“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!” (Gal. 2:17)
Verses 17 and 18 are not without difficulty as to obtaining their meaning. There are two basic schools of thought and there is evidence and contra-evidence in both points of view. Since this is not an in-depth treatise on the book of Galatians, I would suggest consulting one of the “scholarly works” for more information if more is required. I propose to offer one of the points of view, which happens to be mine. At any rate, these two verses are not without problems and it is hard to be too definitive.
In verse 15 Paul talks about two types of people, Jews, and Gentile sinners. We understand that the Jews considered themselves justified by doing the law and Gentiles, not having the law, were unjustified or sinners. Then Paul points out that the law doesn’t justify, only faith in Jesus can bring one justification from sin. Paul then notes that he and Peter believed in Jesus so that they could be justified by faith in Him. To do that, they had to leave the law of their birthright.
Next, we would ask what happened when Paul and Peter rejected the law. The answer seems to be that they became the same as the Gentiles who were without the law; i.e., “sinners.” Paul is making the point that once the law was superseded by the New Covenant of Jesus it no longer was of benefit to anyone and thus the Jews who wanted to cling to the hope of being justified by works of the law were left as sinners just as the Gentiles were.
So Paul and Peter became sinners in the same sense as Gentiles were sinners and the only way to find justification was to believe in Jesus and his work of justification. Does this action of leaving the law and becoming sinners mean that they are thus being led to sin? This may be the question being asked of Paul and Peter about their abandonment of the law. Did Christ then cause their sinful state? The implication is then, that by going away from the law, they became sinners without the law and thus Christ was serving sin by causing Paul and Peter (and other Jewish Christians) to be in this sinful state. To be like Gentiles.
Paul’s response to this comment is, “No Way!” All men are sinners and became sinners of their own free will. Whether born a Jew or a Gentile all men sin and are unrighteous. The question then is not who are sinners but how do sinners become justified in the eyes of God. Paul will have a lot to say about that in his various letters, especially Romans. Paul’s “no way” should read, “Certainly not, in fact just the opposite is true.” For the Jewish argument to stand, Jewish Christians would have to go back to the law thus reversing the process and they then would be without any source of justification. More on that in comments on verse 18.
Task for Today: Whether you are born a Jew or a Gentile your only hope of salvation (justification) is by faith in Jesus, the Son of God. “The law came by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus.” That grace is saving grace, justifying grace. Jesus came to seek and save the lost and He does that saving via faith in Him. Today, place your faith in Jesus, not in works of any kind. Believe Jesus can justify you and obey His word.