We’re beginning a brief series that I’m calling “The Forensics of Faith.” Spiritually and theologically, there are a number of things that happen when we come to faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but to name a few:
We are regenerated, that is to say, given new Spiritual life.
When we come to faith, we are justified. We are adopted as a child of God. We are baptized in God’s Spirit.
And so over the next few weeks, we are going to be looking at some of these very important Spiritual milestones that happen in the life of a Christian.
And today, we will be looking at the subject of justification. Justification is to be in right legal standing before God.
These topics are worth exploring, first and foremost, because God thought they were worth revealing to us in his book. I also think that studying these passages will point us to the grace that God offers to all who accept it.
As I mentioned a moment ago, this week, we look at justification.
At the moment we come to faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are justified, we are forgiven by God.
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
17 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! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
For hundreds of years, the Jews had observed the Laws of the Old Testament. It regulated worship, sacrifices, diets, the calendar. It provided moral guidance.
It had been hugely important. It had shaped the culture of the Jewish people. The Law had distinguished them from other nations and groups.
But then you have the Lord Jesus who comes and fulfills the Law. He had come as the Messiah, the savior that the Old Testament and prophesied, and promised, and pointed to.
So imagine you’re in the first century. It’s the early Church. What do you do with the Law? Is it still good? Do you still have to follow it?
These were questions that they were trying to figure out in the early church. The earliest Christians were Jewish people. They had grown up observing the Law. But the gospel was meant to be preached to all the world (Matthew 28:20). And so you also began to have gentiles, that is, non-Jewish people who were coming to faith in the gospel.
What about them? Did they need to observe the Law? Did Jewish Christians need to observe the Law? What did the Law do? Some groups wanted to impose the Law upon new believers. That’s actually part of the reason why Paul wrote the book of Galatians.
Was God’s acceptance going to be impacted based on our obedience to the law? To these commands?
But what this passage will explain today is that the answer is no. God does not accept us based on what we do because we cannot do enough to make ourselves acceptable.
On top of all of that, Paul is addressing a specific controversy related to another Apostle. Peter.
The beginning of this chapter talks of the apostle Peter enjoying fellowship and meals with new Christians who had never been Jewish and who weren’t observing the law.
But an influential group pressured Peter for going against the Old Testament law. And so Peter, under pressure, discontinued his fellowship with these new, non-Jewish Christians (Galatians 2:11-14).
And Paul has a problem with this. Peter was in the wrong. A person could follow aspects of the law if they chose to. But Peter was removing himself from fellowship from people who weren’t following the Law when observance of the Law is not the basis of our relationship with God.
What Peter was doing was not in step with the gospel or Christian love. And so Paul is explaining the ultimate importance of faith, and the justifying work of Christ being the basis for our acceptability before God.
The main idea: Jesus saves us because we cannot save ourselves.
I. Faith vs Law
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;
Paul and Peter had the huge advantage of knowing the Law of God. They were Jewish!
When he talks about sinful gentiles, he’s talking about these non-Jewish Christians. A group that almost all of us in this room fall into. Paul seems to be somewhat tongue and cheek here.
“Peter! We were Jewish. We were in God’s chosen people. We had the law. We knew the will of God. Not like these heathen gentiles.”
They were Jews by birth…
But in verse 16, Paul will explain why that ultimately didn’t do them any good. Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law
He’s showing the common ground that they have. Paul says “We agree that we can’t be justified by our actions.
A person is not justified by works of the law.
Why is Paul saying that a person can’t be justified by works of the Law?
There are a couple reasons why we can’t be. First, because we can’t live up to it. We can’t actually follow the will of God. And it’s as true for us today as it was for people at the beginning of the church. No one is righteous.
We are sinful. It’s not that we sin sometimes, or that we’re basically good but not perfect, we’re sinners. That’s an increasingly unpopular idea in our self-esteem oriented, live and let live culture. But the Bible says we sin. Jesus shows that we sin so much that we needed him to come to redeem us.
Secondly, because the Law cannot save a person. The law can’t do what it was never intended to do. The purpose of the Law was never for us to be righteous by it.
It was never intended to make a person right with God.
Before the law was given, God made a promise to Abraham in the book of Genesis. In a passage that we cite often here, when God had made his promise to Abraham, it says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. Paul actually refers to that in Galatians 3.
Before the Law was given, we are shown that what actually matters is belief, faith. The faith that Abraham had was in the promise of God. So it was never: well in the Old Testament, they had the law and now we have Jesus. It has always been about faith and trusting in the Lord.
So Paul tells Peter “a person is not justified by works of the Law.”
Again, to be justified is to be right with God.
It’s that when God judges you, he will not look at what you’ve done. He will look at what Jesus has done for you. By faith in the truth of that, it is credited to us as righteousness. We are justified. For some people that seems too easy. But as we discussed last week, it’s a sincere belief in the redemption that comes through Christ, God gives us new life. But the fruit of sincere regeneration, of truly having been justified is a life that is changed by the gospel.
But our obedience, our morality, our good behaviors, none of that is the basis by which we are justified. We are not justified by our works. We are justified by the works of Christ.
I read a story about a college professor. It was time for the final exam. The professor placed a test face down on each student’s desk and told them to wait until he started the time to turn over their exams. When the time came, the students turned over the tests, and each exam had their name already written on it in red. The answers to the questions had all been filled in.
On the final page of the test, a note was written: “This is the end of the exam. All the answers on your test are correct. You will receive an A on the final exam. The reason you passed the test is because the creator of the test took it for you. All the work you did in preparation for this test did not help you get the A. You have just experienced grace.”
The professor then went around the room asking students, “What is your grade? Do you deserve the grade you are receiving? How much did all your studying for this exam help you achieve your final grade?”
“Some things you learn from lectures, some things you learn from research, but some things you can only learn from experience. You’ve just experienced grace. One hundred years from now, if you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, your name will be written down in a book, and you will have had nothing to do with writing it there.”
When we come to Jesus in faith, he takes the test for us. He went before the judge for us and accepted our punishment. We had a debt that we could never pay and he paid it for us. Everything we have is because of the work of Christ.
A person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
With the Law of God, it shows the holiness of God. It shows our inability to actually follow it because we are sinful. It points us to our need for grace from God and that grace is found in what Jesus did for us. Us being pretty good is not good enough for a perfect and holy God. But the good news is that Jesus did live that life. He is the one who was truly innocent, but took the charges of the guilty so we could be justified. God on earth as the only one worthy to bring people to heaven.
We are not justified by works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews tells us it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).
And we can hear this. And we can say we believe it. But it’s so hard to accept. We constantly want to fight making our relationship with God about our performance.
Ask a person if they believe there’s a heaven, they’ll probably tell you yes. Ask them if they think they’re headed there, they’ll almost undoubtedly tell you yes. Ask them why and most people will say….what…
“Because I’m a good. person.”
The issue with that idea in our text, and the Bible as a whole is that it says you’re not a good person! You are not justified by works of the Law! And you are not made right with God by what you do. And in our world, that gets proclaimed as if it’s the gospel. Just be good.
But we are not justified by works of the law. Jesus saves us because we cannot save ourselves. Not only does Jesus save us, but he totally save us. It’s not that he saves us from what we’ve done in the past but now it’s up to us to get it right. It’s not that we try and we’re basically pretty good God but for those areas where we couldn’t quite live up, God picks up the rest of our tab. It’s not 50/50. It’s not even 90/10. It’s 100-zero. Jesus saves us entirely. You contribute nothing to your own salvation.
Jesus saves us because we cannot save ourselves. And I know I keep beating that drum this morning. But it can be such a hard thing for us to truly believe. I think we like to feel a sense of control. Like part of it is on us. Like if we’re being good, we deserve certain things.
we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law.
We are justified by faith, and nothing else. Jesus saves us because we cannot save ourselves.
The more we have an understanding of the Law of God, the more we see how we fail to measure up. We can mock the law and cite things that seem irrelevant, but the heart of the law is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). Are we doing that? Are you loving God with all that we have? You are not. We are constantly taking our eyes off of God, we are constantly choosing to do what we want over what God wills.
The law says to love your neighbor as yourself? Have you done that? Can we agree that it would be virtuous to do that? Of course we can, but we haven’t done it. The Law says that we aren’t to lie. Have we honored that completely? The law says we aren’t to be preoccupied in wanting other people’s things. With the things that we don’t have. We have failed on the main points; we have failed on the small points. We are totally incapable of following the Law. And the more we understand the law of God, the more we know we cannot follow it. We stand condemned and guilty for a crime that we have committed every day of our lives.
Understanding the law shows us our failure to measure up. And then it shows us our need for grace. And God came to earth for us and followed the law. He followed it perfectly and completely. And he did that for you.
Jesus loves you. A personal God loves you enough to die for you. You might think “well I didn’t ask him to do that.” There was no other way! We can reject this idea of faith and still want to rely on our own good lives. But the Bible repeatedly says that that is not an option. Jesus loved us enough to provide a way for imperfect people who do not deserve him to be with him.
If we are justified by Jesus than we are not justified by our actions. If we are justified by our actions, then we are not justified by Jesus.
End of verse 16: because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Who will be justified by works of the Law?
The grace of God is given to us. We accept what has freely been given. But we can’t earn what has already been given. When a Christian acts as though faith isn’t enough on its own, we are saying that his glory isn’t enough, that his perfection isn’t enough, that his death and resurrection aren’t enough, that he needs us to help.
It’s a blasphemous idea. Jesus saves us BECAUSE we cannot save ourselves.
To say that you believe in Jesus. And then to think that it’s not really about faith in him. To think there are other ways to him, that’s looking to the cross. That’s looking at what Jesus has done. The death he died and saying “what you did doesn’t really matter. I’m going to make my own way.”
But there is no other way. You can’t approach the God who said that he was the way as if you can make your own way.
No one can earn it. No one can climb up to God on their own. But that’s nothing to despair because the good news is that God came down here for us. And it is through him that we are justified. We can’t earn God, we can’t make ourselves worthy, but thanks be to God that we are not helpless because he has come into this world.
It is about faith. It is by faith that we are justified. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says that God justifies the ungodly. He doesn’t justify people who earn it. No one can. He justifies the ungodly. (Romans 4:5).
Have you trusted in Jesus? Or do you ultimately trust in yourself? In your life? What you’re doing. There’s nothing to earn. It’s about realizing that you’re a sinner in need of grace and turning to Christ. That is the only way to God.
Jesus saves us because we cannot save ourselves.
II. Objections to Paul
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!
Paul is making reference to being justified in Christ. And he asks if this means that Christ promotes sin. That justification by faith is a license to sin. And Paul rejects this idea.
All of this raises a question that has existed since the beginning of the Church.
If you want to say that we can’t be good and that it’s all about faith, then why not just do whatever you want?
If Jesus is going to forgive me anyway, what difference does it make? Don’t we lose all incentive to be good people?
In Romans 6, Paul says: Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! (Romans 6:1-2)
That is not what Paul is advocating. He’ll talk in verse 20 about Christ being in him. In the same way, the Lord is in all believers. You have to have faith. Real faith. Not just emptily saying you believe in something to excuse debauchery and sin. But we still must understand that even when we follow things that are in step with the will of God, our obedience to these things is. not. our. salvation.
The great 19th century preacher Charles, Spuregon made this great point:
“Justification by faith does not make us think lightly of sin. On the contrary, it creates in us such love to God that we loathe the very idea of offending him. For the tendency of the gospel of grace is to excite the gratitude in those who receive it. If I am freely pardoned, then I must love him who has thus generously forgiven me. Gratitude is the root of true virtue and the mainspring of all holiness.”
When we truly begin to understand the grace of God, the forgiveness we have, it makes us want to live for God. Not to test the limits. That attitude shows a person who doesn’t really get the gospel. That we were totally separated from God and dead in sin. That there was no way. That we did not deserve God because our sin was that great. It was certainly great enough that we couldn’t look upon the splendor and majesty of heaven and say “I deserve this.”
That we willingly and freely and daily chose do go our own way but that God freely forgave us.
A few chapters from now, Paul talks about the “fruit of the Spirit.” And part of the point with talking about how things like love, joy, patience are the fruit of the Spirit are that these are things produced by the Holy Spirit in a person who has the Spirit. So it’s not about haphazardly saying you have faith when you really don’t care. Faith produces fruit. The gospel makes an impact. I’ll have more to say about that, Lord willing, in two weeks.
But. When we hear the message of forgiveness, the response doesn’t need to be to hear it and then going right back to trying to earn God’s love or approval. It’s what Paul says in verse 18.
Verse 18: For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
Rebuilding what was torn down. Paul says “I prove myself to be a transgressor.” He’s saying with all that we know about the gospel and grace, to continue to put our faith in our performance would, in itself, be a sin.
It would be like after America had won the Revolutionary War, still expecting someone to be loyal to the British king. But that wouldn’t make sense anymore. Because the British laws were not in effect anymore.
Rebuilding what was torn down.
Imagine that you find yourself in a body of water. Suddenly waves start crashing down on you, you’re disoriented, you begin to feel helpless and you struggle. And then you get rescued by some boaters. They save you. It’s not you and them. They. save. you.
To then go back to Law would be like getting onto their boat, and deciding to jump right back into the water. Jesus wants us to trust in him and him alone for our salvation. He is our hope. You can’t save yourself when you’ve already been saved. It’s not that this law was pointless. But the point of it was never to save. As I’ve already said, the law points to the holiness of God.
The law might not be in force or something we’re required to follow anymore but it is still valuable. The holiness of God… If it’s something we never think about, I can see how so many of us struggle to accept that we don’t measure up on our own. The Bible proclaims the glory, goodness, righteousness, and perfection of God.
And to begin to understand that is life changing.
We find life in Jesus, we realize that it is not in the law.
III. Paul’s response
Verse 19: For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.
Paul says that he has died to the Law. We’re dead to the Law in the sense that we are not subservient to it.
In Romans, Paul says that he is dead both to the law and to sin (Romans 6:11). It’s the idea that in being in the new life that is found in Jesus, we are no longer under the penalty of sin. And in not being under the penalty of sin, we are logically not under the Law since we are under grace.
We are justified by faith and faith alone. And for the person who is in Christ, who has faith in the gospel, you will be not be anymore justified 10 minutes after being in heaven than you are right now. You are justified, freely forever. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
We live for God. If you’re here today and you’re saying that you believe in Jesus but you don’t actually care about living for him, do you really appreciate the grace that has been offered to you? The gospel is something to cherish. It’s something to take joy in. It’s something to love. It’s the salvation of God that he has given to us.
We understand it, and we grow in a deeper appreciation for it. We have a deeper understanding of how great our sin is. So great that the only way for it to be forgiven was for Jesus to take the penalty for us. And we grow in gratitude for what God has done. We live for him. It’s not about living in fear of if we measure up. Because we don’t measure up!
But Jesus does and Jesus has come for us. He has come to give us life.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
Now obviously we haven’t literally been crucified with Christ. We have been crucified with him in the sense that he was crucified for us. He received a substitutionary crucifixion on our behalf.
We have died with him so that we can live with him. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. When we place our faith in God, we are given the Spirit of God.
Christ lives in you. And living by his will no longer becomes about thinking that we’re earning fuel perks. It’s about recognizing the life that is found in his teaching and word. It’s having a desire to live by that, and for him.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
We live by faith. We are justified by faith. We receive the forgiveness through faith. And the righteousness of Jesus is given to us.
We still do commit sins, in reality but we are forgiven. Just because the judge says you’re not guilty doesn’t mean that you’re a good person. And in fact, when we are justified we are forgiven of sin even though we still do sin. We continue to struggle. We continue to wrestle with problems. But there is infinite grace because God is faithful. There is infinite grace because an all-powerful God went to the cross to forgive all who trust in him.
We can be forgiven because we have a wonderful savior, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who redeems us. He justifies us. We are justified by faith, but that would be impossible without first having a savior who’s life and death were lived through which we could be justified. Jesus lived that life. And he did it for you.
I know sometimes I slip up. Maybe I say or do something I shouldn’t do. Maybe I don’t really treat someone as kindly as I should. Maybe it’s not something outward but I just allow myself to be discontent with circumstances, and I lose sight.
But I can be so self-condemning sometimes. Like I’m back to square one, like I’ve thrown it all away.
Or like I’m climbing that ladder up to God and just got knocked down a few rungs. That’s not the gospel. We have assurance of our forgiveness. All of our sins are forgiven at the cross. Jesus loved you and gave himself for you.
Verse 21: I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
I do not nullify the grace of God. When we live and act as though we’re earning grace, we are acting like the grace of God isn’t freely given. Like it’s not really there for us.
Martin Luther says that when we do this, we act like Jesus is “utterly unprofitable.” He asks, “Why was he born? Why was he crucified? Why did he suffer?”
None of these make any sense if we find grace in the law and in ourselves.
Christ died for nothing, Paul says. He died for nothing if salvation can be earned. And I know professing Christians who don’t accept that Jesus is the only way. They think about the people they know who they deem to be “good people,” and think that surely they are justified, even if they are living totally Godless lives. Then why did Jesus die? Does his grace just extend to everyone, regardless of if they want it or not? That’s a manmade gospel that leads people in darkness and affirms that a person can just do whatever they want and that it doesn’t matter. It is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. That idea is not found anywhere in scripture.
He died for nothing if our righteousness were through our obedience to the law. But it is not. We are imperfect. We could never follow the law. But Jesus followed it for us. He shows us the perfection of God on earth.
So I ask a question as we wind down. What do you believe about Jesus? What do you believe about his role in your salvation?
Do you believe that he loved you enough to justify you freely?
I think one of the traps we can fall into with the gospel is believing it and then saying “I need to try harder.” And then we slip up and we say we “really need to work on it.” We’ve already been given the forgiveness.
There are things that God wills for us to do. These commands are reiterated in the New Testament.
But there’s a difference between doing them because we think they’re making us right with God vs doing them out of our love for God. Out of a knowledge that since it’s from God, that it’s a better way to live. That it’s pointing to joy and life in the Lord.
Again, the text and the book of Galatians weren’t written to tell us we can do whatever we want and nothing matters. It was written to tell us faith in God is what saves.
Fear of punishment does not need to be our motivation to follow God’s will. Our motivation is the love for God and recognition that his ways are true and good. I went through this passage with the students, and I said “you know your parents will love you no matter what. But that doesn’t mean you respond by wanting to be as bad as possible.”
Maybe you don’t really believe in the gospel. But you wish that you knew God. But you carry so much shame or regret that you act like you need to take care of how messed up you are before you can even think about getting to know God.
That you act like you, in reality, need to climb up part of the way to be worthy of him picking you up the rest of the way, like you need to help yourself along. No, God takes you where you are, as you are. It’s not climbing part of the way up, for him to get into a better position to reach you.
Jesus saves us fully. He saves us because we cannot save ourselves. What do you believe about him really?
Do we relegate Jesus to a source for some good moral teachings but act like we are saving ourselves? Do we pick and choose what teachings to believe and invent a good Jesus who’s not a savior? Do we believe in him and say the right answers but still have our faith rooted in how “good” we are? Is your life of faith a constant struggle of needing to try harder?
If you’ve never trusted in Jesus, know that we have a God who loves you so much that he came for you. He knew you couldn’t measure up, but he came to save.
If you know that Jesus is Lord, let us not rebuild what has been destroyed. Let us not struggle in earning what has already been done for us.
Jesus came to save us because we cannot save ourselves.
We accept it and continue to know him and to live by the truth of his word. We have faith. We trust in what God has done, and the grace that is freely given. We are justified by faith in Jesus, and by nothing else. Jesus came to save us because we cannot save ourselves.