By Works of the Law No One Will Be Justified
Paul has one more addition to make to the itinerary he was narrating, and that was when the Apostle Peter (Cephas) made a visit to the mostly Gentile church in Antioch. Paul doesn’t say what the occasion was but we should assume that the churches, which at that time were few, would naturally communicate, especially the apostles. The way Paul tells it, Peter was eating with the Gentile Christians UNTIL Jewish Christians came from Jerusalem, prompting him to then separate from the Gentiles and eat only with the Jews. (We are reminded in this sad episode that even the apostles could be caught in wrongdoing, our sinful natures being ever with us.) Paul confronted the titular head of the apostolic band with his hypocrisy for which I am sure Peter humbly repented.
By now Paul has already proven that his gospel was by no man’s design. His purpose in sharing this story was to move into what this entire letter to the churches in Galatia was about: The gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul had been the quintessential lawman. He was a Pharisee among Pharisees, a Jew among Jews. Yet, when he was taken captive by the grace of Christ, he discovered that his law-keeping would avail him nothing before the throne of the Holy One; both Jew and “Gentile sinner” were on the same footing at the foot of the cross. And so law had to give way to grace.
And here Paul introduces a word in this letter which may indeed have been his first letter to any church, that word being, “justified.” (We saw this word and its cognates [e.g., “justification”] in his letter to the Romans.) The word comes from the forensic or legal sphere and has to do with the courtroom. In the New Testament, it means to “make right” to “give a right standing to,” or to simply acquit. Those who are justified by faith in Jesus Christ are those who have been made right, given a right standing, and acquitted before God by faith in Jesus Christ. But how does faith in Christ justify? By his work on the cross. It was on the cross that the Father made the gracious exchange whereby He traded His Son’s righteousness for our sinfulness so that we may be forgiven and cleansed by His Son’s blood. Thus, this right standing cannot be earned by good works or law-keeping; it is solely a gift of grace as our Lord’s forgiveness of sin and gift of justification can only be received. And this is the gospel, the good news, that neither Paul nor we can ever compromise, for to do so is to forfeit grace, forgiveness, salvation, heaven, and God Himself. Cling to the gospel of grace whereby God clings to you.