1. 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. This is considered one of the most important verses in the Bible. It is here that Paul first challenges Peter on justification by faith. Paul reminds Peter that the Jews weren’t born with special privileges that made them more spiritual or godly. Justified by works—The word “justify” is a forensic term from the legal courts that means to “declare righteous.” Only God the (Ultimate Divine Standard) can declare someone righteous who put their faith and trust in Jesus. Expositor’s Bible Commentary, “In justification, the guilty are pardoned, acquitted, and reinstated as God’s children and as fellow heirs with Jesus Christ.” Paul emphasizes three times in vs. 16 that no one can be declared righteous by observing the Law. In Rom. 4:5, Paul writes it is Jesus who “justifies the ungodly”—whether a Jew or a Gentile. In the OT, the patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets weren’t “justified” because they observed the Law. The saints in the OT were “justified” because they put their faith in the covenantal grace of God and walked in obedience to his commands. Justified by faith—Jesus’s “death on the cross” (Phil. 2:8) atoned for the sins of the world. However, a person isn’t declared righteous before God unless they put their faith (pistis, to believe with complete trust and reliance) in Christ Jesus. Faith is not the source of salvation. Faith is the means to obtain salvation. Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, “The act of God in justifying a believing sinner consists of taking away his guilt and its penalty, since Christ bore both on the cross, and the imputation of a righteousness, even Christ Jesus Himself, in whom the believer stands not only guiltless and uncondemned for time and eternity, but also positively righteous in the sight of the eternal laws of God.”
  2. 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! After unpacking justification, Paul’s second challenge is to address the claim from the Judaizers that salvation in Christ eliminated the Law, therefore, giving free reign to sin. Paul argues against such nonsense because that would make Christ a promoter of sin—making his atonement insufficient for salvation. In 5:24, Paul expounds on the true freedom that comes from Christ: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
  3. 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. Paul transitions into a personal form (“I”) as he lays out a third challenge to Peter. For if I rebuild what I tore down—Essentially, Paul is asking Peter why he would reinstate the observance of the law to be justified if he wasn’t saved by it? Peter wasn’t saved by observing the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ. It is not the Law that brings life. The Law only condemns. Therefore, Peter is a transgressor. Not because he broke the Law but because he turned back to legalism after proclaiming salvation by grace through faith. Romans 8:1-4, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Died to the law—The phrase literally means to “break off from a relationship.” Paul is telling Peter and the rest of the Judaizers that to be justified by faith means they are no longer under the supervision of the Law. Paul goes into greater detail of this matter in vs. 20. Romans 7:4, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”
  4. 20 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. In Paul’s fourth challenge to Peter, he expresses the fundamental truths of justification and identification in I have been crucified in Christ—The compound verb for “crucified” (sustauroō) is in the perfect tense of a completed action that has lifetime effects. The Bible teaches that we are “buried with him (Jesus) by baptism into death” (Rom. 6:4) and “raised to walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). But Christ who lives in me—Paul boldly declares his union in Christ. Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, “Paul uses it to show that his identification with Christ at the Cross was a past fact, and that the spiritual benefits that have come to him through his identification are present realities with him. By this statement he also shows how he died to the law, namely by dying with Christ who died under its penalty. The law’s demands were satisfied and therefore have no more hold on Paul. But thus being crucified with Christ, meant also to Paul, death to self. When Paul died with Christ, it was the Pharisee Saul who died. What he was and did up to that time passed away so far as he was concerned Saul was buried, and the old life with him. The dominating control of the Adamic nature had its power over him broken.” Gave himself for me—Tit. 2:14, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
  5. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Paul abruptly ends his argument of justification by pointing out that if the Law saves us from our sins, then Christ’s death served no purpose. Warren Wiersbe, Expository Outlines in the New Testament, “A Christian is not someone who is trying to obey an outward law. A Christian is one who has the living Christ within. By faith, I am united to Christ forever. When He died, I died; when He arose, I arose with Him. He lives out His life through me as I walk by faith—this is the Christian life! It is not a set of rules and regulations. To go back to the Law is to frustrate (make empty) the grace of God! If the Law is God’s way of salvation, then Christ died in vain!”