COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 19
Gal 2:17 “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.” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (Gal 2:17-18)
PAUL’S CONFRONTATION OF PETER, #4
Paul continues to reason with Peter concerning his departure from the Gentiles to sit with the Jewish brethren. His reasoning is too strong for the institutional mind-set. Only a living and vibrant faith can relish these words, yielding to them without argument. The gravity of the situation is found in the manner in which he writes of it. He said that Peter “was to be blamed” (2:11), that the action led to dissembling, or acting hypocritically (2:13), that they did not walk uprightly (2:14a), they did not walk “according to the truth of the Gospel” (2:14b), and that we are not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith that comes from Christ (2:16). None of these were declared in words, but all of them were declared in actions. If the act that Peter and those who joined him did was right, then the Gospel was not true, and righteousness was not realized through faith. It is difficult to conceive of anything being more serious than that. While this is not what was taught in words, or by doctrine, these are the conclusions that would be reached by following the action of Peter to its logical end. One of the curses of an unthinking generation is that such reasoning makes no sense at all. Yet, in our time, there is a calculated effort to divorce conduct from affiliation with Christ through the truth of the Gospel, and by faith. Flawed conduct is approached too casually, as though there was really no consequence to it. In the thinking of some, this can be easily explained by saying God does not look at what we do, but at our hearts. It is also frequently affirmed that if a person really is living an unacceptable life, it is because he never knew the Lord in the first place. There is even the view that deviate conduct will not interfere with obtaining the eternal inheritance, but that a few rewards will be missed, while the transgressor enters into the joy of the Lord anyway. If such lines of reasoning are true, then we have the possibility that Peter really did not do anything that had the potential of effecting his salvation – or, alternatively, that he really was never an apostle. Who, after reading this text, would dare to embrace such heresies. There is a tone in the words of Paul that forbids such shallow thinking, for if there was really no eternal relevance in his words, then they really were nothing more than the utterance of a private opinion.
SEEK TO BE JUSTIFIED BY CHRIST
Gal 2:17a “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ we ourselves also are found sinners . . .”
Paul is reasoning in the Spirit – assessing what Peter has done in the light of what takes place when a person partakes of salvation. Those who have been schooled in traditional Christianity will find his reasoning strange, indeed. It will become apparent that he does not think like our contemporaries are being taught to think. However, this is a man who was given special insight into the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, and we do well to grasp what he says.
SEEKING TO BE JUSTIFIED. Other versions read, “while seeking to be justified,” NASB “In our effort to be justified,” NRSV “in our endeavor to be justified,” RSV “while we sought to be justified,” ASV “while we are desiring to get righteousness,” BBE “seek to be made righteous,” GENEVA “the same people who are searching for God’s approval,” GWN “to be made right with God,” NLT “declared righteous,” YLT“while we are seeking in Christ acquittal from guilt,” WEYMOUTH “in our desire and endeavor to be justified in Christ,” AMPLIFIED “trust Christ to save us,” LIVING “come into right standing with God,” WILLIAMS
What is the legitimate cause for coming to Jesus Christ? Is it to merely get rid of our past, find cleansing for our conscience, and the remission of our sins? Could it be to obtain a happy life and find inner peace? Are those the compelling reasons for coming to Jesus? Or, is there a deeper reason that encompasses all of those things?
Here Paul addresses the root cause that draws men to Christ Jesus. It is to become righteous: right with God, received by Him, and approved by Him. It involves more than losing something, it has primarily to do with obtaining something: righteousness. To “be justified” is to be “made righteous” (Rom 5:19). It includes being “justified from all things,” or freed from the guilt of sin (Acts 13:39). It also involves being “made the righteousness of God” in Him [Christ] (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus said men were to seek God’s righteousness (Matt 6:33). However, it appears to me that the need for that righteousness is not generally known – even in the professed church.
The very concept of seeking status with God is a bit strange in today’s church-culture. Jesus said only those who “seek” find (Matt 7:7-8). James pointed out that the very provision of salvation was that “men might seek after the Lord” (Acts 15:17). Paul preached that this was the appointed vocation of all men: to “seek the Lord” (Acts 17:27). Believers are told of seeking glory (Rom 2:7), things above (Col 3:1), and of those who seek a continuing city (Heb 13:14). All of these quests presume the passing of this world, and the inevitable confrontation of “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:23). Here seeking equates to obtaining the experience of Philippians 3:9: “found in Him.”
Seeking to be justified is engaging in a fervent quest to be accepted and approved by God, received by Christ, and made holy in character. If that does not occur, nothing else is of any consequence. Job asked, “how should man be just with God?” (Job 9:2). The Gospel provides the answer to that question. It ought to be noted that Divine approval is very real. It is not God pretending that men are something that they are not. To be justified involves a very real change of character. That is why man’s status is changed from enemy to reconciled.
JUSTIFIED BY CHRIST. Other versions read, “ in Christ,” NASB “through Christ,” BBE “through our union with the Messiah,” CJB and “in Christ [to be declared righteous and put in right standing with God wholly and solely through Christ].” AMPLIFIED Technically, “it is God that justifies” (Rom 8:33). However, justification occurs in Christ Jesus, so that he who has the Son has life, being justified from all things, and made acceptable to God. Here “by Christ” means by means of our identity with Christ. That is, as soon as we are “joined unto the Lord” (1 Cor 6:17), we are “made righteous” (Rom 5:19) by virtue of that union.
FOUND SINNERS. Other versions read, “becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners,” NIV “seen to be sinners,” BBE “are still sinners,” GWN “are found guilty because we have abandoned the Law,” NLT “are convicted of sin,” WEYMOUTH “sinners like the heathen themselves,” WILLIAMS and “shown ourselves sinners also and convicted of sin.” AMPLIFIED
Here is a most profound line of reasoning, and it will have a sanctifying effect upon the mind. If justification is “from all things,” then what if, after we have been justified, we are “found sinners?” Keep in mind that no one is assessed as a sinner who has been “freed from sin” (Rom 6:7). Salvation does not leave men in a state where they are “found sinners,” or are “seen as sinners.” If the aim of salvation involves the righteousness of the Law being fulfilled in the saved ones (Rom 8:4), then what are we to say about those who transgress the Law? Is it possible for people to be “found sinners,” yet not really be sinners at all?
Paul has particular reference to the deed concerning which he was confronting Peter. He had conducted himself as though the Gentiles were not accepted by God – and that was not walking according to the truth of the Gospel. When conduct is in contradiction of the Gospel, it is sin – even if it is not regarded as something immoral. Peter and those who dissembled with him had been “found sinners” who were acting in contradiction of the Gospel, and were, in that instance, unholy.
IS CHRIST THE MINISTER OF SIN?
2:17b “ . . . is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.” . . .”
The matter before us is accounting for unacceptable conduct. In particular, it has to do with Peter and others refraining from eating with the Gentiles, whose table obviously did not reflect the Jewish distinction of foods. Precisely how do we account for such conduct?
I understand this text to be addressed to Peter, but is particularly applicable to the Galatians, who were living in a state that contradicted the Gospel they once embraced. For Peter, it was a one time thing, and was not the result of embracing a flawed gospel. For the Galatians, it was the result of being led astray by false teachers.
IS CHRIST THE MINISTER OF SIN? Other versions read, “does that mean Christ promotes sin?” NIV “is Christ then a servant of sin?” NRSV “is Christ then an agent of sin?” RSV “is the Messiah an aider and abettor of sin?” CJB “does that mean Christ encourages us to sin?” GWN “Christ was at the service of sin,” NJB “Would that mean that Christ has led us to sin?” NLT and “does that make Christ a minister (a party and contributor) to our sin?” AMPLIFIED
Can sin among professed believers be traced back to Christ? Is His Kingdom one that advances and tolerates iniquity? If Christ truly dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph 3:17), then what is His relation to sin? What has He to do with it? Precisely in what way did He, by His presence, promote it? That is the question being put forth, and it is an arresting one, indeed. Note that Paul provides for no excuse for sin. He rather challenges the people to trace it to its source. What is the cause for sin – any sin? Why did it surface, and why was it expressed?
Is it that Christ is not sufficient? Even though it is revealed that we are “complete in Him” (Col 2:10), is it possible that He really cannot keep us “from falling” (Jude 1:24?) Do His disciples sin because Jesus cannot really “make” them stand (Rom 14:4)? Is Jesus in that way the “minister of sin,” because He is not able to do what He has been revealed as doing? Is there some deficiency in Him, so that sin can still gain the dominion over those who are in Him?
Is it that a change was not really wrought in us? Are terms like ”the washing of regeneration” (Tit 3:5), “a new creature” (2 Cor 5:17), “created in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:10), and “born again” (John 3:3,7; 1 Pet 1:23) really nothing more than rhetoric? Do those in Christ really not receive a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek 36:26), and can it be that the law of God is not really written on their heart (Heb 10:16)? What aspect of life in Christ Jesus is the source of sin and transgression?
Is there some part of Christ that encourages sin, or is willing to overlook it? If so, what part of Him is so characterized? Or is there some facet of spiritual life that can be lived apart from vital union with the Savior? If so, precisely what is it?
Is sin the result of fellowship with Christ, living by faith, or walking in the Spirit. Is there anything in those realities that causes one to be insensitive to the Lord, and submissive to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life?
Did Jesus fail to release us from the hold and dominancy of sin? Is He the “minister of sin” in failing to release us from its dominion? If we are no longer servants of sin (Rom 6:18,22), how is it that we can still be enslaved to it – unless Jesus is, after all, in some way “the minister of sin?” Does spiritual life in any way foster sin? Does the Holy Spirit lead those in Christ to sin? If this is not the case, then what is the origin of sin in professed believers?
Has Satan maintained his dominion over us? Did Jesus fail to destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb 2:14). Did He really not plunder principalities and powers (Col 2:15). Is Satan invincible, being more strong than the Deliverer?
Is Divine acceptance completely divorced from moral character? Does the salvation of God leave men as they were, simply refusing to acknowledge their fallen condition? Is that the manner of the Lord? If so, then is He not “the minister of sin?”
Paul is making the point that men – all men – must account for the committing of sin. He is also affirming that in no way can sin be explained as having nothing to do with our association with Christ. Sin is never neutral, and is never condoned by God or His Christ.
GOD FORBID. Other versions read, “Certainly not,” NKJV “May it never be,” NASB “Absolutely not,” NIV “In no way,” BBE “Heaven forbid,” CJB “Far be the thought,” DARBY and “Banish the thought! [Of course not!]” AMPLIFIED The idea here is that the thought that has been expressed is utter insanity. There is no room for such a thought in the Kingdom of God. It contradicts all truth, so must not be allowed. The words “God forbid” are translated from a two Greek words (mh. ge,noito): “no may-it-be-becoming.” The idea is that this is an impossibility. NO place has been made for it to be true in any sense of the word. God will not allow it.
WHAT HAPPENS IN CONVERSION. All of this is against the background of what really happens in conversion. We are joined unto the Lord (2 Cor 6:17), baptized into Christ and put on Christ (Gal 3:27), made partakers of Christ (Gal 3:27), and called into fellowship with Christ (1 Cor 1:9). None of these involves, encourages or promote sin. Christ is NOT the minister of sin.
I MAKE MYSELF A TRANSGRESSOR
2:18 "For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor."
Paul is referring to the resurfacing of sin – sin that was put away by Jesus (Heb 9:26), forgiven to those who are in Christ (Col 2:13), and remembered no more by the Lord Himself (Heb 8:12). Exactly how do we account for those in Christ committing sin? From one viewpoint, they were “beguiled” (2 Cor 11:3), or “bewitched” (Gal 3:1). From yet another point of view, they “removed from Him” who had “called them into the grace of Christ” (Gal 1:6). However, sin is such a complex matter that there are even further reasons why it overflows in the life of one who has been forgiven.
IF I BUILD AGAIN. Other versions read, “If I rebuild,” NASB “build up again,” NRSV “put up again,” BBE “am building up,” NAB “start rebuilding.” LIVING
From one point of view, this building has to do with reconstructing a system, or law, through which to deal with sin. In such a case, sin is approached through a specially constructed system which allows for sin’s presence and gradual removal. Perhaps, it even allows for its continuance ad infinitum. This could be a return to the Law as a means of justification. It could also be a system of recovery developed by men – a means of overcoming sin that has been contrived by men, does not require Christ, and makes no provision for being “made righteous.”
From yet another point of view, sin is not an instant expression. It is the result of a building project, so to speak. Unlawful lusts are entertained, even though we have been commanded to “abstain” from them (1 Pet 2:11). An affinity with this present evil world is cultured, even though we are told “love NOT the world” (1 John 2:15). There is a tolerance for, and the eventual embrace of, “another Jesus,” “another gospel,” and “another spirit” (2 Cor 11:4). Because of unlawful distraction, there is a corresponding failure to live by faith (Heb 10:38), walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:17), and maintain fellowship with Christ (1 Cor 1:9). The whole armor of God is not put on (Eph 6:11), the new man is not put on, and the old man is not put off (Eph 4:22-24). Affection is not set on things above (Col 3:1-2), and the required virtues are not added in faith (2 Pet 1:5-8). There is often a neglect to assemble with the saints (Heb 10:25), and the exhortation to be steadfast and unmoveable is ignored (1 Cor 15:58). The net result of such activity is that sinful proclivities are again built and cultured, making the individual vulnerable.
The chief difficulty with the modern church is that it waits too long to deal with sin. It allows for “the things” that were addressed and removed in justification to be rebuilt. In fact, many of the modern church programs are fertile soil in which such wicked building programs grow.
THE THINGS WHICH I DESTROYED. Other versions read, “I once destroyed,” NASB “the very things I once tore down,” NRSV “things I have thrown down,” DARBY and “things I had demolished.” MRD
This is not speaking of what Jesus destroyed, abolished, or took away: i.e. the devil (Heb 2:14), principalities and powers (Col 2:15), the Law as a means to righteousness (Rom 10:4), the handwriting of ordinances that was against us (Col 2:14), the sins of the world (Heb 9:26), etc. There is no way a man can rebuild what Jesus has taken away. Such a thing would require that Jesus take them away again, and that is a work He did “once” (Heb 7:27; 9:12,26,28; 10:10).
These are “things which I destroyed,” throwing them down with the powerful spiritual weaponry that is provided in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 10:3-4). This destruction took place when the individual “crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts” (Gal 5:24). At that point, we were freed from the dominion of sin. As it is written, “He that is dead is freed from sin” (Rom 6:7). Such people are no longer under any obligation to live after the flesh (Rom 8:12).
When such a person lapses back into sin – even if it is one time, like Peter did – he has rebuilt what was “once destroyed.” Now, he must face the challenge of throwing that thing down again, and the second time is not nearly as easy as the first. In Peter’s case, Paul caused the rebuilding to be quickly aborted. Had he not done so, who knows where the matter would have ended.
I MAKE MYSELF A TRANSGRESSOR. Other versions read, “prove myself to be a transgressor,” NASB “prove that I am a lawbreaker,” NIV and “demonstrate that I am a transgressor.” NRSV
Jesus had nothing to do with the transgression committed! Jesus made the believer free (John 8:36; Rom 8:2; Gal 5:1). Through Him, he was “made righteous” (Rom 5:19; 2 Cor 5:21). He had been “made accepted” (Eph 1:6). Those in Christ have been “made meet,” or qualified, “to be partakers of the inheritance” (Col 1:12). But, alas, upon rebuilding what was once destroyed, the transgressor has once again fallen into the class of people from which he was effectively delivered. He had heaven’s resources available to him, yet sinned anyway. He had a faithful Intercessor who would have strengthened and upheld him, but he sinned anyway. He made provision for the flesh after it had been crucified. If there is any way in which sin can be justified now, then it is as though the one sinning is saying he was wrong in coming to Christ in the first place. That is the only way sin can ever make sense – and such a postulate is nothing but a lie.