Galatians 2:11-3:5 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. As we saw in the previous lesson, in a moment of weakness Peter succumbed to intimidation and, consequently, withdrew from fellowship with the Gentile Christians (2:12 printed below). By his present behavior what message was Peter communicating to the Gentile believers?

Before certain men came from James, Cephas had been eating with the Gentile believers. But when they came, he withdrew and separated himself from the Gentiles, because he was afraid of those who belonged to the faction who advocated circumcision. (Galatians 2:12)

Peter’s latest action, although not in harmony with his true beliefs, was nevertheless communicating the message that the Gentiles, indeed, did have to become Jews. Gentile converts must submit to the sacrament of circumcision, and take upon themselves the obligation of observing the Old Testament ceremonial regulations in order to be saved.

2. In verses 17-18 (printed below) Paul points out to Peter the erroneous conclusion that could be drawn from Peter’s withdrawal from the Gentile Christians. What does Paul say to Peter?

But if, by seeking to be justified by Christ, we ourselves are also found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? God forbid!—(18) because if I rebuild what I destroyed, I demonstrate myself to be a law breaker. (Galatians 2:17-18)

In verse 18 Paul provides an illustration: a man has just finished tearing down a wall; but no sooner has he torn it down than he turns right around and begins to rebuild it. Does not his act of rebuilding indicate that it was wrong for him to have torn it down in the first place? Verse 17 contains Paul’s argument. Peter and Paul had grown up in Jewish households. Ever since their childhood they had trusted in their Jewish identity and had sought to scrupulously observe the Jewish ceremonial regulations and the moral law in an effort to gain salvation. They had kept themselves separated from the Gentile “sinners” so as not to become spiritually polluted by them. But when Peter and Paul met Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, He instructed them to trust in Himself alone for their salvation, trusting in His perfect righteousness and atoning sacrifice upon the cross of Calvary: He alone is able to save and He is fully sufficient to save. Now if it were wrong for Peter and Paul to have stopped trusting in their religious heritage, and like the Gentiles, to trust solely in the grace of God as it is offered in Christ Jesus, who is to blame for their error? Christ Himself is to blame, for it was Christ who instructed them to trust in Himself alone for salvation (note John 6:40). So Paul points out to Peter the ridiculous and even blasphemous conclusion that could be drawn from Peter’s inconsistent conduct. Of course Christ, the divine Messiah, could not promote wrongdoing or give erroneous counsel. Of course it was right for Peter and Paul to abandon all trust in themselves and place their trust in Christ alone for their salvation.

3. In giving his Christian testimony, what does Paul say about himself in verse 19 (printed below?)

… I, through the law, died to the law, (in order that I might live unto God) (Galatians 2:19)

Paul declares that he “died to the law.” The principle involved here is the simple fact that the law has jurisdiction over a man only so long as he is alive (note Romans 7:1-2 by way of example). Death removes a man from the jurisdiction of the law; once a man has died, the law can no longer impose its claims upon him and hold him liable and subject to punishment for non-compliance with its righteous claims. By way of illustration: after a man has died, the government tax collector no longer comes to his door demanding that he pay his taxes or suffer the consequence of serving a prison term. Paul elaborates upon his assertion by stating, “through the law I died to the law.” The moral law of God is constantly confronting us with its demand for obedience (note Leviticus 18:4-5), and pronouncing against us the sentence of death—eternal separation from the blessing of God, becoming eternally subjected to the righteous condemnation of God which our sinful lives deserve—for our disobedience (note Ezekiel 18:20a). Paul declares that, in compliance with the law’s demand, he was put to death, and by his death he was consequently removed from the jurisdiction of the law.

4. How could Paul, as a sinner, succumb to that awful fate of death—having the divine judgment of God enacted against him and being consigned to the pains of hell—and survive? See verse 20 (printed below)

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ living in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20)

Paul’s explanation is contained in the statement, “I have been crucified with Christ.” When the Lord Jesus Christ died upon the cross of Calvary He was experiencing the pains of hell (note Isaiah 53:4 and Mark 15:33-34). But because Christ is the Holy One of God, the Lord in His righteousness could not permit Christ to continue in that state of judgment, thus He raised Him up to the glory and blessing of His own divine presence (note Acts 2:24,27-28). Everyone who believes in Jesus is spiritually united to Jesus, sharing in both His crucifixion and His resurrection. It is by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the believer’s personal and spiritual participation in Christ’s death and resurrection that the Christian has safely “died to the law.” By way of illustration: if you were to walk into the flames just as you are, you would be consumed by them. But if you entered those flames clothed in an asbestos suit, you would be protected and could re-emerge unharmed. Likewise, by faith we are received into the bosom of Christ, and by virtue of our union with Him we pass safely through the judgment of God and emerge into the blessing of God.

5. What question does Paul ask in Galatians 3:2 (printed below?) What is the correct answer?

This one thing I want to find out from you: Did you receive the Spirit by your observance of the law, or by believing the message you heard? (Galatians 3:2)

The apostle inquires, Did you receive the Holy Spirit “by your observance of the law, or by believing the message you heard?” In other words, did you receive the Holy Spirit and His blessings as a reward for your personal works of merit that you performed? Or was it the result of hearing the gospel and responding to it in faith? Paul is seeking to refresh the Galatians’ memory, so that they might reflect upon the fact that it was “by believing the message you heard” (i.e.; by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel) that they received the Holy Spirit and the manifestations of His blessing. The heavenly Father bestows upon us His Holy Spirit and His spiritual blessings, not as the reward for meritorious conduct, but for the sake of Jesus Christ our Savior (see Acts 2:33).