The Principle Involved: Part 2 of 5 (series: Lessons on Galatians)
by John Lowe
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law”—the word “the” is not in the original; so it should read “not justified by works of the Law.” This includes the Mosaic system, and it includes any legal system. This is what I mean: if you say you have to join a certain church or that you have to have a certain experience, or that you have to be baptized to be saved, you are contradicting this verse.
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law”—any Law. Paul embraces the whole legal system that is found in every religion. This makes Christianity different from every other religion on the top side of the earth. Every religion that I know anything about, instruct us to do something. Christianity is different. It tells us we are justified by faith; that is, faith is an accomplished act and fact for you. Every other religion says do. Christianity says done. The great transaction is done, and we are asked to believe it.
Paul rests his argument on this as an axiom in theology, referring to Psalm 143.2 which says, “And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” Justification by keeping the law is excluded by Romans 3.20: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” There is no mincing of words here. Simply stated, you cannot be saved by keeping the Law; no one, to date, was ever saved that way, because it is impossible for a human man or woman to do it. This is the conclusion of this verse and it is so clear I feel anyone can understand it: “for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Let’s not depreciate the work of the Lord Jesus by saying we didn’t get everything from Him. I was a hell-doomed sinner. I trusted Him as my Savior, and I received a perfect salvation from Him.
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
This verse is much more difficult to understand than the verses that come before it
But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ,
The word here translated as “justified” means, “to declare a person right,” or “to make him right.” We are declared to be right by our faith in Jesus Christ. It means that a sinner who is guilty before God, who is under condemnation and judgment is declared to be right with God on the basis of his faith in the redemption which we have in Christ. It is not only forgiveness of sins, which is subtraction; it is the addition of the righteousness of Christ. He is declared righteous. The righteousness I have is not my
own righteousness, but I have the perfect righteousness which is Christ.
Paul is getting to the very heart of the Gospel, which says that we are justified by faith alone (faith in Christ plus nothing else). In the Gospel, we discover that Christ has fulfilled the Law for us. But from the Jewish standpoint, which Paul is well acquainted with, he declares that we, by our association with Gentiles have cast aside the Law and put ourselves in the same category as the Gentiles (who are without the Law), which is the category of “sinner” (see verse 15), in the Jewish view. The conclusion from this, is that “Christ is the minister of sin.” (Should we admit that in this case the conclusion is inevitable, that Christ having failed to justify us by faith, has become to us “the minister of sin?” by putting us into the position of “sinners,” according to the Jewish theory?) If their theory is correct, we should be identified with all others who are “without the Law,” with whom we have identified ourselves by eating with them. This theory may be stated thus: “Though seeking Christ, we have not found salvation which contradicts Christ’s own words—“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7.7).
, but have been ourselves (like the Gentiles) also made to be sinners by having fellowship with Gentiles (See Gal. 2.12). The Christian mind revolts from so shocking a conclusion, and from the conclusion which would result from it. The sin lies not with Christ, but with all those who would propose such a blasphemous theory.
we ourselves also are found sinners,
Paul’s opponents argued that since justification by faith eliminated the Law, it encouraged sinful living. A person could believe in Christ for salvation and then do as he pleased, having no need to do good works. Paul hotly denied the charge, especially noting that this made Christ the promoter of sin. On the contrary, if a person would return to the Law, after trusting Christ alone for salvation, that Law would only demonstrate that he was a sinner, a lawbreaker. Though Paul used the first person here, it is clear he had Peter in mind, who by his act of withdrawing from Gentile fellowship was returning to the Law.
If the Judaizers doctrine was correct, then Paul, Peter, and Barnabas, and the other Jewish believers fell back into the category of sinners because they had been eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles, who according to the Judaizers were unclean. This lowering of the Jew to the level of the Gentile seemed to involve Christ, making Him a minister of sin in that He released man from bondage to the Law, since faith in Christ for both Jew and Gentile is the condition of salvation. But Paul rejected the conclusion, because it rested on a false premise, namely the farcified superiority of Jew over Gentile.