Being good justifies nobody. Nobody.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 March
Galatians 2.15-16 KWL
15 We’re biological Jews, not sinners from the gentiles.
16 We’ve known people aren’t justified by working the Law
—unless we work it because of faith in Christ Jesus;
we trust in Christ Jesus.
Thus we can be justified by faith in Christ,
and not by working the Law,
since working the Law won’t justify any flesh.
Previously:
  • “How Paul remembered the Council of Jerusalem.” Ga 2.1-5
  • “Paul and the apostles of note.” Ga 2.6-10
  • “Paul challenges Simon Peter.” Ga 2.11-14
  • This passage is part of a bigger paragraph and context, but I still wanna zoom in on just this.

    The bigger context, just so you know: Simon Peter was treating gentile Christians as second-class Christians, so Paul had to stand up to him. Peter totally knew better, ’cause he did after all defend gentile Christians at the Council of Jerusalem. But certain visiting legalists got him to backslide on that issue, and Paul challenged him: “If you, a Jew, act like a gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the gentiles to be like Jews?” Ga 2.14 KWL

    Some translations take these verses and make ’em part of what Paul told Peter. I don’t know that Paul presented this entire argument, in this way, in these words, to Peter at that time. Pretty sure he didn’t. But he did remind Peter of what Christ Jesus teaches the both of them, and us: We’re not saved by being Jews, nor becoming Jews. We’re saved by following Jesus. The gentile Christians did not need to first become Jews so they could be saved; and treating them like they did is heresy. It’s not just a minor error; it’s a whole other false gospel.

    Thing is, legalistic Christians still teach this heresy. As do dispensationalists, some of whom teach that Jews can be saved simply by being Jews. (I mean, it’d be nice if they became Christian, but these dispensationalists claim they don’t actually need to. Considering Peter and the apostles went to so much trouble to preach the gospel to their fellow Jews, this idea isn’t biblical in the slightest. Sounds more like a trick of the devil to keep Jews from hearing the gospel.)

    “We’re Jews. We know we’re not saved by works.”

    Dispensationalists believe God divided history into dispensations, eras in which he saved people in different ways. Darbyists imagine God actually has seven dispensations, and we’re in the sixth. But most dispensationalists figure he only has two: Old Testament times, in which God saved people when they obeyed his Law, and New Testament times, in which he now saves people by grace.

    The bible teaches no such thing. But dispensationalists imagine it does, because that’s what they’ve always been taught it teaches: When people broke any of God’s 613 commandments in the Law, they were alienated from God and destined for hell. The only way they could be reconciled to God was, again, by obeying the commands. They had to ritually sacrifice an animal: Either burn up one of their own cows, goats, or sheep; or if they were dirt-poor, catch a pigeon. Torch the critter, and God would be appeased, and now you could go to heaven. But break any other command, even the little ones, and you were alienated from God all over again.

    Again, the bible teaches no such thing. The Old Testament is full of verses about how God doesn’t care about the ritual sacrifices of willful sinners. Ps 50.8-9, 51.6, Is 1.11-15, 66.3, Jr 6.20, Am 5.21-22, Mc 6.68, Ml 1.10, Mk 12.33 If ritual sacrifice and obeying the Law saved anyone, there’d be no point in Jesus dying. Ga 2.21 He coulda come to earth, said, “Hey guys! That whole following-the-Law thing you’re doing? Keep it up!” and ascended to heaven without having to undergo any nasty, painful crucifixion.

    But in fact he did come to earth, tell us to keep following the Law (and do it better than Pharisees!), Mt 5.20 and gave himself up to die for our sins. Because following the Law is good… but it doesn’t save. Never did. That isn’t its purpose!

    Contrary to Christian popular belief, the Pharisees totally knew this. They knew Israel had already been saved, from Egypt. The Law wasn’t about trying to get saved, for they were saved. But Pharisees figured they alone were saved; that if any gentile wanted to be saved, it wasn’t happening unless they first became Jews. And how does a gentile become a Jew? Well, follow the Law.

    But the unintended consequence of this teaching, is legalism. It’s works righteousness. If you want God to save you, earn it. Start obeying him, rack up heavenly karma points to make up for all the negative points you got as a pagan, and now God will save you.

    Well… probably save you. Legalists are way too fond of making salvation sound like it’s not a done deal, just in case you start taking God for granted. And since most of them don’t entirely believe we’re saved by works, this behavior is actually kinda evil of them.

    So like Paul said, and like various other apostles wrote, Jews knew they weren’t saved by perfectly obeying the Law of Moses and performing all the appropriate ritual sacrifice. Knew they were saved by God’s grace, same as the ancient Hebrew slaves were rescued from Egypt, not because they were a worthy and mighty and virtuous people, but because God promised their ancestor Abraham he would. Ge 15.13-14

    Whenever dispensationalists come across verses like this, and Old Testament verses which state God isn’t appeased by ritual sacrifice, it’s like they’re suddenly struck blind. They can’t even see these verses. They won’t acknowledge they’re there, or admit they mean what they plainly mean. Because it wholly goes against their belief system: They feel certain God has multiple plans of salvation—and the apostles had to keep correcting the ancient Christians, reminding them Jesus had inaugurated a new covenant which did away with the old dispensation.

    These verses prove otherwise. “We’ve known,” Paul wrote in verse 16—it’s in the Greek perfect tense, meaning they didn’t just learn of this in the past, but they’ve known this for a mighty long time. All their lives, really. Learned it at their mother’s knee: The LORD chose Israel and saved them from Egypt to be his people, and he their God. They were saved. Their nation would be great, and inherit the earth. They knew this. Knew it as blindly as any American who thinks the United States is the greatest country in the world. Of course they’re saved… no matter what they did, nor whether the Romans occupied their land.

    Jews knew they weren’t saved by Law; they were saved by God. They kept the Law, but poorly and hypocritically; Pharisee teachings were full of loopholes. They were fully aware they kinda sucked at keeping the Law, but were doing the bare minimum to achieve it. That’s why Jesus taught us to do better than Pharisees. Follow Jesus, and really mean it. If we truly believe in Jesus, that’s exactly what we’ll do. Not just pretend to follow him, pay him lip service, be Christianists, and be no better than any other hypocrite of any other creed.

    And if this is true of Jews, it’s equally as true of gentiles. If following the Law doesn’t save Jews, it doesn’t save gentiles! So, as Paul objected to Peter, how can you force gentiles to be like Jews? Why give ’em a burden that Jews never had to live under? (Which are Peter’s own words, in Acts. Ac 15.10)

    Likewise us. We aren’t saved by good works. We oughta do them; goodness is a fruit of the Spirit after all. But they don’t save. Jews knew this. Legalist sects aside, Jews always knew this. They looked to God himself as their salvation. As do we. As should we.