“I Do Not Frustrate The Grace Of God”
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:21)
Why was Paul so dogmatic and bold in publicly withstanding Peter when Peter led the division of the church at Antioch, when he caused the Jewish believers, and even Barnabas, to separate themselves from their Gentile brethren? The answer to that question is found here in Galatians 2:21. Peter’s actions were a frustration of the grace of God. That is to say, Peter (by his actions) led these believers back to the law as the basis of acceptance with God.
Therefore Paul writes, “I do not frustrate the grace of God.” The word translated “frustrate” means to “cast away, deny, despise, reject, and make void.” He here asserts that any and every assertion that salvation is the result of something men do is to cast away, deny, despise, reject, and make void the grace of God. It is a frustration of the grace of God the Son revealed in the sacrifice of himself for our sins. The teaching that salvation is in any way, or to any degree, the result of human effort is a denial of the whole gospel (Gal. 5:1-4). It is a frustration of the gospel of the grace of God, because such doctrine declares that righteousness comes by the law rather than by Christ alone. Those who make righteousness (justifying righteousness and/or sanctifying righteousness) dependent upon the works of men have denied, despised, rejected, made null and void, made the gospel of the grace of God to be in vain, and have departed from it altogether.
“For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” There was no need for the Son of God to die, if righteousness can be obtained in some other way. Nothing can be more contemptuous of our God and Savior than to assert that there was no reason for him to die. Such doctrine is monstrous. It asserts that God slaughtered his Son for no reason.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The Holy Spirit tells us plainly that the reason it was necessary for Christ to die was precisely because righteousness could not come to poor sinner like us, except by the substitutionary sacrifice of God’s dear Son (Rom. 3:24-28). Only in this way can God be both just and the Justifier of his people. He could not be both a just God and a Savior (Isa. 45:20) in any other way. It is beyond monstrous to imagine that the infinitely wise, good, and just God would sacrifice his darling Son were there no necessity for it.
That makes the doctrine of salvation by works a criminal doctrine. It was for this reason that Paul was determined to give it no place. He boldly opposed everything that bore any resemblance to salvation by human merit. Therefore, when Peter sided with the Judaizers at Antioch, and seemed to teach that the Gentile believers must live by the law, he publicly withstood him to the face.
The gospel of Christ is a declaration of salvation by grace, the good news of salvation accomplished by the obedience of God’s Son unto death as the sinner’s Substitute. Paul vehemently opposed every idea that the keeping of the law could merit God’s favor. He asserted dogmatically, clearly, and constantly that men are not saved by works in any degree, but entirely by the grace of God. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” God has “saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” Grace means grace, and grace alone. Any mixture of works with grace is a complete denial of grace (Rom. 11:6). To teach, as multitudes do, that salvation can be obtained by anything apart from the sacrifice of Christ, or by anything placed in connection with the sacrifice of Christ, done by man; is to frustrate the grace of God and say that Christ died in vain
There is no evil in the world so vile, so blasphemous, so destructive to the souls of men as the doctrine of salvation by human effort. Martin Luther declared, “This is blasphemy more horrible than can be expressed.” Nothing robs God of his glory as God like Arminian, free-will, works religion. Yet, there is no evil more common among men.
Paul asserts that there are certain, inevitable consequences to the doctrine of salvation by works. He specifically names two: (1.) If righteousness comes by the law, then the grace of God is cast away. And (2.) If righteousness comes by the law, then Christ died in vain.
All who hope to be saved by their own efforts reject the grace and free favor of God. They regard God’s grace as useless and frustrate it, cast it behind their backs, and trample it beneath their feet. If righteousness comes by the law then there is no need for grace. If keeping the law will win God’s favor, we do not need his grace.
Paul has specifically spoken of the legal ceremony of circumcision; but that ceremony is used only as an expression of legal obedience. This becomes obvious when we read what he says in the tenth verse of chapter three. —“As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”
Many would have us believe that Paul’s assertions concerning the law and the believer’s freedom from it only apply to the ceremonial law, and only apply to the attempts of men to be justified by their obedience to the law. They insist that, though justifying righteousness cannot be gained by our obedience to the law, sanctifying righteousness is. But Paul moves from justifying righteousness to sanctifying righteousness in chapter three. —“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1-3). It is in this context that he asserts that all who attempt to live before God upon the basis of their obedience to the law are damned (3:10).
The fact is, Christ is made of God unto his elect “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). We have no other righteousness but Christ. He is both our justification and our sanctification (Heb. 10:10-14). He is the whole of our acceptance with the Father (Eph. 1:6).
To make our obedience to the law the basis of our righteousness, either for justification or for sanctification, is not only a frustration of the grace of God, it is also a frustration of the law of God. Those who teach that we make ourselves righteous, or make ourselves more righteous, by our obedience to the law bend the demands of the law to accommodate our weakness and sin, asserting that though the law is holy it can be satisfied by our unholy attempts to keep it.
If righteousness cannot be gained by our obedience to God’s law, it is certain that righteousness cannot be gained by the religious deeds and ceremonies men perform. The performance of penances, no matter how sincerely done, can never give a sinner acceptance with God. Righteousness cannot be gained by the waters of baptism, by taking the Lord’s Supper, or by any other religious ritual or deed.
When Paul speaks of legal righteousness, he is talking about works righteousness of any kind. All teaching of works righteousness cast aside and frustrates the grace of God. Any mixture of works with grace is the total denial of grace (Rom. 11:6). You cannot trust Christ and yourself. Those who would mix works and grace would seldom say, “I am saved by my own works.” Yet, in reality, that is exactly what they believe. Ask them about the grounds of their assurance. They will always bring up their works. Ask them about the basis of their comfort. They will always bring up their works. Ask them about the their eternal reward in heaven. They will always bring up their works. Why? They trust in themselves that they are righteous (Luke 18:9). —“For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” They just do not understand that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 10:3-4).
The second inevitable consequence of works religion is the horrible, blasphemous assertion that Christ died in vain, that the Son of God died for nothing, that his blood is useless. There are many ways in which this blasphemy is asserted by workmongers.
Some assert that man is not totally depraved. If man is not totally depraved, he does not need a Savior. Others assert that Christ’s death as the sinner’s Substitute was neither sufficient nor effectual. Let it be stated in whatever pretty phrases men may invent, the doctrine that the Son of God did not actually put away the sins of his people by the sacrifice of himself (Heb. 9:26), did not actually obtain eternal redemption for God’s elect when he died (Heb. 9:12), did not actually redeem and justify his people, did not actually bring in everlasting righteousness and make an end of sin, but only made these things possible, frustrate the grace of God, trample under foot the blood of Christ, and do despite to the Spirit of God (Heb. 10:29). They do so by making the blood of Christ “an unholy” (that is a common) thing.
Such blasphemy makes the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice to depend entirely upon the will of the sinner. That is what the Holy Spirit calls the basest form of idolatry—“will-worship” (Col. 2:23). It is the worship of one’s own will, trusting one’s own will, rather than trusting and worshipping the Son of God. Did not our Savior cry, “It is finished”? Did he not seal the covenant with his blood? Did not the Father accept his sacrifice?
The doctrine of justification by works is sin and blasphemy against all three Persons of the Sacred Trinity. It blasphemes God the Father, asserting that he sacrificed his Son in vain for no cause. It blasphemes God the Son. It is the very denial of his deity and of him being Jehovah’s righteous Servant, asserting that he failed in his mission (Isa. 42:4), that he shall never see the travail of his soul with satisfaction (Isa. 53:11), and that he really finished nothing when he died at Calvary (John 19:30). And it blasphemes God the Holy Spirit, asserting that he bears false witness of Christ, when he convinces sinners of their sin, Christ’s finished work of righteousness, and judgment finished (justice satisfied) by his death (John 16:8-11).
The doctrine of salvation by works gives no hope to sinners and would silence the praises of the saints in heaven. Yet, it is a very popular doctrine, accepted and promoted by all false religion. It is a cherished heresy. The reason is obvious. —It sets aside the glory of God and makes room for the sinner to boast.
“Every religion except one,” Augustus Toplady wrote, “puts you upon doing something in order to recommend yourself to God…It is the business of all false religion to patch up a righteousness in which the sinner is to stand before God. But it is the business of the glorious gospel to bring near to us, by the hand of the Holy Spirit, a righteousness ready wrought, a robe of perfection ready made, wherein God’s people, to all the purposes of justification and happiness, stand perfect and without fault before the throne.”
The sinner’s only hope before God is God’s free, sovereign, effectual, irresistible grace in Christ, grace flowing freely to us through the effectual, accepted, sin-atoning blood of Christ.
Grace, ‘tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to mine ear.
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.
Grace first contrived the way
To save rebellious man;
And all the steps that grace display
Which drew the wondrous plan.
Grace first inscribed my name
In God’s eternal book;
Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb
Who all my sorrows took.
Grace led my roving feet
To tread the heavenly road;
And new supplies each hour I meet,
While pressing on to God.
Grace all the work shall crown,
Through everlasting days;
It lays in heaven the topmost stone,
And well deserves the praise.
In this wonderful, glorious thing called “salvation,” “Christ is all!” He opened the gates of heaven and shut the gates of hell for all his people, when he entered once into the holy place with his own blood and obtained eternal redemption for us. He is all our Wisdom, all our Righteousness, all our Sanctification, and all our Redemption. The grace of God can never be frustrated, made void, or nullified (Job 23:13; Psa. 33:11; Pro. 19:21; Isa. 46:10; Heb. 6:17). The Lord Jesus Christ did not die in vain (Isa. 53:11). All for whom he shed his blood at Calvary shall be seated with him in glory.