Today I am continuing my series on the book of Galatians. Last week I shared with you what was the message of the gospel of grace. This week I will be sharing with you how you can maintain your relationship with God. We will be looking at the passage found in Galatians 2:11-21. In this passage we see a confrontation happen between Peter and Paul. Paul confronts Peter about truly living a life of grace vs. a life of law and grace combined.
The confrontation starts out with Peter coming to visit Paul in Antioch. At first, Peter lives in liberty and freedom with the Gentile believers. However, when some Jewish notables arrive, Peter falls into a trap of hypocrisy and starts living in such a way that was contrary to the Gospel. He separates himself from the Gentiles and starts living by Jewish tradition and laws. Peter stopped being “right with God” and started trying to be “right with the law”.
Three ways people try to stay right with God
People with a works theology believe that if they are good people — if they love their families, work hard, do their civic duty and don’t steal anything big or murder anyone — they’ll pass the test and make it to heaven. It is the classic “good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell” rationale. Most people who operate under this theology try to gather up more good works than bad works and hope that in the end they get a passing grade.
People with a faith theology understand that they violate God’s law all the time, but because Jesus has paid the price as a sinless substitute, they have been pardoned, acquitted and reinstated as God’s children. Their focus is on what Jesus had done and not on what they do. They have placed their trust in His finished work on the cross. People who operate under this theology know that their works are as filthy rags and will never get them into heaven. They get to heaven not because of what they do, but because of who they know.
Faith + Works Theology
A faith + works theology is a subtle mixture of the two. It accepts the premise that we are restored to relationship with God by faith alone, but it argues that we maintain that right standing only by our obedience to the law; however that law may be defined. Their focus is on what God did in the past but does not include God doing something for them in the present unless they work to achieve it.
People who operate under this theology struggle with the concept that grace is not only for the sinner but for the Christian as well. This is the theology that Peter fell into. He knew that we were saved by grace, but he entered into a mentality that said that “law” would maintain that salvation.
The problem with this position is that it negates God’s love and Christ’s death. The answer to the question of the ages is that God is love, and He took the initiative in dying for us so that we could be joined with Him in spite of our sin.
Jesus didn’t die so that man could, by working real hard, earn his way to God. He died so that all we need to do is believe. When I believe, I am supernaturally joined to Christ, my sinful nature that was at enmity with God dies and I become a new creation. In my heart of hearts, I no longer want to sin. I may still struggle with temptation, but I am drawn even more to be more like the One who loves me.
How do we stay right with God?
Paul answers this question in Galatians 2:16. He starts off by saying that we are all justified by faith. That word “justified” is the Greek word Dikaioo which means …
1. to render righteous or such he ought to be
2. to show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered
3. to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous or such as he ought to be
It means that we have right standing with God when we are justified. I like to remember the definition of justification by this phrase. “Just as if it never happened.” When we place our faith in Christ, our sins become forgiven and are looked upon by God just as if they never happened.
The way we keep staying right with God is by keeping our faith on the finished work of Christ on the cross. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in:
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. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. —Galatians 2:20-21
Now in our world, we do not follow most of the Jewish laws and traditions. However, as man always seems to do, we replace one set of religious laws for another. I would like to encourage you for a moment and ask you what type of “Christian laws” you are trying to stay right with God with.
What have you replaced faith in Christ with? Is it church attendance? Sowing seed? Bible reading? These are all good things but if they have become replacements for your faith in Christ and what He has done, then they have become something they were never meant to be.
Do You Believe that Relationship with Christ Alone Will Keep You Right with God?
Let me close this article with an illustration that I used back in 1998 with my church I used to pastor in Ely, NV.
There was a tightrope walker, who did incredible aerial feats. All over Paris, he would do tightrope acts at tremendously scary heights. Then he had succeeding acts; he would do it blindfolded, then he would go across the tightrope, blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow.
An American promoter read about this in the papers and wrote a letter to the tightrope walker, saying, “Tightrope, I don’t believe you can do it, but I’m willing to make you an offer. For a very substantial sum of money, besides all your transportation fees, I would like to challenge you to do your act over Niagara Falls.”
Now, Tightrope wrote back, “Sir, although I’ve never been to America and seen the Falls, I’d love to come.”
Well, after a lot of promotion and setting the whole thing up, many people came to see the event. Tightrope was to start on the Canadian side and come to the American side. Drums roll, and he comes across the rope which is suspended over the treacherous part of the falls — blindfolded!! And he makes it across easily. The crowds go wild, and he comes to the promoter and says, “Well, Mr. Promoter, now do you believe I can do it?”
“Well of course I do. I mean, I just saw you do it.” “No,” said Tightrope, “do you really believe I can do it?” “Well of course I do, you just did it.” “No, no, no,” said Tightrope, “do you believe I can do it?” “Yes,” said Mr. Promoter, “I believe you can do it.”
“Good,” said Tightrope, “then you get in the wheel barrow.”
What about you? Do you really believe that Christ can and will continue to make you right with God? Get in the wheel barrow!
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