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An Exploration of Galatians: Justified by Faith
Galatians 2:15-21 - We are justified through Faith in Jesus because no one person can come to God through the Law
““We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, 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; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.””
Galatians 2:15-21 NASB1995
Paul continues his argument against Peter and the Judaizers in what is considered one of the most compelling arguments against salvation (justification) by works of the law, but only through faith in Jesus. These final verses of Chapter 2 are considered by many scholars to be one of the greatest treatises of the embodiment of the Christian faith in the New Testament. It is, however, quite challenging to understand completely by simply reading it (even over and over again). Paul was obviously speaking with heartfelt emotion and, as I have found over the years, he loves those run-on sentences. I found a great explanation in Precept Austin of the repetitive nature of the language that centers on the word “justified” and how to decipher those words:
Since this [these] verse(s) is [are] repetitious and can be somewhat confusing here is a summary of what Paul is saying. He is declaring that salvation is only through faith in Christ and not by keeping the law and he says it three times each with a slightly different sense:
THE GENERAL TRUTH: nevertheless knowing that A MAN is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus,
THE PERSONAL TRUTH: even WE have believed in Christ Jesus, so that WE may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law;
THE UNIVERSAL TRUTH: since by the works of the Law NO FLESH will be justified.
So what is justification? Accessing the lexicon in the Blue Letter Bible, “justified” is from the Greek word δικαιόω or dikaioo with the following meanings in scripture:
to render righteous or such he ought to be
to show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered
to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be
Precept Austin interprets the three uses of justified through faith in Christ as a general truth (for a person), as a personal truth (for me or us) and as a universal truth (no person can be justified to God through works of the law).
Paul goes on to stop the argument on the part of the Judaizers that conformation to the law (or at least some aspects of the law) was required because, in their eyes, faith just doesn’t seem to be enough to “justify” salvation. Christ is not a minister of sin, however, because if you rebuild the sinful nature through trying to follow the Law for what He has destroyed by His mercy, you are a transgressor. For through the Law, the believer dies to the Law so that they might live with God. I have a fairly lengthy excerpt from Enduring Word to help my understanding (and the reader’s understanding) of this because it is so well-stated:
But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Now Paul dealt with an objection that the certain men from James would raise. It’s important to remember that Paul made this statement publicly, with the concerned parties right in front of him. On one side of the room were the certain men from James, who believed that God would not accept the Gentiles unless they put themselves under the Law of Moses. Peter sat with these men and so did Barnabas, who was Paul’s best friend. In fact, all the Christians of Jewish background sat with these Christians from Jerusalem who didn’t believe that the Gentiles in the church at Antioch were really saved at all. In a real-life setting like this, Paul couldn’t just speak his mind without answering the objections – spoken or unspoken – of those who disagreed with him.
As the men from Jerusalem saw it, the idea that we are made right before God by faith in Jesus alone wasn’t “real” enough. After all, Christians still struggled with sin. How could they have the “accepted by God” issue settled if they still battled sin? In their thinking, this made Christ… a minister of sin, because Jesus’ work of making them right with God apparently didn’t make them right enough.
“If God justifies bad people, what is the point of being good? Can’t we do as we like and live as we please?” (John Stott)
Certainly not! Paul’s answer was brilliant. First, yes, we seek to be justified by Christ and not by Jesus plus our own works. Second, yes, we ourselves also are found sinners, that is, we acknowledge that we still sin even though we stand justified by Christ. But no, this certainly does not make Jesus the author or approver of sin in our life. He is not a minister of sin.
“To give a short definition of a Christian: A Christian is not somebody who has no sin, but somebody against whom God no longer chalks sin, because of his faith in Christ. This doctrine brings comfort to consciences in serious trouble.” (Martin Luther)
For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor: Paul’s answer was subtle but brilliant. If he were to build again a way to God through keeping the Law of Moses, then he would make himself a transgressor. Essentially Paul said, “There is more sin in trying to find acceptance before God by our law-keeping than there is sin in everyday life as a Christian.”
These certain men from James thought they had to hang on to the Law – for themselves and for Gentiles – so there wouldn’t be so much sin. What Paul shows is that by putting themselves under the law again they were sinning worse than ever.
How is it a sin to build again a way to God through the Law of Moses? In many ways, but perhaps the greatest is that it looks at Jesus, hanging on the cross, taking the punishment we deserved, bearing the wrath of God for us, and says to Him, “That’s all very nice, but it isn’t enough. Your work on the cross won’t be good enough before God until I’m circumcised and eat kosher.” This is a great insult to the Son of God.
Of course, this is the great tragedy of legalism. In trying to be more right with God, legalists end up being less right with God. This was exactly the situation of the Pharisees that opposed Jesus so much during His years of earthly ministry. Paul knew this thinking well, having been a Pharisee himself (Acts 23:6).
Read that second-to-last paragraph in the commentary over and over again. By trying to build a way to God through the Law of Moses, you are telling the Son of God that His sacrifice on the cross for our sin isn’t “good enough”. You have to add things to that sacrifice, like Mosaic law and circumcision and kosher diets. For Martin Luther, he saw the church adding things like indulgences to get out of Purgatory and other constraints that essentially said the same thing as the Judaizers - repenting of your sins and believing in Jesus needed to be augmented and controlled by others. Legalists are always made less right with God. Paul should know.
Galatians 2 ends with some of the most profound Christian philosophy in the NT in verses 20 and 21:
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.””
Going to look at Biblical commentary, I found out that Precept Austin has 45 PAGES of separate commentary on verse 20 alone! That commentary calls this verse out as one of the “lifetime” verses we should memorize, understand and follow. It could be carved on a tombstone and would readily explain to the viewer (if they read the Bible) exactly what your full philosophy of your life in Christ meant (and means now, in eternity). It speaks of an eternal, transcendent, inseparable spiritual union with our Lord. I’ll finish this with a good paragraph from Precept Austin on this union:
To digress for a moment on the concept of a union keep in mind that this word “union” is defined as two or more people or things joined together as one. For example, marriage is a union of one man, with his unique personality, and one woman, with her distinct personality, joined together with one another. The husband and wife maintain their unique personalities, but now there is a mysterious new relationship designed by God in which the two "become one flesh" (Ep 5:31-note).
So here in Galatians 2:20 Paul is describing the nature of our union with Christ in which our Lord obviously remains Christ and the believer retains his or her personality and physical nature. And yet, when Paul says we have been "crucified with Christ", he is saying that a mysterious union has taken place, one that we cannot completely comprehend in this life, a union in which Jesus Christ is now living in and through the believer. This mystical union does not mean that I no longer have any responsibilities in the Christian life. Paul is saying, ‘Yes, I still live, but there is something so different about life, for Christ now lives in me. It is not me, alone, facing the demands of life. It is not me, alone, trying to work out my salvation, living out the demands of the gospel. It is Christ in me, living in me, living through me His glorious life".
What a solace for the soul!! His Grace is sufficient!
My next devotional jumps into the third chapter of Galatians (Galatians 3:1-5), where Paul picks up on his concerns for the churches of Galatia.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - I am not alone! You are living in me! Your Grace is sufficient to help me move from justification to sanctification. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org”
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.
The personal testimony of Bruce Hurt, creator of Precept Austin can be found Here.