A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 2:21. b). Paul’s argument against his critics.
We have seen how Paul counters his critics’ attempt to overthrow his doctrine; we must now consider how he sets about overthrowing theirs. Verse 21: *I do not (NEB ‘will not’) nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose*. We must try to feel the force of this argument. The two foundation planks of the Christian religion are the grace of God and the death of Christ. The Christian gospel is the gospel of the grace of God, The Christian faith is the faith of Christ crucified. So if anybody insists that justification is by works, and that he can earn his salvation by his own efforts, he is undermining the foundations of the Christian religion. He is nullifying the grace of God (because if salvation is by works, it is not by grace) and he is making Christ’s death superfluous (because if salvation is our own work, then Christ’s work was unnecessary).
Yet there are large numbers of people who, like the Judaizers, are making these very mistakes. They are seeking to commend themselves to God by their own works. They think it noble to try to win their way to God and to heaven. But it is not noble; it is dreadfully ignoble. For, in effect, it is to deny both the nature of God and the mission of Christ. It is to refuse to let God be gracious. It is to tell Christ that He need not have bothered to die. For both the grace of God and the death of Christ become redundant, if we are masters of our own destiny and can save ourselves.
Four Christian truths seem to stand out from this paragraph.
First, man’s greatest need is justification, or acceptance with God. In comparison with this, all other human needs pale into insignificance. How can we be put right with God, so that we spend time and eternity in His favour and service?
Secondly, justification is not by works of the law, but through faith in Christ. Luther expresses it succinctly: ‘I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do (for that is the proper office of the Law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that he suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death.’
Thirdly, not to trust in Jesus Christ, because of self-trust, is an insult both to the grace of God and to the cross of Christ, for it declares both to be unnecessary.
Fourthly, to trust in Jesus Christ, and thus to become united to Him, is to begin an altogether new life. If we are ‘in Christ’, we are more than justified; we find that we have actually died and risen with Him. So we are able to say with Paul: *I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me* (verse 20).
Tomorrow: Galatians 3:1-9. The folly of the Galatians.