by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Methodist theologian Adam Clarke envisions Paul saying this to the Galatian believers, a message that is still apropos for Jewish messianic believers today. “You must unconditionally acknowledge that all must be justified by faith in the Anointed One since all sinned and came short of the glory of God.”[1] Even though in the past, before they were converted, they observed all the rites, rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies of their Jewish faith, yet they were still sinners. All they did never could and never did justify them as believers before God. So, don’t let anyone tell a converted Jew that because they no longer observe these things at the Anointed One’s request, He made them sinners. That’s what Paul was trying to tell the Galatians. He should know because he was one of the most observant Jews of his day. Yet he came to realize that it was all for naught.[2]

William O’Conor looks at what Paul is saying in verse eighteen about rebuilding the framework, under the Law, for justification by works that were destroyed. The objection seems to be that Paul was assuming that the Anointed One abolished the law completely and without any reference to a person’s need to qualify for freedom. The truth is, the Law was left at the place where we rose into the region of spiritual holiness. The instant we fall down again into the region of sin we are again under the law’s condemnation. However, by faith in the Anointed One, we are liberated from the Law and sin altogether. Our deliverance from the Law is not a separate thing in itself; it is one of several connected things. Under the legal system, the Law compels righteousness. Under the Christian system, righteousness supersedes the Law. We must deal with either system as a whole, and not fragmentary.

O’Conor goes on to say that if a Jew is seeking to be justified by faith as a sinner, the Anointed One is not the reason for their sinning. Sin is determined by going back to the legal system to see what law was broken. If, however, after having disclaimed the legal system and adopted the Christian system, or system of faith, a believing Jew then seeks forgiveness under the old legal system which was destroyed, they then render themselves liable to the Law’s verdict. The way the believing Jews lived told which system they belonged to. Paul made it clear that they could seek forgiveness under the Law or under Grace of which God made available through the Anointed One. He made this perfectly clear to the Romans when he wrote them.[3] [4]

Alvah Hovey gives us an excellent explanation of what he feels Paul is trying to get at here in light of Peter’s hypocrisy and the Galatians’ need for instruction due to the influence of the Judaizers. He hears Paul saying that no one should suppose for a moment that in their and other believer’s seeking to be justified by the Anointed One without the works of the Law, that they somehow were found wallowing in sin on the same level as the lawless Gentiles. If that were the case, then it would follow that the Anointed One is a promoter of sin. No believer would ever accept that! No one is breaking the moral law of the Torah and committing sin just by looking to the Anointed One alone for acceptance with God. All it means is that they ceased keeping the Law as a means of justification. Hovey continues Paul’s dialogue. Just the opposite of this is true. For if I build up again the things which I destroyed and subjugate myself to them, then I make myself a transgressor according to the Law.

In verse eighteen the Apostle substitutes, with great delicacy of feeling, the first-person singular for the first-person plural. For the act supposed was precisely that for which Peter now stood condemned. What he did by his example caused the wall of ceremonial observances to be erected again, which he destroyed by testifying that they as Christians were no longer obligatory as the ground of justification, and were a means of condemnation rather than of justification. The true purpose of the Law was to convince people of sin and drive them away from it to the Anointed One. That’s why those who turn back to legal works as a condition of forgiveness and life, transgress the very nature and purpose of the Law. This thought is explained and justified in verse nineteen.[5]

J. B. Lightfoot sees it this way: In order for believers in union with the Anointed One to be justified before God, they first must sink to the low level of the Gentiles and admit they were sinners without any hope of salvation. Only then could they receive the message of salvation by grace. But that didn’t make the Anointed One a “sinner maker.” That is a ridiculous thought and not worthy of consideration. There is no guilt in understanding that the Law only convicts but does not convert. The Law shows one guilty of sinning against God’s ordinances but offers no forgiveness. So, it made sense to turn away from the Law and seek salvation by grace in faith through the Anointed One. Lightfoot goes on to offer several interpretations of verse seventeen. But the one he sees as most acceptable is this: “It cannot be sinful to abandon the Law because it is necessary to abandon the Law in order to be justified before God as acquitted in the Anointed One.”[6]

Charles Spurgeon goes at this from an evangelistic point of view. Paul is arguing against the idea of salvation by works, or salvation by rites, rituals, or ceremonies; and he shows, beyond all question, that salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus the Anointed One. Paul will make a strong point concerning this in verse twenty-one. Spurgeon then goes on to say, the true Christian carries the cross in their heart. And a cross inside the heart is one of the sweetest cures for a cross on the back. If a cross is in your heart – you are crucified with the Anointed One – all this world’s troubles will seem to you light enough, and you will easily be able to sustain it. If you say with Paul that Jesus loves you and gave Himself for you, you are expressing yourself far beyond what the Greek orator Demosthenes or the Roman orator Cicero was ever able to say with all their eloquence of speech.

Paul is telling Peter and the Galatians that it was never his intention to frustrate the grace of God. This would be a sin so gross that even the heathen could not commit it. They never heard of the grace of God, and, therefore, they cannot break it even slightly. Spurgeon then gives this warning. Heathens will perish and face far less sinister doom than those who were told that God is gracious and ready to pardon, and yet they wickedly boast of innocence and pretend to be clean in the sight of God by what they’ve done, not what the Anointed One did. This is a sin which devils cannot commit. With all the obstinacy of their rebellion, they never reached this level. They never heard the sweet notes of saving grace and dying love ring in their ears, and, therefore, were never given a chance to refused the heavenly invitation.[7]

In another place, Spurgeon quotes David Griffiths (1792-1863),[8] as saying that travelers in Turkey carry with them lozenges of opium, on which is stamped “mash Allah,” the gift of God. Too many sermons are just such lozenges. Grace is preached but duty denied. Divine predestination is promoted, but human responsibility is rejected. Such teaching ought to be shunned as poisonous, but those who by reason of use grew accustomed to the sedative, now condemn all other preaching and claim their opium lozenges of high doctrine to be the truth, a precious gift from God. It is to be feared that this narcotic-laced doctrine put many souls to sleep who will awake in hell.[9]

Church historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893) gives his detailed view of Justification. He begins by saying that the doctrine of justification by faith is one of the fundamental doctrines of Paul, and is presented fully in this Epistle and in that to the Romans. How will a sinner be justified to stand as right before a holy God? This was a vital question in the Apostolic age and came very near splitting the congregation. It shook Western Christendom again in the sixteenth century and divided it into two camps. It is no idle theological dispute, but involves the peace of conscience and affects a believer’s whole conduct It is almost like asking: “What must I do to be saved?”

To this question there were two answers, notes Schaff. The Pharisaical Jews and Christian Judaizers were teaching that a person is justified by doing good works to satisfy the Law’s demands. Paul is teaching just as emphatically that a person is justified by faith without works by the Anointed One. The Judaizers would not deny the importance and necessity of faith in the Anointed One, but they practically laid the main stress upon works, and that’s why they demanded circumcision as a term of membership in the congregation, and a sign and pledge for the observance of the whole Mosaic law.

Now Paul reasons in this chapter that to return to the Law for justification is virtually to abandon the work the Anointed One did on the cross or leave Him rotting in the grave. Schaff offers what he calls chief points to be considered. The Greek verb dikaioō (to “justify”) may be used both in an efficient and in a judicial sense, namely, (a) to make just, to transform a sinner into a saint; (b) to declare just, to acquit. In Hellenistic Greek, and especially in Paul’s Epistles, it has the judicial or forensic meaning. This appears – From the equivalent terms “to reckon,” or “to account for righteousness.”[10] From the phrase to be justified “before God,” or “in God’s sight,” for example,  before His tribunal.[11] (c) From such passages where God or the Anointed One is said to be just. God is just and cannot be made just, but He may be accounted or declared just by mankind.[12] (d) From the opposite phrase to condemn.[13]

So, concludes Schaff, consequently “justification” is seen as a judicial act of acquittal, in opposition to condemnation.[14] Now there may be two kinds of justification, legal and by grace. The first would be a reward of merit, the second a free gift of lovingkindness. We may be justified and accepted by God on the ground of our good works, the observance of His law, that is, because we are really righteous and deserving of acceptance; or we may be justified by grace on the grounds of the merits of the righteous Anointed One, as obtained by a living faith. But justification by works has proven to be impossible because we are all sinners by nature and practice and, therefore, justly deserving of God’s wrath. We cannot in our own strength observe the divine law with perfection. If that were possible, there would have been no need of a Savior and His death to atone for our sins. The more we try to keep the Law, the more are we driven to a conviction of sin and guilt and to a painful sense of the need of redemption. This is what the Law was given to teach us. While the Law itself is holy, just, and good, it offers no forgiveness or salvation. The best it can do is to bring the moral decease to a crisis by revealing sin in its true nature, and thus to prepare the way for the cure through the blood of the Anointed One.[15]

[1] Romans 3:23

[2] Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] Romans 6:15-16 – NIV

[4] O’Conor, W. A: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 37–38

[5] Hovey, Alvah: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 33

[6] J. B. Lightfoot: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 243-244

[7] Charles Spurgeon: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[8] Welsh Congregational missionary and translator in Madagascar

[9] Ryle, J.C.; Exell, Joseph; MacLaren, Alexander; Moody, D.L.; Spurgeon, Charles. The Biblical Illustrator – Vol. 48 – Kindle Locations 4938-4942

[10] Galatians 3:6; Romans 4:3, 5, 9, 23, 24; James 2:23

[11] Galatians 3:11; Romans 3:20

[12] Romans 3:4 (from Psalm 51:4); 1 Timothy 3;16; cf. Matthew 11:19; Luke 6: 29, 35.

[13] Matthew 12:37; See Deuteronomy 25:1; Proverbs 17:15

[14] Romans 4:14; 5:18

[15] Philip Schaff: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 314-315

About drbob76

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