In chapter 2, Paul continues the recitation of his own history, as a Jew and an apostle. While what it means to be a Christian continues to be in the process of definition, there are many mixed messages floating around. Paul encourages them to focus on THE gospel: we are justified by faith in Christ, period. Other traditions, including Mosaic law, might be valuable and comfortable, but they do not count when it comes to righteousness/salvation. Paul cites his own experience: he was a perfect Jew, a Pharisee, keeping all the laws; yet he does not believe the law saved him. It was only when God revealed Christ to Paul, when Paul died to that old way and was born anew in Christ, that he was saved.
Here we are getting to the crux of the argument: Christ has set us free from needing to follow the law. We are saved because of faith in Christ, and that’s all we need. We are therefore free to follow Christ, rather than following the law, as we live new lives and serve the neighbor.
Paul is so concerned about this singular focus that he even criticizes his colleagues who do not seem to be consistent. Cephas (Peter) apparently was OK with sharing meals with Gentiles, after his vision from God in Acts 10-11 that removed the dietary restrictions. But when some “purists” came along and influenced him, Peter returned to following the dietary laws, which Paul here criticizes. It is not the true gospel Paul gave them, and it creates division between those who are from Jewish tradition and those who are not, while Paul is seeking unity among the believers.
Are there things we think we “have” to do today to be faithful?
Are there prerequisites for being a “good Christian”?
How do we distinguish between following the law and following Jesus?