6.5 Galatians -- Justified by Faith
Paul's strength is that he can follow through the logical consequences of specific actions.
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?" (Gal 2:14).
This prompts the question: how did Peter live like a Gentile? This is in reference to his own personal conduct. It is unlikely that he had dropped Jewish food laws, or the observance of the Sabbath. However, it is quite possible that he and other Jerusalem Christians no longer offered sacrifices at the Temple. But see Acts 21:17-26.
The key verses are:
[We] know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ...because by observing the law no one will be justified....For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God (Gal 2:16-9).
"I died to the law" -- in other words, no longer do I live under its tutelage, its stipulations, its penalties. Why? Because I am living at a higher level, the level of faith, which alone brings me the benefits which Law (falsely) promises.
Yet here is the main point that Paul does not explore, but it follows directly from his statement. Faith in Christ is not merely the basis of justification before God, it is also the only basis for fellowship with other believers. We cannot hope to hold on to "the best of both worlds," building an edifice of faith on the foundation of Law. If we are justified by faith with God, so we have peace with our fellow man by faith. It is a gift, not an attainment based on our or their worthiness. This is why Christianity is fundamentally incompatible with any racist ethics. Our brother or sister is justified with God on exactly the same basis that we are. Therefore, we cannot reject him or classify her on the basis of any lesser scale, because that scale, whatever it is -- appearance, color, intelligence, language -- has been vanquished by the Cross.
This incompatibility of Christianity with racism applies to both "malevolent" forms of racial discrimination (Jim Crow), and to "benevolent" forms (entitlements, racial preferences). In fact, the latter forms are more dangerous than the former, because they are couched in positive terms, they are forms of "stealth" racism, and they are colorfully packaged for democratic acceptance. In both cases, churches become advocates of racist strictures, propounding an adulterated Christianity suited to each particular congregation, but despising and dividing the larger body of Christ, the community of faith. Let us be as clear and direct as Paul was about justification: any message that introduces categories or levels of acceptance among believers is a false gospel. And any church that preaches a universal gospel but will not invite certain races or cultures to the dinner-table (membership), is hypocritical and stands condemned.