v. 15. We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
v. 16. knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law; for by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.
v. 17. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid!
v. 18. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
v. 19. For I through the Law am dead to the Law that I might live unto God.
v. 20. I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh. I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
v. 21. I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.
Whether these words belong to the reproof which Paul addressed to Peter at Antioch or are a further exposition of the principle involved in the incident, is immaterial; they show, at any rate, that Paul felt the very basis of Christian doctrine to be endangered by the conduct of Peter. His words, therefore, form an elaborate argument against the doctrinal errors of the Judaizing teachers: We, by nature Jews and not sinners out of the Gentiles, yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but only through faith of Christ Jesus, we also have put our faith in Christ Jesus, in order that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law; for by works of the Law shall all flesh find no justification. The apostle speaks here of those that are Jews by nationality, to whom he belonged, having been born a Jew and educated as a Jew. These all had the outward advantage of possessing the Word of God, and the true Israelites had forgiveness of sins through this Word, whereas the Gentiles as a class were sinners, outside of the pale of the Church in every sense of the word. But in spite of this fact which gave them an outward advantage over the Gentiles, since the latter had neither the Law nor the works of the Law, as Luther writes, the Jews were not in themselves righteous before God; they could at best point only to an outward righteousness.
But since there is no essential difference between Jews and Gentiles, Paul makes a very general statement, namely, that he and all Jewish Christians know that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but only and alone by faith of and in Christ Jesus, by the faith which is wrought by Him and places its trust in Him. "We are righteous, he says, because we are by nature Jews, not sinners like the Gentiles, but we are righteous through the righteousness of the works of the Law by which nobody is justified before God. Therefore we also, even as the Gentiles, regard our righteousness as dirt and seek to be justified through faith in Christ; being sinners together with the Gentiles, we are justified together with the Gentiles, for God, as Peter says, Act_15:9, put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. " This is not a matter of feeling, but of knowledge based upon the testimony of the Gospel. And upon this basis we have put our faith in Christ Jesus, not in works, not in merit, not in conduct of our own, for a sinful person cannot and does not perform such deeds as will make him pure and righteous in the sight of God. Justification can be obtained only in that way which is offered in God's revelation, by placing one's faith in Christ Jesus alone. And even then it is not the act of believing which merits salvation, but the act of believing is the manifestation of the life wrought by God, by which a person receives the righteousness of Christ. Everything that pertains to works, that has even the semblance of works, is ruled out, must be excluded absolutely; for there is no justification for all flesh through works of the Law, highly as they may be esteemed otherwise in the Christian's sanctification, Psa_143:2; Rom_3:28. By faith the sins of the sinner are imputed to Christ, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner; by faith the works that agree with the will of God in the Law are set aside as works that fulfill the Law, but incidentally that same faith, having accepted the justification offered by the grace of God through the merits of Christ, is found engaged in works which are well pleasing to Christ and our heavenly Father.
Paul now answers an objection which is often brought forward against the doctrine of justification, as stated by him in such an unequivocal manner: But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves are found sinners, is Christ, then, a servant of sin? By no means! For if those things which I destroyed I build again, I prove myself a transgressor. For I through the Law am dead to the Law, in order that I may live to God. We Christians know and freely acknowledge that our only chance at justification is through faith in Christ, just as Paul did, just as Peter did. But if we, at the same time, by attempting to fulfill the Law (which is impossible), ourselves are found sinners, place ourselves under the condemnation of transgression, is Christ, who lives in us by faith, therefore a minister of sin in us? Paul rejects the very thought with horror. And yet, this is the inevitable, logical consequence of such an action as that of which Peter was guilty: confessing himself to belong to the freedmen of the Lord, and yet, by a hypocritical attempt at fulfilling the ceremonial law, again placing himself, and therefore the Lord in him, under the dominion of sin. That this is the logical consequence, Paul shows by stating that he who rebuilds a house destroyed by himself thereby openly confesses himself to be the criminal. Even so Peter, by trying to foist upon the Christians the demands of the ceremonial law, declared as much as if he had been wrong in making use of his evangelical freedom, that rather the Law was to be observed in all particulars now as before. In opposition to this, Paul says that the true Christian through the Law is dead to the Law. He has found out, in many cases by bitter experience, that all his efforts at fulfilling the Law are ineffectual, that he cannot obtain complete righteousness by the works of the Law; his spiritual understanding of the Law shuts out the very possibility. And so he has died to the Law; the Law, which would have had dominion over him if he had lived and continued his attempts to fulfill it, now has lost its power over him, Rom_6:1-23. He that tries to keep the requirements of the Law becomes subject to death through the Law, for the Law will condemn him as a transgressor. But he that dies to the Law in Christ escapes its condemnation, and can thenceforth devote the new, spiritual life which he has obtained from Christ to the service of Christ. See Rom_8:7-13. The Christian, though, on account of, the Law, under a legal dispensation, owing to sin, was brought under the curse of the Law; but having undergone this, with and in the person of Christ, he has died to the Law in the fullest and deepest sense, being both free from its claims and having satisfied its curse.
This thought is brought out more fully in the last verses: With Christ I was crucified together. But it is no longer I that live, there lives rather in me Christ; but what I now live in the flesh, in faith live I it, namely, in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I frustrate not the grace of God; for if righteousness come through the Law, then Christ has died in vain. By faith every believer comes into fellowship with Christ's death on the cross, thus becoming a partaker of all the blessings and benefits which the death of Christ has brought to men. The individuality, the person, of the believer is therefore submerged in Christ. It is not his own spiritual life, strictly speaking, which lives in this earthly body, but that of Christ, who has made His abode in him, Joh_15:1-27, l-6. And the spiritual life in this mortal body can be sustained only in that measure and degree in which it is nourished by faith. That is the believer's confidence, that Christ, the Son of God, loved him, a fact which was established beyond the shadow of a doubt by Christ's great sacrifice, when He gave Himself into death as the Substitute for all men. This faith is grounded in the Gospel, receiving new impetus and power out of the Word, and its life is shown day by day in the conduct of the soul united with Christ. Note that Paul applies the entire work of Christ to himself, to his own person, in a confession of justifying faith which may well serve as a model for every Christian.
The conclusion of the apostle with reference to his own life therefore is that he would not be so foolish as to attempt to live by the keeping of the Law, for such an action would render the death of Christ a useless sacrifice. For if righteousness had been in man's reach by means of the Law, if there had been any chance of obtaining perfection before God in the legal environment, by letting one's life be an outflow of the requirements of the Law, then there would have been no occasion for the death of Christ, it would have been a vain and superfluous sacrifice. Naturally we must conclude from the argument of the apostle: It is impossible to live in accordance with the Law of God; no observance of the Law and its demands can save us: therefore there was an absolute necessity for the death of Christ. Thus Paul's argument based on the complete atonement through the redemption of Christ was the most effective reproof of the lapse of Peter and of the doctrines of the Judaizing teachers; and the same argument must be brought forward today whenever legalistic demands are made within the Church, whether by teachers or by hearers.
In further confirmation of his apostleship Paul refers to his stand against the false teachers in Antioch, the recognition of his preaching and ministry by the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem, and his reproof of Peter when the latter did not conduct himself according to the truth of the Gospel.