“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God” (Galatians 2:17-19).
This portion of Scripture may be challenging to interpret but like many tasks, its helpful to begin by separating it into smaller portions. We can start with the phrase, “…if, while we seek to be justified by Christ.”
These verses begin by presenting us with someone who is no longer seeking to find favor with God through his or her efforts. Instead, this person has followed the Biblical model of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. However, the individual in our example has also discovered that a decision for Christ does not immediately translate into a life of sinless perfection for he or she is still found to be a sinner.
That provides the basis for the question that follows: “is Christ therefore a minister of sin?” Or to put it another way, “If we, the same people who are searching for God’s approval in Christ, are still sinners, does that mean that Christ encourages us to sin?” (GW). This seems to be a legitimate question but it is based upon some questionable logic- Jesus does not necessarily become a minister of sin just because His followers sin. Thus we have an appropriate response: “Absolutely not!” (NIV).
The issue is that this line of questioning fails to recognize the difference between spiritual acceptance and spiritual growth. We are made right with God through Christ positionally while growing experientially in the grace and knowledge of God. This progressive growth process is closely associated with the idea of sanctification. “Sanctification” refers to “the act or process by which people or things are cleansed and dedicated to God…” (1) and ultimately leads to holiness or God-like character.
This distinction is important, especially during those periods when we may be tempted to return to the things we’ve left behind. For the churches of Galatia, that meant returning to the Old Testament Law. For modern-day readers of this passage, that decision might encompass any number of alternative approaches to God. Yet as we’re told in 1 Timothy 2:5, “…there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus” (CSB) and in the words of Galatians 2:18, “…if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law” (NET).
(1) New Dictionary of Theology, (Leicester/ Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1988) pg. 613