Rebuilding What Was Destroyed
by Jonathan Bailey
15“We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. 17 “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! 18 “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
Why would you want to rebuild what you once destroyed? This is the question Paul asks Peter. If you have destroyed something then be done with it. Don’t go back to it. It is kind of like a dog returning to his own vomit.
What has been destroyed that Peter is rebuilding? The Law? No, not precisely. What Paul is talking about is, ‘the works of the Law.’ What are the works of the Law? This phrase refers to a lot of stuff. First and foremost it refers to the Mosaic Law, which includes the ‘Big Ten.’ Then there are laws about sacrificing, harvest, foreigners, etc. Plus, there are ceremonial laws and customs that the Elders and Scribes had attached to it that were in full swing in Jesus day. So, what we have here is some amalgamation of all.
What’s at stake in these verses? One word is screaming out at me, Justification. Justification means to declare or make righteous in the sight of God.
These verses are all about justification. How are we justified? And here is what Paul is saying to Peter, “The ‘works of the Law’ have been destroyed by Messiah. Not the Law. Jesus fulfilled the Law. The word fulfill means to fill full. It’s like when a waiter is filling your cup and isn’t paying attention and fills your cup with so much water that it spills onto your jeans when you cautiously attempt a sip. This is the way Jesus lived. That is how He measured up to the Law. He did it all and then some!
What he destroyed was ‘the works of the Law.’ And now the basis for justification is trust in Messiah. Believing the Messiah has come and is, in the words of N.T. Wright, “Going to set the world to rights.” I am trusting Him. I am not trusting my trust. I am trusting Him. Paul in Romans 8:33 says, “God is the one who justifies.” We trust the Messiah, not only what He did but who He is. And then and only then are we justified.
Paul is not through with Peter yet. We have a few more sentences that turn out to be some of the most powerful in the entire letter.