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Galatians 2:17 reads (ESV):

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!

Here's what I see as the sequence.

  • We are seeking to be justified in Christ, but since this is progressive, we haven't gotten there yet.
  • During this process, it turns out that we're sinners.

So we're not yet justified in Christ. How then could he be accused of serving sin? The accusation would make no sense.

Suppose someone were seeking a job with my company but in the evaluation process it turns out that person is a thief. Does that make me liable for condoning crime?

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    Does this answer your question? What is Paul saying in Galatians 2:17-19?
    – Michael16
    Aug 3, 2023 at 12:26
  • It is not progressive, but continual; the topic is the means of justification law or Christ. See the topics on Phil 2 on "not already justified perfected". For this verse, you are ignoring that it is a hypothetical statement "IF" by Christ justification we are still found sinners then Christ is sinful. He negates the thought that righteousness is through Christ, and those who say we are sinners are wrong. We are justified in Christ with the hope of final justification. It is the hope of justification.
    – Michael16
    Aug 3, 2023 at 12:55
  • Thanks for the link. I found @user33515's comment helpful. "The notion is that Christ made those Jewish Christians who sought to be justified in Him sinners because he led them to abandon the Law. In this sense, Christ could be accused of being a minister of sin." There are 2 notions of sin, that of breaking the Mosaic law, and that of breaking faith with God. The verse in question deals with the former.
    – blearyeye
    Aug 4, 2023 at 11:35
  • The answer to that charge of breaking the law is an emphatic no. He defends the position that following Christ is fulfilling the law.
    – Michael16
    Aug 4, 2023 at 11:50

3 Answers 3

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Paul is actually arguing against the "hardline" Jewish objection to associating with Gentiles, so his argument goes like this;

vv15-16 WE believe that we are justified by faith in Christ, not by works, and that faith in Christ brings us together with Gentiles.

v17. It is YOUR belief, not ours, that our behaviour based on being justified by Christ (associating with Gentiles) has identified us as sinners. But if this were true then Christ would himself be an agent of sin. Which would be absurd. "Certainly not"

And we need to appreciate that the "I" in v18 is not Paul but "anyone who does this". He is, in fact, accusing Peter of "building up again" the anti-Gentile barriers which he had already torn down once (the Cornelius story).

So "we are found sinners" is not Paul's conclusion at all. It is the conclusion which would follow from the assumptions of his opponents.

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Short Answer:

No, you would not be liable for condoning crime. Similarly, in Galatians 2:17, the fact that believers are found to be sinners while seeking to be justified in Christ does not make Christ a servant of sin.

Long Answer:

In your company scenario, if someone is seeking a job with your company but during the evaluation process is found to be a thief, this does not make you or your company liable for condoning crime. You are merely the instrument of evaluation and potential transformation (into a good employee).

Applying this to Galatians 2:17:

  1. "Seeking to be justified in Christ": This is akin to the job seeker applying to your company. The person is seeking a new status (a job, or in the spiritual sense, justification).

  2. "Found to be sinners": This is similar to discovering that the job applicant is a thief. Despite the goal of the seeker (job or justification), their current status is not in alignment with the desired outcome.

  3. "Questioning if Christ is a servant of sin": The rhetorical question here is similar to asking if you, as an employer, are condoning crime by considering a thief for employment. Just as considering a thief for a job doesn’t make you a supporter of theft, believers being found as sinners during their journey to justification doesn't make Christ a servant of sin.

  4. "Rejection of the idea": The verse emphatically rejects the notion that Christ is a servant of sin, just as you would reject the idea that considering a thief for employment makes you a supporter of crime.

In both cases, the goal is transformation: in the secular sense, turning a thief into a good employee; in the spiritual sense, turning a sinner into a justified believer. Neither process implies condoning the negative behaviors (theft or sin) found during the process.

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    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Aug 3, 2023 at 15:19
  • Nice comment, @Shuhatovich. A good answer.
    – blearyeye
    Aug 4, 2023 at 11:38
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Note before Paul spoke of Galatians 2:17, he rebuked Peter separated himself from the Gentiles when Jews fellows arrived, for Peter was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group (Gal 2:12).

Paul's belief is, as he wrote in Ephesians 3:6

6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:6 NIV)

Paul said: "a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ" (Galatians 2:16 NIV), so it is not the Gentiles follow the practice of the Jews to become righteous, it is the Jews should quit their practice and follow the Gentiles putting their faith in Christ.

Return to Galatians 2:17

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! (Galatians 2:17 NIV)

Paul said: "no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin" (Romans 3:20 NIV). It means those who practising the law still see themselves a sinner. Does it mean Christ promotes sin such that His coming had a meaningful purpose? Absolutely not! For sin always exist.

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; (Romans 3:10 NIV)

Christ is not coming to promote sin, the Jews should know that "a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2:16 NIV)

Bearing the above in mind, let me answer the two questions in OP's last two paragraphs.

We have to understand that we are no longer a sinner once we put our faith on Christ. For we believe His crucifixion, buried and resurrection already redeem our sin. Therefore Jesus is not coming to serve sin, but give life. However, we must hold on to a new life by keep the faith, for it is possible of losing the grace.

To your last question, if someone disclosed himself once been a thief in the evaluation process, it is certainly an noble act, honesty behaviour. Surely it is just a beginning of good faith, but certainly not a perspective of condoning crime.

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