Don’t Rebuild a Broken System: Galatians 2:17-21
“17) But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! 18) For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, 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; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. 21) I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”” Galatians‬ ‭2:17-21‬
Paul now makes a profound case about the futility of the Law to save and sanctify people. If the Law left people so sinful and lost that they needed a Savior, what would going back to the Law add to salvation? Why rebuild a religious system after salvation that failed to produce favor and acceptance with God in the first place? For that matter, if salvation came through keeping the Law, why did God send His Son to die on the cross?
Paul goes so far as to say to Peter, James and the Jewish delegation in this context he died to the Law that he might live to God. Justification through faith in Jesus Christ did for Paul what trying to keep the Law and earn merit and acceptance with God failed to do; it ushered him into fellowship with God.
Galatians 2:20 is among my favorite verses in the Bible. Justification through faith includes the mystery that we were crucified with Christ and He now dwells in every born again believer through His indwelling Spirit. This goes way beyond trying to appease God through good works and religious rituals, it involves being joined to Jesus Christ in a totally new and profound way. Through faith Jesus Christ lives in every believer.
Paul is confronting Peter and the Jewish delegation with the question of how returning to the Law improves on what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross? In Philippians 3:4-11 Paul made the case that as a former Pharisee, he was more zealous for the Law and Judaism than all of his contemporaries. When he came to faith in Christ he counted his former religious system as loss, but what he gained in Christ far surpassed what he left behind.
The irony of this context in Galatians is that Paul the former Pharisee was addressing Peter and James who were former fisherman. He was by far their superior in understanding the Law and Judaism. Take time and let that point sink in deeply. They were embracing what he had abandoned through faith in Christ. They were trying to rebuilding a failed religious system.
In this text in Galatians, Paul was reminding them how empty and futile his former manner of life was as a religious zealot. There was no way he was going to abandon faith in Jesus Christ and return to a failed system of legalism.
The same holds true for every believer. Going back to a former manner of life is a move in the wrong direction.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global