One of the accusations Christians face, particularly from the cults, is that by adopting a gospel of salvation by grace alone apart from works, we actually promote sin. After all, if we are saved by faith in Christ apart from trying to keep the rules, why keep any rules at all? Why not just lie, steal, commit adultery, watch pornography, etc? What’s to stop us from living that way if salvation is by grace alone?
Even Christians wonder this sometimes. If we’re not living by rules, doesn’t that mean we can just live any way that we want to? Don’t we simply have to have rules and keep them if we are to live the Christian life? Isn’t the only alternative becoming like all the other people in the world, living in sin?
That’s what the Judaizers (those who said you must keep Jewish law in order to be truly Christian) were saying to Paul and the Galatians: “By throwing away the law, you are lowering yourself to the standard of the pagans. You’re becoming like them.”
And whenever they saw Paul or the Galatians either breaking Jewish law or flat out sinning (because all of us do fall even though we are Christians), they were quick to point to them and say, “See. It’s just like we said. You’re acting just like the pagans. By this gospel of grace, you are actually making Christ a promoter of sin.”
In Paul’s words here, we see his response to these accusations. He said,
We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (15-16)
In other words, Paul is saying, “We (that is, Peter and himself) are Jews, not Gentiles. Yet we admit that we cannot be made right before God by obeying the Jewish law. By ‘obeying’ the law no one can be justified.”
Why not? Because in order to be justified by the law, you must keep it perfectly, and no one can do that.
And so Paul told Peter, “So we too, along with the Gentiles, realize that we must put our faith in Jesus in order to be made right with God.”
He then brings up the argument of the Judaizers.
If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners,does that mean that Christ promotes sin? (17a)
Paul’s saying, “People are pointing to us as people who are seeking to be justified by grace, and saying, ‘Look at you! Even though you say you belong to Christ, there’s still all this sin in your life. This proves that your gospel promotes sin. This proves that your Christ promotes sin.'”
Absolutely not! (17b)
If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. (18)
What does Paul mean by this? I think he’s saying this: “Let’s say that I do what you want me to. I bring back the law and say, ‘To be a Christian, you must follow all these Jewish laws.’ Will that stop people from sinning? Has it ever stopped you from sinning? No. All bringing back the law will do is bring us back to square one: realizing that we are sinners in need of a Savior.”
What can we get from this? We need to get away from the idea that following God’s law can in any way make us righteous before him. It can’t. All it can do is point out our sin and our need for a Savior.
There is only one way we can be made righteous before God, and that’s by putting our faith in Christ. How does doing this make us righteous before God? We’ll talk about this more tomorrow.