The Principle Involved: Part 1 of 5 (series: Lessons on Galatians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

September 29, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
Tom Lowe

Chapter II.B.4.c: The Principle Involved (2.15-21)

Galatians 2.15-21 (KJV)

15 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 the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
17But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
20 I am Crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live ; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.


Commentary
15 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 the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Verses 15 and 16 are connected together in most of the oldest manuscripts, and read as one sentence.

But how far did Paul’s rebuke of Peter extend? Considerable discussion has centered on the question of whether Paul’s direct remarks to Peter were limited to verse 14 or whether, as in the NIV, they continued to the end of the chapter. While it is impossible to determine, it would seem that Paul uttered more than one sentence in reproving Peter. The remaining verses of the chapter develop, then, the inconsistency between Peter’s behavior and his beliefs.

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
The Jew in that day looked upon the Gentile as a sinner. In fact, Gentile and sinner were synonymous terms. Therefore, the rebuke that Paul gave shows the folly of lawgiving—how foolish it was.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ,
This is the first appearance of the important word “Justified,” in this letter, and probably in Paul’s writings (if, as we believe, Galatians was the first letter he wrote). “Justification by faith” was the watchword of the Reformation, and it is important that we understand this doctrine.

“How should a man be just with God?” (Job 9.2) was a very important question, because the answer had eternal consequences. “The just shall live by His faith” (Hab. 2.4) is God’s answer; and it was this truth that has liberated so many, down through the ages, from religious bondage and fear. This concept is so important that three New Testament books explain it to us
1. Romans explains the meaning of “the just”—“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith." "A just", or righteous man is not someone who thinks he is so, or who is thought by others to be so; nor are any made so by their obedience to the law of works; but he is one that is made righteous by the righteousness of Christ imputed to him.
2. Galatians explains “shall live”—“But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." (Gal.3.11). The man who is justified by faith, that is, by the object of his faith, Christ and his righteousness, and not by works; he shall live a life of justification, through that righteousness that his faith receives; he shall live contentedly, with peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, as the result of his being justified by faith; and this makes a clear point, that he is not justified by the law, for if he was, he would not live by faith in Christ, but in and by the deeds of the law.
3. Hebrews explains “by faith”—“Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him" (Hebrews 10.38). The meaning is that the righteous should live by "continued confidence" in God. They should live their lives not in doubt, and fear, and trembling anxiety, but by exercising a calm trust in God. They should not confide in their own merits, works, or strength. They should

exercise constant reliance on their Maker. The sense is, that a persevering confidence or belief in the Lord will preserve us amidst all the trials and calamities to which we are exposed.

But what is justification? Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous in Jesus Christ. Every word of this definition is important. Justification is an act and not a process. No Christian is more justified than another Christian. “Therefore, having been justified once-and-for-all by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5.1, my personal translation). Since we are justified by faith, it is an instance of an immediate transaction between the believing sinner and God. If we were justified by works, it would have to be a gradual process.

Furthermore, justification is an act of God; it is not the result on Man’s character or works. “It is God that justifieth” (Romans 8.33). It is not by doing the “works of the Law” that a sinner gets a right standing before God, but by putting his faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul will explain latter in this letter, the law was given to reveal sin and not to redeem from sin—“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3.20). God in His grace has put our sins on Christ, and Christ’s righteousness has been put to our account—“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5.21)

In justification, God declares the believing sinner righteous; He does not make him righteous (Of course, real justification leads to a changed life, which is what James 2 is all about.). Before the sinner trusts Christ, he stands GUILTY before God; but the moment he trusts Christ he is declared NOT GUILTY and he can never be declared GUILTY again!

Justification is not simply “forgiveness,” because a person could be forgiven and then go out and sin and become guilty. Once you have been “justified by faith” you can never be held guilty before God.

Justification is also different from “pardon,” because a pardoned criminal still has a record. When a sinner is justified by faith, his past sins are remembered against him no more, and God no longer records his sins—“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalms 32.1, 2).

Finally, God justifies “sinners,” not “good people.” Paul declares that God justifies “the ungodly” (Romans 4.5). The reasons most sinners are not justified is because they will not admit they are sinners! And sinners are the only kind of people Jesus Christ can save (See Matt, 9.9-13; Luke 18. 9-14). All men are on the same level before the Cross and that level happens to be “sinner.” You are a sinner. I am a sinner. I don’t care who you are, you are a sinner in God’s sight.

When Peter separated himself from the Gentiles, he was denying the truth of justification by faith, because he was saying, “We Jews are different from—and better than—the Gentiles.” Yet both Jews and Gentiles are sinners—“even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.22, 23)—and can be saved only by faith in Christ.

even we have believed in Jesus Christ,
Paul includes himself in the little word “we, “because he had put this doctrine to the test and validated it by his own experience

justified…by the faith of Jesus Christ
“By the faith of Jesus Christ,” is the same as saying “by Christ,” the object of that faith which saves; He alone is the ground of our justification.

for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Notice what Paul says here. If a Jew had to leave the Law behind—that is, forsake it—in order to be justified by faith, Paul’s question is, “Why should the Gentile be brought under the Law?” That was the great argument at the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15: “Should the Gentile be brought under the Law?” Thank God, the answer, guided by the Spirit of God, was that the Gentile was not under the Law for salvation—he was called to a much higher plane.

Could the Gentile find justification under the law when the Jew had already proven it was impossible? The Jews had had the Law for almost fifteen hundred years and had not been able to keep the Law at all. Why force the Gentiles under something that had not saved even one Israelite? Gentile believers were already justified by grace. It would be folly for the Gentiles to turn from grace to the Law which had been unable to justify the Jew.


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