Series: Identity (Student Ministry)
- Who Are You? I Am A Bearer of God’s Image (Genesis 1-3)
- Who Are You? You Are In Adam Or In Christ (Romans 5:12-21
- Who Are You? You Are Justified (Galatians 2:15-21)
- Who Are You? Christian, You Are Loved By God (Zephaniah 3)
- You Are Adopted Into God’s Family (Galatians 4:1-7)
- Who Are You? Christian, You Are United To Christ (Colossians 2:8-15)
- Christian, You Are Clothed In Righteousness (Zechariah 3)
- Christian, You Are God’s Possession: Indwelt by the Spirit and United to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
Knowing our identity is very important. I didn’t have that until much later in life than I should have. I understood being a Christian to be a type of working to please God. Christianity, as I understood it, was about listening to the proper music so that God would be pleased with me. It was about being pure in my relationships so that God would be pleased with me. It was about living a certain way so that God would be pleased with me. The cross and justification were treated as the entry point into this life and from there I was to work to make myself pleasing to God. And I did work. I won the Brandon Burlsworth Christian Athlete of the Year Award in Harrison in 2000. And months later I had done all that I could do in my own working I found myself living in incredible rebellion against God. But God brought me out of it. One day I felt the oddest thing, that this was not who I was. In the following months and eventually years God showed me through His Word who I was and part of that was that I am justified.
Being justified is being declared righteous. The Christian is justified, that is declared to be guilt free. How can this be so? Because Christ lived a perfect life, keeping the Law perfectly then He died on the cross as our substitute. He was credited with our sin on the cross and paid the punishment for it. We are credited with the righteous life that He lived and so we can be declared to be righteous.
This changed everything. I was no longer trying to earn God’s favor. I already had God’s favor because of the perfect work of Christ. And I still worked, but it was different. I wasn’t hanging on for dear life, I was working out of love for God and thankfulness of the incredible grace that He’d shown me. And there was a massive difference.
If you are a believer, then you are already accepted by God and declared to be righteous. You are not working to make yourself right with Him, Christ did that for you. We are not in a lifelong struggle to earn God’s favor, it has been freely given to us through the finished work of Christ.
In order for us to understand ourselves and our place in this world we have to understand things about ourselves. Two weeks ago, it was that you were made in God’s Image, last week it was being either in Adam or in Christ, and this week it is that we are justified. We are already declared righteous.
Again, we are not in a lifelong struggle to earn God’s favor, it has been freely given to us through the finished work of Christ.
Some history is important here for the sake of understanding. The context of this passage is a disagreement between Peter and Paul that Paul discusses at the beginning of this chapter. Now, depending on the commentator they will say that this happened either before or after the Jerusalem Council which was a meeting of church leaders in Acts 15. That meeting was a discussion of what to do with non-Jewish converts to Christianity. It was the first time that this had taken place and the group conversed about Old Testament texts and understood that Scripture did not require these converts to be circumcised, though there was a moral law that they should be taught after conversion. We are just not 100% sure of when this conversation took place. Was it before the Jerusalem Council and led to the Jerusalem Council? Or, was it after the Jerusalem Council and Paul reminded Peter of what had been decided at the Council? Either way, the church at Galatia was making the same mistake that Peter did and he is teaching them by discussing this event with Peter.
Read Galatians 2:15-21
We are not in a lifelong struggle to earn God’s favor, it has been freely given to us through the finished work of Christ. We are justified.
We Are Not Justified By Our Working. (Vv. 15-16)
This is an interesting discussion. Paul basically begins this discussion by saying, “You know that what you’re saying to people is wrong.” They were placing demands from the law upon people as a requirement for salvation. Paul begins by saying, “Hey, you guys know this is not true because it goes against your own experience.” You are Jews by nature, and not gentiles. We had the Law, we had the promises of God, we had the covenants of God and the Gentiles had nothing. Yet, you understand people are not justified, or declared right with God, by law keeping. That’s why you trusted in Christ.
The Jewish believers knew that their law keeping didn’t make them right with God, but they were placing that demand on Gentile converts. Paul makes two interesting statements here. “so that we may be justified by faith in Christ Jesus.” (V. 16b) and “since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (V. 16d). They understood that it would not succeed and so trusted in Christ. No one is justified by the works of the Law.
Martin Luther was very good when discussing the distinction between the law (what we are to do) and the gospel (what’s been done for us). He discusses here the purpose of the Law that we need to understand and see throughout the pages of Scripture.
“The proper office of the Law is to lead us out of our tents, in other words, out of the security of our self-trust, into the presence of God, that we may perceive His anger at our sinfulness.”
Martin Luther, from Commentary on Galatians, Classic Books International, 2009, p. 56
What we find here and elsewhere in Scripture is that the purpose of the law is not salvific. It drives us to Christ. We see our sinfulness and our own inability to please God on our own and it causes us to flee to Christ. The Law demands a lot from us, but gives us only a sight of our own sinfulness because we can’t meet those demands.
Without Christ you’ll one day stand before God depending on your own works to accomplish an innocent verdict. The Law helps you to see that you don’t measure up. Have you lied? Have you stolen anything? Have you always honored your parents? Where do questions like this leave you? They leave you where they leave everyone else, understanding that you do not measure up to God’s standard. No one is righteous on the basis of their own merit.
Christian, this is not just a discussion about your initial justification. It’s not just a discussion about the moment you were declared righteous. We are constantly to be trusting Christ. God has already declared you to be innocent. Your life is not about earning God’s favor, it was earned for you by Jesus Christ. He has already given that to you. So, when you are walking down the hall of your school or trying to fall asleep at night and you randomly think about your awful sinfulness, remember you are justified. You have been made right with God and are innocent in His eyes because of the perfect work of Christ.
We Are Justified By The Work Of Another: Jesus Christ (V. 16)
Imagine being in trouble for speeding and you are in court. The ticket is going to be high, and you know it. You were speeding through a children’s zone and you do not have the money to pay it. The result could be late fees adding up, being chased by a collection agency, and eventually a warrant going out for your arrest. This could be terrible. What would you think if someone stepped up and paid that fine for you? On the basis of what someone else had done for you, you are declared right in the eyes of the law.
The Jews, as we already mentioned had attempted to earn right standing before God by law keeping, but had trusted in Christ when they saw that they could not. Why does Paul say that they trusted in Christ, so that they would be justified by faith.
Justification is a declaration of righteousness from God. It is the judge from the bench giving an innocent verdict. Except in this case, not only is innocent the verdict, but also righteous. We are declared not just to be free from sin, but to be righteous as well. Why?
Christ came to Earth and lived a perfect life on our behalf. He kept the Law perfectly. He lived perfectly. Then He died on the cross paying the punishment for the sins of all who would believe. Your sins are paid for on the cross and you are declared righteous because you have been given righteousness. The news is incredible. You are justified.
How is it that we attain this justified status? By faith, Paul says. Faith is trusting, not in our own righteousness, but in Christ’s. Faith is realizing that you can’t measure up to God’s standard and trusting in the One who already has. Luther is again helpful here in his Commentary on Galatians.
“The true way of salvation is this. First, a person must realize that he is a sinner, the kind of sinner who is congenitally unable to do any good thing….The second part is this. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we may live through His merit. He was crucified and killed for us. By sacrificing His Son for us God revealed Himself to be a merciful Father who donates remission of sins, righteousness, and life everlasting for Christ’s sake. God hands out His gifts freely unto all men.”
Martin Luther, from Commentary on Galatians, Classic Books International, 2009, p. 50
You cannot do enough good things to earn a right standing with God. On your own God’s gavel will fall and He will declare that you are guilty, because you do not measure up to His standard. Salvation is found in no one else. There is nowhere else to go. There is no other way to be justified than in Jesus Christ.
We have broken God’s Law and will always be law breakers. We could not keep God’s demands and we could never do enough good to make up for the evil that we’ve done. What happens when a guy kills a woman when he is in his early 20’s and it is not found out and he does a lot of good for the next 10 years. Will he be found guilty of murder if the whole event is discovered? Of course he will. And you, because you are a law breaker could never do enough good to cover over your sinfulness.
There is no other way to escape the Judgment of God.
But for the believer, there is no more to be done to escape the Judgment of God. You are justified based on the finished work of Christ. It is finished, your salvation is complete. You are now justified.
You Are Justified: Now Rest In Your Justification (Vv. 17-20)
I love my children and I try to make that clear to them. One benefit that I hope this has for them is that they will face the challenges of life better if they can rest in knowing that their Mom and Dad love them. They are not constantly thinking that they must earn our love. Statistically, they will be more confident in their relationships as they get older. Stat after stat bears out this reality. Being assured of their parents’ love gives children confidence that is very helpful as they go forward in life. Paul is telling the Galatians something similar here. You have been made right with God. Now, you will be good, because of God’s love for you not because of the Law.
The objection that Paul is answering seems to be that thinking in these terms will cause people to be sinful. If we seek Christ and the law is abandoned won’t we become sinful? Paul’s answer is that we die to the Law when we come to faith in Christ and we are enabled to be people who do good.
His answer is interesting, that is for sure. The Law is destroyed, or rather confidence in the Law for justification. If the Galatians were to put the Law back in this place then they would be sinning. That’s not the Law’s place. The Law’s place is revelation of sinfulness, not to make us holy. Christ is the one who justified us. And, Christ is the one who causes us to grow in holiness.
When we trust in Christ we are set free from the bondage of sin. We are justified. We are also indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And we die to believing that we achieve our justification before God. We grow in holiness because of what Christ has done for us and the work of the Holy Spirit. And in this way we live by faith in Christ, not our own self-righteousness.
Don’t come to Christ by faith and then think you must work to earn God’s favor. Rest in His grace. You are secure. Christ lived and died for you and God is your Father. You are righteous in His sight. You are secure. Jesus has made you right with God, once for all time if you have trusted in Him. Don’t rebuild in your heart works righteousness as your mode of life. Don’t do that, but rest secure in Christ.
Work because Christ has worked in you rather than to earn God’s favor. There is a difference in working to earn God’s love and working because you are loved. You’ve likely seen this illustrated in your own lives. You likely have parents or teachers that you fear and work to stay in their good graces. You have also likely have parents or teachers that you love and know love you and do not want to disappoint. The latter is much greater than the former, and you know that from experience.
Christian, you love God and God loves you and you can rest in that. You can rest from attempting to earn God’s love and grace. You can rest from fear of God’s wrath and justice. We rest in this salvation and work because we are loved…because we are already justified.
Working To Earn Salvation Is Dishonoring To Christ (Vv. 20-21)
How would you feel if you gifted your parents with a new car and then they spent years working and working, making themselves sick trying to pay it back? You gave this to them as a gift and now they were trying to earn it. How would you feel? I know how I would feel. I would want to take it from them and sell it.
That is what Paul is driving at here. God has freely bestowed His grace upon His people. If you think that you can earn God’s favor then Christ died for no reason. If you can be made righteous through the Law then Christ died for no reason. Let that sink in for a moment.
If you think that you can earn God’s declaration of righteous on your own then you dishonor the work of Christ that was done for the salvation of sinners.
Either salvation is by grace or it is earned. There is no middle ground here. If you can save yourself then there is no need for a savior. Get to work. If you can keep God’s Law perfectly then there is no need for a savior. Get to keeping the Law. And to say that your working is good enough is to say that Christ’s death was unnecessary.
Christian, this may sound like something that you would never, ever say. But we fall into this trap inadvertently. We can think that we have to be good enough to pray, read our Bibles, or go to Church, when Christ has already purchased for us our justification. We are declared righteous. He has made a way for us to enter into the presence of God through His death and resurrection. No amount of law keeping will make it so that you earn your way into the presence of God. This has been freely gifted to you based on the finished work of Christ.
Christian, you are justified.
We need to understand that it’s the work of Christ alone that brings us this declaration. We are justified. We work, but our salvation, our right standing with God, our justification is found in Christ alone. We are not in a lifelong struggle to earn God’s favor, it has been freely given to us through the finished work of Christ. We are justified.
R. Dwain Minor