During our service this past Sunday evening, we confessed Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 1:
- What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death,1 am not my own,2 but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ,3 who with His precious blood4 has fully satisfied for all my sins,5 and redeemed me from all the power of the devil;6 and so preserves me7 that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head;8 indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation.9 Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life,10 and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.11
1 Rom 14:7-9; 2 1 Cor 6:19-20; 3 1 Cor 3:23; Tit 2:14; 4 1 Pt 1:18-19; 5 1 Jn 1:7; 2:2; 6 Jn 8:34-36; Heb 2:14-15; 1 Jn 3:8; 7 Jn 6:39-40, 10:27-30; 2 Thes 3:3; 1 Pt 1:5; 8 Mt 10:29-31; Lk 21:16-18; 9 Rom 8:28; 10 Rom 8:15-16; 2 Cor 1:21-22, 5:5; Eph 1:13-14; 11 Rom 8:14
Sermon: The justified life is in Christ
The greatest truth that we have as Christians is also the most difficult to believe and live out. This truth is the truth of justification by faith alone, which gets to the heart of the book of Galatians and is Paul’s greatest concern for the church at large. In Chap 2, we find that Paul even has grave concern for Barnabas and Peter, Apostles, who have been led away from the truth. In Gal 3.1, Paul exclaims, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you!” In Gal 5.7, he writes: “You were running well. Who hindered you from the obeying the truth?” The truth of justification by grace, and not by works, is so important to Paul that he is outright militant in guarding it against those false teachers who are distorting it. In fact in Gal 1.9, Paul calls down nothing short of a curse upon the false teachers! In Gal 5.12, he says: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves”…
Nowhere in Paul’s writings is he more urgent in his warning to the church and nowhere is he more pointed in his attacks on false teachers, than here in the book of Galatians. So, it should follow that if something is of utmost concern to Paul, it should be of utmost concern to us as well. Therefore, let us listen carefully to Paul’s words here, which is God speaking to us through the power of his Holy Spirit.
Paul’s burden for the central biblical truth of justification by faith alone is of foundational importance to us because it deals with the ultimate matter of spiritual life and death. This teaching deals with how sinful man, you and I – in bondage to sin, death, and hell: under the law – can be freed and have life. Paul reminds the Galatians of these life-giving truths throughout the book of Galatians, and particularly in our passage this evening in Gal 2.15-21. * What I will do is focus in particularly on v20. Here Paul writes to the Galatians calling them to reject the false teaching of the Judaizers who say life is to be found in us by keeping the law. Instead, Paul calls us to find our life outside of ourselves in God, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. *
Justification is by faith and not by works of the law (vv15-19)
To begin our passage, Paul clears the road that leads to life in God by removing the obstacles of error, coming from the false teachers, which lie in the way. In vv15-16, Paul says, “we know that a man is not justified by works of the law.” This is the concrete roadblock that the false teachers have dumped in the way of the Galatians on the road to life. The Jewish false teachers want the Galatians to believe that being right with God depends on us.
For Paul, this is a detouraway from the road that leads to life, toward the fiery pits of hell. Why? Because sinful man can never meet God’s holy and perfect moral standard of righteousness to be justified, and thereby inherit eternal life. It is impossible for man! But with God all things are possible. So Paul affirms that the road of truth that leads to life is justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone, and not by works of the law. Only the righteousness of Jesus can satisfy the demands of divine justice, and we receive that righteousness by faith through the carriage of the Holy Spirit.
Paul continues his defense of this truth against the false teachers in vv17-19. In v17, Paul combats the outrageously false claim that “justification by faith in Christ” makes Jesus the servant of sin. In v18, Paul also exonerates himself for being a transgressor, because he one who now preaches Christ. Then in v19, with marvelous reasoning, Paul turns the spotlight back on the false teachers, with the words: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” The false teachers are accusing Jesus of being the author of sin, because the message of justification by faith alone levels the playing field for both Jew and Gentile. “Justification by faith” treats even the most squeaky-clean Jew, even Paul, just like those filthy Gentiles: as sinners in a need of redemption!
But Paul denies that it is Jesus who aggravates and uncovers sin in us. So what or who is it? It is the law. In other words, when Paul truly came to understand the lawas a natural man in the flesh, it stripped him of self-righteousness, exposed his sin and put him to death! It cornered Paul with its relentless demands to “perform, perform, perform,” and Paul filed for spiritual bankruptcy! The law revealed in Paul nothing but sin, death, and damnation before holy God. Therefore, Paul “died to the law”. He gave up on it, as a way to earn life before God. He gave up on the treadmill of “works of the law”, so that “he might have LIFE in God”, “by faith in Jesus Christ”.
Do you see how Paul has pinned the false teachers up against the wall, and set the Galatians free? The false teachers are blind to the reality that they are the servants of sin, ministers of death and damnation! Why? Because they are trying to find life in the law, by “works of the law” – that is, in themselves! But, they could not be more dead wrong in their thinking and acting. Their efforts are fatally futile. It is like they are trying to fly to heaven with concrete bricks strapped to their arms. Instead of ascending, they are descending into the depths of Sheol!
How heavy is the burden on your shoulders this evening?
New life in Christ (v20)
Well, if life is to be found in God according to Paul and not in the law as the false teachers wrongfully believe, then how exactly can this be? For if, as Paul says, the law exposes sin, death, and damnation in us, and therefore there is no life in us, then how do we get from death in us to life in God?
The answer lies in v20, with Paul’s words” “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 up for me.” Paul is able to make this glorious statement of truth because he as rightly followed the signpost of the law that directs us away from ourselves – our flesh – to Jesus for life. By believing in Jesus we are united to him by his Holy Spirit. This union with God means that we now share in Christ’s death as well as all the life-giving benefits he earned in his resurrection.
This is why Paul can say, “I have been crucified with Christ.” Think about it for a moment. The death we could never endure for our countless violations of the law because of sin, Jesus endured at the cross on our behalf! For, Jesus was stripped of everything, even his very life, as he underwent the full fury of God’s wrath – so that through his death we might have life. Our baptism signifies and seals the reality that we have undergone God’s judgment for sin in Jesus. Do you know what that means? It means that in Christ, you have overcome sin, death, and hell! How? Because Jesus became your law, your sin and your death!
To partake in Christ’s crucifixion, means that our sinful flesh was crucified with Christ at the cross so that we may now live in the Spirit. For Jesus did not remain under the power of death, but has been raised to the right hand of the Father in triumphant glory! As Paul says elsewhere, our life is now hidden in Jesus, in heaven (Phil 3.1-5).
This is why Paul goes on in v20, and says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” This makes more sense now, doesn’t it? For in ourselves, in the flesh, we find nothing but sin, and therefore imminent death and judgment. Again, this is what the law exposes in us. We are lifeless. We are dead. But, if we look away from the “works of the law” for our justification and put our faith in Jesus, Paul says that Jesus now lives in us, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So Paul continues further in v20: “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.”
What can make the Christian life so difficultat times is that we continue to live in bodies and in a world subject to sin. Even as Christians, we continue to live in frail and aging bodies. Even though God has made us his children, we still find ourselves frequently tempted by those same old besetting weaknesses and sins. By natural sight, it appears that nothing has changed – the same life full of the same sins. But, our life is not found here: in this world or in our flesh. Instead, our life is found by faith in the Son of God, who gave his life up for us so that we might have our eternal existence in him! We have been united to Christ by faith through the working of his Spirit, so that Paul can write in Eph 5.30, “We have become members of his flesh and bones.” Christ’s indestructible life is now our own. He is the head, and we are his body. He is the tree, and we are the branches.
The importance of believing the truth
Brothers and sisters, do you see how vitally important it is for us to believe the right things, and how these truths effect our lives? Consider again with me the false teachers. What did they believe? They believed that one is justified by the law – even if at least in part. Remember, the Pharisees, the Jews, the false teachers, were impressive on the outside, impressive to look at. They were impeccably holy according to man’s standards, impressively pious. And yet, inside their hearts were pitch black with sin: like an open putrid grave.
The thing is, the false teachers had confused law and gospel. This means that their so-called Christian living was in name only. They could just as well have been Hindus or atheists because their deeds consigned them to death and hell just like the rest of the world. They looked like the life of the religious party, but it was their party and not God’s. Therefore, it is no surprise that Paul is so fierce and cutting in his rebuke of false teachers. He wants the Galatians, he wants us to believe the right things: that we have been forgiven freely – not by giving to God and doing, but by believing! We have been set free from sin, death, and hell – from ourselves! We don’t live by sight, but by faith that lays hold of new life in Jesus.
Beloved, these truths about our justification before God are things we can never move on from in the Christian life. It is only because God has made us righteous in Jesus, that our hearts can go on beating unto eternal life. It is the reality of God’s justifying grace that motivates and empowers our hands and our feet to perform those deeds that are pleasing to God. It is the same grace that justifies, which also sanctifies. Notice how Paul reasons in Galatians 5. In Gal 5:13-14, Paul tells the Galatians that they have been called to freedom, freedom from the demands of the law and its curse (justification). And then he calls the Galatians to love (sanctification). Notice the order! It is only in knowing that we have been freed from the law for salvation that we can truly begin to live a life of love in a way that pleases God.
In Gal 5.16, Paul writes, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Now think about it: does the Spirit come from the “works of the law”? No, the Spirit comes by faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, to walk in the Spirit is to live out the justified life in love. To walk in the Spirit is to be sanctified. To walk in the Spirit is to find the power to obey and to fight temptation.
Do you want chaste eyes and clean lips? Do you want patience, kindness, joy, peace and self-control? Do you want a loving heart? They are not found in you, but in heaven, where Christ is – where your life is. God promises to work these things in us through faith by the power of his Holy Spirit, who now indwells us from the age to come.
Brothers and sisters, the knowledge that we have been justified freely by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest truth we have as Christians. But it is also the most difficult to believe and live out. I think this is an implicit message in the book of Galatians and in our passage this evening as Paul seeks to rescue the church from the deadly teaching of the false teachers. Are you struggling with sin, with the law, with unbelief? If so, then where are you looking for help?
Beloved, let us heed Paul’s warning against believing a different gospel that “nullifies the grace of God”. Let us not look in the wrong place for help. Let us not go the way that leads to destruction. But let us rather believe in Paul’s affirmation here of justification by faith, so that we might truly live unto God’s glory! This is the central truth of the bible. Therefore, let us be sure we are a part of a church that faithfully preaches it and teaches it. Amen.
Simon Jooste, RCSS, evening service (December 2, 2012)