Galatians 2:15-21 is a long passage. One of the key thoughts that Paul penned for the Galatians and for the entire church is at the end of verse 16. He says, “…for by works of the law no one will be justified.” Paul is making it perfectly clear that neither Jew nor Gentile will find himself standing right before God based on their own goodness or righteousness. The law makes certain of that. To wrap up his argument in verse 21, Paul explains that “…if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” The law was not given as the basis upon which we might make ourselves acceptable to God. No, it was given to demonstrate to each of us that we were unacceptable to God already and it is too late for anyone to go back and rebuild the system under which they had already failed.

The law drives us crazy. It does not set us free. Consider some of the laws that legalists have struggled with throughout the years.  If you as a Jew had a toothache, you could not gargle with vinegar. You could, however, use an ordinary toothbrush dipped in vinegar. You cannot do any work on the Sabbath. You cannot carry any “burden.” It was defined as anything that weighed as much as a dried fig. You could get around this law by making several trips. The elevators in Israel will stop at every floor on the Sabbath because pushing the elevator buttons is considered work and is forbidden by the laws of the Sabbath. Nothing was more frustrating for us in Israel than to have to go up 11 floors, one floor at a time! You cannot sew on the Sabbath. This led to a prohibition against pasting or gluing. Lawson observed, “This raises an issue unanticipated in the first century. Can you use gummed adhesive strips on disposable diapers? The argument seems to center around whether the tape is considered temporary or permanent, and whether removing it is seen as destructive or constructive labor. One rabbi has ruled that even if the practice is permissible, it really shouldn’t be done in the presence of anyone who might misunderstand.”

In the middle ages, French monks strictly observed the restrictions of not eating meat on Friday. You could only eat fish. I grew up with that law and learned to appreciate Joe Tess’ carp sandwiches every Friday! But the monks had a great fondness for hasenpfeffer (rabbit stew). So they got around the law simply by redefining rabbits as “fish.” They ate them to their hearts content with a clear conscience. It turns us into “lawyers” always looking for loopholes in the laws.  Laws are always going to win! Regardless of how scrupulous you strive to obey them all, you will fail. Further as Paul says, the law will never liberate you. It will only enslave you. Paul reminded all the believers that “Salvation is through a relationship with the Savior, not through slavish obedience to a complex code of behavior.” If this is not so, then Christ died for no reason. I like what John says in John 8:36, “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”