Thus far, we have expounded why Paul, addressing the subject of the ceremonies, types and shadows which were practised before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, reaches the general conclusion that a man cannot be justified or acceptable in God’s sight unless he observes the whole law. Now, at first, we might consider these things to be two separate issues; however, as we have been saying, Paul has to draw us back to basics in order to expose the folly of believing that we can obtain favour in God’s eyes through our own merit. Now, we have already discussed the reason why Paul adds the word ‘law’. For however much it may be commonly held that a good man can earn favour and acceptance with God, men are very seriously mistaken in such matters. Indeed, whatever we may have done, we cannot Win God’s favour, because he deserves the very best of all that is in our power. There is, therefore, no merit possible on our part (if, indeed, we may call it that), unless we fulfil the terms of the covenant he made with us, when he said that whosoever keeps the law shall obtain life and salvation (Lev. 18:5). When God uttered these words, he was prepared to accept our total obedience as worthy of salvation, but this does not, in fact, imply that we can, therefore, merit favour, for none of us have done our duty (as we shall see hereafter). Thus, the promise would have been forfeited, or at least without effect in that it would never apply to anyone, had not God sent the remedy—that is to say, unless, despite our unrighteousness, he forgave our sins, and accepted us as righteous. When Paul says that we cannot be justified by the works of the law, he means that if we claim to merit grace and salvation because God has promised that those who observe the law will be accounted as righteous, we are completely mistaken; for no one keeps the law perfectly. We must realise that we all stand guilty before God and have the sentence of condemnation hanging over our heads.
John Calvin – Salvation is by Faith Alone (Exposition of Galations 2:15-16)
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