumble at just one point, we are guilty of breaking all of it. Without Christ, we would indeed be without hope. This is why John Calvin called justification by faith alone “the main hinge on which religion turns.” Martin Luther called it “the doctrine by which the church stands or falls.” Calvin said, “wherever the knowledge of it is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown.”
Some people wonder why Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and the other Protestant Reformers broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. Were they just divisive individualists? Were they just dividing over something trivial? No, nothing less than the Gospel itself was at stake. Presbyterian theologian Robert L. Reymond, in his book The Reformation’s Conflict with Rome: Why it Must Continue, explains that Roman Catholicism teaches that “faith alone in the perfect obedience and finished work of Jesus Christ accomplished in the sinner’s behalf is not sufficient for his justification or right standing before God. In addition to trusting in Christ’s saving work the sinner must himself perform good works . . .” In contrast the Reformers pointed out that the apostle Paul taught in the New Testament that without justification by faith alone, there is no good news. In Galatians 1:6-9, the apostle Paul explained that any other gospel is “a different gospel,” which is no good news at all. And Paul warns that anyone who preaches a false gospel faces God's eternal condemnation if they do not repent (Gal. 1:8-9). Therefore, to deny this teaching of Scripture would be to deny the Gospel, to deny Christ, and to deny the Christian faith.
The Protestant Reformers had nothing against Roman Catholics. In fact, most of them were once Roman Catholics themselves. (Martin Luther was a Catholic monk and theologian.) The issue was that they were asking the Church to reform itself and return to the simple teachings of the Bible. The church did not agree to change, so the Protestants were forced to separate and start new churches based on the apostles' model.
So let us also follow the apostles' model by holding firmly to the one, true Gospel and the Biblical teaching of justification by faith alone. And living by faith alone, let us do the good works which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10).
"No condemnation now I dread;
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
"When I survey the wondrous cross on
which the Prince of glory died,
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small;
May we live by faith alone!
 John Calvin, “Reply to Sadoleto,” A Reformation
Debate (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966), 66.
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