Why does religion exist in the world? Materialists tell us that there is nothing but the material world, there is no supernatural world. But still, religion exists. Why? And why is it so universal? And why is it so personal? And why is it in every period of time, in every location, and in every culture, every society, and every ethnic group that’s ever lived? Why also does religion take so many forms?
Religion is the connection between human beings and supernatural beings. It is a bridge to the supernatural. Why is it universal? It is universal because all people are created by God and in the image of God. All people are in some way a reflection of the divine God. Romans 1 defines it this way, “The knowledge of God is in them.” Romans 2 that tells us “the law of God is written in the heart.”
Why does Satan devise so many false religions? He is the archenemy of God. He, along with a third of the holy angels who rebelled and fell, compose the demonic forces. Those demonic forces do all evil that they can possibly perpetrate against the purposes of God. They masquerade within and among the people of God, and in the church, subtly proclaiming error. And any deviation of the gospel is a cursed thing.
The Bible is clear that the Jews trusted in themselves through their whole history. They continued that at the time of our Lord, and the apostles. They had developed an apostate Judaism, which was defined by rabbinic tradition that had replaced the Word of God. Becoming righteous to God was done by strict obedience to the Mosaic rules and ceremonies, epitomized by the scribes and Pharisees.
Galatians 2:11-13, “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.”
Why would Paul oppose him to the face? How do you do that to someone like Peter? Where does Paul get this boldness? No. Peter had done something that Paul saw as an attack on the gospel: the gospel of grace alone, faith alone, apart from works. And so he condemned him. Before the Judaizers came Peter ate with the Gentiles. but after they came he separated himself fearing their criticism.
Peter also knows that they are brothers and sisters in Christ. And when he eats with them, it’s not just a meal; it’s the love feast. He’s finding out what it is to eat all the stuff that Jews could never eat. He’s been liberated. But after these Jerusalem Judiazers came he changed because he was afraid of them. And in verse 13 the rest of the Jews joined in their hypocrisy, and even Barnabas did it.
Paul was the apostle of the gospel. If you deviate from the gospel in how you act, you’re in violation of the purity of the gospel. But it’s hard to be bold for the gospel when you’re with people who compromise the gospel but also talk about Christ. Paul is saying to the church at Galatia, “We have to have the gospel clear; that’s why we are in the world to tell others.”
Now here is the pinnacle evidence of Paul’s genuine apostleship; he literally condemns the leading apostle. Nobody questioned Peter’s apostleship. But Paul condemns him, opposing him to the face. This is the sad experience of the defection of Peter. He had no problem with fellowshipping with Gentiles until certain men came from James, the brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem church.
Two times the word “hypocrisy” is used in that very short thirteenth verse. Their capitulation to the Judaizers is an assault on the doctrine of salvation. Without saying anything Peter took sides with those who taught salvation by faith and works. He fractured the church. Overnight the church was in chaos because of his defection back to Judaism, as if the Judaizers were right.
Verse 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?” They were not walking according to gospel truth. They were playing the hypocrite and sending the message that the Judaizers are right.
Peter believed that he could eat and fellowship with Gentiles; he had done it. He knew that since Acts 10 and his experience with Cornelius. He no longer lived according to Jewish prescription. But now he goes back to that in a hypocritical way and leads others to the same hypocrisy. He altered people’s perception of truth by his behavior. What an indictment. Paul was furious.
Consistent with what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5: 20, “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” He confronts Peter in a public way. Augustine said, “It is not advantageous to correct in secret an error which occurred publicly.” You have to show public condemnation of a public sin; so Paul does that. Peter needed to be confronted in public, because that’s where he led people into confusion.
Peter is not overtly saying, “I don’t believe the true gospel.” He’s just acting like what the Judaizers are teaching is true. This is a dangerous compromise. Anytime those who preach the true gospel affirm or embrace anyone who teaches a false gospel, confusion will reign. 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Come out from among them and be separate. Light has no fellowship with darkness.”
Paul says further in verses 15 – 16, “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.” Here we see three times in verse 16, and once in verse 17 the word ‘justified.’
Paul here is going to make a statement about the doctrine of justification, which explains the true gospel’s view of faith and law. Paul unfolds this great core doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is the article of faith that Luther said, “If it’s lost, all true doctrine is lost, and the church is lost.” You are justified means you are righteous. It is the opposite of condemnation.
Condemnation says you are guilty, justification says you are not guilty. Condemnation says you are evil, justification says you are righteous. Condemnation says you are bad, justification says you are good. To condemn someone is to declare them guilty, to justify someone is to declare them not guilty. And justification is God’s free, gracious act, by which He declares a sinner not guilty.
God has forgiven that sinner, and accepted him into fellowship. That is the foundation of true religion that is Christianity. So how can man be righteous before God? How can a condemned sinner be declared just? Paul answers, “By faith. By faith in Christ alone. Not by works.” So here we have the statement of justification by faith alone. It’s so clear and unmistakable.
Paul says, “We’re all Jews by nature, those of us who are the sons of Abraham.” We’ve lived all our lives under the law. We’ve lived all our lives with Scripture. We know the system well. The Jewish religious system dominated Jewish culture. There weren’t multiple religions in Israel like there were in the Gentile world. We lived under that, and so we were not sinners as the Gentiles.
“What do you mean you’re not sinners?” He means, “In a visible, earthly sense, our Judaism prescribed our lives. Our Judaism restrained us. Gentiles are called sinners because they lived without restraint. Their deities are wretched and immoral. Their temples are full of prostitutes. We know what it is to live under the Law, and we tried to keep His commandments; we fasted, prayed and gave alms.
And what did we learn by living under the Law? Verse 16, “This is what we learned: in spite of that, we found out that a man is not justified by the works of the Law. We were there already.” Paul in his testimony in Philippians 3 said, “And we found out that a man is not justified by the works of the Law. That’s why we fled to Christ. That’s why we’re Christians.”
Jewish adherence to the Law was all external. Jesus pointed that out in the Sermon on the Mount: “You don’t kill anybody, but you hate people; so you’re a murderer in your heart. You don’t commit adultery, but you lust; so you’re an adulterer in your heart.” “We know that the Law can’t change the heart.” All the Law did was lead us to condemnation and death.
We know to try to live by the Law is futile in your own strength. A man is not justified by the works of the Law, but through faith in Christ Jesus. On the cross He died for our law-breaking. He paid the penalty in full for our violations of the Law. He bore our sins in His own body on the cross. He became sin for us. And all that is required for us to put our whole confidence in the work of Jesus Christ.
We believed that we were justified, and we were given the Holy Spirit; and we’d been living in the life that God gave us. When we ran to Christ as our refuge, we embraced the one who fully satisfied the law of God, and the one who bore the penalty for all our sins by a judicial act of God, because our sins were paid for in Christ. God then declared us righteous by faith alone.
Nicodemus was a member of the ruling party, the Pharisees, part of the elite leaders of Jerusalem. He is a Pharisee, and there just are no conversions of Pharisees until you get to him. He comes to Jesus in the midst of all of his legalism, and he has bound himself to all the Mosaic prescriptions. And the question in his heart is, “How do I get into the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God?”
So here is a Jew who has kept the Law as much as is humanly possible, and he knows he’s not in the kingdom. And Jesus says, “You need to be born again.” Your entire life of accumulated works are meaningless. “How can that be?” says Nicodemus. Jesus says, “You have to be born from above. You can’t do it; God has to do it.” All the sinner can do is cry out to God to give him faith in Christ.
Now notice verses 17-21, Paul’s defense of justification by faith alone. And here you see that the Bible is not a lot of sentimental thoughts about religion. The Bible is full of these powerful, carefully crafted arguments of a brilliant mind inspired by God. Verse 17, “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!”
Now, Paul is talking to Peter and Barnabas. “What are you doing? You are condemning Christ.” When you eat and function with Gentiles, and accept them in a gracious way as being brothers and sisters in Christ because of faith alone, you’re right. But if you, Peter and Barnabas, go along with the Judaizing legalists, then you’re saying that our former liberty was sin; and therefore Christ freed you into sin.
By saying that, Christ made you a worse sinner than ever. Verse 18, “For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” Christ isn’t the transgressor by freeing us from the Law, you’re the transgressor by taking us back to the Law. Instead of committing sin by abandoning law for grace, you become a sinner by returning to the Law which you abandoned.
Why Paul? Verse 19, “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.” He says, this is a historical fact. I died to the Law. As a Christian, you don’t define your life by the Law. Legalists do that, and libertines do it. We define our life by a relationship to Jesus Christ. At the time that I believed in Christ, I have no more connection to the Law.
I have a new master: Christ. I obey Him out of love, not the Law out of fear. Paul says – “Love fulfills the whole Law. In fact, when I lived under the Law, I couldn’t keep the Law, and I was full of dead men’s bones. But in Christ, I can fulfill the Law.” Romans 8:1 – “from the heart.” Why? Because with justification, comes regeneration; and with regeneration, comes a new heart, a new spirit and a new nature.
How did you go from that to just living to God?” Verse 20 explains it, “I have been crucified with Christ. It’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Do you see any law in that verse? No. This is the verse that defines what it is to be a Christian.
Paul says, “Look, you can’t let go of this.” Verse 21, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” If you add works, then grace is no more grace. If it comes by my works, then Christ died needlessly.” The pillars of the Christian faith are the grace of God, faith in Christ, and the death and resurrection of Christ. Let us pray.