How are we justified before God?

Galatians 3:6-14ESV
[6] just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? [7] Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. [8] And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” [9] So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. [10] For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” [11] Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” [12] But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” [13] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”- [14] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

INTRODUCTION

How does man become just or righteous before God?

Our text is telling us something very different from what many people believe is the way to be saved. Galatians 3:6 says, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” And Paul proceeds to explain in this passage that salvation is not based on our performance or deserts, but on God’s grace in Jesus Christ received by faith alone.

Paul here was trying to expose and refute the teaching of certain false teachers who were leading the Galatians astray. They were teaching that aside from faith in Christ, they had to keep the law, particularly circumcision, in order to be accepted by God as righteous. And Paul comes up with a brilliant refutation: He cites the case of Abraham whom the Scripture said was counted righteous even before he was circumcised. He was declared righteous simply because he believed God. And Paul goes on to say that “those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

So, in relation to the doctrine of salvation or justification, in answer to the question, How are we justified or accepted as righteous in the sight of God?, there are three things to consider:

I. THE LAW CAN’T SAVE (verse 10)
II. BUT FAITH CAN (verses 11 to 12)
III. THE REASON WHY (verse 13)

1. THE LAW CAN’T SAVE.

Galatians 3:10 ESV
[10] For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

Keeping the law can’t save you because in order to be saved by it you have to keep it all! And no one can do that.

James 2:10 ESV
[10] For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

The results of the bar exams just came out a few days ago. Only 25% of around 8,000 examinees passed, compared to 50% last year. What you have to understand about the bar exams is this: Not only should you get a 75% average, you should also have no grade below 50 in any bar subject. But when it comes to keeping the law for salvation, you need a grade of 100%; anything below that means you fail utterly! That’s why Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” So it doesn’t matter if you’ve kept the law better than others. If you’ve broken one, you’ve come short, you’re a sinner, and Romans 6:23 says, the wages of sin is death. You’re cursed, you’re guilty of having broken all even if you’ve broken only one; that’s why you can’t be saved by keeping the law, i.e., by your performance.

The other thing to consider is that keeping the law involves not only external compliance but also internal attitude, and just as in the former, what is required in the latter is perfect purity of motive. And the law says, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. Now who besides the Lord Jesus has done that? No one!

2. BUT FAITH CAN.

Galatians 3:11 ESV
[11] Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Paul now invokes the authority of the Scriptures, particularly Habakkuk 2:4, to show that salvation or justification is by faith and not by keeping the law.

We find this repeated many times in the New Testament:

Acts 16:31 ESV
[31] And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Ephesians 2:8 ESV
[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

John 3:16-18 ESV
[16] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

But more importantly Paul shows that when it comes to salvation, it’s either faith or the law. The two are antithetical. I’m going to show in a little while why that is. In the meantime, if you plan on being saved by the law, you can’t say 50% faith in Christ, 50% keeping the law. Verse 12 says, “The law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’” If you plan on being saved by the law, you have to keep all of it. If you plan on being saved by faith in Christ, then you have to trust in him alone 100%, and not trust partially in your good works or performance or personal righteousness.

Why this mutual exclusivity? Why not fuse or mix both? Doesn’t James say, “Faith without works is dead”? We’ll get back to James in our conclusion.

III. THE REASON WHY.

Galatians 3:13 ESV
[13] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”-

So why are faith and reliance on works or law keeping or performance-based salvation mutually exclusive? And the answer is: Because Jesus paid it all. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree…” (1 Peter 2:24) He paid it all, so you have no business paying it yourself, unless you want to disparage the payment he made.

What I’m trying to say is you either rely completely on him or you rely on yourself to save yourself. But why can’t it be both? Because faith is all about God’s grace and God’s glory, while works is about your strength and your glory. God will not allow his glory to go to another. Jesus paid it all. He deserves the full glory for your salvation. That’s why salvation is about faith in what he did, not faith in what you can do.

Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

To rely on our performance to save ourselves, even if only partially, is to insult the blood of Christ, to negate God’s grace, and to devalue Christ’s achievement. It is to proclaim to the world that Christ was lying when he said “Tetelastai” – Paid in full! – on the cross.

Galatians 2:20-21 ESV
[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 righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

CONCLUSION:

But what about James and his statement that faith without works is dead?

In the first place, please note that we are not against keeping the law or doing good works. What we are against is relying or trusting in our works or performance to save ourselves.

Do all the good works you can, keep the law all you can, but never put your trust in any of them. Your trust is in Christ alone for salvation, because he alone paid it all. He paid the debt which you could never pay.

In the second place, if you are really saved by faith alone, good works will inevitably follow because, when you truly put your faith in Jesus Christ, you receive as a consequence the Holy Spirit who will produce the fruit of the Spirit in your life.

Galatians 3:14 ESV
[14] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV
[26] And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

So the person who is saved by faith alone ends up obeying the law, not in order to be saved, but because he is saved! As a person saved by faith, he receives the Spirit who causes him to obey the law and do good works.

We are saved by faith alone, but the faith which alone can save cannot remain alone. It will produce good works. So if a person is truly saved, both faith and works will be present in his life, but it is his faith in Christ, not his works, that saves him. So that all the glory might go to Christ and so that no one might boast.

(May 8, 2019; Midweek Worship Service, Ikthus East Equipping Center, Bacolod City, Philippines)

Author: attycortes

Filipino lawyer, preacher, composer.

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