15 We, being Jewish by nature1 and not from the sinful gentiles2, 16 know that a man is not justified3 by4 performing the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ5. Even we, being Jews, believed6 in Christ Jesus so that we may be justified from faith in Christ and not by performing the works of the law, because all people7 will not be justified by performing the works of the law. 17 But if we, while seeking to be justified in Christ, are even found to be ourselves sinners8, then is Christ a servant of sin9 ? May it never happen! 18 For if I rebuild the things which I destroyed10, I prove myself to be a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live for God11. I have been crucified together with Christ: 20 and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me12. But the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and who gave himself for me. 21 I do not reject13 the grace of God; for if righteousness is obtained through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Paul sets up a great defense of "faith in Christ" in this passage. Verse 19 truly describes Paul's thoughts around the Jewish law.
1 φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι (Jewish by nature)
“Jewish by nature” is referring the idea that Jews preform the Jewish law and “sinful gentiles” do not preform the Jewish law. It is very important to understand this in this passage.
2 ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί (from the sinful gentiles)
The gentiles were sinful in the eyes of a Jew because they didn’t preform the Jewish law. Paul’s comparison here is to make sure that his readers know that he is a Jew who used to preform the works of the law.
3 οὐ δικαιοῦται (is not justified)
or “pronounced righteous”. In other words, doing the Jewish law is not what saves a person.
4 ἐξ (by)
Greek: “from”. “from the works of the law”. Laws don’t do anything by themselves. People must preform the law in order for them to be of any effect.
5 διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (by faith in Jesus Christ)
or “through faith in Jesus Christ”.
Here is a perfect example of why it is important for serious students of the Bible to read more than one translation. Not everyone knows Koine Greek, but everyone can read different translations in order to gain clarity around the text. In this case, “through faith in Jesus Christ” can also be rendered “through the faith (or faithfulness) of Jesus Christ”. In Greek, “through faith in Jesus Christ” is an Objective Genitive view (NIV, NASU) while “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” is an Subjective Genitive view (KJV, NET). In other words, Jesus Christ is either the object of faith (faith in) or is subject of faith (faith of). If one only reads one translation, one may never know that it can be rendered two different ways and that those renderings are massive in that it changes how Paul could be interpreted. One should read multiple translations in order to see the differences and then study why there are differences in the translations.
So why “through faith in Jesus Christ”? There are two main reasons: 1. Paul explains himself in the following passage: “Even we (being Jewish and who once observed the Jewish law) believed (had faith) in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ”. In other words, it is performing faith in Jesus Christ and not performing Jewish law that justifies a person (Pauline Christology, Gordon Fee, Pages 223-226) 2. No where else does Paul say that justification comes from Christ’s faithfulness.
“For by grace, you are saved through faith (in Christ)”. Ephesians 2:8
Faith is something that a person does. Believing is an action. Paul put it up as an opposition to performing the law.
6 ἐπιστεύσαμεν (believed)
or “had faith in”.
7 πᾶσα σάρξ (all people)
Greek: “all flesh”.
8 αὐτοὶ ἁμαρτωλοί (ourselves sinners)
Paul is referring to being sinners under the Jewish law. In other words, if one is saved by his faith in Christ, and is not performing the Jewish law, then that person is a sinner according to the thought that the Jewish law must be performed. Paul is setting up the argument that if performing the Jewish law was the way to salvation, then there was no reason for Jesus to come and to give himself for our sins.
9 ἁμαρτίας διάκονος (a servant of sin)
or “a deacon of sin”. Paul is stating that the belief in performing the Jewish law when Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice thereby nullifying the need for Jewish law, makes Jesus someone who preaches that sinning is justified. In other words, if performing the law was the true way to righteousness and faith in Christ is not the way, then Jesus has become “a servant of sin” and is causing the ones who are trying to become justified in faith in Jesus to sin because they are not performing the Jewish Law. The Galatians would never believe that Jesus was causing any one to sin! Paul is trying to show just how silly (in his eyes) this notion of performing the Jewish law really is when a person has been freed by Christ.
10 In other words, “if I go back to the Jewish law, which I destroyed”.
11 It was Paul’s fanaticism in the Jewish law that lead him to his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul would have realized that his zeal for the Jewish law was making him sin! The sin of going against the exalted Lord and persecuting the church of God. In other words, the Jewish law caused Paul to sin. After meeting the Savior, Paul was forever changed. Thus, it was by the Jewish law that Paul finally died to the law as he realized that Christ was the fulfillment of the law. The ultimate sacrifice for the sins of all people. The only way for Paul to live for God, was to give up the law that caused him to sin in the first place.
12 Just as Christ fulfilled the law by becoming the ultimate sacrifice, Paul also has to die and be released from the law. Just as Christ was resurrected and now lives, Paul is also resurrected in Christ from dying to the law. Since Jesus released Paul from the law through his dying and resurrection, the living Christ is what gives Paul his life.
13 ἀθετῶ (reject) or “declare invalid”.
15 Ἡμεῖς φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί· 16 εἰδότες [δὲ] ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν, ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σάρξ. 17 εἰ δὲ ζητοῦντες δικαιωθῆναι ἐν Χριστῷ εὑρέθημεν καὶ αὐτοὶ ἁμαρτωλοί, ἆρα Χριστὸς ἁμαρτίας διάκονος; μὴ γένοιτο. 18 εἰ γὰρ ἃ κατέλυσα ταῦτα πάλιν οἰκοδομῶ, παραβάτην ἐμαυτὸν συνιστάνω. 19 ἐγὼ γὰρ διὰ νόμου νόμῳ ἀπέθανον, ἵνα θεῷ ζήσω. Χριστῷ συνεσταύρωμαι· 20 ζῶ δὲ οὐκέτι ἐγώ, ζῇ δὲ ἐν ἐμοὶ Χριστός· ὃ δὲ νῦν ζῶ ἐν σαρκί, ἐν πίστει ζῶ τῇ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀγαπήσαντός με καὶ παραδόντος ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ. 21 Οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ· εἰ γὰρ διὰ νόμου δικαιοσύνη, ἄρα Χριστὸς δωρεὰν ἀπέθανεν.