Sermon series: God's New Covenant People
Connection to unit theme
Justification by faith alone caused much controversy in the early church. Paul exhorted the Galatian Christians to uphold this glorious doctrine, despite what it might cost them.
"Earning Freedom" is the account of how Michael Santos rebuilt his life. At age 19 he was sentenced to 45 years in prison for heading an illegal drug organization. In prison he developed a plan to educate himself, network with a support group, and contribute to the good of society as he prepared to enter the world again. He earned two degrees, built a website, wrote several articles and books, and helped other prisons develop skills to cope with life in prison. After serving 25 years of his sentence, he was released. Today he writes and speaks about the power of human determination and will.
Santos' story, though admirable, is one of self-salvation. While we should celebrate the common grace of willpower, determination, and perseverance, we must understand how the gospel radically redefines the role of human effort in salvation. Grace cannot be earned. The Galatian church struggled with this. After receiving the gospel of grace, some taught that they must rely on the works of the law for salvation. Paul pleaded with them to center their lives on the grace of the gospel. In Galatians 2:11-21 we see how to do this.
I. Prevent suffering from shifting our confidence in the gospel (vv.11-14)
Scholars disagree over how to interpret verses 11-14. Why Peter pulled back from Gentiles after the scene in Acts 10 is a mystery. D.A. Carson suggests that "certain men from James" (v.12) refers to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. The Christians there suffered at the hands of unconverted Jews because of their connection to Gentiles. Peter pulled back upon hearing the news of the hostility against the church. Paul opposed him and challenged him to stand firm in the gospel.
Suffering makes us question the truth of the gospel. When we suffer, we wonder if salvation is really by grace. Surely our suffering must be due to our own sin and unrighteous works. Suffering makes us ask: "Is God angry with me? Does God love me? Am I really a Christian?" In these times, we must hold on to the truth of the gospel. The good news reminds us that all suffering is being used for good and that God is for us (Rom. 8:28-39). If Christ died for us, He will sustain us through any trial. But because He suffered, we must prepare to suffer (1Pet. 2:21).
Application: How has suffering threatened your hope in grace? When you suffer, do you look at the cross and meditate on Christ's sufferings?
II. Root out any hint of self-righteousness (vv.15-16)
Paul refused to boast in his ethnicity. Though Jewish and steeped in the rich history of salvation of his people, he understood that one is made right before God by Christ, not by works or nationality. The early church struggled to understand this. Did God not make a covenant with the Jews, give them His law, and adopt them as his own (Rom. 9:1-5)? Surely, some taught, salvation can only come through adherence to Jewish laws and customs. But Paul understood that the law cannot make anyone right before God, nor was it intended to (v.16).
Charles Spurgeon illustrated the dangers of self-righteousness with a story about a gardener. He grew an enormous carrot and presented it to his king. The king discerned that his heart was pure and granted him a plot of land as a gift. A nobleman in the king's court saw this and thought "My! If that is what you get for a carrot, what if you gave the king something better?" So he presented the king with a beautiful stallion. The king discerned his heart and dismissed him, explaining: "That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse." Many times we do good works to make ourselves feel worthy, to bend God's arm to bless us, or earn His favor. Our hearts love to boast in something besides the finished work of Jesus. But self-righteousness is an enemy of the gospel we must uproot.
Application: How do you tend to look to your own righteousness as the reason God should love and bless you? What motivates you to do good? How can you better cling to the gospel in order to fight against this?
III. Seek to uphold the law (vv.17-21)
Paul's argument in verses 17-21 is that while Christians cannot be justified by the law, they are now free to obey the law. Though he is dead to the law, in terms of justification, he is now alive to live for God in all things (v.19). He further argues for this by rehearsing how the Gospel works in an individual's life. He died with Christ and now lives by faith in Him (v. 20).
Once grace takes root in someone's life, it grants freedom obey. Tim Keller says that religion (man's attempt to earn God's grace) operates on the principle: If I obey, God will love me. The gospel, he says, operates on the exact opposite principle: God loves me and accepts me in Christ, therefore I obey. If we attempt to earn grace, we misunderstand it. Jesus Christ died to free us from the curse of the law and empower us to obey. Grace is opposed to earning, but we must make every effort to obey God (2 Pe. 1:5-10).
Application: In what areas of your life are you abusing grace? How important to you is obedience? Are you making every effort to obey God? Has the gospel set you free to gratefully obey?
Martin Luther said of justification by faith: "Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually." Indeed! Fight to center your lives on grace and boast only in the gospel of Jesus Christ.