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Bible Commentaries

Wells of Living Water Commentary

Galatians 2

Verses 15-21

Law and Grace

Galatians 2:15-21

INTRODUCTORY WORDS

1. The drift toward Jewish rites and ceremonies. When the early Church came into existence at Pentecost, it was formed from the saved composed of Jews, and proselyte Jews. For a period, the converts to the Church were mostly from among the Jews. Ere long, however, the Lord sent Paul to the Gentiles and through the ministry of other Apostles as well, Gentiles were saved.

With the entrance of Gentile Christians into the one Body which is the Church, there was an effort on the part of the Jewish Christians to compel the Gentile believers to adhere to Jewish rites and customs. Ail of these had been nailed to the Cross, and had been done away.

The result of this effort on the part of the Hebrews was, that salvation itself was made more or less subject to Jewish Law-works. Against this the Holy Ghost through Paul gave strenuous assault.

The Book of Galatians is written to establish forever the liberty of saints in Christ, and the folly of the effort to enforce the rites of Jewish circumcision and other Jewish Law-works upon the Church.

2. Today the Church is practically all Gentile. There are some three hundred thousand Jews in the world who are Christians. The Church, however, is dominated by Gentile believers.

The Word of God plainly teaches the value of Christian living and the potency of good works, but that value and potency lies entirely in the realm of Christian rewards.

3. The glories of Grace are magnified only when salvation is recognized as by faith apart from the works of the Law. If we are saved, in whole or in part, by what we do or by what we are, just to that extent Grace is no more Grace. If we are saved by what we do, or by what we are, just to that extent we rob Christ of the glory of His suffering. If we are saved by what we do, or what we are, to that extent we seek to change the plaudits and the praise from the Lamb who was worthy, to the coronation of our own works.

I. JUSTIFICATION NOT BY THE LAW (Galatians 2:16 )

1. Paul's contention against Peter. When Peter came to Antioch he separated himself from certain Gentile believers for fear of some Jews who were of the circumcision. The result of Peter's act was that others were about to be carried away with his dissimulation. Then it was that Paul withstood Peter to his face, for Peter was to be blamed. The difficulty was not a matter of mere personalities, for Paul and Peter were both men of God. The trouble arose because Paul saw that the Truth of the Gospel was at stake.

2. Paul's position in the faith. Before every one present Paul turned to Peter and said, "If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?"

Then Paul uttered his great phillipic: "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by faith of Jesus Christ."

How are we saved? Is it by what we do? Is it by becoming converts to Judaistic rites and ceremonies? Far be it. We are justified by the faith of Christ. We are saved by faith, apart from the deeds of the Law, for, "by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified."

II. THE BANE OF PREACHING LAW-WORKS FOR SALVATION (Galatians 2:20-21 )

1. Paul saw in salvation by the Law, nothing but certain condemnation. In verse seventeen he confessed that if he sought to be justified by the Law, and yet he was a sinner, breaking the Law, he was doomed to certain condemnation. Herein is the weakness of the Law. It cannot save, simply, because no man can keep the Law and sin not.

God has spoken and His words are final. Hear what He says, and hear His conclusion! "All have sinned"; "there is none righteous, no, not one"; "They are all gone out of the way." What is the conclusion? "That the whole world might stand guilty before God." What then? "A man is not justified by the works of the Law."

2. Paul saw, in any hope of salvation by the Law, the frustration of Grace. He said, "I do not frustrate the Grace of God." Here is the bane of salvation by works Grace is defamed, and made impotent.

Grace begins where worth ends. Grace is the kindness of God toward the guilty and the unworthy. Sin, and the utter helplessness of the sinner is the background that magnifies the Grace of God and makes it to stand forth in resplendent glory.

3. Paul saw in salvation by Law that the death of Christ was made vain. Here are Paul's words, "If righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain." It is even so. If we are saved by what we do; why should Christ have gone to Calvary? Christ died because there was no other way; the same as there was no other name, whereby we might be saved.

Paul, knowing that righteousness came by the Blood of the Cross, looked with great joy back to that Cross, as he proclaimed: "I am crucified with Christ." He saw in his crucified Lord; his own crucifixion. He knew that when Christ died, he died. He realized, therefore, that, in Christ, he was free from the Law.

III. A VITAL QUESTION (Galatians 3:2-3 )

1. A retrospective. The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle, is asking the Galatians, and us with them, to look back to the day when they were born again, and when the Spirit of God came to dwell within them. He says, "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?"

He answers the question just asked, by asking another. "Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?"

The Apostle is very positive that the new life is from the Spirit, and not from the works of the Law.

2. A perspective. With the matter of regeneration settled, apart from the works of the Law, and apart from works of any kind, the Holy Spirit looks on to the perfecting of the newborn life. Now He asks, "Are ye now made perfect by the flesh?"

This is a vital matter. If the new life, which we possess as saints, is God-begotten, shall that same life be nurtured, made potent, and perfected by the flesh?

Did not the Spirit say, "That if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die"? Instead of trusting in the deeds of the flesh, we should mortify them. We who are sons of God, should be led by the Spirit of God. We should walk in the Spirit, serve in the Spirit, bear the fruit of the Christian life in the Spirit.

IV. THE WORKS OF THE LAW CARRY A CURSE (Galatians 3:10-13 )

1. The reason that Law-works produce a curse. Verse ten says, "As many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the Book of the Law to do them."

If we would stand approved before God by the works of the Law, we must fulfil those works to the completion. There must be nothing lacking, nothing by way of subtraction from the full requirements of a holy and righteous God.

We are reminded of how the Holy Spirit said, "What the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh." Can you imagine a sinful and sinning man stepping in under the righteous demands of an inerrant Law, a Law expressive of the holiness and righteousness of God, and seeking to be accepted by that Law?

Before one steps under the pale of the Law, let him remember that the curse of the Law is ready to fall upon every one who comes short of the demands of the Law. It is by the Law, that every mouth is stopped, and that the whole world stands guilty before God.

2. Wherein the curse of the Law is removed. How blessed are the words: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us"! Our Lord Jesus Christ knew no sin, did no sin, and in Him there was no sin. Such an One was willing to be made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. He took our sins. We take, by faith, His righteousness.

There is no other possible way by which God could be just and justify the sinner. The blessings of redemption must come to us through Jesus Christ, or else we must forever remain cursed by the Law.

In the death of Christ, the majesty of the Law is upheld by the Law of substitutionary suffering; and, at the same time, every legal demand of the Law is sustained.

In saving the sinner, God does not trample a holy and a righteous Law under His feet; He does not vitiate its power, or denounce its purity. He rather magnifies the Law by meeting its just demands, and bearing its curse.

It is not the Law that is frail; it is man. The Law was made impotent because man was impotent to keep it.

V. THE INABILITY OF THE LAW SUPPLANTED THE LAW (Galatians 3:21-22 )

We are tracking along the same truth which has just been presented, but we have an added suggestion.

1. The Law could not give life. The statement of verse twenty-one is positive: "If there had been a Law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the Law." The only reason that Christ died for sinners is because the Law could not save a Lawbreaker. It is just as true to say that no man can keep the Law; therefore, no man can be saved by the Law.

2. What then serveth the Law? This is the question asked in verse nineteen. The answer is plain. The Law was added because of transgressions. The Law came that the knowledge of sin might abound. Man had not realized the fact or the enormity of his sin, unless the Law had come to show sin up, in all of its heinousness. The Law made sin exceeding sinful. The Law, with its righteousness, made sin appear sin. It was a looking-glass that shows up an evil heart, a heart deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.

3. The Law became our schoolmaster. The word "schoolmaster" in our text suggests a pedagogue, whip in hand, driving us unto Christ. The pedagogue realizes the utter helplessness of our becoming subject unto the Law, therefore, it took us by the hand and led us unto the Saviour, in order that we might be justified by faith.

Had we been saved by the Law, faith had not been required; but since we are saved by Christ, we are shut up to faith. Verse twenty-six says, "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." How thankful we should be because, when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law, that they might receive the adoption of sons!

VI. TO SEEK JUSTIFICATION BY LAW IS TO FALL FROM GRACE (Galatians 5:3-4 )

Three things are before us.

1. If we put ourselves under a part of the Law, we must place ourselves under the whole Law. He who would insist on circumcision as a part of the Jewish Law-works, should also put himself under every other Judaistic and God-given Law. If we would seek salvation by ceremonials, we must fulfil all of the ceremonials; if we would seek salvation by the moral Laws, we must do everything that the moral Law requires.

2. If we place ourselves under the Law, Christ is of no profit to us. For this cause it must either be Christ, or the Law. It cannot be Christ, and the Law, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the Law."

3. If we put ourselves under the Law for salvation, we are fallen from Grace. How often have we been asked, "Do you believe in falling from Grace?" Do we? How else could we believe in the Bible? God plainly says that every one who seeks to be justified by the Law, has fallen from Grace. What does He mean? He does not mean that the man who is saved by Grace falls from Grace. He does not mean that one who is born again can be unborn. He means what He says, that one who seeks to enter into life by keeping the Law, has sidestepped, departed from Grace.

This is no light matter. If salvation is by Grace alone, and not by works, the one who falls from Grace leaves God's appointed pathway to life, is left in indescribable and certain death.

AN ILLUSTRATION

THE RHODIANS

"Plutarch, tells us that the Rhodians appealed to the Romans for help, and one suggested that they should plead the good turns which they had done for Rome. This was a plea difficult to make strong enough, very liable to be disputed, and not at all likely to influence so great a people as the Romans, who would not readily consider themselves to be debtors to so puny a state as that of Rhodes. The Rhodians were, however, wiser than their counsellor, and took up another line of argument, which was abundantly successful: they pleaded the favors which in former times the Romans had bestowed upon them, and urged these as a reason why the great nation should not cast off a needy people for whom they had already done so much.

Herein is wisdom. How idle it would be for us to plead our good works with the great God! What we have done for Him is too faulty and too questionable to be pleaded; but what He has done for us is grand argument, great in itself and potent with an immutable Benefactor. Legal pleading soon meets a rebuff; yea, it trembles even before it leaves the pleader's mouth, and makes him ashamed while he is yet at his argument. Far otherwise fares it with the humble gratitude which gathers strength as it recalls each deed of love, and comforts itself with a growing assurance that He who has done so much will not lose His labor, but will do even more, till He has perfected that which concerneth us. Sinners run fearful risks when they appeal to justice: their wisdom is to cast themselves upon free Grace. Our past conduct is a logical reason for our condemnation; it is in God's past mercy to us that we have accumulated argument for hope. The Latin sentence hath great truth in it, Deus donando debet, God by giving one mercy pledges Himself to give another; He is not indebted to our merit, His only obligation is that which arises out of His own covenant promise, of which His gifts are pledges and bonds. Let us remember this when next we urge our suit with Him."

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Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Galatians 2". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/galatians-2.html.