By Faith Alone (Galatians 2:15-21)
Topic: Galatians Passage: Galatians 2:15–2:21
When Jesus Isn’t Enough (Galatians)
By Faith Alone
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
July 8th, 2012
I. Me, Myself, and I
“Tell me a little bit about yourself.” Has anyone ever said that to you? Maybe at a party? Maybe at a job interview? Maybe on a date? Maybe on an airplane? “Tell me a little bit about yourself.”
How do you normally respond to that request? What points constitute a good summary of who you are? “I am so and so's daughter” “I am a student.” “I am a plumber...or a teacher...or a housewife.” “I love animals.” “I'm a huge Cardinals fan.” “I'm the father of four.” “I'm a musician.” “I'm an only child.” “I'm in recovery.” “I was a High School athlete.” “I’m originally from California. “I love to travel.” “I'm a victim.” “I'm an artist.” “I'm a Sagitarius.” “I'm a nobody.” What would YOU say?
This morning we are returning to our study of Paul's letter to the Galatian churches. So turn over to where we left off back in May, back to Galatians 2:15-21.
II. The Passage: “I Have Been Crucified with Christ” (2:15-21)
Now before we sink our teeth into these verses, let me sketch a very simple picture of what we’ve already seen in our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches. Galatians was written to a number of churches, churches that were most likely established by Paul and Barnabas on what’s often called their “first missionary journey”. (Acts 13, 14)
But these churches were now coming under the influence of those who were teaching that non-Jewish people must live as Jews if they ever hope to live fully as Christians. Practically, this kind of teaching meant that non-Jews, Gentiles, needed to be circumcised, and observe kosher food rules, and keep the Law of Moses. And along with all this, these teachers were attacking Paul and Paul’s credibility as a faithful messenger of Christ.
In chapter 2, verses 11-14, we learned that this convoluted mixture of Judaism and Christianity was beginning to affect a number of people in the early church. Even Peter himself was being influenced by this thinking. But when Paul saw that Peter’s actions were not in line with the gospel of grace, Paul rebuked Peter.
A. By Faith Alone: Being Right with God (2:15, 16)
And so when we get to verses 15, Paul is continuing this same struggle for the true gospel, the genuine Good News about Jesus Christ. Let’s look first at verses 15 and 16:
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 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.
Now the first thing we need to be clear about here is what the word “justified” means. “Justified” is a legal term that means “to be acquitted” or “to be declared innocent”.
But in the context of the Christian message, or we could say, the gospel message, “justified” communicates the fuller sense and the goal of “being right with God”. As those who are guilty because of our sin, because of our desire to reject and replace God, because of our rejection of God’s loving commands, we are not right with God. But the gospel is all about how Jesus makes us right with God by declaring us innocent through His cross and empty tomb. Listen to the passage again in light of this understanding:
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not [made right with God]by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be [made right with God] by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be [made right with God].
Notice how Paul begins verse 15. At first glance, it seems like Paul is being kind of snobby, right? He’s a Jew, not a Gentile “sinner”. But in fact, what he’s doing there is simply emphasizing his familiarity with the Law of Moses. The word “sinner” is often used in the NT to refer to anyone who did not keep the Law of Moses, whether Jew or Gentile. But Paul is saying here, “From the time I was born I was exposed to the teachings of the law. I know the law. I strove to keep the law in every way.”
And Paul is not alone. The first word of verse 15, the term “we”, serves to pull Peter and Barnabas and James and John (all the guys Paul’s been talking about in chapter 2…it pulls them) into this same category. But Paul lays down this foundation of familiarity with the Law simply as a means of tearing down the idea that you or I could ever be made right with God by keeping the Law.
The plain truth is that you and I cannot be good enough. There is no amount of good works we can do to ‘tip the scale’ in our favor. Our efforts at doing right will never make us right with God. Full stop. Do you believe that? All we can do is trust. All we can do is believe…that Jesus did it all for us. Remember how Paul began this letter. Look back at 1:3, 4…
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (1:3, 4)
And so for a group of churches that are being led astray by teachers who want to add the Law, or we could say, who want to add good works to the salvation equation, Paul wants to make it clear that we are made right with God by faith alone, faith in Jesus Christ.
Of course, it may be clearer to say that we are made right with God by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9), since faith is not the cause, but merely the channel of God’s work.
God has made us right with himself through Jesus, because of His grace. Faith or trust is the “empty hand of the heart”, therefore all we can do is simply receive this amazing grace.
B. By Faith Alone: A False Implication (2:17, 18)
But when we get to verse 17, we find that Paul is trying to deal with a common misconception of this idea of being “justified” or made right with God by faith alone. He writes:
17 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! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
What Paul’s critics were claiming in their accusations against Paul is that Paul's notion of being made right with God through faith alone was nothing more than a theological “hall pass” for spiritual apathy and loose-living. These teachers were arguing that if our good works, our charitable deeds, our religious acts, our spiritual disciplines, if these things cannot help us get to God and remain in God's favor, then people will not be motivated to do such things.
The charge was, “If everything has already been done for us, then why do anything at all? Why not just relax? Why not sin? Grace will cover it all!” As the gospel of grace was being reclaimed in Europe 500 years ago, Martin Luther had to deal with the same attacks:
He writes: “Where the Gospel begins to loose the conscience of its own works, it seems to forbid good works and the keeping of the law. It is the common speech of all the teachers of the law, and of the scribes and doctors, to say: If all our works amount to nothing and if the works done under the law are evil, we will never do good. You forbid good works and throw away God's law; you heretic, you…wish to make bad people free.”
And so armed with similar thinking, Paul's critics were claiming that the Apostle was making Christ a “servant of sin”...literally, a “deacon of sin”, someone who ministers to and helps others. These men were accusing Paul of making Jesus the ultimate 'ENABLER'.
But Paul fires back: Does the gospel of grace encoruage us to live in sin? “Certainly not!” (or as other translations put it: “Absolutely not!” “May it never be!” “God forbid!”). Paul cannot be more emphatic. A license to sin is a false implication of the idea of “faith alone”...or “grace alone, through faith”.
Notice how Paul counters this attack in verse 18. He begins by exposing the weakness of his opponents' position. If being right with God is not by grace alone through faith, if it is instead according to rules and regulations, specifically divine rule and regulations, then the only result of “rebuilding” a system based on DOING is simply to confirm (“to prove” (v. 18)) that we can never DO enough, and that we so often DO as “transgressors” of God's law.
So if Paul rejects that notion that “faith alone” is a reckless idea that leads to spiritual indifference, but he also rejects the idea that following all the rules will make us right with God, then what can he tell the Galatians (and us!) about “the [lives we] now live”?
C. By Faith Alone: A True Implication (2:19-21)
Ah! That's where verses 19-21 come in:
19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 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. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Do you see what Paul is saying here? Verse 19, “through the law I died to the law”. What does that mean. Well listen to how Paul explains this same point in Romans 7:9-11...
I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.  The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.  For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
As “transgressors” (v. 18), as “law-breakers”, our penalty is death. And so for us, the law proves that is a genuine “dead-end” in terms of genuine life. But this is a good thing! Why? Because this reality is meant to drive us to God's grace as our only hope. But what can grace do for law-breakers and all our law-breaking? If it's not about our deeds when it comes to God's favor, then what can we say about our deeds when it comes to “faith alone” and our everyday choices?
Well look again at verse 20 and what we could call the “faith factor”. The life that Paul now lives IS a life of faith; and this means two things: 1) it means the old Paul, who was a chronic law-breaker, a God rejecter, a God replacer, that Paul has been put to death through the death of Jesus, AND 2) the new Paul is a man of faith in Jesus, which means, he's number one goal now is to glorify God by letting the agenda of Jesus Christ be accomplished in His life. And the Spirit of Jesus in Paul is powerfully working this out in and through Paul.
Therefore it is accurate to say that it is Christ who now “lives in” Paul. Grace alone through faith alone is not a license to sin...it is surrending the steering wheel to Jesus Christ! I do not live to earn God's love, I live to trust the one “who loved me and gave himself for me.”
You see, the false teachers who were infecting these Galatians churches with their mongrel religion were failing to see the centrality of the cross (v. 21). Why did Jesus die? If He did not die to set us free from the curse of the law, then He died in vain; because grace then is not grace. Grace is undeserved favor from God, and what we deserve is the opposite of favor.
III. Radical Implications for the First Person
This morning I want to conclude our time together by looking back at verse 20. Let me read that again, and this time listen to all of the “first person” language Paul uses here:
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.
The danger in reading this verse in that way is connected to the fact we live in a hyper-individualistic culture. From childhood to adulthood, we are bombarded with both subtle and explicit encouragements to think, speak, and act from a perspective that only considers ME. And the good of the other and the role of community often suffer because of this perspective.
But another danger connected to this radical emphasis on individualism is the danger of overreacting to this perspective.
Clearly, if we simply focus on all of the first person pronouns in verse 20, we will miss what all the words together actually tell us. But none of this changes the profound presence of this pronouns. I have a sneaking suspicion that if I sat next to the Apostle Paul on the next flight from Phoenix to Jerusalem, and I said to him, “Tell me a lit bit about yourself”, I have a sneaking suspicion that I would get an earful about Jesus Christ.
The dominant reality shaping Paul’s past, present, and future, had nothing to do with his hobbies, accomplishments, or where he was born. The dominant reality of Paul’s life was Christ. Christ is how Paul thought about himself. Who he once was was radically altered by the reality of death through Christ.
And who he was now, “the life I now live in the flesh”, was radically shaped by faith…now listen, we can’t miss this…faith in the radical reality of Christ’s love for Paul personally…a love expressed most clearly and most powerfully on the cross. “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me (past tense…how did He love me?…) and gave himself for me.”
The law of God killed Paul, but the love of God made him alive. And that love drove him forward in that freedom from sin, that freedom for God, that Jesus died to make possible. The disciples of Jesus in Galatia desperately needed to hear this, and these verses in fact serve as a kind of summary for the rest of the letter. But we also need to hear this, don’t we. Are the words of verse 20 the words you would use if someone said, “Tell me a lit bit about yourself”? Is Jesus Christ the dominant reality influencing how you see yourself? Can you say with Paul:
…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:20-21)
Do you believe what Paul said when he wrote, For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4) Do you believe that?
Like the Galatians, all of us are susceptible to the two lies described in this passage: that what I do for God is all that matters, AND what I do now doesn’t matter at all because it’s all been done for me. Paul corrects both of these by telling us what matters most is what God has done for us through Jesus, and because of that, we now want all we do to matter for His glory. He died for me that I might live for Him…by faith alone.
Are you defined by your accomplishments, or by what has been accomplished for you? Are you defined by what you hope to get in this life, or by the fact Jesus already gave his own life for you? Are you defined by earthly loss, or heavenly love? “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” How would you respond?