Good works we do in obedience to God as a result of our justification should never be confused with the reason for our justification.
Galatians 2:15-21: We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 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.
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! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 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. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Do you know that an estimated 100,000 Christians are killed every year for their identity in Christ? You may ask, what can we do to aid the persecuted Church?
Well, what do you do when a member of your family is hurting, or a part of your body is hurting? I know what I do. I pray.
On Thursday, Christine’s mom went to be with the Lord. I loaded my family into our van to spend some time with Christine. My son asked where we were going. My wife explained what happened and that we were going to give Christine a hug and a donut. He said, “You’re not gonna pray?!”
If I could, I would give a hug (and a donut) to every persecuted believer and pray. Because I can’t, I pray that they may feel the warmth of the ever-lasting love of the Father in the midst of their persecution.
Today, we join millions of Christians around the world on this International Day of Prayer for the persecuted Church. They always had the option to abandon their faith, convert, and live peacefully, but they refused. Why? Because they know that whoever loses his life for the Lord gains it and they know how they were saved.
Knowing how we are made right with God is the key to faith and perseverance. In our text today, Paul’s focus is not on what justification is but rather on how it is to be obtained. Why? because if believers know how they are made right they will stop trying to fulfill the requirements of the law. Paul lays out clearly that if one is seeking to be justified in Christ, he or she must die to the law of works so that they might live to God.
It is imperative for every person seeking to be justified in Christ to die to the law of works to live for God. What does that really mean, and why do we need to do that?
First, if we are seeking to be justified in Christ, we need to examine our doctrine, looking back at how we have been made right with God. Paul’s purpose for even mentioning Peter’s misstep of separating from the Gentile Christians is to build a case for the immediate audience of the letter: the churches in Galatia that were a mix of Jewish and gentile believers.
Unfortunately, they had fallen prey to false teachers known as the circumcision party. These Jews believed and taught that complete salvation required keeping the Mosaic Law—specifically circumcision—on top of believing in Jesus. They taught that the works of the law were necessary for their complete justification.
If Jewish Christians are not justified by the law, then why would it be a requirement for non-Jewish Christians? Their theory was that Paul’s gospel of grace and justification through faith in Christ without any works of the law would remove all benefit from and motivation for moral efforts to avoid sins. This, in their opinion, would lead to a lower moral standard than what they had under the law of Moses. If Christ led them to abandon the Law, and hence lose motivation for moral efforts to avoid sins, then Christ made those who were seeking to be justified in Christ into sinners.
Paul says that, from the perspective of law observers, Christ could be accused of being a minister of sin, but that is far from the truth of the gospel. Verses 18-19 indicate that by returning to the old covenant, they would become transgressors.
Romans 7:1-4 explain what it means to die to the law and how one becomes a transgressor “… do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2
For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”
I heard Pastor Tim Keller from New York City once share that the Gospel is slippery. I think his point was that without sound doctrine and a theological framework, we always risk losing or distorting the gospel. That is what was happening to Jewish Christians and now to the Gentile Christians.
Paul is attempting to provide a theological framework, and he invites his readers to look back at how they have been made right with God. This applies to us too. If we are seeking to be justified in Christ, we need to examine our doctrine, looking back at how we have been made right with God. Was it the law of work, or circumcision, or something else, or Jesus who died for us to set us free from the bondage of sin and the law?
It is not Christ that makes them sinners by causing them to abandon the law rather it is those who return to the bondage of the law, which makes them transgressors before the law and Christ. Most of us struggle with doing works, not because we do not believe in justification through Christ, but because we often forget how we are made right with God.
Second, if we are seeking to be justified in Christ, we need to change our logic, looking up at the cross to know how we are made free to live for God. A helpful observation in our text is that the Judaizers believed in Jesus as the prophetic fulfillment of the promised Messiah of Israel but lacked clarity on how one was justified through Christ.
They wanted to take the new covenant through Jesus, which was promised in the Old Testament, without losing the old covenant. Their logic said the law and circumcision were given by God. When you abandon the law, you abandon the God who gave the law. They wanted to keep the old justification as well as the new justification. Paul’s argument is that you cannot do that, because there is only one way we are justified, though Christ. And, if you seek to be justified in Christ, you must die to the law so that you may live for God.
Growing up in Pakistan I lacked assurance of my salvation for years. I remember thinking if only I could become a martyr for the Lord, I would surely enter heaven. Though my logic was distorted, my faith was not, and I kept it. But looking back, I see the problem: we neither had access to sound theology nor solid Bible translations to show us the truth of justification.
My dad has been a pastor in Pakistan for over 40 years now. He has been in prison a few times for building a church. He went to the best Bible school in Pakistan some fifty years age. He has one of the oldest congregations in Pakistan, with one of the largest churches in one of the most influential cities.
When I was preparing this sermon, I spoke to him to understand how he sees this passage. I was surprised to notice he had difficulty articulating and differentiating between justification and sanctification. When I looked at his Urdu Bible, I was amazed that the terms used in Urdu for justification and sanctification were similar. Church, we are privileged to have access to so many translations and institutions that teach original languages.
Paul not only wanted his readers to examine their doctrine by looking back at how they had been made right with God but also by changing their logic by looking at the cross to know how they were made free to live for God.
The logic of false brothers was to impose the law to make people act morally good. Paul’s logic was that, unless they are changed from within, it will not make a difference. Verse 20 is the key to Paul’s argument: When a person is crucified with Christ all his desires are crucified with Christ, therefore no longer the person lives but Christ in him.
Let me give you a quick summary of the old covenant and why Jewish Christians were hung up on the idea of circumcision from Genesis 17:1–14. Here God confirms His covenant to Abram that he will be a father of nations and that God will give him and his children the land of Canaan with circumcision. However, notice that circumcision was a sign of this covenant from Abraham’s side. It had nothing to do with Abraham being justified or how he was made right with God. What we do in obedience to God as a result of our justification, say good works, are for us and not God. They should never be confused with the reason for our justification.
First, if we are seeking to be justified, we need to remember how we have been justified in Christ.
Second, if we are seeking to be justified, we need to remind each other how we have been justified in Christ. This requires us to be a part of a community of believers so that we can strengthen each other with sound doctrines in times of distress.
In our small group, some of us confessed how we believed that we are completely justified in Christ, but when something bad happens to us or our families we associate that with the idea that we must have done something sinful or we must have not done enough good, such as offering more prayers, etc.
We encouraged each other by looking back at how we have been made right and looking up at the Cross to know that we have been set free completely from the bondage of sin and the condemnation that comes with it.
Third, if we are seeking to be justified in Christ, we must die to the work of the law. The question for us here is this, have we died to the law so that we may live for God?
Let me close with an excerpt from Warren Wiersbe, a Bible scholar and pastor: “Justification is not merely ‘forgiveness,’ because a person could be forgiven and then go out and sin and become guilty. Once you have been ‘justified by faith you can never be held guilty before God. … Justification is different from a ‘pardon’ because a pardoned criminal still has a record. When the sinner is justified by faith, God says, ‘I will remember their sins no more.’ (Jeremiah 31:34).”
Church, God says He remembers our sins no more. So why do we relive our sins by remembering them? Do not rebuild what you have torn down, or else you prove yourself to be a transgressor. You have been justified never to be held guilty before God.
Every time you are confronted with self-righteousness or self-condemnation, look back at how you have been made right with God and bring it to the Lord in prayers. Confess and repent before God.
Do not underestimate the power of grace, but also do not take grace for granted and continue to live in sin either. If you are seeking to be justified in Christ, pray and invite other believers to hold you accountable and pray with you. Fix your eye on the cross, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
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