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16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (NKJV)
Knowing that a man, any man, Jew or Gentile, is not justified by the works of the law. Justification the judicial act of God whereby He declares righteous those who trust in Christ. It is the reversal of His attitude toward the sinner because of the sinner’s new relationship to Christ. God did condemn, now He acquits. This means that all the guilt and penalty of the believer is removed forever (Rom 8:1) and that the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to him from (Gr ek) the works of the law, not resulting from man’s deeds of obedience. The standard of the law was so exacting that no one (except Christ) ever kept it, and so the broken law could only condemn (Rom 3:19–20). But by the faith of Jesus Christ. Not on account of faith but only by means of faith. Faith is not the ground of justification: grace is. It is not faith in our faith, but faith in Jesus Christ. No one is justified except through faith in Christ. Salvation is wholly by divine mercy (Tit 3:5) and not by human merit. Even as we have believed in Jesus Christ. Even the Jews with all their privileges are no better than the Gentiles. Their law was inadequate and insufficient to bring them into a right relationship with God. Therefore it was necessary for Jews to believe in Christ in order to be justified. Since no flesh, Jew or Gentile, could ever be justified by the works of the law, how ridiculous it is to bind the burden of law-works on the Gentiles who were already justified by faith in Christ. Note the progressive order in this verse: knowing, believing, justified.
Jews who had been saved knew that there was no salvation in the law. The law condemned to death those who failed to obey it perfectly. This brought the curse on all, because all have broken its sacred precepts. The Saviour is here presented as the only true object of faith. Paul reminds Peter that “even we Jews” came to the conclusion that salvation is by faith in Christ and not by law-keeping. What was the sense now of Peter’s putting Gentiles under the law? The law told people what to do but gave them no power to do it. It was given to reveal sin, not to be a saviour.
By the grace of God (v. 21), the only way to be justified (declared righteous or pardoned) is through faith in Jesus Christ. Any other way allows works, whether keeping the law of Moses or performing good deeds in general, to play a role in justification. This is the main point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians: salvation or righteousness cannot be obtained by obeying the law. Salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:20).
KJV Bible commentary. 1997, c1994 (2381). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Ga 2:16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson's new illustrated Bible commentary (Ga 2:16). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.