Galatians 2:16-19 KJV
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.
17 But 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.
After talking about his confrontation with Peter, Paul goes into a short discussion on why he preaches the grace message. Remember that this message was given to him by God as he spent time in Damascus and Arabia. From my own perspective, I will try to recap what Paul had concluded. He was well versed in the law! After all. He says he was a Pharisee (Phil 3:5), which means he knew the law well.
The Old Testament was full of laws and decrees that instructed people how they should serve God. These can be found in the first five books of the bible, known as the Torah to the Jews. Some were laws of things that had to be done to cover their sins, like the sacrificial system (Lev 1-7). Some were laws of behavior between people. Some were laws that forbid certain things, like what animals were clean and unclean. The book of Leviticus is filled with many of these laws.
The sacrifices were required to cover their sin. This was a large part of their worship to God. I’m not going to go into a long discussion on the sacrificial system but there are five basic sacrifices that were required. The burnt offering, the meat offering, the peace offering, the trespass offering and the sin offering. All of these have different functions and were carried out in different ways. But all they could do was cover the sins of the people. They did not take the sins away. The other behavioral laws were put in place because God didn’t want his people to treat each other like the pagan religions that were around them.
Paul makes the statement that following these laws did not justify anybody (v 16). The word justify means to make righteous. It gives the connotation of someone who has been freed from a sentence that they should have gotten. Justification is the giving of mercy to another. It also carries the meaning of being declared guiltless. The sacrificial system or the law did none of this. It was only a way that they could cover their sins but they were not completely freed from their sins.
When Christ died on the cross He carried all of our sins with Him (1 Peter 2:24). When He died those sins died with Him. His death and resurrection provided a way for us to be justified before God (Romans 4:25, 5:1). There are many who believe that His death immediately made everyone heaven bound. That is not true. God does not force His will on any of us. His death provided a way for everyone, but it is up to each of us to accept His sacrifice in order to be justified. In other words, we have to do something. By faith we have to accept His sacrifice for our sins and then allow him to be Lord of our lives. Once we are saved, we have an obligation to follow up with good works.
I liken it to a Christmas present. Somebody buys you a present and they told you it is sitting underneath your Christmas tree. They describe the package in full detail to you so you know that it came from them. They even tell you what’s inside will be amazing. All you have to do is open it up. If you don’t take the gift, it will sit under the tree forever. You will never gain the benefit of owning it. You go back to your house and you look at the box under the tree you have two choices. You can take the gift or you can let it sit there.
You would think that everybody would want to take that gift! After all it’s free. Somebody else paid the price for it. But yet so many leave it sitting under the Christmas tree. Our suspicious nature tells us there must be a catch. Why would anyone do such a thing for me? I know this will end up costing me something. In the end, we just decide that blessing can sit there.
That’s the way it is with Christ. People hear the gospel message all the time and refuse to believe it. They refuse to ask Jesus Christ to forgive them of their sins. They refuse to turn away from their sins. And they refuse to start working the righteous work that He wants us to do. They will remain in sin and head for hell’s stronghold when they die if they don’t accept this free gift that has been offered.
Others will say they don’t need the gift of salvation. They have lived a good life, and God will take them to heaven because of it. But the bible is very clear that we all have sin within us (Rom 3:23). There is none of us that is good in ourselves (Psalms 14:3, Rom 3:12). That is because when Adam sinned, his seed passed sin to all who were born after him (Rom 5:12). We are all born with sin in us. In Psalm 51:5 David says he had sin in his mother’s womb. Most believe that until a child can understand their decision to refuse Christ’s grace, they are not held accountable for accepting that grace. This would also apply to those who are incapable of understanding.
Jesus was not born from the seed of man, so never had that seed of sin within Him. Mary conceived Him by the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35). Because of this, He became our sinless sacrifice. In the Old Testament, the sacrifice of the people had to be unblemished. Christ is the only person ever born this way, and so He is the only one who could fulfill the sacrificial law and become the atoning sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 10). This is a very brief explanation of why Christ is that gift given to us (John 3:16) to save us from our sins.
All of the wonderful things we do will not get us to heaven unless we take that gift. We are only justified by faith in Christ, and not by works. Verse 16 says “by The Works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Have you accepted Christ into your life? If you haven’t, pray this prayer with me and then find a good church and talk to the pastor. Tell him you just got saved and you want to start your new life.
Dear Jesus: I believe that you died for my sins. I repent and ask you to forgive me of my sins. Cleanse me from all my sinful ways and put me on the right path. I believe you rose again to give me eternal life in heaven. I now turn from my former ways and make you Lord of my life. Thank you for saving me!
Once we have taken that step we are supposed to stay out of sin. Jesus justified each of us – we should no longer walk in our old sinful ways. They have been destroyed by Christ and I have no business building those foundations again in my life. If I do, then I make myself a transgressor. We know Jesus will forgive us, but we still must stay out of sin.
If we sin knowingly, that is our pride at work. We come to a place where we think He loves us so much He will continue to forgive us. I am not saying He won’t, but we certainly take advantage of His grace if we sin knowingly. I would not want to take that chance. Christ is not the minister of sin. He is a minister of righteousness. He has made us dead to the law so that we might live to God. He did not save us so we could just fall back into the trap of sin. He saved us so we could rise above that, with His help, and enjoy all the blessings He bestows. Why would we ever leave those blessings behind? Let us leave our sin behind instead.
Paul goes on to explain further how we have died to that old sin. The next verse is one of my favorites – hope you’ll join us!