by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



For the casual reader, there is a subliminal message in this text not easily perceived.  The word Paul uses here for “faith” is also translated as “faithfulness.” Paul points out to the Jews that their faithfulness in keeping all God’s Law cannot substitute for Jesus’ faithfulness in fulfilling all God’s Law. So, in other words, either God may accept your efforts as fulfilling Mosaic Law, or He accepts the work of the Anointed One as satisfying Mosaic Law. Which will it be? Your ongoing efforts or the Anointed One’s finished work? If you insist on God accepting your acts for piety, then you are claiming to be saved by your own efforts. If, however, you accept the work of the Anointed One, then you are saved by faith in what the Anointed One did for you in His crucifixion and resurrection.

What upset Paul so much, were these born-again Jewish brethren saying to their born-again Gentile brethren: look, if you want to stay saved and really be counted as a part of God’s congregation then you need to wear this, pray like this, stop doing that, start doing this, don’t play that game, and don’t watch this, have devotions every morning, pray an hour each day, fast on Fridays, etc. Does this sound familiar to any of you? If all of those things could qualify as keeping our salvation alive, then there would be no need for continued faith in the Anointed One as Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit would be out of a job. Let’s face it, says Paul, you cannot keep the whole Mosaic Law by just keeping one law, or nine out of ten, or even ninety-nine out of a hundred. To be perfect you must keep them all. Now, who does that? Yet, the Anointed One. He is perfect in everything. There was no fault found in Him.

Augustine of Hippo gives us insight into the Roman Catholic thinking during his time on this issue of faith and works. In commenting on verse sixteen he notes that all believers came to realize that a person is not declared righteous by God on the ground of their legalistic observance of the Law. So why in their weakness are the Jews, not aided by their own justification and imperfection but by the grace of God, now demand from the Gentiles fleshly observance of the Law? They should be aware that both they and the Gentiles fulfilled spiritual works of the law through the grace of faith. By works of the law, Augustine says this means laws of their own making and not to the grace of the merciful God. That means no person, especially none who think in a physical manner, will ever be justified. And, therefore, those who believed in the Anointed One when they were already under the Law, added faith by grace, not because they were righteous but in order to become so.[1]

However, Jewish writer Kohler Kaufmann feels that Paul pushed his denouncing of the Law too far. For him, the greatest harm of all was done to Judaism itself. Paul made a caricature of the Law, which he declared to be a rigid, external system, not elevating life, but only inciting to transgression and spawning a curse. He sees Paul arousing a feeling of hatred toward the Law, which grew in intensity until it became a source of untold cruelty to the Jews for many centuries.[2] But what my good Rabbi friend seems to have missed is the fact that all of this came as a result of the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and His Word as the only source of a new covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To change their views of the Law and the Cross required that they do what all other Christians did. We know this from what happened to Peter, James, John, and Paul.

Another Jewish writer, Avi ben Mordechai, sees some hidden truths that come with having faith in Jesus the Messiah. From a Jewish point of view, “faith” signifies putting one’s trust in Yahweh and who He is, and “faithfulness” is keeping His commandments.[3] In fact, the Hebrew noun ’emuwnah gives us many English words such as “truth, faith, faithful, faithfully, faithfulness, and stability.” But none of them are used to denote any intellectual exercise. In their Hebrew sense, they always point to something that involves demonstrating one’s “faith.” And this is confirmed, of course, by obeying Yahweh’s Word and His Will. Therefore, it is obvious that having faith in Yeshua the Messiah means to put our faith in His Gospel by doing what He said we should do.[4] That’s why Mordechai believes that when we see the term “works of the law,” we should take that as doing what the Rabbis instructed the Jews to do in their oral teachings as found in the Mishnah and Talmud.[5]

Adam Clarke (1760-1851), whom we referenced earlier, points out that Paul locates the origin of justification in believing the Gospel rather than believing in what the Law demanded. In so doing, they felt that for it to be justified is to be treated as righteous despite disobedience to the Law, not to be righteous by virtue of obedience to it. Since Paul’s use of the Greek noun sarx (“flesh” – KJV) here in verse sixteen, it implies human frailty and moral frailty in particular. In most Greek Lexicons it is taken here as pertaining to humanity itself. In other words, “no human on their own will be declared right with God.” The statement that “no flesh at all will be justified because of works of the Law” roundly rejects the Law as a means to acquire justification. That’s why Paul was so upset with Peter. Before the Jewish contingent from James arrived, the Jews and non-Jews were recognized as equal Christians because of what they believed, not what they did in complying with Jewish Law. But now Peter and his cohorts turn this on its head by focusing on what they do rather than what they believe. In other words, Paul was accusing Peter of saying one thing but doing the opposite.

No wonder why so many in recent decades who were raised as churchgoers, but when they started to “stray from the church’s ways,” not only felt like they were no longer a part of the faith they grew up in, but also that they were no longer saved and could call themselves Christians. On top of that, how many in the church knew that some of those who strutted their holiness in dress, prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, taking communion, singing, shouting, speaking in tongues, dancing in the Spirit, were the same ones who criticized, gossiped, cheated, told little white lies, and would not associate with people of less stature in society. They were not judged by their attitude but by their attire.

In one church I pastored, the piano player informed me that he was quitting and going to another church.  When I asked why, so I could inform the congregation, he stated that we didn’t sing out of the traditional hymn book any longer. All we sang were new praise and worship songs. I told him that while I certainly believe he should go where he’s more comfortable and feels fulfilled, that as Pastor my main aim in the song service wasn’t so much what song we sang, but who we sang it to, for what reason we sang it, and what the song had to say. We weren’t singing to the congregation, nor were we weren’t singing just to keep a certain tradition. But any song that praised, glorified, magnified, thanked, and worshiped God our King and Redeemer, Jesus our Lord and Savior, and the Holy Spirit our Comforter and Guide were the ones I desired.

There are some people who read the Bible every morning, over every meal and say a prayer before going to bed each night because they believe that’s what’s expected of a good Christian. However, they are at a loss to explain what reading their Bible and saying their prayers are intended to accomplish for their spiritual life. By the same token, how many believers do you know who are deeply into the Word and attend each worship service and Bible Study, and listen intently to every speaker, but when it comes to applying what they read and heard and studied to their everyday life they don’t know where to start?

To emphasize and illustrate what Paul was trying to say about not standing on his good works to achieve justification for being forgiven by God of his sins and canceling the death sentence the Law demanded that hung over his head, J. L. Nye, British Sunday school teacher in the 1800s offers this illustration:

The great British Poet William Cowper, the son of a congregation Rector and Chaplain, who wrote many poems and lyrics for hymns, in one of which he spoke about “Ages of hopeless misery,” that some face knowing that their future death can send them to a dusty grave. Yet, “to such unrepealable enduring death the Scripture is still a trumpet to quiet their fears.”[6] He once wrote a letter in which he said that he was enabled to look forward to death with comfort, for which he thanked God. He wrote that he did not view death from the top of his many works and privileges given to him. He said that God was his witness that in all of his labors in life he was always conscious not to offend God. Death always seemed to unnerve him except when he saw it disarmed of its sting by having it sheathed in the body of the Anointed One.[7]

2:17-18 Do you suppose that after we get right with God through faith in the Anointed One, we still end up sinners just because we didn’t perform every religious ritual and obey every regulation? Is it possible that following the Anointed One makes sinners out of us? Absolutely not! Just the opposite, we only remain sinners if we keep using the old outdated system of religious rituals and regulations instead of following the Anointed One.

I imagine the Judaizers might be thinking, “Isn’t Paul finished yet?” Oh no! What else is he going to say that makes us look so foolish? Since Peter is known as “The Rock,” I’ve given Paul the nickname “The Hammer.” I remember at the university when I studied Basic Logic, we were taught to watch for “p’s” and “q’s.” No doubt this is because the lowercase “p” looks like the “q” written backward. We used these symbols to identify parts of a statement that were either premises or conclusions. Depending on how the p’s and q’s were lined up as p → q or q ← p would determine whether or not the logic in the statement was true, flawed, or false.

At this point in Paul’s letter, he gives the Judaizers and Galatians something to really think about that sounds a lot like an exercise in logic.  Paul asks them, when you came to the Anointed One, was it because you were a sinner? Yes! So, as a sinner, you needed to be saved? Yes! Once you are saved, were you saved as a sinner? Yes! However, if after the Anointed One saves you and someone tells you that you are still a sinner because you don’t measure up to the standards of Mosaic Law, does that mean that the Anointed One really didn’t save you? No! The only way you end up being a sinner is if you let yourself be judged by what Mosaic Law demands, instead of being judged by what the Anointed One did for you. Upon being born again you are a sinner saved by grace. But after being born again you are in God’s grace that saves you from being considered a sinner any longer. If you sin after being born again you are a disobedient child of God and ripe for discipline.

[1] Augustine: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] Kohler, Kaufmann, Jewish Theology, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] Deuteronomy 32:20; Hosea 4:1-3; Daniel 9:13; Jeremiah 11:1-17; 2 Kings 17:13-15

[4] John 1:14

[5] Avi ben Mordechai: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 23

[6] The Poetical Works of William Cowper: “The Task – ‘The Winter Morning Walk,’”, Published by William P. Nimmo, Edinburgh, 1863, Bk. V, p. 116

[7] J. L. Nye: op. cit., pp. 109-110

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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