Law Judo against the Legalist (Galatians 2:17–21)

“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!” —Galatians 2:17

Paul, for his defense of his apostleship and the gospel, is now is dealt a foul backhanded in return. Paul doesn’t simply dodge the accusation, he does a bit of judo, flipping things around, slamming his perceived opponent to the ground with his own strength.

The accusation is that of antinomianism, of being anti-law, anti-obedience. People’s pride dresses up as piety, human hubris as holiness, and attacks the gospel as antinomian. Paul is basically dealing with the same accusation that follows his presentation of justification in Romans.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1–2)”

There are true antinomians, and their teaching is heretical, but the Judaizers were saying that the gospel itself is antinomian. They were accusing the gospel of freedom as frivolousness and the gospel of liberty as leading to license. The legalist will always slander the gospel as license. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones took comfort in such accusations.

“The true preaching of the gospel by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.”

Paul demonstrates that the legalist ironically doesn’t understand the law, for if Paul rebuilt what he tore down, namely, his efforts at justification by works of the law, then he would be a transgressor of the law (2:18). It is only because Paul died to the law, by the law, in the death of Christ, that he can live unto God by faith in Christ. Herein is the paradox, if you don’t die to the law as a means of justification, all your law-keeping is law-breaking, but if you die to the law as you are in union with Christ through faith, then you live in Christ, by faith, unto God.

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