“I do not frustrate the grace of God.”
If I had
opportunity to address all the preachers, religious leaders, theologians, and
religious people of this world at one time, who believe and teach that
salvation is in any way, to any degree dependent upon or determined by the will
or work of man, I would lay this solemn charge, this horrible indictment
against them: ― You frustrate the grace of God and make the death of the
Lord Jesus Christ an insignificant, meaningless, useless thing. That is
precisely the charge Paul laid against those who taught such heresy in
When Paul sat down to write this Epistle, he was clearly provoked and angry. This book was intended (intended by Paul and by God the Holy Spirit who inspired it) to be a deliberate, forceful confrontation. There are no friendly greetings, no gentle salutations, no kind, soothing reflections in this book. Everything in these six chapters is “in your face” confrontation.
An Angry Apostle
To say the least, the apostle was a little hot under the collar. Why? What provoked Paul and stirred his anger? The Galatian churches, churches God raised up under the influence of Paul’s ministry among them, were being led away from Christ and his gospel by false teachers in their midst. These men, professing to be the servants of Christ, were slandering Paul, accusing him of being a false prophet, and denying the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ. All the while they pretended to promote and defend it. They were trying to make Christianity a mere extension of Judaism, just as multitudes do today.
They did not openly deny that salvation is by the free grace of God in Christ. They did not openly state that Christ is not enough, that Christ is not sufficient, or even that works must be mixed with faith. The messengers of Satan are far too subtle for that. They were teaching salvation by grace through works; but they did not state it quite that way. The Galatian heretics taught that true faith is a faith that expresses itself in the observance of the Mosaic law and that any faith that did not express itself in law obedience was a false faith. These men and their heresy were being embraced by the Galatian churches.
Paul was shocked. How could they be confused about this? If salvation is by grace, it cannot be by works. If salvation is by works, it cannot be by grace. ― “If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Rom. 11:6). There can be no mixture of the two.
The issue at
It is ever the
practice of those who oppose the gospel of God’s free grace to slander the men
who preach it. The legalists at
For this reason, the opening verses of Galatians 1 identify Paul decisively as an apostle of God, not an apostle of men, or an apostle by the authority of men, but of and by the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father. With that as his authority, Paul denounces as false every rival gospel. He tells us that every “gospel” that teaches the sinner to look for righteousness and salvation anywhere except in Christ alone is no gospel at all, but a frustration of the grace of God; and with regard to those who preach another “gospel” he says, “let him be accursed” ― “Let him be damned forever.” Paul could not have used stronger language to convey his thoughts on this matter.
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (1:6-9).
The gospel of God is good news about something done, not good advice about something you must do. The gospel is the good news of redemption obtained, righteousness brought in, sin put away, and salvation secured by the obedience and death of Christ as the sinner’s Substitute (Dan. 9:24; John 19:30; Heb. 1:1-3; 9:12, 26, 28; 10:10-14). Anyone who asserts that something must be done by the sinner before these things can be accomplished is a false prophet, preaching a false gospel, and those who follow him follow him to hell.
That is just how serious this matter is.
And that is exactly what Paul asserts in Galatians 1:6-9. Having
said that, the fat was in the fire. In verses 10-24 Paul asserts that,
contrary to the accusations of his detractors at
So far was Paul
from being a compromising man-pleaser that when Peter compromised the gospel by
his actions at Antioch Paul withstood him to the face (-17). While at
When he did that, by his mere act, he led many into error, even Barnabas. By his mere action, Peter led others to believe that righteousness, justification, salvation, and acceptance with God is not totally the work of God’s grace, but in some way dependent upon our own obedience to the law of God.
were far more evil than most imagine. His implied doctrine was a frustration of
the grace of God. He implied that justifying righteousness can be obtained by
the works of men. Therefore, Paul publicly withstood him to the face before
both the Jews and the Gentiles at
“But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid” (-17).
We are justified by the faith of Christ, not by our faith in Christ, but by the faith and faithful obedience of Christ himself unto death as our Substitute (Rom. ). By our faith in Christ we receive and enjoy the blessedness of justification. We are not justified by something we do, but by Christ alone. To suggest, or imply in any way that our works, or even our experience, have anything at all to do with making us righteous before God for justification is to deny the gospel altogether. Paul puts it this way: ― “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (). If righteousness could be established by something men do, then Christ died for nothing! Again, Paul could not have used stronger language to denounce the heresy of mixing works with grace for justification. Salvation is by grace alone, in Christ alone, received by faith alone, without works of any kind.
Paul understood exactly what he was saying, and understood exactly what his detractors would say about his doctrine. He could almost hear them screaming with clinched fists, “Antinomianism! That is antinomianism! If our works have nothing to do with righteousness, if we can be saved without obeying God’s law and doing good works ourselves, you are telling us that we can go out and live like we want to in lawlessness, licentiousness, and lasciviousness.”
I know that is what they said, both because that is what Paul says they said (), and because I have heard those words countless times. The legalist never really wants to live as he pretends to live. The very language he uses to denounce free grace betrays the fact that if he could be saved without serving God, he would not serve him.
The fact is, any man who preaches salvation by grace alone, without works, will be accused of antinomianism and of promoting licentiousness; but the charge is baseless and false (2:17).
In chapter 3 Paul moves from justification to sanctification. He argues with the Galatians (and us) that their experience of grace forbids the idea that righteousness can be obtained by their works.
“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?” (3:1-3)
Sanctification and justification are two distinct works of God’s grace; but the two cannot be separated. Those who are justified are also sanctified. And sanctification as well as justification is a work of grace alone. Once we have received righteousness in justification by faith in Christ, we do not make ourselves more holy, more righteous before God by our works in sanctification. Believers grow in grace: in faith, in love, and in consecration to God. But believers do not become more holy and righteous before God as they grow in grace. The only time the word “holy” is used in the Scriptures in connection with a man in a relative sense is in Isaiah 65:5. There the Lord God says such people who think they are holier than others “are a smoke in my nose.”
Christ is both our justification and sanctification (1 Cor. ; Heb. -14). His name is Jehovah-tsidkenu ― “The Lord our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:6). We have no righteousness before God but him. To suggest that we make ourselves righteous by our works in sanctification is to mix grace and works; and that is a frustration of 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” ().
In a word, Paul’s
doctrine is this: ― Any mixture of grace and
works in the matter of righteousness is a total denial of grace, for it is a
frustration of grace. Therefore (),
he tells us that the whole purpose of the law was fulfilled when Christ
suffered, died, and rose again as our Substitute. The law was our schoolmaster
unto Christ. Once Christ came and fulfilled it, the law’s work was finished.
― “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that
There is no place for legal bondage in the household of faith. Those who would bring God’s saints under the yoke of legal bondage deny the whole gospel of the grace of God and every believer’s experience of grace. All who attempt to make themselves righteous by the works of the law are still under the curse of the law.
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (-11).
Those who would bring believers under the yoke of legal bondage deny every believer’s experience of grace (3:1-5). They deny the Old Testament Scriptures, which assert that Abraham was justified by faith without works (3:6-9). They deny the efficacy of Christ’s atonement, asserting that Christ died in vain, that he did not actually secure the blessing of grace for God’s elect by his death (3:13-14). They deny the whole purpose of the law as a schoolmaster unto Christ (-29). And they deny the blessed liberty of the gospel and the grace of God, the very liberty Christ obtained for us by his obedience to the law and his death by the law, by attempting to bring us back under the yoke of bondage (4:1-11).
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (4:4-7).
Christ died for God’s elect (his eternally adopted children), that we might receive the Spirit of adoption in regeneration, giving us faith to look upon God through the blood of our Savior with confidence as our heavenly Father (Heb. -22). Trusting Christ, we are no longer servants, but sons. The promoters of law righteousness would have us swap sonship for slavery! No wonder Paul was fearful for their souls! No wonder he stood in doubt of them (). These Gentile believers, to whom the law was never given, were being duped by their false teachers to swap the liberty of Christ for the bondage of Moses.
“But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (4:9-11).
In the latter part of chapter 4 (vv. 21-31) Paul uses Sarah and Hagar and their sons Isaac and Ishmael as an allegory. The allegory teaches us, that as Hagar and Ishmael (the fruit of Abraham’s shameful works by which he attempted to perform God’s righteous promise) had to be cast out of Abraham’s house, so all our own works righteousness (all attempts to make ourselves righteous before God) must be cast out as filthy rags. It is written, “Cast out the bond woman and her son.” There is no room in the house of grace for the works of the flesh, for legal obedience.
In the 5th chapter Paul urges us to stand fast in the blessed liberty of the gospel, warning us that if we do anything by which we hope to gain God’s favor, improve our standing in God’s favor, or keep ourselves in God’s favor, we have abandoned the gospel and abandoned grace altogether. He says, “Christ is of no value to anyone who attempts to make himself righteous before God.”
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (5:1-4).
There is no antinomianism here, no
licentiousness, no encouragement to sin. Far from it!
The rest of the book of Galatians is a declaration that this liberty of grace
is life in the Spirit. As we walk in the Spirit, looking to Christ alone for
righteousness and salvation, we will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. It is
self-righteousness and legalism that causes men and women to bite and devour
one another (in the name of righteousness!). Grace teaches believers to restore
their fallen brethren, to bear one another’s burdens, to love one another, and
so to fulfil the law of Christ. Grace teaches us not to sow to the flesh and
reap corruption, but to sow to the Spirit and reap life everlasting. Our only
hope is the cross of Christ. Our only motivation, our only rule of life is the
cross. And all who have this hope and live by this rule are blessed as “the
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the
cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I
unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing,
nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this
rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the
The sum and essence of all true doctrine, the essence of all true Christianity, and of all motivation in the lives of God’s elect in this world is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (6:14). When Paul writes, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he is telling us that his only trust, his only hope before God is that which Christ accomplished as our all-sufficient, effectual Redeemer at Calvary.
Throughout the book of Galatians the cross of Christ is central. The cross, as Paul uses it, refers not to the wooden cross upon which Christ died, or the historic fact of the cross, but the doctrine of the cross ― Redemption and salvation by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ as our sin-atoning Substitute.
The cross is deliverance by blood atonement (1:3-5). The cross is life (-20). The cross is righteousness (). The cross is the removal of our curse (). The cross is the certainty of God’s blessing (). The cross is the center of our faith (). The cross is the ground of our adoption (4:4-7). The cross is an offense to the unbelieving (). The cross is the source of all grace (-24). The cross is that by which we are crucified unto the world and the world unto us (-15). And the cross is our rule, our peace, our mercy, and our life (-18).
“I must needs go home by the way of the cross,
There's no other way but this;
I shall ne'er get sight of the gates of light,
If the way of the cross I miss.
I must needs go on in the blood sprinkled way,
The path that the Savior trod,
If I ever climb to the heights sublime,
Where the soul is at home with God.
So I bid farewell to the way of the world,
To walk in it never more;
For the Lord says, "Come," and I seek my home,
Where He waits at the open door.
The way of the cross leads home,
The way of the cross leads home,
It is sweet to know as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home.”