Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
Gospel in Life
What can you do when someone you love falls from grace? What can a pastor do for a pastor who has fallen from grace?
In the story of Galatians 2:11-21, the apostle Paul demonstrates how to apply the gospel story to real life in order to gently restore someone who has been caught in a trespass and fallen from grace — even a minister of the gospel. In this case, it was the apostle Peter.
Paul starts with confrontation (“you”), then shifts to communion (“we”), then shifts to confession (“me”) and ends with consolation (“he”). In all these things, he makes sure Jesus Christ is the source, the means, and the goal of the personal conversation and pastoral counsel.
Since this story is presented as a 1st person monologue, I will put on my Paul mask and pretend that I am Paul speaking to Peter. (Note: The following is written in a midrash style: biblical text and interpretive commentary are woven together.)
Brother Peter, let me ask you a personal question: If you, being a Jew, live like a Gentile and not a Jew, how can you “force” Gentiles to keep the ceremonial law of Moses, especially when you know and believe the truth of the gospel—that God makes sinners right with him by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? What’s up with that?!
You and I are Jews by nature and not Gentile “sinners”. We were born into God’s covenant people and with that come certain advantages and privileges. For example, we have been entrusted with the oracles of God in the sacred writings. We have the Law of God. Yet we know by experience that no man is justified by works of law—like circumcision, kosher foods, and religious festivals. In the past these things defined us; they were our identity markers and badges of honor. But now we know that these things cannot make us right with God. And if they cannot even make us Jews right with God—how much less can they make Gentiles right with God?!
So the real questions are: How can we get right with God, and how do we get right with God’s people?
Certainly not by works of law. In fact no flesh—whether Jewish or Gentile—will be justified by works of law. No, the only way to get right with God is by the faith of Jesus Christ.
Not our own faith, but Jesus’ faith.
Do you understand the difference?
If God justifies us based on our faith, then our faith would be a work of sorts that we could boast in. But if God justifies us based on Jesus’ faith alone, then his faith is the work of grace which saves, and our faith in him is simply a gift of his grace.
As it is, neither one of us can boast in our faith, but only in the faith of Christ the Lord.
Jesus is the only man—Jew or Gentile—who ever faithfully and obediently did everything commanded by God in the Law. He is the only man who has ever been truly faithful to God in all things.
So we are made right with God by the faith of Christ! Put another way, we are made right with God by the faithfulness of Christ.
Thankfully, God does not justify sinners like us on the basis of their works, or else no one would be made right with him– for we all sin and fall short of his glory.
Nor does God justify sinners like us on the basis of their faith or faithfulness, or else no one would made right with him– for all we are all unfaithful at times.
The good news is that God justifies sinners on the basis of the faith of Jesus Christ alone.
But if our justification depends on the faithfulness of Christ, and not on our own faith or faithfulness, then why do we still need to believe in Christ?
We need to believe in Christ in order to be justified by the faith of Christ. “Our faith is the instrument which unites us with Christ, and it is in union with Christ (and thereby with His faith) that we find our justification.”
You and I know that Christ alone can make us right with God, and we believe that Christ alone will make us right with God. So we believe in Christ, and God makes us right with him on the basis of the faithfulness of Christ.
And he does the same thing for other Jews and Gentiles who trust in Jesus Christ.
Now, I realize that some Pharisaical types object to the gospel of justification by grace through faith apart from works. They reason that if we (who are Jews by nature) seek to be justified by faith in Christ alone, without works of law, and find ourselves to be Gentile “sinners”, then Christ is a minister of sin.
To which I say, May it never be!
Some fear that if we seek to be made right God by faith without works, then we will grow lax and become lawless. Others fear that if we seek to be made right God by faith in union with Christ, then we will lose our Jewish identity. And if we lose our identity as Jews, then we are no better than Gentile “sinners.” Either way, without works of law Christ seems like a minister of sin.
That’s just crazy.
They are looking things the wrong way. They have set up a false dichotomy to provoke an identity crisis: we are either lawful Jews or lawless Gentiles. No! The truth of the gospel teaches that our true and better identity is not found in being Jew or Gentile, circumcised or not circumcised, kosher or not kosher; our true and better identity is found in Christ alone.
If the gospel of justification by faith alone in union with Christ alone leads Jews and Gentiles away from works of law, then Christ is a minister of righteousness. And if the gospel of justification by faith in Christ brings Jews and Gentiles together in union with Christ and in communion with one another, then Christ is minister of peace.
Let me share a story from my personal experience.
If what I destroyed I build again, then I prove myself a law-breaker not a law-keeper.
If I destroyed my old works-of-law identity, and then I rebuild it, I prove myself a hypocrite. Or if I destroyed the “wall of hostility” that separated Jews from Gentiles, and then I rebuild it in fear when Pharisaical heretics show up, I prove myself a sinner.
If I destroyed my old Pharisaical mask, and then I rebuild it to put on a show and salvage my reputation, I prove myself a law-breaker not a peace-maker.
Why? Because of law I died to law in order that I might live to God.
Yes, I died to law when I was crucified with Christ at the cross.
My old life as a works of law, Gentile-hating, legalistic Pharisee was destroyed when I was united with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.
Now I know what you’re thinking: If I died to the law, and if I was crucified with Christ, how can I still be alive?
It’s a deep mystery, but I’ll tell you what it is:
Christ in me.
I have been crucified with Christ, yet still I live—no longer I—but Christ in me who lives.
I died to works of law, walls of hostility, and Pharisaical yokes in union with Christ at the cross. Saul the Pharisee was crucified with Christ, and Paul the Christian was raised with Christ.
My old identity was destroyed at the cross in order that my new identity in Christ might be rebuilt.
I died to law, but I live for God. “No longer I; but Christ in me.”
Although now I still live in flesh, I no longer live and die by works of law. I live because Christ lives in me, and his life in me includes his faith and faithfulness.
So I live on the basis of the faith-and-faithfulness of the Son of God—not on the basis of my own faith-and-faithfulness.
And I live on the basis of the faithfulness of the one who loved me with an everlasting, steadfast, covenant love.
I live on the basis of the faithfulness of the one who handed himself over in my place.
Finally, I live in Christ and Christ lives in me, so I do not nullify the grace of God by doing works of law, or forcing others to observe works of law, for if righteousness is because of law, then Christ died for nothing.
But Christ died for something: To show that righteousness is not based on works of law; it is based on the gift of grace.
That’s how Paul reminded Peter of the truth of the gospel of grace, and restored him to Christ gently and graciously.
As we think about Peter’s fall from grace, let’s remember that none of us is immune from sin.
Like Peter, we can know the deep truths of the gospel of grace and still fall from grace into hypocrisy. How? By not applying the truth of the gospel of grace in the ordinary things of life.
If we let things like food and drink come between us and other Christians, then we are not walking straight for the truth of the gospel.
Deeper still, if we treat red, yellow, and black as unclean just because they are not white, then we are not walking straight for the truth of the gospel.
If we judge immigrants (and other non-Americans) as unclean just because they are not US citizens, then we are not walking straight for the truth of the gospel. Especially if they are devout Christians.
Likewise, if we treat our “Pharisaical” brothers and sisters as unclean, just because they are not as grace-oriented as we are, then we are not walking straight for the truth of the gospel.
The doctrine of justification by faith alone is first and foremost about how we may get right with God in union with Christ; it is also about how we get right with each other in communion with Christ’s church.
When we truly believe that righteousness does not come by works of law, systematic theology, mode of baptism, spine-tingling worship, hard-core discipleship, whatever, but only by the faith of Christ granted to us by grace, then we know by experience that Christ truly died for something—the salvation of sinners just like us.