It takes a strong conviction to stand up to someone of power and point out his or her faults; maybe a touch of courage too. Peter, who was visiting, at first was willing to eat with the Gentiles, but once some visiting Jews came from James, Peter withdrew himself from the Gentiles, out of fear. Because of Peter’s influential role, other Jews including Barnabas also got carried away into this hypocrisy. See, the apostles were teaching that both Jews and Gentiles were the same under the eyes of God. Jews and Gentiles are not different and should not be treated differently. Peter’s fear was not a fear of bodily harm. Rather, Peter was worried about what the Jews would think of him by sitting with the Gentiles. So when the Jews came, Peter sat elsewhere because he didn’t want to be seen with Gentiles. Paul immediately recognized this hypocrisy and called Peter out on it. In fact, Paul went as far as to call him out to his face in front of the whole community.
Paul used this confrontation as a teachable moment. Through this, Paul is showing the Galatians that Jewish Christians must realize that they are justified by faith in Christ, not just by the works of the law. Peter had faith in Christ, but if his salvation depended solely on his actions of partiality and hypocrisy, Peter would not gain salvation. It’s the same for the Galatians. They are not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Christ. We are all sinners. We all disobey the law. But Christ came to save us. He knew we wouldn’t be able to keep up perfection. Not even our first Pope, Peter, was able to do such a thing.
How often do we hear the phrase “But I’m a good person”? Here is a strong truth: being a good person will not get you into heaven. It takes more than that. It takes faith in Jesus and a good, fruitful interior life that may get us into heaven. Along with God’s mercy & grace! Doesn’t the idea of “being a good person” fall under the argument that our works of the law will get us into heaven?
The Jews were very preoccupied with the Law and rightfully so. That is all they had to relate to God with since Moses. It was the Mosaic law that instructed and guided them. By following the law one can, in a way, prove their goodness. By proving their goodness, it shows that they should qualify for heaven. There is a lot of that same mentality thousands of years later. If we just prove we are good people – surely we can’t be denied heaven! The most overlooked aspect is that law reveals sin. Let us repeat – law reveals sin. Sin leads us to death. But it is death that leads us to belief in Jesus.
Law leads us to Jesus? Aren’t the Jews saying that we need the law and follow its precepts in order to get to Jesus in Christianity? Paul seems to be stating the exact opposite!
Works of the law are very different than works of faith.
Later on in his letter*, we will see that Paul is a promoter of works. Aren’t works the act of obeying the law or a To-Do list? Let’s see: go to Mass, say the rosary, give to charity, don’t gossip, don’t lie…. It’s not about doing the To-Do list of Catholicism but the works of our heart. And it’s the faith that Jesus’ passion is the key to our salvation. Paul makes a good point: if we have faith in Jesus, but are still sinners, is Christ the minister (promoter) of sin? No! Of course not! I think we can unanimously agree that Christ is not a promoter of sin. Paul is trying to show that we are all sinners. All of us. If we are saved by the completion of our To-Do lists & lack of sin, why did Jesus come to die on a cross? Was it in vain? Was it useless if we can save ourselves?
We need Jesus and His Passion & resurrection. Good outward actions are good for putting on a show. But let us not be like the Pharisees who pray just so the crowd can see that we are pious. Just like the Law was good, it is still good. Just as the traditions were good, so too traditions are still good. So go to Mass. Say a rosary. Give to charity. Let us not gossip or lie. But more importantly, let’s not do these things because we should or because we have to. By doing these things through faith in Jesus, our hearts will be afire for Him and our community. Our souls will sprout good fruits because these become works of faith not law.
*Side note – as Catholics when we read the Bible, it is important to read surrounding verses and to cross reference. Plucking one or two verses out of a chapter or book may lead us down a path of misinterpretation. Faith & works is a big debate among Christians. If we had just read vs. 15-21 we may take Paul’s statements to say that we only need faith and works are not necessary in our path to salvation. Here is a great example of the importance of reading surrounding verses or cross-reference verses, as we will see during our study into Galatians. At the end of this month, HOMWF will have a post for more resources. This will include some extra reading on Faith vs. Works if you’d like to dive in further.