“For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God” (Gal. 2:18, 19).
What is it that is referred to in the words, “If I build again the things which I destroyed”? There are at least two special thoughts involved in these words.
1. The one great idea of those who had turned back the Galatian Christians was justification by law. Whereas the truth of the gospel, which Paul had preached to the Galatians, and which even “an angel from heaven” could not contradict, is justification by faith.
Paul has already shown, in verses 15, 16, that even they who were Jews by nature, and so had all the laws that the Lord had given, had believed on Christ in order that they might be justified by faith and not by works of law: and this for the accepted reason that by works of law no flesh can be justified.
This was the utter abandonment and destruction of all idea of justification by law. And having abandoned all idea of justification by law, in order, by believing in Jesus, to be justified by the faith of Christ, now, being justified by faith, shall I set up again the idea and the hope of being justified by law? Having abandoned the idea of justification by law, in order to find justification by faith, having found justification by faith, shall I again adopt the idea of justification by law? —God forbid; for when, to be justified by faith, I must abandon all idea of justification by law, if I now adopt again the idea of justification by law, I must abandon justification by faith. But when I abandon justification by faith, I make myself a transgressor; for “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”Therefore, if I build again the structure of justification by law, which I destroyed by justification by faith, I make myself a transgressor; because by the law is the knowledge of sin.
2. That which I destroyed by abandoning all idea of justification by law, and adopting justification only by the faith of Christ is “the old man,” “the body of sin.” And to build again that which I destroyed is only to bring back from the dead that old man, is only to make alive the body of sin, and that can only make me a transgressor.
Justification by the faith of Christ means in itself the total abandonment of all sins committed, the remission of all “sins that are past,” and also the destruction of the body of sin, so that “henceforth we should not serve sin.” Therefore while seeking to be justified by faith, we must not be found sinners. For if I build again the body of sin which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. And in again adopting the idea of justification by law, I do build again, in works, what I destroyed by faith; because all seeking of justification by law is seeking justification by our own works, and our own works are simply works of the flesh, which are all sin; for “the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.”
And in building again the structure “of justification by law, which I abandoned in order to be justified by faith, I make myself a transgressor; “for I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” Since abandoning the idea of justification by law and adopting justification by faith caused me to become dead to the law and alive unto God, then adopting again the idea of justification by law, which, in itself, is the abandonment of justification by faith, would cause me to become alive to the law and dead unto God. But to be dead unto God is nothing but to be dead in trespasses and in sins. And as to be dead unto God is to be dead in trespasses and in sins, and to be dead unto God is to be alive to the law, then to be alive to the law is only to be a transgressor.
Therefore, my brethren, justification by faith forever, without any works of any law of any kind whatever, —this is the only ground of hope of salvation.
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | October 17, 1899]