“For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.” (Gal. 2:18)
Normally we would think of rebuilding as a worthwhile task so we may find the statement of Paul that rebuilding would make him a sinner. However, Paul was more than likely talking about Peter than he was himself but uses the first person as a literary way of avoiding more names. Actually, the principle being expressed would apply to all of the Jewish Christians.
We know there was a major misunderstanding about salvation by faith rather than works. The Jews would not have had a problem with salvation by faith if the Law could have been included. They had trouble with the idea that anyone could be saved without the law. They knew about faith and practiced it. They were not willing to rely on nothing but faith in Jesus and could not abandon the works of the law.
When Peter refused to share the Lord’s Table with the Gentiles because of the presence of dissenting Jews, he was, in fact, reverting to the Judaism he had torn down. In preaching and teaching the true gospel, Peter and Paul (Barnabas, too) turned their backs on works of the law and thus salvation by the law. As we will see in this letter Paul will make it plain that the law as a covenant had been scrapped and replaced by a new covenant of the blood of Jesus instead of bulls and goats.
Paul is saying in this verse that when the gospel is preached the law is abolished and its effectiveness disappears with it. To go back to the law, to try to rebuild it to its effective state would be to reject the gospel and the saving work of Jesus. That, in Paul’s thinking, is nothing but transgression. His words and his force indicate a great concern that the Jews will find some way to nullify the true gospel by trying to reconstruct the requirements of the law. This particular point was that of circumcision. Circumcision, and thus the law that required it was not spiritual but fleshly and Paul is preaching a gospel of spiritual life.
Jesus made a similar statement when he spoke of putting the hand to the plow and turning back. Related passages include the sow and the mire and the dog to his vomit. There is no return to the law for the Christian and this is what the Galatians must come to understand.
Task for Today: Use the Old Testament as a tool to unlock and understand the New but do not go to learn about God’s saving power in Christ. Put your faith in Jesus and not the law or some law. All who find salvation will find it in the true gospel preached by Paul and Peter and there is no profit in trying to go back under a dead law. Rejoice in the good news. Read it again and again.