Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 17, 2007
Justified By Faith
Early in my first church, in the late 1960’s, one of our church deacons and I were visiting in the homes of some of the members. He was a spiritually mature man who loved the Lord and diligently studied God’s Word. Indeed, he was the only one I ever met who had carefully worked through all eight volumes of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Systematic Theology for his own personal study. He said to me that he “could really enjoy being a pastor, if it just weren’t for the people.” A primary reason we face difficulties in ministry is because of people.
The apostle Paul faced problems with people while dealing with the churches in Galatia. Paul illustrates a major problem, recorded in chapter 2, by a conflict he had with Peter in Antioch (2:11-14). Peter first had fellowship with Christian Gentiles, but when Jewish believers from Jerusalem arrived, he ceased that fellowship. This implied that Gentiles and Jews were not equally justified before God by faith alone. Paul rebuked Peter for this, and used it to explain to the Galatians what God’s justification truly involves.
God’s Justification is Identified (2:15-16)
Jews, because they had the Law, were distinct from Gentiles. The Law revealed the one holy God. Gentiles had not received God’s direct revelation, and thus the Jews considered them “sinners” (2:15).
The problem, of course, was that the Law never justified anyone. Paul emphasized this negative truth three times in 2:16. The problem with salvation by works is that the works don’t work. In contrast to the threefold negative emphasis, Paul presented a threefold positive emphasis that justification, being declared righteous, comes by faith in Christ.
In the summer of 2005 I experienced an event which helps explain this. For the first time, I served on “jury duty.” It was an enlightening time, but it was certainly different from what we see in “Perry Mason.” His trials seem to take place quickly, with intrigue, precise deduction, and a certain verdict that convicts the proper person and sets the unjustly accused free.
However, I found actual jury duty required time, sometimes whole days, sitting in a large room with scores of other prospective jury members simply waiting for the possibility of having my number called. Once it was called, I was one of 25-30 who were then interviewed as a group to decide who the final twelve jury members would be. Once the attorneys agree on the twelve, then the judge and jury hear the case, evaluate the evidence, and render a decision: guilty or not guilty. The difference between an earthly trial and our need for spiritual justification is that we are already guilty of sin. We can never be declared “not guilty.” Instead, God by His grace has provided salvation in Christ so that in Him God can declare us righteous.
Our Justification is Described (2:17-21)
Having identified justification, Paul next describes it. He first describes it in its relation to the law (2:17-19), and then in its connection with Christ (2:20-21).
Verse 17 refers to Christian Jews who, since they were condemned by the Law, sought righteousness in Christ apart from the Law. Yet, Jews called Gentiles “sinners” if Gentiles wanted to do the same thing.
Does Christ promote sin when He provides salvation separate from the Law? Of course not! Therefore, Paul asserted that if he presents a way of salvation by works of the Law, he becomes a transgressor of the spiritual truths he consistently preached (2:18). The Law’s effect on Paul was for him to die to all human effort to fulfill it in seeking to obtain righteousness (2:19).
Verses 20-21 explicitly detail how the Law’s demands are fully satisfied in Christ. In the eyes of God, every Christian was co-crucified with Christ – His crucifixion was ours. The result is that the believer now lives in Christ by faith placed in Him. This is possible because of Christ’s love and voluntary sacrifice for our sins. Verse 21 tersely concludes that if justification comes by the Law, then Christ died uselessly. Justification by faith is not a reason for Christ’s death; it is the reason.
Justification by faith is central to Gospel proclamation. Let us be faithful in its confident proclamation. (Larry Overstreet)