Galatians 2:17-21 // Letting Go of Law, Holding on to Jesus

Christians who believe in justification through faith in Jesus still sin. Does this mean the gospel is defective? Does it mean we should add some religious laws to keep Christians from sinning?

The answer is no, and this week’s passage gives us four reasons why.

The law proves that we are transgressors

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. (Galatians 2:17-18)

Asking someone to keep the Jewish law is like asking someone with a broken arm to lift a heavy object. Their attempt will only prove something is broken. It won’t solve the problem.

This is one of the primary functions of the law. Romans 7:13 says that the law exists “in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.”

In accepting and preaching the gospel, Paul had “torn down” the law. If he rebuilt it by adding it to the gospel, he would only prove his inability to obey it.

Truly following the law leads to dying to the law

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. (Galatians 2:19)

Truly attempting to keep the law inevitably leads to giving up on the law as a means of justification. Paul was better at it than most, but when he was saved, his relationship with the law ended so that his relationship with God could begin. So it is with all Christians. As Romans 7:4 says, “You also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

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Turning away from law is as integral to becoming a Christian as turning away form sin.

Christians live by faith in Christ

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

You don’t become a Christian by adding new or better rules to your routine. It involves a deeper, more fundamental change than that. It’s death and rebirth.

Christians shift their confidence from themselves to Jesus, not just for salvation, but for daily Christian living. It’s like handing the video game controller over to someone else.

Christian growth does not come from increased effort to follow rules. Rather, it comes from increased belief in Jesus and our new identity as Christians. It’s not saying, “I can do it;” it’s saying “Jesus has done it.”

In our struggle with sin, we do not need better rules, we need better belief. For example, we address the sin of gluttony, not by trying new crash diets every week, but by more deeply accepting the truth that, in Christ, we are dead to this sin and alive to God. Overeating is contrary to our new nature. It’s not who we are anymore. We’re free to receive food as a good gift from our Father and eat in a way that nourishes us to do the good works He has prepared for us.

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This makes sense of the crucifixion

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:21)

If all we need is better rules, then why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

Jesus’ death is the centerpiece of Christian faith and practice because it is the centerpiece of our salvation and our sanctification. Through union with Christ we are justified and made just in our behavior.

To help you respond to this week’s passage, download this week’s Response Sheet:

Listen to the full sermon here:

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