The Principle Involved (Part 3 of 5) (series: Lessons on Galatians)
by John Lowe
is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
If the Judaizers were right, then Christ was wrong and had been teaching people to sin, because He taught that food could not contaminate a person—“So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man” (Mark 7.19). He also declared that all who belong to Him are one with him and therefore with one another—“that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17.21-23). Paul’s airtight logic condemned Peter, because by his actions he had in effect made it appear as if Christ was lying. This thought is utterly objectionable and caused Paul to use the strongest Greek negative (God forbid).
The question that Paul is posing is this: “If the Gospel made the Jew’s privilege under the Law empty and meaningless, reducing them to the same status as the Gentiles who are without the Law, was not Christ the agent of their reduction to the status of sinners?” Paul answered this question at a later date in Romans 3, with the bold assertion that “there is no difference.” The Jews and Gentiles stand on equal footing before God; both are saved through placing their faith in Jesus Christ.
At the Jerusalem conference, Peter had compared the Mosaic Law to a burdensome yolk—“Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” Now he had put himself under that impossible yolk.
Paul’s argument goes like this: “Peter, you and I did not find salvation through the Law; we found it through faith in Christ. But now, after being saved, you go back into the Law! This means that Christ alone did not save you; otherwise you would not have needed the Law. So, Christ actually made you a sinner!
Furthermore, you have preached the Gospel of God’s grace to both Jews and Gentiles, and have told them they are saved by faith, and not by keeping the Law. By going back into legalism, you are building up what you tore down! This means you sinned by tearing it down in the first place.
In other words, Paul is arguing from Peter’s own experience of the grace of God. To go back to Moses is to deny everything that God had done for him and through him.
18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor
For if I build again the things which I destroyed,
When Paul indicated “The things which I destroyed” he meant the false system of legalism, done away with by the preaching of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Legalism puts salvation on the basis of doing good works, but if salvation is by works as they claimed, it is not of “grace” and cannot result in “peace,” since no one can be sure he has done enough good works to be secure. Paul states his position this way: If I attempt to justify myself by keeping the Law, I would, in effect, be attempting to rebuild the standard of judgment which I by my sin have destroyed, and which itself condemns me.” Should I now begin to drive out Christ which I have planted by preaching the Gospel, and begin to build up again the Law, and set up again the kingdom of Moses? I should certainly do this, if I teach that circumcision and observing the Law are necessary for salvation, as the false apostles do: and by this means, in the place of righteousness and life, I would restore again sin and death.
I make myself a transgressor.
Paul intends for the “I” here and in the previous clause to be taken by Peter and applied to himself, though Paul seems to assign it to himself, since it is his situation, not Paul’s that is described. A “transgressor” is another word for “sinner” (v. 17), because “sin is the transgression of the law.” “You Peter, by now asserting that the Law is mandatory are proving you are a “sinner,” or “transgressor,” because you have essentially set it aside by living like the Gentiles, and with them. Thus, you have disqualified yourself from justification by keeping the Law by this transgression, and you bar yourself from Justification by faith in Christ, since in your theory He becomes a minister of sin.” The real transgressor, is not
Christ, but the one who, like Peter, builds up again a distinction that has in effect been destroyed. Peter was doing just that by withdrawing himself from Gentile fellowship, making it appear that Jewish believers were a superior breed.
We conclude, along with Paul, that we are justified by faith only in Christ, without the works of the Law. Now, after a man is justified, and saved by faith in Christ, he knows He is his righteousness and life; and he is no longer likely to be idle, but as a good tree he will bring forth good fruit. Because the believing man has the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit dwells He will not permit a man to be idle, but will stimulate him to do all the exercises of piety and godliness, of true religion, to the love of God, to the patient suffering of afflictions, to prayer, to thanksgiving, to exercise charity towards all men.
19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
For I through the law am dead to the law,
“For” connects this verse with the clause that comes before—“but I am not a transgressor by forsaking the Law”; and to verse 17 to the denial that “Christ is the minister of sin.” Christ is so far from being the minister of sin and death, that He is the establisher of righteousness and life.
Paul is no longer speaking about Peter, but of himself, which is indicated by the “l.” The Law was Paul’s schoolmaster to bring him to Christ—“Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3.24). It drove him by its terror to find refuge in Christ from God’s wrath against sin, and when he spiritually understood this he realized that the Law must give place to Christ, and he said “I am dead to the Law”—lit., “I died to the Law,” am dead to it, that is, I am no longer under its power in respect to non-justification or condemnation. So, by believing union with Christ in his death, we, being considered dead with Him, are severed from the Law’s past power over us—“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been Crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6.14).
When a person is convicted of a capital crime and executed, the law has no further claim on him. It is the same with the Christian who has died in Christ (who paid the penalty for his sins in full) and rises to a new life in Him. Justice has been satisfied, and he is forever free from any further penalty.
In Romans 7 and 8, there is a detailed explanation of what it means, not to be under Law, but under grace; Paul teaches that:
1. The Law no longer condemns a believer (Romans 7.1-6).
2. It convicts unbelievers (and believers) of sin (Romans 7.7-13).
3. It cannot deliver a believer from sin (Romans 7.14-25).
4. Believers who walk in the power of the Spirit can fulfil the Law (Romans 8.1-4).
There are two important points that need to be emphasized about being “dead to the Law;”
1. This death happened at a point in time, with results that are complete and fina
2. Someone else—in this case God Himself—initiated this death (lit. “You were made to die.”).
In response to faith in His Son, God makes the believing sinner forever dead to the condemnation and penalty of the Law (Romans 8.1).
“Dead to the law” does not mean freedom to do what God’s Law forbids—“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! (Romans 6.15)—but freedom from the spiritual liabilities and penalties of God’s Law. Because we died with Christ when He died, the Law with its condemnation and penalties no longer has jurisdiction over us—“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8.1-3).
that I might live unto God.
The sentence of death has been executed—but executed in the body of Christ on the Cross—“Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God” (Romans 7.4). Therefore, if I live now, it can only be by right of Christ and in freedom from the condemnation of the Law. My life now can be nothing but the life of Christ, maintained by the continuation of the once-for-all act of faith in Him.