Paul’s qualification and authenticity had been called into question right along with the very gospel he was teaching. Therefore, he has just made his argument proving he is not inferior to Peter or any of the other apostles. Now, he elaborates upon that which he has already laid the foundation for in Galatia: justification by faith alone.
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. ~Galatians 2:15-21
Paul contends that he himself as well as several other apostles were born Jews, as any “holy” person of the time was. They had the right parents, the right families, the right religion, and the right background for this kind of gig. They obeyed the law like good Jews – especially Paul. But, he contends, it ain’t about that, guys, it’s about Christ. Because, let me tell ya, you can obey all the religious laws and be abusing Christ in the background. Those that don’t have our background are not in any way disqualified. There is one qualification and that is faith. It doesn’t mean we scrap the law and sin however we want to. Certainly not!!! Now, we live for Christ because of love for Christ, not because of our duty to the law.
Therefore, our actions do not become less holy and more crass and unlawful. Heaven forbid we abuse grace in that way! Our actions actually become more holy and upright as we understand grace more. We don’t try to see what we can get away with or teeter on the fence holding hands with sin. Christ’s love is a much, much, much better motivator than obligatory laws! We live for him, now, not check marks on a righteousness card. He lives in us and sustains us in purity. We cannot get to him through the law. The law merely points us towards him. He comes to us by grace. Otherwise, the gospel is useless. The cross was vain. If there’s any way to be right before God aside from Christ’s blood, he died for absolutely no reason. Oh, and by the way, associating with Gentiles is not what makes a man like me unholy anyway. My own inability to keep the law is what proves me a transgressor.
Paul, in considering himself dead to the law did never consider himself above the law or without the law. Isn’t that interesting? Why?
Justification, or, being made right before God, is not a human work. It comes not by any human effort or status. Justification comes only by the faith given by grace alone. However, the evidence of genuine faith rooted in grace is not lawlessness, despite what many teachers then and many teachers now would have unlearned Christians believe.
Works are not a ticket to heaven. Grace is not a license to sin. We do not trust works as the basis of merit or justification. We do not use grace as the basis of liberty to indulge in sin. On the contrary! We trust in grace as our basis of justification and the good works we do give credence that Christ is moving us away from self-indulgence and sin and toward living a holy life for his own glory.
Paul brings these truths out beautifully in Galatians 2. In preaching justification by grace alone, he never so much as suggests that grace weakened or negated any duty he had in obeying God’s righteous moral laws. Instead, he proves how grace strengthens those obligations, crucifies and deadens us to sin, and gives even more reason for men to live holy and upright lives in Christ. Jesus did as much in the Sermon on the Mount.
There was no shortage of crass, arrogant teachers who thought themselves superior in Galatia. There’s no less of that be-better-like-us-or-else brand today either. But let’s just consider Paul’s humility as the one veritably chosen of God. He indicted himself as the transgressor. He never justified sin by thinking himself above God’s laws. He understood his own utter need for grace. His preaching wasn’t hateful, discouraging, or condescending. Never once did he communicate how much his hearers reeked or how much he didn’t. No. He was loving, encouraging, and full of grace.
Hate deters; Love motivates. Discouragement depresses; Encouragement inspires. Law imprisons; Grace changes. Let us remember what makes our feet beautiful and how we are to share this message.