Commentary on Galatians, 2:17-19

Galatians 2:17-19

“15 We being Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
16 yet knowing that a person is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, we also have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
17 But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves also are found to be sinners, is Christ a minister of sin? Of course not!
18 For if I rebuild those things that I destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.”

These two verses are very difficult to interpret. But this is what I believe Paul is saying:

“while seeking to be justified in Christ”

“while seeking to be justified in Christ through faith”

“we ourselves”

“we ourselves as Jews”

“found to be sinners”

“found to be sinners as the Gentiles are”

I believe Paul here is referring to a sinful lifestyle, as a reference back to what he said about the Gentiles in verse 15, who didn’t have the law to regulate their lives. There were Jews who thought that faith in Christ (as opposed to keeping the law), allowed, or led to, the freedom to sin. Their thinking was, apparently, that if the law was no longer to be kept, then there was no longer any restraints to sin. Thus they were no different than the Gentiles who didn’t have the law to regulate their lives.

“Is Christ a minister of sin?”

The question is, “is Christ a promoter of sin?” “Can a sinful lifestyle be attributed to Christ?” “Is this what the gospel of Christ allows or encourages?” “Does the gospel of Christ promote sin?” There may have been Jews who were making these types of accusations, and Paul here is addressing this heretical idea. Those who had such a view of Christ, had a serious misunderstanding of the gospel message. Paul answers those where were making such claims with an emphatic, “of course not!” As Paul explains in verses 19 and 20, Christ and His gospel promotes no such lifestyle, on the contrary, the true gospel leads to a life that is lived unto God.

We have the same sort of heresy in the church today. There are those who teach that we can come to faith in Christ, and continue to live as we like. This would be the OSAS (once saved always saved) group. They teach that the gospel of Christ is strictly about “getting people saved,” and that it has nothing to do with the Lordship of Christ. They say that becoming a disciple of Christ may occur at a later time, but that it’s not something we’re suppose to talk to people about when sharing the plan of salvation, but to simply present Jesus as Savior. They teach that becoming a follower of Christ may or may not occur, but getting them into Heaven is what the gospel is all about. The true gospel of Jesus Christ does not promote this misguided idea. That is not what the Bible teaches.

“For if I rebuild those things that I destroyed”

Whether it’s the Jew trusting in the law to save them, or the Gentile living without the law, it’s a life (a sinful life) that is outside the will of God. The true gospel of Jesus Christ destroys that which separates us from God. It destroys whatever system we’re trusting in for our salvation. It destroys the sin and the sinful lifestyle that accompanies sin. 

Thus Paul is saying that whether we’re Jews trusting in the law, or Gentiles living outside of the law, when we come to true faith in Christ, sin, that separates us from God has been destroyed. You see, the gospel of Christ not only saves us from the penalty of sin, but also from the power of sin. Therefore, if we return to a life that is characterized by sin (outside the will of God, outside of His plan and purpose), we’re actually rebuilding what has been destroyed through the cross.

“transgressor”  (Gr. parabates – 3848)

Lawbreaker

Peter and the rest of the Jews, who, by their actions, were turning away from faith alone in Christ, and returning to the law that has no power to save. To do so is to become, once again, a transgressor of the law that they were saved from. It placed them back into bondage, where they were revealed to be sinners (transgressors of the whole law: James 2:10). The law served to show them their sinfulness and captivity to the law, and their need for rescue (Ro 7:5-7). It served as their guardian to lead them to faith in Christ (Gal 3:23-25). Paul is explaining to them, or reminding them, that they cannot combine faith in Christ with the law. He was telling them that they must make a clean break from the law, and to live completely in the grace that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ.

“19 For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God.”

“through the law”

I believe what Paul means, as explained above, that through awareness of the law, through awareness of his sins and of his need for Christ that the law reveals, he “died to the law,” through Him. That is, through faith in Christ, he died to the bondage and captivity of the law, that requires total obedience….which is not possible. Paul makes this personal, but of course, it applies to all, both Jew and Gentile.

“that I might live to God”

Only in Christ are we in the will of God. Only in Christ do we have the power to live for God. Furthermore, as those who belong to Christ, we are led by the Holy Spirit, and not according to the law of the Old Testament (Gal 5:18). Through Christ we are freed from the bondage of the law, that we may freely live for God. That is the message Paul is conveying to Peter and the rest of the Jews who were present. Paul also, is, again, refuting the idea that Christ and His gospel promotes a lifestyle of sin.