Online Bible Commentary
Faith, Not Works
Galatians 2:11 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. 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. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul is writing to believers in southern Galatia from his home in Antioch, Syria in 49 A.D, prior to the Jerusalem Council meeting which occurred that same year. Paul has just completed his first missionary journey in which he and Barnabas planted churches in southern Galatia at Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. This letter is the first of Paul’s letters.
The churches in Galatia, influenced by Judaizers, have already turned from Paul’s Gospel to a false gospel of a mix of works and grace instead of grace alone. Judaizers claimed that Christians must also follow the Old Testament law, including circumcision. So Paul is writing to the Galatian believers to direct them back to the true Gospel.
In this passage, Paul writes of his confrontation with Peter for the part he played in supporting the Judaizers. This confrontation occurred when Peter came to Paul’s church in Antioch, Syria. Paul confronted Peter “because he was to be blamed” for hypocrisy in his relations with the Gentile believers there (v. 11).
Peter was hypocritical because he would fellowship with the Gentiles but then when the Jews from the church in Jerusalem that “James” led came to Antioch he would not fellowship with the Gentiles (v. 12a). Peter was “afraid” about what his fellow Jews would think (v. 12b). These Jews had still not accepted Gentiles as equals in the eyes of God.
Unfortunately, Peter’s hypocrisy also influenced Jewish believers in Antioch, including Barnabas, against the Gentiles (v. 13). The basis for this hypocrisy was that Gentiles were not circumcised. Paul, seeing that “they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel”, confronted Peter in front of the Jewish believers (v. 14a). He asked Peter if he was free to not live under the Jewish law why did he deny the Gentiles the same freedom (v. 14b)?
Paul continued by saying that Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, are justified by faith not by works, such as circumcision (v. 15a-16). In saying this he referred to Gentiles as “sinners of the Gentiles”, perhaps in jest of the derogatory way the Jews themselves had spoken of Gentiles (v. 15b).
To be justified means to be declared righteous by God because of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Righteousness can not be earned by good works. Instead, good works come as a result of our righteousness.
So, we do not become Christians and go to Heaven by doing good things, good works. It is only by our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior that through the grace of God He forgives our sins and we become Christians.