WAS IT IN VAIN?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Galatians2:21says, “I do not make void the grace of God: for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nought (in vain-KJV).” Galatians4:11says, “I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labor upon you in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:2 says, “By which (gospel) also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain.” Most of my life I have assumed that “in vain” in those references meant exactly the same thing, but that is not so. In my judgment, there are very few exact synonyms in the New Testament. We may say “soul” and “spirit” are synonyms, but they are not, although they may refer to the same thing. “Chair” and “table” may refer to the same thing (furniture), but they are not synonyms. “Church” and “kingdom” may refer to the same thing (God’s saved people today), but they are not synonyms. The word “church” means “the called out ones.” The word “kingdom” means “those subject to the king.” When we refer to the saved today, both words apply, but they are not synonyms. When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and Peter replied, “You know I love you,” the words translated “love” are not synonymous, for they do not refer to the same things. It is my strong conviction that God had a purpose in using the word he used, in every case, although the difference in meaning may be small.
Let us look at the expression, “in vain,” as used in the references above. In Galatians 2:21, when Paul said that if righteousness came by the law Christ died in vain, he uses the word “dorean” which is translated “freely” or “without a cause” in some other places. This is the same word that is used in Romans 3:24, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The idea is that there was no cause or merit in us that led Christ to redeem us. So, in Galatians 2:21, he is saying that if we could have been made righteous by the law, there would have been no purchasing power connected with the blood of Christ; it would have been free from any value, for we could have been redeemed without it. You may wonder how that same word can be used in 2 Cor. 11:7 when Paul says, “I preached the gospel to you freely.” He means that neither was there anything meritorious you had done that caused me to do it, nor did I get anything from you for doing it. If Galatians 2:21 had been translated “freely” we would have been shocked, for we have been assured that Christ died for us freely, and we would wonder why Paul would say that Christ would have died freely if we could have been righteous by law.
It may be hard for us to see how “Christ is dead in vain” could be the same as “Christ died freely.” But if we think of “free” meaning “it did not cost anything, nor could it buy anything, because it had no purchasing power,” then we can understand why it could be called “in vain.” For if the law could redeem our souls, then Christ’s blood was worth nothing, for it could not buy anything.
He does not mean the same thing as in 1 Cor. 15:14 when he says, “Then is our preaching vain.” Here the word is “kenos.” He means here that if Christ is not risen, our preaching has no value because it is not connected with anything worthwhile. The word is elsewhere translated “empty.” That is, it has no meaning. Do you see that our preaching might have a great deal of meaning and be good preaching, since it is based upon fact, but still be vain or useless if it were not received. But in that case, our preaching would not be “kenos” (vain because it lacked quality or value intrinsically), but vain (eike) because it had no lasting value to the person who heard it. This is the word he used in Galatians 4:11, when he says, “I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labor upon you in vain.” Any time you say something that does not have the desired effect, you have said it in vain. These words would be vain (eike), but would not be the kind of vain words Paul spoke of in Eph 5:6, when he said, “Let no man deceive you with vain (kenos) words.” Those words are vain because they are intrinsically empty and useless. The other words are vain because they are rejected and have no desired effect. The primary reason for an article like this is to encourage you to study and re-study every passage that you may find additional meaning and truths that are not apparent for the casual reader.