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Gospel of Grace - Seeking Justification in Christ (Part 2)

Galatians 2:15-21

We will never become sinless as long as we live in these bodies, but, in Christ, we will learn to sin less as justified sinners through the process of justification to sanctification.

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.

My younger boy, Asher, always gets up between 4- 5 am. Usually, he eventually wakes us all up. But the other morning, my older son Arius’s yelling, screaming, and thumping woke us up. Asher was screaming, too, while running away from his brother. It was hardly 6 am. Aren’t you glad that you are not our neighbors?

I was a bit upset with Arius though, because he knows better. I began to tell him that he woke his sisters up when he interrupted and said his brother intentionally took his school picture off the wall and threw it on the floor. What Arius was doing was seeking justification for his actions.

He did not deny the situation he caused, he was simply trying to justify his actions and behavior toward the situation, which resulted in waking up the girls. To justify something is not to change something, you simply change the view of it, and how it is treated.

In our text, Paul is changing the view of how sinners are justified, treated, and are made right with God. When seeking to be justified in Christ, we do not need to change the situation. In our fallen state we are born sinners and we remain sinners even after we become Christians. What we really need is to accept that we are sinners saved by grace through faith in Christ alone and to live our lives as justified sinners.

The big question then and now is this, should we then continue to live in sin? The answer is no. Being a justified sinner does not give us a license to sin more. Rather, repentant hearts sin no more because Christ dwells in them. We will never become sinless as long as we live in these bodies, but, in Christ, we will learn to sin less as justified sinners.

A lack of understanding about this caused false brothers to convince new believers in Galatia that the gospel of grace lowers the standards of morality, hence the need for the law to keep oneself morally good and away from living in sin.

If you ever feel that your confession and repentance are not enough and that you need something more to be accepted and to feel morally good, my friend, you have neither understood the gravity of your sinful state nor how the just wrath of God cannot be satisfied with anything that you do. You have not understood what it means that “Christ loved me and gave himself for me” (verse 20).

Unless we understand, as justified sinners, that we are more loved than we can ever imagine and more forgiven than we can ever ask for, we will never understand that we are fully accepted but wicked at heart at the same time.

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?

Christ in Us

If we are seeking to be justified in Christ: we need to declare our faith publicly, looking inside at Christ in us, the source of our justification before God.

The phrase “Christ lives in me” in verse 20 is the key to fighting temptation and living a holy life. All that has been said in Chapter 2 can be boiled down to one single truth when seeking to be justified in Christ.

So far, Chapter 2 has been a public declaration of Paul’s faith both in words and action which deals with several issues that the false teachers raised. First, in verses 17-19, the Jewish theory of justification perceived that the Gospel of grace is insufficient to procure complete salvation for an individual. This was because they wanted to see an instant change in behavior. They mistook justification, which is how we are made right with God once and for all, for the lifelong process of sanctification which is how we live our life as justified sinners who experience moral and behavioral changes over time.

Secondly, the Judaizers disliked the fact that the Gospel is simple and accessible to everyone. There were no memorizations of Hebrew text, traditions, no classes, no circumcision, no water rituals, no nothing. Now anyone could become a Christian. Today, legalists would argue the same.

Thirdly, now that everyone regardless of their background, culture, lineage, and heritage could come to God by simply believing in Jesus this created a moral dilemma for the Jewish Christian community. The issue with morals and ethics is that they are very subjective and change from person to person and culture to culture. What is morally and ethically acceptable in one culture may or may not be acceptable in another culture. Now that people from other cultures and ethnic groups were coming to faith in Jesus, confrontation and confusion about morality and ethics were unavoidable. So, what was the solution?

Paul’s opponents’ proposed solution was to make Gentiles into Jews first and then into Christians so that every believer in Jesus is a Jewish Christian that follows Jewish culture. Paul’s response was that if Jewishness does not save Jews, how can it save others? Let everyone come as they are because there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles in Christ. His rationale is once they are in Christ and Christ is in them, then Christ will bring the necessary moral and ethical change. Just as Christ justifies us, He also sanctifies us.

In verse 20 Paul, using his own example, explains the process from justification to sanctification step by step: “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.”

From Justification to Sanctification

In the first step of the process from justification to sanctification, Paul voluntarily crucified himself in Christ. In the Bible, “am crucified with” is sunestauromai, which means to crucify with Christ involuntarily. We see this used for the thieves who were crucified with Christ, but here in verse 20 the grammar shows it as a voluntary action. Paul is saying that as Christ’s crucifixion was voluntary, so is mine. In John 10:17-18 Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it up again.”

Spiros Zodiates, a Greek scholar and the mentor of my mentor, commented on Paul’s voluntary crucifixion: “It was a step of further commitment and dedication that characterized Paul’s life.” He argued that the translation then should be, “I have crucified myself with Christ.” He sees this as an “act of dedication at a certain specific time that has present and continuous results.” And I believe those results show in Paul’s behavior in his daily life and turned him from a self-righteous keeper of the law, a zealous religious extremist, and a persecutor of the church into a preacher of grace through faith in Christ alone. Have you voluntarily crucified yourself in Christ?

In the second step of the process from justification to sanctification, Paul experienced a split within himself. Again, verse 20 says, “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.” Paul wants the Galatians to know the gospel has transformed him. If Paul does not need the crutches of the law for his justification and sanctification, they do not need it either.

Nevertheless, he acknowledges, two people dwell in him: One is the born-again Paul with Christ in the center of his being. The other is Paul in the flesh who continued to live in the flesh in his yet unredeemed body. Paul is in a state of constant grace as a justified sinner with the struggles of the flesh in his body.

In Romans 7:17-20 we see that he struggles like us to manage two people within: “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” This is the life of a justified sinner with Christ in him. How do you deal with the split within? How do you manage the struggle of the flesh?

In the third step of the process from justification to sanctification, Paul’s outward actions have changed. In verses 20-21, Paul is declaring his faith publicly in Christ to show his readers how the inner change of Christ in him has changed his theology, logic, and actions, thus his behavior, and the source of all of this is Christ who justifies him before God. Can we do the same? This change from the inside out has changed his identity completely, and he no longer identifies himself as a Jew or Pharisee. He no longer represents his old self but Christ in Him. His identity is no longer attached to any culture and a set of precepts of the said culture but rather to Christ in him. Denying his new identity in Christ is to deny Christ in Him. Verse 21 says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

When we seek justification through self-righteousness, religiosity, and legalism, we deny Christ in us. If you are pulled toward self-righteousness or toward self-condemnation, look inside at Christ the source of your justification, or else you will prove yourself to be a transgressor.

Verse 18 says, “For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.” How do we rebuild what we have torn down? How does it prove us to be transgressors? I believe the answer is simple. When we insert “self” into the work of God which is solely His own, we put away the merit on which we stand before God.

In many words, Paul says if you are seeking to be justified by Christ then His merit is all you need to have complete salvation and behavioral change as a result of the change that has already taken place inside of you because of Christ. The key to a change in behavior is not some strict observation of the law, but rather looking inside at Christ in us. What do you see when you look inside at Christ in you? Is he sitting on the throne of your heart? Is he the king and ruler of your heart? Is he the commander and chief of your heart? In other words, does He exercise complete sovereignty in your heart, mind, soul, and body? Or is he locked away safely like some piece of art or religious relic?

Have you ever seen a Pagani? It is an Italian-made luxury high-speed car that is supposed to be the best in the world, but the issue is no one drives them because they are collector’s items. As soon as the company puts one out, it goes into someone’s collection, never to be driven again. It becomes an art piece that sits in some wealthy person’s home as a relic. I think sometimes we utilize Jesus as a Pagani. He is there but not to rule. Put out of commission by us. He might be the most precious thing to us in the world but not for day-to-day use.


First, Make Jesus the Lord of your life. If you are already a Christian, then in humility confess and repentant of your disobedience to his complete and total rule over your heart, mind, and body. In the old days, the lords made decisions for their subjects. The subjects obeyed and lived according to the wishes of their lords. So, start there.

Second, put Christ first in everything. The idea of Christ in us is more than just uttering some words to acknowledge that He is our Savior and Lord. It demands voluntary self-crucifixion. Unless he is first in every thought, decision, and action we will always struggle to overcome our temptation and will always fall victim to either self-righteousness or self-condemnation. In both situations, we involuntarily nullify the grace of God and the purpose of Christ’s death and as a result, our behavior remains unchanged.

Third, declare Jesus as Lord publicly.

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