“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
for if righteousness comes through the law,
If we say that we should keep the law for salvation or sanctification, then we negate the death of Christ for us.
then Christ died in vain
Christ can save us by Himself. He needs no help. He does not require the “righteousness” that “comes through the law.”
If we operate by self-righteousness, then Christ died in vain. We say, in effect, that we have to help ourselves. Legalism and grace are mutually exclusive. Self-righteousness and Christ’s righteousness cannot coexist. Christ died so that we can have salvation apart from the law, apart from human merit.
The word “vain” means without cause. There is no point or purpose to Christ’s death if we can work for salvation. There is no reason for the death of Christ. Righteousness through faith in Christ’s cross is not one of the reasons but the only reason for salvation. This is precisely what Peter did by entering into legalism. We cannot unite grace and law because they are mutually exclusive ways to please God. If we do, we imply that Christ died on the cross needlessly. It invalidates grace.
“…being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
Human merit invalidates the cross of Christ as a way of salvation or sanctification.
We do not have to climb any mountains to achieve God’s grace. God gives His grace freely and fully without requiring merit.
If we try to obtain righteousness by the works of the law, we make the cross a frightful tragedy. If righteousness comes by the law, if we are justified by the law, then Christ died in vain. What point is there of Christ’s death? If we can get to heaven by keeping the ten commandments, why did God bother sending Jesus to Calvary?
No one ever goes to heaven by good works. All of us have failed to live up to the law. If we could keep the law for salvation, then we would have to live up to the law in its entirety.
“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
God cannot wink at sin. If you have but one sin, then God must deal with it. Once you commit a sin, there is no way for you to make it up to God except by accepting His forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross.
You say, “Oh, God is not that strict.” If He were not, then God would not be consistent with Himself. If God gave slack to Himself, the whole idea of an absolute God would crash to the ground. The reason we have the kind of salvation we do is that we have the kind of God we do. That is why sin always drives us into the outstretched arms of Jesus, where we receive salvation free of charge. God cannot see me for Jesus. God cannot see my sin because I have a perfect standing before Him. Christ paid for all my sins.
No law can give life. The law can only bring death. Grace brings life. Salvation is free to the admittedly broken sinner (Ephesians 1:6; Romans 3:25). Man always tries to manufacture his own righteousness while God stands tapping His foot, ready to donate Christ’s perfect righteousness. A perfectly holy God can find no imperfection in Jesus’ righteousness. This righteousness is free to the sinner. If we trust in the cross to forgive our sins, God reckons to us the incredible merit and glory of Jesus.