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 by justified.
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.
This marvelous statement by Paul in verse 18 is loaded with a beautiful picture of our salvation through the imputed righteousness ofChrist.
It is a simple, three-part hypothetical statement that canproperly be expounded this way:
(1) IF those who are justified by faith in Christ
(2) are ALSO found sinners – that is, found to be sinners at the same time they are justified by faith in Christ
(3) THEN Christ must necessarily be the minister of sin
Of course in the text, Paul poses this as a rhetorical question, the answer to which is “God Forbid.” But God forbid what? Obviously, God forbid that Christ ever be found the minister of sin. We know that Christ is our sinless savior, the Lamb of God without blemish:
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Verse 18 is Paul demonstrating the utter blasphemy that it would be to consider ourselves BOTH justified by our faith in Jesus Christ AND to be sinners in need of further atonement. Paul is making an emphatic statement here—EITHER our faith in Jesus means we have been fully justified, OR we are still sinners despite our faith in Jesus, and Jesus Christ is therefore the minister of sin.
In the churches in Galatia to whom Paul was writing, Judaizers had infiltrated the believers and convinced them that salvation is to be found in continued obedience to the Mosaic laws. There is nothing in the epistle itself to suggest that these Judaizers directly denied the gospel of Christ Crucified. In fact, the epistle strongly suggests that the problem Paul was addressing were professing Christians who superficially acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, but insisted that we must obey the law in order to maintain our salvation (as an example of this very case, see Paul’s rebuke of Peter in Gal. 2:11-14).
What’s interesting to me is that Paul’s priority in rebuking and correcting this heresy is to expound once again on the basics of the gospel of Christ’s substitutionary atonement.
To Paul—under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—any suggestion that we must add something to the Cross of Christ is a direct attack on the gospel itself.
That is because Paul understands that this is in fact a blasphemous insult on what the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross.
Paul understood better than anyone what it meant for us to be justified by faith in what Christ did. Paul knew that salvation through faith in Christ came by the way of the imputed righteousness; that is, the perfect righteousness of Christ gifted to our account freely, conditioned upon our believing in the gospel.
And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:10-11)
It is “in him”, that is, in Christ that we are found perfect and righteous—justified before a thrice Holy God. To say that we who are in Christ are sinners is to say that Christ is a sinner. To say that, having received the righteousness of Christ through faith, that we are less than righteous is to say that Christ is not righteous.
Paul is often attacked for the truth he preached, both then and now. One of the charges laid against him ever since the time of his ministry is that he perverts the gospel to be a license to sin. This is not so—Paul constantly reproved and rebuked sin, and exhorted Christians to be holy:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that gracemay abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longertherein? (Romans 6:1-2)
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let uscleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfectingholiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
Yet Paul vehemently refused to compromise the sinless,perfect, once and forever sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Paul would not dare to tarnishthat brilliant perfection of Christ’s righteousness—that righteousness which isimputed to us, accounted as ours, given as a free gift of grace which justifiesus through faith without works, once and forever.
Finally, we must then properly understand the “two natures” of a born-again Christian who has been saved by faith in the gospel of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection according to scriptures. This is crucial in harmonizing passages such as this:
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seedremaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 1 John 3:9
For you see, as we read in Colossians 2:11 above, in Christ we are circumcised from “the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ”. Salvation involves a spiritual operation in which our eternal souls become untethered from our body of flesh. Therefore sin can no longer reach beyond our flesh unto our souls. At the death of the body, the soul goes to the Lord, and sin dies with the body–indeed it has been accounted to be dead already.
Starting from the moment of the new birth, we have an inner man, the spiritual man who loves the Lord and cannot sin; residing in the outward man, the old man, the fleshly man who loves sin and hates the Lord. And until the day that we leave this old body behind to be with the Lord forever, we are engaged in a constant battle—between the flesh and the Spirit. But as far as the scriptures are concerned, the sin that is committed after we are saved cannot reach beyond the outward man to the inner man.
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (Romans 8:20)
Therefore brothers and sisters in Christ, be bold in yourbattle against sin, knowing that the devil can no longer condemn you with fear,and the flesh can never again rule you with damnation. We fight against thisbody of sin, but we do not fight for victory, but from victory—in Christ inwhom are all things we could ever need or want.