The justified life is in Christ (Gal. 2:20)

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

(Galatians 2:20)

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 thathe 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.

Conclusion

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)

 

Justification is by faith alone (Gal. 2:15-21)

The following is the sermon from this past Sunday evening service, November 25, 2012.

Justification is by faith alone

(Gal. 2:15-21)

The bible can basically be broken down into two parts or moods: law and gospel.  The law tells us what God requires of us, while the gospel tells us what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  When it comes to our right standing before God – what the bible calls justification – the law and the gospel are opposed to each other.  They produce radically different outcomes.  Trying to keep the law, summed up in the Ten Commandments, cannot make a sinner right before God.  It only produces spiritual death.  While having faith in Jesus Christ alone produces spiritual life.

This distinction is vital to a proper understanding of the bible and what it means to be a Christian.  And yet, there is nothing that we tend to complicate and confuse more. No matter how long you have been Christian or how serious you are about pleasing God, none of us escapes the temptation to gauge one’s acceptance before God based on keeping the law – even if just a little bit.  Our default mode, even as Christians is to trust in ourselves.  Why?  Because as sinners we naturallyprefer the law to the gospel: we prefer to “just do it”.  The law is written on our hearts or conscience, and it calls for action.  The gospel, on the other hand, is something that comes as good news from outside of us.  It is foreign news from God: a message we would never come up with.  It tells us to cease striving and rest because everything necessary for peace with God “has been done” – just believe it!  Yet, our faith is often weak and we are prideful, and therefore we don’t always believe this message from God.

Brothers and sisters, our natural tendency to confuse law and gospel is the struggle of the Christian life, and the greatest danger to the church and its ministry.  The bible bears ample witness to this fact.  One place that provides striking evidence of this is the book of Galatians.  Here, Paul writes to Christians in the church at Galatia who are in grave danger at the hands of Jewish false teachers who are teaching that justification comes through keeping the law.  Therefore, he admonishes the church to return to the gospel of grace.

In Acts 13-14, we learn of Paul’s first missionary journey to the southern part of Galatia where he and Barnabas preached the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.  However, since then certain Jewish Christians had perverted the gospel by mixing it with the law.  Paul distinguishes them from the rest of the congregation as false teachers or Judaizers.  In fact, he calls down nothing short of a curse upon them.  So subtle and powerful was the influence of these false teachers that we read in Galatians 2:11-14 that even Peter was tempted to believe the law as necessary for being right with God.  Friends, this fact should serve as a warning to us lest we think we are better than Peter, one of Christ’s foremost disciples.  Let us all therefore humble ourselves and heed Paul’s words – God’s Word of life – to us this evening.  * What the Holy Spirit wants to teach us from Gal 2.15-21 is that our justification before God is by faith alone in Christ alone, and not by the works of the law. *

Justification by faith and not by works (vv15-16)

Paul’s words in vv15-21 can perhaps be described as re-laying the granite foundation of justification for a church that has been sinking in the quicksand of false teaching.  In v15, Paul clears the way for the first layer of granite upon which he will build the rest of his argument.  He begins by affirming that he and Peter are like the false teachers in that they too are Jews.  Like God’s OT people, they too have enjoyed special treatment by virtue of their physical line of descent.  Remember, the Jews were God’s set apart and “holy” people, in contrast to Gentiles who have been strangers to God’s covenant, and were therefore considered by the Judaizers as unholy or unclean.  But Paul is interested in going beyond his Jewish ethnicity and his privileged OT background, which are things of the past.

Yes, Paul is an ethnic Jew by birth and this counts for something in this world.  But when it comes to being right with God, it counts for nothing.  Therefore, Paul is wholly unimpressed with the false teachers and their smug system of “do it yourself” religion, which ranged from circumcision to endless rules for bodily cleanliness, otherwise known as the OT ceremonial law.  Paul will have none of it in the church because he knows holy God cannot endure it.  The fundamental point that runs through this entire passage and the whole book of Galatians for that matter is this: When it comes to being right with God, he does not want our “good” works, whether we are Jewish or not, whether we are born into a so-called Christian nation, or a Christian family or not.  Rather, he wants us to trust in Jesus who has worked on our behalf so that our sins can be forgiven.

Hence, that base slab of granite slides irreversibly into place in v16 with the words: YET, we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Christ.  Here Paul explicitly introduces the language of justification.  Now we must understand that justification – being forgiven by God – is a legal and moral matter.  What this means is that because God is perfectly righteous and just, he can only accept those who are perfectly holy.  In other words, he will only enter into an eternal relationship with those who are perfectly obedient to his law.  So, the scene that Paul is creating for us here is something like this.  Paul is putting the false teachers on trial in God’s courtroom of justice with rest of the church looking on from the gallery, including you and I.  The Judaizers are being judged for taking the law into their own hands and are defending themselves before God on the basis that they can “do it.”  In their pride, they believe they have acceptable evidence to prove that they are doers of God’s law, and therefore acquitted of guilt before God on the basis of their works.

But Paul knows that the Judiazers and the evidence of their religious efforts will never survive God’s judgment.  Why?  For one, “works of the law” include Jewish ceremonial laws that are no longer applicable to Christians in the NT.  Therefore, the false teachers are focusing on keeping rules that were for the OT only.  What is more, the Judaizers fail to understand that “works of the law” extend beyond ceremonial laws to include God’s moral law that is summed up in the Ten Commandments.  The moral law calls us to love God with all our heart, soul strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.  The moral law of God cuts right to the heart and demands everything of us: total obedience from our heart and our hands.  God’s law demands, exacts, will settle for nothing less than perfect, perpetual obedience.  Holy God will accept nothing less.  So, how do the false teachers shape up?  Pathetically!  Why?  Because they can do not better than any sinner since the Fall of man, which is to offer up works corrupted by sin that don’t even start to measure up to God’s holy bar of justice. Therefore, the law leaves all mankind guilty as charged, separated from God and spiritually dead.

This is why Paul is so emphatic that justification does not come through keeping the law, but “through faith in Jesus Christ.”  Do you see how the two different “grounds” for being right with God – obedience to the law and faith in Jesus – cannot be more diametrically opposed to each other?  Instead of working to satisfy God, Paul calls us to receive and rest upon the works of another who did satisfy God, which is Jesus Christ.  Doesn’t it seem naturally absurd?  Think about it?  The world turns on the basis that reward follows human effort and bad things come to those who don’t perform well.  And our conscience confirms this.  But the gospel turns this thinking on its head!  God calls us to stop working, and rather believe and trust.  The gospel message tells us to stop looking within ourselves, but instead by faith look outward to Jesus Christ alone for our salvation.

Death and damnation through the law (vv17-19)

So, in v16 Paul has put back in place the foundational slab of gospel granite under the feet of the Galatians who have been sinking in the quicksand of false teaching.  Are your feet perhaps slipping?  Are you perhaps sinking because you are thinking too highly of your own good deeds and at the same time thinking too lowly of the demands of God’s law?  Have you perhaps never repented of your sins and put your trust in Jesus?

In vv17-18, Paul continues to reinforce his foundational defense of justification by faith alone by clearing up another point of confusion on how law and gospel relate to one another.  His particular concern in these two verses is how the lawworks.  In v17 Paul addresses one of the errors of the false teachers by forcing them to consider their faulty logic in light of God’s Word.  He reasons as follows.  If Paul and Peter – Jews – have turned their backs on “works of the law” for justification in Jesus, and in doing so show that they are no better than dirty Gentile sinners, does this, as the Judaizers claim, make Jesus the author of sin? (x2) In other words, because Paul’s choice to follow Jesus makes out so-called “holy” Jews to be no better than filthy Gentile sinners, does this then make Jesus a “servant of sin”?   Has Jesus become the aggravator or provoker of sin?  Paul states emphatically: “Certainly not!”

But how is this so?  In v18 Paul explains from his own ministry as an Apostle.   Remember, once upon a time Paul persecuted the church because he believed that keeping the Jewish law, as opposed to believing the gospel, made him right with God.  Philippians 2 tells us that Paul excelled all his peers in observing the Old Testament law.  And yet all this changed with Paul’s conversion experience on the Road to Damascus.  Since then Paul’s life ambition and ministry to the church has been to tear down the faulty foundation of “works of the law” and replace it with the granite foundation of the gospel.  Therefore, Paul reasons that if he were to rebuild the sandcastle of works that he had torn down, he would “prove himself to be the transgressor or sinner.”  Why?  Because in so doing he would be going back to his pre-gospel days, in which he was a minister of the law and not the gospel!  This would mean he and the rest of the world would be left helplessly exposed as sinners and without hope.  This would make Paul the minister of sin and death.  But this conclusion is ridiculous to Paul.  Hence, the false teachers are wrong on two accounts: neither Jesus nor Paul is the author and aggravator of sin.  So, who or what is?

Paul provides the answer in v19: “For through the law, I died to the law, so that I might live to Christ.”  Here again Paul speaks from his own experience, an experience of the Holy Spirit common to all Christians, but all too easily obscured by our pride.  Basically Paul says that he came to know himself to be a sinner through the law.  Therefore, it is not Jesus or Paul, but the law that exposes sin in us.  It is the law, with its relentless expectation of perfect obedience that penetrates right to the heart, which provokes us to sin.  The law tells us what to do, but we cannot do it because we are sinners.

Through the law, Paul realized he was guilty as charged in God’s courtroom of justice.  The law stripped him of his fig-leaves of self-righteousness so that he stood filthy before God on account of his sin – with no personal defense.  As a result, Paul “died to the law” as a means of justifying himself before God.  Paul gave up on trying to use the law to become right with God.  Why?  Because it exposed nothing but sin and death in him.  Contrary to the false teachers, Paul claims that his knowledge of sin and his death through the law, actually led him to find life in God.

Do you see the dramatic way in which Paul has turned the tables on the self-assured false teachers?  They thought that they could find spiritual life in the law, and therefore promoted it zealously in the church.  But in reality they were the hopeless transgressors and ministers of death and condemnation.  They had failed to understand the proper role of the law in justification.  For Paul argues in Galatians 3 that the law is like a teacher or schoolmaster that exposes sin us and drives us out of ourselves: so that we might truly “live to God.”  The law shows us the deadness of our own works so that we might find eternal life in Jesus Christ.

Life and justification through Christ (vv20-21)

So if Paul has given up on the law and has condemned the false teachers for trusting in it for forgiveness, how exactly has God dealt with the problem sin in us that the law reveals?  Paul tells us in v20.  Our problem of sin has been overcome because we have “been crucified with Christ.”  At the cross Jesus endured the wrath and judgment of God due for our sin.  He was condemned for our guilt and cursed for our lawbreaking.  And we, through the power of the Holy Spirit have become participants in Christ’s crucifixion by faith, and also in his resurrection unto life.  For Paul goes on: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”  For Christ did not remain under the power of death, but he was raised to new life at the right hand of God.  In his resurrection Jesus justified himself before the father.  He fulfilled his mission of keeping every last jot and tittle of the law and dying for the sins of mankind, and being raised in victory, thereby overcoming the power of sin and death.  Jesus has therefore become the source of life for sinners, for us.  This is why Paul can say, v20b, that “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.”

Friends, if you believe in Jesus this evening, Christ’s justification has become your justification, and therefore Christ’s life has become your life.  It is all of grace and not at all by works of the law.  This is Paul’s message to the Galatians, to us this evening, which cuts through our natural tendency to confuse law and gospel, and our impotent efforts to earn favor with God.  Are you still trusting in yourself to be right with God?  Do you think, perhaps very subtly that God might be impressed with your spiritual devotion and discipline, your love for your neighbor and your good deeds?  If you are, you are in danger of nullifying the grace of God.  For Paul says in v21, “if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”  To trust in the law is to deny the gospel, and to go back under the law and its relentless demands that we can never meet and its damnation we can never endure.  This is sinking sand.

Let us rather renew our faith this evening in God’s Word from Paul, which is the granite of the gospel beneath our weak and faltering knees.  Let us find our rest anew in God’s free grace, and therefore cease working for our justification this day and forevermore.  For it is only once we believe that we have been forgiven in Christ alone that we can truly please God in our Spirit-empowered obedience to the law in faith and out of gratitude for his mercy.  Amen.

 

Simon Jooste

RCSS evening service, November 25, 2012