For Paul, very little good could come from this new movement and its new covenant marker. Worse than that, not only were these people encouraging the dismissal of these long-standing covenant markers, they were also going further and saying that the Creator God’s true desire and intention, through His Messiah, was to bring all peoples, and even the accursed Gentile nations, into His covenant, without those Gentiles having to effectively become Jews by adopting the approved covenant markers themselves. This was to be abhorred and condemned. The pre-conversion Paul would have seen this as being absolutely contrary to what was necessary and required, and that it could do nothing more than continue and even extend their God’s curse upon His people Israel, which would manifest itself as a continued denial of His blessings.
Now, the same man, with a radically altered and transformed worldview owing to what he said was his encounter with the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth, Paul had modified his position in an extraordinary way. The transformation and renewal of thinking was profound indeed. Whereas before he had previously held wholeheartedly to the idea that one is in fact justified by the works of the law (espousing and maintaining the covenant markers which set one apart as a Jew and therefore a part of the Creator God’s people and in positive covenant standing before Him), he now contended that “no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16a). Covenant standing was now going to be centered upon Jesus. Again, Paul points to the faithfulness of the God of Israel, which is foundational and key, as represented by Jesus the Messiah, and by extension His crucifixion, His Resurrection, and the fact that His Resurrection proved Him to be the Creator God’s Messiah for His people.
Adding to this, Paul writes, “And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law” (2:16b). Here, realizing his God’s complete faithfulness to His people and His promises, with that faithfulness represented by what Jesus had been and accomplished on behalf of the Creator God’s covenant people and for all of mankind, Paul has completed his paradigm shift. He now says that the covenant marker is belief in Jesus as the risen Messiah. That is, one is now justified, or righteous, or in positive covenant status before the Creator God and therefore able to experience the blessings that said God has promised to His covenant people now drafted from all nations and accepted as Gentiles, by believing that Jesus was and is the embodiment of Israel’s God and King of all creation. The old covenant markers, that being the works of the law, have summarily been set aside and replaced by this new covenant marker of belief in Jesus as Messiah.
Paul joins with the group that is dismissive of the works of the law and of Jewish identification markers as that which will bring God’s blessing, and also throws open the doors of the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles, who can now enter upon that kingdom without having to undergo circumcision, observe Sabbaths, or follow the prescribed dietary laws. He even goes so far as to expand this kingdom principle, based on what he has learned and knows of the life of Jesus, and indicates that not only is there no longer to be a division along the lines of Jew and Gentile, but that in union with Christ---in believing that Jesus is Lord, and with that serving as the covenant marker of the renewed people of God---there is no longer slave nor free, or even male and female.
Making Jesus central to the covenant was monumentally transformational, providing a sweeping change in all things and all areas of life. Indeed, in that day, many believers in Jesus came to look upon themselves as a new and third humanity, representing a new way of being divine image bearers (human), and understanding themselves to be somehow infused with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, along with the power and responsibility of eternal life (the life of the age to come intruding upon the present age) through belief in Jesus, as they were now animated by His Spirit and living in His Kingdom and for His purposes. While certainly respecting earthly powers and offering the respect that was due to them, and while acknowledging the Caesar (the one that held the title of lord of all and son of god), they knew of no true King but the crucified one.