PAUL’S VINDICATION OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL—Continued (Gal. 2:15-18) Paul now asks a very telling and arresting question. He asks “Is Christ of sin a minister?” It would seem that seeking to be justified by faith in Christ would need to lead to that conclusion. If there were absolutely no need to keep the law in order to be justified, then the law could be set aside and men could live lawless lives. To that terrible position, it seems, the free grace in Christ must lead. Christ, instead of making men keepers of the law, makes men transgressors of the law by this teaching of the truth of the Gospel. And so Paul asks the question, whether those who seek to be justified in Christ are not in the ministry of sin, rather than in the ministry of grace!
To this question Paul gives the very strong “God forbid!” (mee genoito) It is a horrible thought, unworthy of God! Such a conclusion is shocking to the utmost to the soul of Paul and to the heart of all the justified in Christ. It is just as shocking as to say that the greatness of justifying and sanctifying grace of Christ leads to a life of sin and debauchery: let us sin that grace may abound. (Rom. 6:2) Paul is equally shocked by the terrible conclusion that if our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God, God is unrighteous when He taketh vengeance. Then, too, Paul exclaims with the strong: God forbid (Rom. 3:6) God will indeed judge the world in righteousness according to his holy law. Thus also the truth of the Gospel that we are justified without works of law which we perform does not make Christ a minister of sin. God forbid! (Gal. 2:17) Out of the works of the law shall no flesh, Jew or Greek, be justified before God and have right to inherit eternal life!
Are then the circumcised Jews “found sinners” themselves who seek to be justified in Christ? Indeed, they are. But the question is in what sense are they found such “sinners.” The term “sinners” here is the same as that which we have in verse 15, where Paul says, “We who are by nature Jews and not sinners out of the Gentiles.” There the term sinner (harmartoloi) referred to those who were outside of the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Eph. 2:12) They were those who did not share in the task of bringing forth the Christ as the Israelites of whom was the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the lawgiving, and the worship, and the promises, looking back to the fathers and forward to the coming of Christ from their loins, the Christ Who is God blessed forever, Amen. (Rom. 9:4, 5) Such sinners, as the Gentiles were, Paul and Peter were not. Now in the phrase “found sinners” we can go in two different constructions of thought. This might mean that when Paul and Peter sought salvation in Christ, they learned profoundly that they were dead in trespasses and sins in themselves, children of wrath even as the rest. (Eph. 2:1-3) Then Paul learned that he was the chief of sinners, and Peter weeps bitterly over his denial of the Christ and is converted. (I Tim. 1:15 ff., Luke 22:62) Seeking to be justified in Christ they found that theywere sinners. However, this hardly seems to be the correct interpretation. If a word is used in a given sense in the immediate context we should not give a different meaning to it than the meaning of the term in the context. There “sinner” meant a man who transgressed the law of Israel, living outside of it. He did not keep the law of the precepts of clean and unclean, meats, drinks, days and months and years. He was not under the Levitical laws and ordinances at all. Such sinners the Gentiles were! Now, if seeking to be justified in Christ we are “found sinners,” it means that we no longer are under the Levitical laws and ordinances any more. Yes, we are “found sinners” like the Gentiles. Really, we are now in a third class. We are not under law, nor are weoutside of law (without law), but we are the justified ones in Christ, which makes us such because the Levitical laws have been abrogated. However, in the sense that we no longer keep the O.T. Levitical laws and ordinances, we are just as little under these laws as were the Gentiles, with this understanding that we are now in a new relationship to sin and grace in Christ. Old things are passed away and all things are new! Even when we are “found sinners” we are not in the service of a “minister of sin,” but we are in the service of righteousness! Is Christ then a “minister of sin”? God forbid! (II Cor. 5:15, 16)
On the contrary, Paul holds that not he who continues to preach Christ crucified is a sinner before the throne of God’s just verdict, but he who would return to a teaching and conduct contrary to the truth of justification by faith, is a transgressor. Says Paul, if it should prove a fact (Paul uses a first class conditional sentence, determined reality) that he was again breaking down the doctrine and teaching of free-grace, then he would be established before God as a transgressor. He had broken down the teaching of justification by works. He will not rebuild it. Should he do so, then God would constitute him a trangressor of the work of Christ, the Son of God, a denier of the Christ, crucifying the Son of God afresh. And Peter and all those in Antioch had better take this to heart. (Heb. 10:26-31)
What masterful apology for the Gospel: This is a good case-study in showing that not only the exact words of God must be heeded, but also the deeper and profounder implications must be taken to heart. The great polemic of the Gospel stands as the rock of Gibraltar. The foundation is laid here by Paul as the master-builder; let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. Let it be precious stone, gold and silver, and not mere wood, hay, and straw which do not befit the temple of God. (I Cor. 3:10-13)
THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL IN PAUL’S LIFE (Galatians 2:19-21)
Here we are given an insight into the deep spiritual psychology of a great and profound apostle and preacher. We see that he is first a Christian and then a workman in God’s church, as the wise master-builder. A stream cannot rise higher than its source. In Paul this water is very high. It is as high as it is in the fountain-source, Christ. Paul is a new creature in Christ. A great change has taken place in this erstwhile persecutor of the church. Christ has beenrevealed in him as the Son of God. (Gal. 1:15, 16) Whether Paul spoke these words to Peter as part of rebuking to his face before all (Gal. 2:14) is perhaps a question to which no definite answer can be given. It is both affirmed and denied by expositors of orthodox stature. We leave it an open question of no great consequence. What is important is that we try to understand the argument here set forth. Here is a greater than Luther, who says, “I cannot do otherwise than preach the Gospel of Christ, so help me God!”
Paul opens here the secret of his strength and devotion to the Gospel. And the implied argument is that this is normative for any preacher of the Gospel, yes, for any confessor of the truth of the Gospel. Paul is not a lone exception to the rule of being a new creature in Christ. (Eph. 2:9, 10; Eph. 4:20-24) Hence, this is a mighty spiritual-psychological appeal to the new man in Christ, of Peter and all who are in Antioch. Paul will pursue this appeal in Gal. 3:1-5. This is ever the appeal in Scripture in all the exhortations, pleadings, and precepts of the Gospel. The appeal is always to what we are in Christ, and that, too, by the “mercies of God”! (Rom. 12:1, 2) Yea, such is ever the case where the “law” is held before us, as renewed Christians, in all of the Scriptures, whereas Christ is the end of the law for all who believe. And so we have here more than a mere autobiographical statement from Paul concerning his inner life in Christ, but we have here still an integral part of his powerful polemic for the truth of the Gospel, as this is a reality in his own life, and in the lives of all the redeemed and regenerated children of God, who are born out of the Father.
We are dealing here with some striking and meaningful sentences of Paul. He says very emphatically, “For I through law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” (Verse 19) There is an emphasis in this sentence which is scarcely reproduced in the English of the KJV of the Bible. Literally translated the sentence reads, “For I through law unto law I have died, in order that unto God I might live.” What should be noticed is that here is a double emphasis by Paul on what has happened to him by grace. First of all in the Greek he says twice “I” with the verb “have died.” That is emphatic. Besides he places this “I” in the emphatic position in the sentence. This indicates, in our judgment, that Paul says to his audience in defense of the Gospel power, that no matter what happened to others, this has happened to him. He has, come to stand before God in a new relationship to the law. The “law” has not died. It is eternal as God is God. But Paul’s former relationship to the law is like one who died. Just as the law of the husband only had force for the wife as long as he lived, but is no longer of force when he has died, so also the law of commandments in ordinances has no more power over Paul and over all the redeemed saints. (Rom. 7:6) Paul will now serve in newness of the spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. I died to law! It is no longer the motivation of my life, keeping me in bondage, but the motivation is now that I am “under grace,” the law of liberty. (Rom. 6:8-14)
Paul has died unto the law-principle (Rom. 10:4, 5) that the man who “doeth the same shall live thereby” through law. When he died to law the righteous demand of perfect obedience was not forgotten, overlooked, negated, but was so maintained by God, that rather than one sin to go unpunished, he has punished the same in his only begotten Son. The law received its due, when I died unto law. It is quite evident that his is a radical death, once and for all. This is evident from the verb itself. The verb means to “die off.” It expresses completeness. The tense here indicates, too, that it is not a gradual process but that this took place at one time! It is a once and for all dying. One cannot return to the state which was ours before this death had occurred. This dying refers to the legal status of Paul now by virtue of the judge of heaven and earth, by which Paul is no longer a slave, but he is a son of God with legal rights to serve God in His family, His temple, His church, as a true son of Abraham, a free-born son of God!
The purpose of this dying unto law is grand in its design. This design is both negative and positive.
It is negative in that Paul no longer lives “under law.” He is crucified with Christ. He says emphatically, “with Christ I am crucified.” He will develop this theme more in depth in Chapter 3. For the time being he merely states the fact without the deeper interpretation of it and without the dogmatical and exegetical basic implications of it. The term means in the Greek that this crucifixion “with” Christ was simultaneous with Christ’s crucifixion at Calvary! As really as Christ was nailed to the Cross, so really all of Paul’s transgressions were nailed to the tree. The Lord caused all our iniquities to come upon Him. That is the pivotal fact upon which it all hinges. There at Calvary Paul died through law into the demands of the law: that the one that doeth the same shall live thereby.