Saved by faith. 2:15-21


In this passage we have a synopsis of the argument used by Paul against Peter at Antioch. Peter had withdrawn from his fellow Gentile believers over purity issues, and as far as Paul was concerned, his behavior struck at the very heart of the gospel. The argument contained in these verses serves as a defining statement which guides the rest of the letter.

The passage

v15-16. Paul begins by basing his argument on a proposition that Peter, and all believing Jews, accept to be true. All know well enough that a person is not judged in the right with God ("justified") by obedience to the law of Moses. Rather, a person stands right with God on the basis of the faithfulness of Christ (not "faith in Christ", but "faith of Christ"), namely, his sacrifice on their behalf. It is for this reason that Paul, Peter and all believing Jews, have put their trust in Jesus for their salvation.

v17. But there is a problem. If a believer applies this doctrine in their life, it can be argued that they disregard the law of God ("are sinners") and implicate Christ in their apostasy. In this verse Paul has outlined the charge against him. In promoting a doctrine of right-standing before God which fails to give due regard to the sin-restraining function of the law for the maintenance of that standing, Paul has promoted apostasy, and because of his apostolic standing, has implicated Christ in his sin. "No way", says Paul.

v18-19. In these next verses Paul answers the charge against him. A believer who returns to law-obedience to restrain sin and progress their holiness, ends up as a "lawbreaker", and this because the law was never designed as an instrument of moral improvement. The function of the law is to make sin more sinful and thus drive the sinner to God for mercy. So, the person who has allowed the law to drive them into the arms of Jesus is now free from the law; the law has served its function ("I died to the law"). Thus, they are now set free to live for God.

v20. Paul now explains how it is that a believer, who has been set free from the enclosure of the law, finds that they are now free to do what the law requires, as opposed to the believer who submits to the law and ends up doing the opposite of what the law requires. A believer who rests wholly ("by faith") on the right-standing that is theirs in the faithfulness of Christ, has died with Christ and risen with Christ. Their old life of sin is covered by Christ's sacrificial death, and in the power of the risen and indwelling Christ they begin to "live" as the righteous person they are in Christ.

v21. Paul concludes with one last point. At no point does he set aside God's kindness in the giving of the law ("the grace of God"). Throughout Paul's letter to the Galatians he continues to stress the value of the law, but when it comes to a believers eternal standing before God, yesterday, today and tomorrow, of restraining sin and progressing holiness and so attaining to the full measure of God's promised blessings, if the law could do that then Christ died for nothing.

Believing and doing

Christianity, as it is commonly practiced, is as much a religion of works as any other man-made religion. From our childhood we were taught that "Jesus loves good little boys and girls" - remember "trust and obey for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey"? We were carefully instructed about the "golden rule", the ten commandments, and the issues of personal piety - tithing, church attendance, Bible reading, prayer..... We were taught that our Christian lives move forward in the faithful doing of deeds of piety, that our obedience maintains God's approval, increases it and secures his blessings. This teaching extends into sectarian differences. For example, Adventists believe that to obey the Sabbath law of no work on Saturday, further brings one under the grace of God and of the bestowal of his blessings. So in general, we tend to see the Christian life advanced through obedience. As we obey, so we are changed into the likeness of Christ, approved before God and showered with his promised blessings. It is not that we have ignored the gift of God's grace that is ours through faith, rather we have tended to limit it to conversion.

When we use the law to maintain God's approval and improve our approval rating, we end up under his wrath. The law does not have the capacity to align us with God. The law is more likely to drive us into disobedience and away from God, than bring us into his presence and under his approval. For example, a literal application of the Sabbath day law is rightly applied to the keeping of the seventh day, Saturday, but in the keeping of it we can easily break fellowship with other Christians, even regard them as inferior and disobedient. In so doing, we break the law of love.

"Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law", 3:25. For a Christian, the law only serves as a guide to right living. Our Christian lives proceed by putting our confidence in the risen Lord. Trusting the indwelling Spirit of Christ is the way we begin to live for Christ. To live by the Spirit, led by the Spirit, 5:18, is the way to stifle the desires of the sinful nature and live a life worthy of our standing in Christ, 5:16. So, rest wholly on the grace of God through faith apart from works of the law.


1. List some laws you were taught to keep, and think of a circumstance which might make the keeping of them an evil rather than a good.

2. Paul encourages us to "carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." But, if we are "not under the law" why does Paul encourage us to keep the law?

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