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What is the "the grace of God" which is not nullified in Galatians 2:21?

Galatians 2:21 | NASB

"I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
  • Is Ezekiel 18:21-23 considered "the grace of God" not nullified in Galatians 2:21?

If the Word of יהוה (The LORD) in Ezekiel 18:21-23 is "the grace of God" :

[21] And if the wicked man repent of all his sins that he has committed and keeps all My laws and executes justice and righteousness, he shall surely live, he shall not die. [22] All his transgressions that he has committed shall not be remembered regarding him: through his righteousness that he has done he shall live. [23] Do I desire the death of the wicked? says the Lord God. Is it not rather in his repenting of his ways that he may live?

And the word of Paul in Galatians 2:21 is true:

  • then the death of Jesus was only atonement for "unrepentant" souls (Correct?)
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    You did not quote the text you are questioning, nor the context. When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. The context is of righteousness and the righteous. Paul explains how that righteousness is obtained (by faith not by works of the law). – Nigel J Jan 28 at 14:38
  • Is it not rather in his repenting of his ways that he may live? – חִידָה Jan 28 at 14:49
  • (-1) You haven't demonstrated any kind of link or shared phraseology between these two passages - this question doesn't seem to have anything to do with exegesis. You're assuming 'the grace of God' is somewhere in Ezekiel 18:21-23, but the phrase doesn't appear there at all. This feels like a theology question, not a hermeneutics question. – Steve Taylor Jan 28 at 14:56
  • Updated : What is the "the grace of God" which is not nullified in Galatians 2:21? – חִידָה Jan 28 at 15:01
  • There is no Grace under Law. That is, Ezekiel was living under the Law, so therefore there was no Grace to nullify. – Dave Jan 28 at 18:12
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Here is the context: New International Version

Galatians 2:19“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

The grace of God here specifically refers to God graciously gave his only Son to be the perfect sacrifice on the cross. If works of the law could bring perfect righteousness, then Paul would have nullified this grace. In reality, the law can never achieve that, so Paul could not set aside this grace.

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This question is answered very completely by numerous commentators of which I will quote just two below. Paul is here discussing the judaizing people who wanted to attain God's favor by keeping the law which cannot be done.

Ellicott says this:

(21) In thus attaching himself devotedly to Christ, the Christian escapes the charge of refusing and thwarting the free gift of justification which God has offered to him in His Son. He has made his choice of Christ, and not of the Law. On the other hand, if he had chosen the Law, and gone to it, and not to Christ, in his search for righteousness, he would have practically declared the death of Christ to be a useless and unnecessary sacrifice.

Frustrate.—An exactly literal translation of the Greek word, which means “to render nugatory or ineffectual.” The grace of God goes forth with a certain mission to perform; but the Judaising party, by still clinging to the Law, prevented it from taking effect, and made it “return void” unto its Giver.

If righteousness come by the law.—What all men seek is justification in the sight of God. This is given to the just or righteous. But there were two ways of becoming thus just or righteous. The Law professed to make righteous those who complied with its provisions. But this was only a profession, for no one could really keep the Law. The Christian, therefore, rightly falls back upon faith in Christ, which brings him both an imputed righteousness, and also, in part, at least, a real righteousness. A deep and genuine faith in Christ is allowed to atone for the many unavoidable breaches of the Law, and that faith by degrees operates a real and vital change in the character and life of the man.

Barnes says this:

I do not frustrate the grace of God - The word rendered "frustrate" (ἀθετῶ athetō) means properly to displace, abrogate, abolish; then to make void, to render null; Mark 7:9; Luke 7:30; 1 Corinthians 1:19. The phrase "the grace of God," here refers to the favor of God manifested in the plan of salvation by the gospel, and is another name for the gospel. The sense is, that Paul would not take any measures or pursue any course that would render that vain or inefficacious. Neither by his own life, by a course of conduct which would show that it had no influence over the heart and conduct, nor by the observance of Jewish rites and customs, would he do anything to render that inefficacious. The design is to show that he regarded it as a great principle that the gospel was efficacious in renewing and saving man, and he would do nothing that would tend to prevent that impression on mankind. A life of sin, of open depravity and licentiousness, would do that. And in like manner a conformity to the rites of Moses as a ground of justification would tend to frustrate the grace of God, or to render the method of salvation solely by the Redeemer nugatory. This is to be regarded, therefore as at the same time a reproof of Peter for complying with customs which tended to frustrate the plan of the gospel, and a declaration that he intended that his own course of life should be such as to confirm the plan, and show its efficacy in pardoning the sinner and rendering him alive in the service of God.

For if righteousness come by the law - If justification can be secured by the observance of any law - ceremonial or moral - then there was no need of the death of Christ as an atonement. This is plain. If man by conformity to any law could be justified before God, what need was there of an atonement?

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Ezekiel 18 is showing justice and mercy of God and about how God is always open to forgive a repentant man. That is unrelated to the changes of the covenants. Grace under the new covenant is to be understood as the liberty from that law of Moses. Grace or Promise is superior, and it is the new requirement of righteousness- the righteousness according to God (Heb 10-11; Jer 31:33-34; Rom 10:5-10). As Paul explains in great details in his epistles that Grace covenant is mutually exclusive to the written covenant. Paul cannot nullify the grace by going back to the law which has been dead and nullified (Gal 5:2-4; Eph 2:15; 2 Cor 3:6-7).

[ESV Romans 4:3-4, 13, 14]
(3) For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (4) Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. ...(13) For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. (14) For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.

[NLT Galatians 3:18-26]
(18) For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God's promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise. (19) Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. (20) Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham. (21) Is there a conflict, then, between God's law and God's promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. (22) But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God's promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. (23) Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. (24) Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. (25) And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. (26) For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

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