Wednesday, 9 March 2016
“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! Galatians 2:17
The words in this verse are difficult and various scholars have proposed several suggestions as to what Paul’s intent is. The key to which interpretation is correct is dependent on whether he is still referencing his conversation with Peter, or is he now directing a theological commentary to the Galatians.
There appears to be no reason to assume the latter. It is not until verse 3:1 that he actually addresses the Galatians by name. Therefore, it is probable that he is still recalling his rebuke to Peter. And so what he is saying is based on Peter’s withdrawing himself from the Gentiles when the other Jews from James showed up. Previously, he had sought to be justified by Christ. He believed in his Lord and he received the Holy Spirit.
In this capacity, he lived in freedom from the law which was fulfilled by Christ. He had fellowshipped with the household of Cornelius and he had fellowshipped with the Gentiles in Antioch as well. However, in this freedom which was brought about by his relationship with Christ, did he and the other Jews with him (who also fellowshipped with the Gentiles) find themselves to be sinners?
In other words, if Christ’s work is what allowed the Jews to unite with the Gentiles, but it was actually sinful in relation to the law (which presupposes that the law would still be in effect), then it would mean that they were sinning against the law by fellowshipping with the Gentiles (which was because of the work of Christ) and it would then make Christ “a minister of sin.”
The repercussions of this would be obvious – the entire Christian message would be one of sin and all people would have to abandon it and return to an entire obedience to the Law of Moses. If this were the case, then Christ would have died for absolutely no reason at all and there would actually be no “New Covenant” in His blood.
Charles Ellicott explains this dilemma quite well –
“Is therefore Christ the minister of sin?—Our English version is probably right in making this a question. It is put ironically, and as a sort of reductio ad absurdum of the Judaising position. The Judaisers maintained the necessity of a strict fulfilment of the Mosaic law. They, however, still called themselves Christians; and here St. Paul had a hold upon them. ‘You call yourselves Christians,’ he says, ‘and yet you insist upon the Mosaic law. You say that a man cannot be justified without it: it follows that we, who have exchanged the service of the Law for the service of Christ, are not justified. In other words, our relation to Christ has made us, not better, but worse—a thought which no Christian can entertain.'”
The rhetorical question of Paul stands, “…is Christ therefore a minister of sin?” The answer from Peter’s lips must be, “Certainly not.” If otherwise, then it would mean that Christ’s death, and the introduction of this new faith, was opposed to holiness. The horror of this is too much to contemplate. If there is no justification through faith in Christ, then there is no justification for any person ever. The law can save no one. If Christ’s death only adds to the condemnation of the law, what a pitiful death it would have been indeed.
Life application: Christ’s death must be (and it is) the end of the law for righteousness for all who believe.
What a most marvelous thing you have done for us, O God! We may stand before You, counted as sinless, because of the life of Another. We can trade our garments, soiled by a life of sin, for the pure and unstained garments of Your righteousness – all because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Help us to never take this for granted, but instead give us the desire to pursue righteousness and holiness all our days. May we show gratitude to You for this marvelous life we now live in Christ. Amen.