“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ, therefore, a minister of sin? Certainly not!”
But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ,
Paul continues to argue against Peter and Barnabas eating with the legalists in this verse. This group implied by their eating with the legalists and excluding the Gentiles that they were not fully justified before God.
Paul’s antagonists contended that justification by faith eradicated the moral law. If people are not under the law, they can sin freely. If grace does away with the law, then people can live as they please. They argued that eliminating the law would mean people could do as they please. By aligning with Judaizers, Peter and his crowd implied that a person must work for justification and that their justification was incomplete. People could draw the conclusion that the cross of Christ is not enough for salvation. How can people already justified seek justification again?
we [Jewish Christians] ourselves also are found sinners,
It was also an implied admission that justification by works proves that they are still “sinners” before God in a legal sense. Their failure to keep the law forces them to admit their present sinful condition. They did not find righteousness before God in upholding the law. The law fails as a justifying agency.
is Christ therefore a minister of sin?
Paul draws a hypothetical inference from Peter’s action. Jews would argue that salvation by grace, by faith in Christ, would remove all incentive for moral effort or any desire to avoid sin. This would lower moral standards and make Christ the promoter of sin.
If, after being justified by Christ, Jewish Christians eating with Gentiles were found to be “sinners” in the view of the legalists, does this mean Christ promotes sin? Faith in Christ abandons faith in the law.
If God declares a person right in His eyes by faith, does this make Christians lawless? Legalists argued this way, “If Christ does away with the law for salvation and sanctification, then that would make Christ lawless.” Christ would endorse sin, a horrible thought. This conclusion, however, is false because Christ dealt with the sin issue on the cross. To believe that God justifies and sanctifies a person by faith does not imply lawlessness.
Liberty in Christ is not liberty from God’s righteous standards. Neither is it lawlessness to fellowship with Gentiles. Returning to the law as a system of salvation and sanctification abandons the grace principle. We imply what Christ did on the cross was not sufficient.
If Peter was right in returning to the Mosaic Law, then he was wrong in eating with the Gentiles. If he was right in eating with the Gentiles, he was wrong in returning to the Mosaic Law. If he is right in one place, he is wrong in the other. He cannot hold the two contradictory beliefs at the same time. They are mutually exclusive. If he starts by grace, then goes back to the law, he abandons grace. He would say, in effect, that what Christ did on the cross was not enough. Peter’s return to legalism was an attack on grace.
The conclusion that Christ is “the minister of sin” is the correct inference if Peter’s reversion to legalism is right. The thought that Christ is the minister of sin is a revolting thought to Paul. “Certainly not!” is a very strong negation. The law cannot add anything to the death of Christ for our sins. If we carefully investigate justification in Christ and find ourselves to be sinners still, that doesn’t make Christ the minister of sin. This is an abhorrent thought. Paul adamantly denied the accusation that Christ promotes sin by offering the principle of grace.
The principle of grace does not endorse licentiousness.
The principle of grace never encourages sinful living. People who believe in Christ no longer do as they please because they are under the Lordship of Christ.
When Christians abandon grace and revert to legalism to gain God’s approbation, they vilify Christ’s work on the cross. They imply that His work is not sufficient for salvation or sanctification. They say, in effect, that after they accept Christ as Savior, they are still not sure of salvation.
Christ’s finished work on the cross flies in the face of all that. His completed work on the cross is sufficient for salvation and sanctification.