This introduces us to another Protestant "ditch" we do not want to fall into. They assert that, because it is obvious that we cannot keep the law (because we sin from time to time), Christ kept it for us. "Christ did it all," they say. In so saying, they provide some with an excuse for not even trying to keep it and others with a justification for being passive and careless in their keeping of it.
In these five verses, Paul begins to show that the law is far from being done away and that we have a serious obligation to give our all in obedience to it if Christ lives in us and the fruit of God's Spirit are to be produced in our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 26)
Justification is clearly an act of God's grace, because what we deserve from what we have earned—from what we have done, the conduct of our lives—is death. There is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1). Since justification, then, cannot be claimed as a right because we have sinned, it must be received as a gift. That fact that it is given makes it an act of grace.
It is not our hanging on to Christ (that is, the keeping of the law) that saves us, but rather Christ hanging on to us. That is, it is not what we do, but it is what He does continuously as acts of grace that saves us, because we deserve death. If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, Paul is saying in verse 21, "then Christ died in vain." If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, then Christ's sinless life and agonizing death were not necessary, because we can do it ourselves.
Justification is not vindication or exoneration. Both of those words connote that a person was right all along, but the true facts were hidden from those who were doing the judging. In some cases with men, vindication is possible because people are judged unrighteously. Their judges are not using righteous judgment.
But God never judges unrighteously! He knows all the facts. He knows our heart. He knows everything about us in every situation that we have ever been in, so He cannot vindicate us because we are not clear of guilt. He cannot exonerate us because we are not innocent. Justification is more than that. It is setting us right or calling us righteous though righteousness does not exist in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace
Verse 15 declares that being born an Israelite indicates a privileged birth. The privilege results from being part of the Old Covenant nation, thus having direct contact with God's Word, which contains His promises and instructions. This provides the possibility of faith because faith comes from hearing God's Word (Romans 10:17).
However, even having that privilege is of itself no benefit regarding justification. Why? Because a person is justified only through faith in Jesus Christ. Through this means and this means only, a person is declared righteous or innocent of sin. Thus, if one does not take advantage of its availability, the availability itself is of no value. Faith in Jesus Christ and His message is what is important about this way of life.
Paul makes a definitive statement regarding obedience following justification by faith in verses 17-18. The thing that he destroyed through faith and repentance was his former way of life with its mountain of sin accumulated during his unconverted life before justification. Paul was determined not to return to that sinful way. To do this, he had to live to God (verse 19), that is, to obey God's laws so that he would not sin and therefore bring to naught his justification through Christ's sacrifice. He is clearly stating that keeping God's laws is required, even though keeping them does not earn salvation.
We need to make sure that we understand this important reality: Being justified is a major step toward salvation, but this does not mean that the person's character is now fully changed. It means only that the charges for sin against him are removed, and he is legally declared innocent on the basis of Christ's divine righteousness.
Justification is a judicial action by a judge—God. The term indicates an aligning of a forgiven person with a standard. In this case, the standard is the law of God. Justification does not happen automatically to all but solely to those whom God calls, forgives, and unites with Christ because they believe in the efficacy of His death as the divinely given Substitute to pay the death penalty for their sins. They have humbled themselves before Him and fervently desire to glorify God through a vastly changed life.
Character is a group of qualities that cannot be transferred by fiat. It is created throughout life, either by experiences in this world or by experiences within a relationship with God. We desire to be in the character image of God. In His purpose, the creating of godly character takes place during the sanctification process.
The New International Version renders Romans 10:17 as, "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." Paul uses "faith," one's belief, in the sense of trust. At the point of justification in a person's spiritual life, faith is not producing works; it is merely the mental activity of believing. The works come later as the sanctification process begins and continues. This faith, this trust, has its foundation in knowledge that God has supplied by enabling the called person to reach the right conclusion, a conclusion based in fact. His trust is therefore not blind; it is based, not on speculation, but truth.
In Galatians 2:18, Paul shows that being justified by faith does not lead to a life of sin. Being justified by faith indicates a commitment in the mind of the justified to go forward, building on the relationship by being established with Christ. Verse 19 begins with the word "for," indicating the reason why the justified person will not return to the old way of life. By faith, Paul understands the reason: As far as the law is concerned, he is dead. His debt to it has been satisfied.
Verse 20 continues the thought. Like Christ died, the "old man," the carnal Paul, also died and was symbolically buried in the waters of baptism. Also like Christ, he has been raised from the dead—symbolically—from the waters of baptism. This is done for the sole reason that, by means of the very faith of Christ that he has been given, he would live life as Christ lived. The life Christ lived was sinless. He did not break God's laws, and that is the objective of the new creation and salvation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Grace (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Galatians 2:17: