But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives 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. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. – Galatians 2:11-21
Who is it that is counted as righteous and gets to go to heaven? Will I make it through the pearly gates if at least 51% of my actions in life are good? After all, I did more good than bad, right? That’s fair, isn’t it?
No, actually the standard for being counted righteous before God based on our actions is a batting average of 1.000%, perfection in “doing good.” No bad whatsoever will be allowed to pass through the pearly gates.
There is one statement in this passage that grounds the rest of it, “by works of the law no one will be justified.” In other words, our good behavior doesn’t earn browny points with St. Peter, or God for that matter. It doesn’t matter how much good you do; it isn’t enough. Why not? Because the “little bit of bad” is enough to blemish your record which must be perfect to please God based on your actions. He allows no room for mistakes. His standard is perfection.
Then what chance does a guy have?
The chance, the only chance, is that someone else has met the standard of perfection for you and was willing to pay the price for your failings for you.
There are two parts to what Jesus did for us. First, he lived for us. His life of perfect obedience was lived on our behalf, and when we place our trust in him, he credits that perfect life to our account, we are counted righteous with his righteousness. The second part is the payment of the price for our failings, aka sins. This is the part we most often hear about. He died on the cross in our place. He suffered our death so we can have his life. Think about this a minute. His dying for us was not the basis for counting us righteous; it paid the price for our guilt, death. It was his living for us that allows us to be counted as righteous. The spiritual transaction is two-fold; our sins are washed away by his death and we are counted as righteous by his life lived on our behalf; one is negative, sins are washed away; one is positive, we are declared righteous. Our actual conduct isn’t perfect, but by our faith, we are counted as righteous.
But, aren’t Christians supposed to behave well and not sin? Yes, and Paul addresses this question later on in Galatians, but at this point, he is making clear that the gospel is a declaration of what Christ did for us and not what we must do to be counted as righteous by God.
After being counted as righteous in Christ, Paul emphasizes his point by saying that if we return to obedience to the law as the basis of our righteousness, then Christ died for no purpose. What a waste. Paul says we “nullify the grace of God.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to do that.
My final encouraging word is from Hebrews 13:9 “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace…”