Do Not Nullify the Grace of God (Galatians, Part 23)
This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.
21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
How exactly might someone “nullify the grace of God”?
If you “nullify” something, it means you render it useless or take away its value. So one way to nullify God’s grace would be to pretend you didn’t need it. And of course, this was exactly what the false teachers in Galatia were doing! By teaching that the way a person gained favor with God was by keeping all of the laws handed down by Moses, they were saying that it was actually possible to do so. And if it’s possible to earn God’s favor by keeping the law, Paul argues, then what would we need Jesus for? (We wouldn’t.)
When Jesus welcomed people to follow him, and said to them, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” and people said, “Nah, I’m good, I got this,” they were nullifying the grace of God. They were saying that they didn’t need Jesus to give them rest—they could get rest on their own. When Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly and heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” and people walked away, they were nullifying the grace of God. When John tells us that when Jesus “came to his own [people], and his own people did not receive him,” it’s because they did not understand their need for grace, and they tragically cast it aside. This is what it means to “nullify” the grace of God.
What does Paul mean, “Christ died for no purpose”?
Again, Paul is ridiculing this idea that someone could gain acceptance with God by being a good person and pleasing the Father with their obedience. If this were possible, Paul says—if “righteousness” (being right with God and being fit to live in his kingdom where nothing corrupt or evil exists) could be achieved by always doing the things which please God—then it would have been unnecessary for Jesus to die for the sins of the world. But (and this is what Paul has been hammering home over and over again in this letter) this is impossible. God’s grace and kindness in Jesus is our only hope, and if we “nullify” it then we have nothing left!