“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
We now conclude Paul’s address to Peter. This verse is the knockout punch of chapter 2. Galatians 2:21 is Paul’s final stroke to those who claim salvation or sanctification by law.
I do not set aside the grace of God;
The words “set aside” mean make void, cancel God’s grace. If we go back to the law, we cancel out the work of the cross. The grace of God is put as of no value, set aside, nullified, or annulled. Self-righteousness declares invalid God’s provision in Christ. We annul God’s grace when we inject our righteousness. If we refuse grace, then Christ died without an adequate cause (“vain”). Christians must recognize the validity of grace.
We do nothing to attain God’s grace. We do not go through religious motions or righteous works. We do not have to climb any mountain, swim any sea, or cross any deserts. God gave us salvation and the Christian way of life free of charge.
Legalism voids God’s grace; grace and law are mutually exclusive.
If we maintain that we gain God’s approval by works, we abolish grace. Then there is no reason for the death of Christ. His death would be unwarranted and superfluous. It is a serious thing to negate grace.
The essence of God’s grace is to give us something we do not deserve. Salvation is a gift (Romans 4:4). Grace and merit are mutually exclusive. If God provides salvation by grace, then it is not I who do the work. If I do the work, then it is not God who gives salvation. If I do the work, then I get the glory. If God does the work, then He gets the credit.
“And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Romans 11:6 ).
When we inject our righteousness into salvation or sanctification, we thwart the efficacy of Christ’s work for us. God’s grace and our work are contradictory. We must choose one or the other. They cannot both be true at the same time.