Galatians 2:16 is one of the most important verses in all of Galatians. 3 times Paul asserts that right standing with God does not come by keeping the law but only through faith in Christ. The redundancy of verse should be seen as an exclamation point. But what I want to talk about this morning is just what does justification by faith mean. What is it? I want to spend some time here and dwell. Now there are different tenses to salvation and there are different things that happen in salvation. Salvation carries lots of meaning and lots of implications.
And so when we talk about salvation it is good to know what were talking about. Now what I mean by different tenses is that there is a past tense to our salvation. A present tense to our salvation and a future tense to our salvation. Sometimes the Bible talks about our salvation in a past way: Those who are in Christ have already been saved. This is our position. Ephesians 2:8-9 reads “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Sometimes it talks about in a present tense way. This is our ongoing condition of becoming more like Christ: In 1 Corinthians 1:18 we read “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The process of salvation is ongoing so that it is a present reality as much as it is a past reality. And also in a future way. This is our expectation of one day being with Christ and being like Christ: Believers in Christ will experience salvation in the future. Romans 5:9 tells us that “having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” More than just the past and present, salvation points forward to the future. But then there are also different aspects to our salvation. Without each aspect we do not have the whole. But together is created a beautiful reality. And so we start with election, and then the gospel call or calling, and then regeneration, and then conversion, and justification, and adoption, sanctification, perseverance, death, glorification. Not that we necessarily always experience every aspect of our salvation so clean and neat and could lay our finger on each process as it is happening, except for maybe death and glorification. One other thing, don’t fall into the common cultural misconception to think that it is worthless to study these things. It is not worthless. It is immensely helpful. The more we meditate on our salvation and the God of our salvation, the more we will treasure him. And treasuring God will always cause us to live before him with more more ooomph! These things are actually more practical than you could ever imagine.
Why do you think the Apostle Paul preaches the gospel and seeks to remedy real life situations with doctrinal truths? Because they matter. If you divorcee doctrine from the Christian life, all you are left with is a social gospel. You know, do nice things for people. Which there is nothing wrong with. In fact it is needed and it is part of God’s mission. But it’s not the only part of God’s mission. Without doctrine the Christian life is weak and anemic. It it not either or, it’s both and. Doctrine matters. And so, Election, Gospel call, regeneration, conversion, justification, and adoption those are all past aspects of our salvation. Sanctification and Perseverance are what you call, ongoing present tense. And Glorification is future tense. Today what I want to focus on the one aspect of our salvation so clearly found here in Galatians 2:16. Justification. Because it is so obviously important.
“Justified by faith” is central to the Christian faith. But we often assume we have grasped what it means, and what impact it will have on our lives. We see here that even an apostle such as Peter needed to learn more about what it means to be justified by faith, it’s likely that we do too! So first, we should connect the concept of justification-by-faith with Paul’s controversy with Peter. Essentially, the dispute was about cleanliness. Jews did not eat with Gentiles because they were “unclean”, and you had to be “clean” to worship God.
When Peter refrained from eating with Gentiles, Paul reminded him of what he had learned through revelation (Acts 11:8-10; 15:8-9), that in Christ we are “clean”. In the Old Testament, you had to be “clean”—keeping the ceremonial laws—to go to worship, to be acceptable in the eyes and presence of God. And it is in this context that Paul introduces “justification”.
To be justified is to be acceptable for fellowship with God. Though the word “justification” carries whole new overtones. It has a legal reference. The opposite of “clean” is “polluted”; but “cleansing” isn’t sufficient to convey what Christ does for us. Cleanliness alone suggests that God accepts us because Christ “cleanses” and gets rid of our sinful thoughts and habits; so we become acceptable to God by actually becoming righteous in our attitudes and actions.
But the opposite of “justified” is “condemned”. Justification means that in Christ, though we are actually still sinners, God accepts us in spite our sin. We are not acceptable to God because we actually become righteous: we are declared righteous because we are acceptable to God on the basis of Christ. We don’t work our way to God and God looks at what we have done and says ok. You made it. You are righteous. No, Christ completely performed on our behalf. And God looks at what Christ has done and declares us righteous. A simple way to think of justification is “just as if I have never sinned”. That’s how God looks at us, and relates to us when we are justified in his sight. We are no longer viewed on the basis of our merits or demerits, but rather on the basis of Christ. What happens in justification is that we are changed positionally. The way that he looks at us changes. And this is significant. We could change our outlook to God. We could go from looking at him with indifference or even contempt, but at the end of the day, what matters more, is what he thinks of us, not what we think of him. The biggest problem is not so much our wrong attitude or wrong thinking towards God, but his towards us. We have been declared guilty by the sovereign creator judge of all the universe. His justice has to be satisfied, not ours. We can’t declare ourselves not guilty. The gavel has to pound from heaven. Only he can do that. Justification can be defined, as the moment when God goes from looking at us as an offender to looking at us with favor, because of Christ. It is legal term, and it happened instantaneously.
Justification is not something that occurs in man, nor is it a process. It refers to the legal, judicial and forensic declaration of God. “It is to declare forensically that the demands of the law as a condition of life are fully satisfied with regard to a person, (Acts 13:39; Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:30-33; I Cor. 6:11; Gal. 2:16; 3:11.” The ground of justification is Christ’s sacrificial death and perfect obedience to the law (i.e., “the righteousness of God,” Rom. 3:21) There is not, nor ever will be, a point in the Christian’s life where we can be more righteous than we have been than the first moment we are justified. Someone might object that a mere declaration is not enough. Obviously, if a judge were to declare a defendant not guilty, when he was really guilty, that would not be just. Judges are to justify those who are really righteous and condemn those who are really wicked.
So some have objected that the doctrine of justification violates this principle: God looks at wicked people and falsely declares them to be righteous. But this is to forget the work of Christ. Because Christ died in our place, God’s declaration is true. It is not a legal fiction or a false judgment. Jesus really did pay the complete penalty for his people’s sin. So in him we really are innocent and righteous, because he is innocent and righteous. We were purchased. A payment made. A transaction finalized. Revelation 5:9 says, by his blood he redeemed, he ransomed, he purchased a people from every tribe, tongue and nation. It is on the basis of Christ work we are justified. And it on this basis that we are looked upon as ‘just as if we had never sinned’. God is both the just and the justifier. It is “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Justification occurs the moment we first believe (believe equalling genuinely repentance of sin and trusting in the finished work of Christ and Christ alone) “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.” (Galatians 2:16) So although justification is “by faith alone,” faith is not the ground of justification; only Christ is is our grounds or reason we are justified. Not our faith. Our faith by itself is useless. What role, then, is played by faith? Faith is what receives the grace of God in Christ. Faith is instrumental. Faith claims no merit for itself; it makes no claim to deserve the gift of God’s righteousness. It confesses that only Christ can save, and only his righteousness can justify. Faith is always the catcher, never the pitcher. Faith does not reach out and grab. Faith takes hold of and grabs. Philippians 3:12 says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Faith is always a receiving of all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus. This was made all to aware to me the other day as I read the story of the 10 Lepers that Jesus healed in Luke 17. And the one returned to thank Him and not only was he physically healed but spiritually healed. Something happened in that leper that was different than the other. Jesus did tell him, your faith has made you well after he returned and thanked him but in all actuality he was saved the moment that God began to work in him. And the turning and the outward expressing of that inward work of God was just a natural result. If we want to know why the other lepers didn't turn to thank him, we just need to read John 6:63-65 or John 10:25-27. Faith is never the activator of Gods grace, it is the fruit of saving grace, which is the work of and wooing of the Holy Spirit - like a spiritual surgery and the natural outpouring, the result of this sovereign super natural work in a once spiritually dead sinner is saving faith. A conduit by which to cling on or cleave to the object of which are spiritual eyes are just opened to - that is Christ. It is why we can say, I was blind but now I see. We don't unblind ourselves. The Holy Spirit does that. And we don’t save ourselves once we are un-blinded by our clinging onto Christ. No, what actually saves us, is the object of what our eyes have been opened to, and the object of what we are clinging onto or receiving. And that object is Christ. It is Christ whom saves. Christ saves. Faith is the conduit, or instrument by which we receive him. Like when a blind person is healed from blindness, their first act as a result of their healing is to see. Or when a crippled is given the ability to walk, their first act is to walk. Faith to one who is born again is like crying is to a new born babe or breathing is to one who has been made alive. Faith is the result of the new birth, not the cause of the new birth. Faith than is not the cause of or the grounds of justification but rather faith is what unites us to the cause. It is why it says, we are saved by grace, through faith..... faith is the conduit. The conduit doesn’t save, but it is what links us. The water pipe doesn’t quench our thirst but it is what links us to the water. The bowl doesn’t fulfill our hunger but it receives and holds the food. It is not the leper turning that made the leper whole. It is Christ that made him whole. It is the act of turning that resulted in the receiving. So you might be sitting here thinking why does this all matter. Well it does matter because Christianity is not just propagator of a social gospel. Of health and wealth and do good. It’s about eternal truths that will cause you to risk all for the sake of Christ. Deep truths that even have great reasons and transformational value in knowing them and pondering them. The Apostle Paul thought so. We would do well to follow in the Apostles footsteps and care about this. And seek to understand and to share it. Even this one doctrine alone. Justification. Three times in vs. 16 of Chapter 2 he says we are justified by faith not by works of the law. The works of the law are not the conduit that connect us to the righteousness of God. Faith is. And the righteousness of God is found in Jesus Christ. We are justified, declared right before God and accepted by God because of and on the basis of Jesus Christ. Why is this so important? How does this apply to the lives of Christians today? Salvation as a past reality frees us from the power of guilt for sin which so often seeks to enslave us. Why does this matter? Because people like Peter and people like us who wander away from our acceptance from God and wander towards being accepted by other people as more important do not need to be crushed by the guilt for doing so. We have assurance that the act of salvation is in our past. When we were saved the guilt for our sin was transferred to Christ’s account. Even the guilt of not delighting in our acceptance by God as an all consuming reality. Even the guilt over our wanderings. This guilt needs to be gone. The burden is lifted. This reminds us that sometimes we just need to be reminded of who we are in Christ. This empowers us to run freely back to Jesus. All the obstacles are gone. When we mess up. It’s not too late. We don’t need to say, well it doesn’t matter I can never perform anyway. No. The burden has been lifted. Jesus has already performed for you. Run back to the one whose arms wide open for you. Not away. —————- The great reality is that we are accepted and looked upon by God with delight . Now a dual doctrine of justification is adoption. Which we should be able to get into if we ever make it to chapter 4. But just know, that God doesn’t just accept you, doesn’t just love you, but he actually likes you, too. If the main point of Galatians is justification. That we are saved solely because of Christ work on our behalf. Then the rest of the book tells us why that matters. Justification in a lot of ways is the most important doctrine. Because if you don’t have Christ living and dying and rising again as your substitute, you are still dead in your sins and without hope. But if you have that, you have complete forgiveness. All your sins are wiped away. And you have complete righteousness. All Christ good deeds are counted as yours. So though, this is the most important doctrine. I would not say it is the best. It is the key. It is the hinge on which salvation turns and leads to, rather opens up to a whole bucket load of wonderfulness. People are always afraid that this way of salvation through faith alone will cause people to become careless about living for God. And this is just not true. It is in fact just the opposite. The doctrine that “one is justified apart from works of the law” actually gives us power to obey God’s law. The only way people can have the power to fight against self righteousness and lawlessness is through gospel. Why? Because God doesn’t just change our record in heaven when we believe in Christ; he also changes our heart here on earth by giving us the Holy Spirit who comes to live inside of us and empower us. Another way of saying this is that God never justifies anyone without also regenerating him with the Holy Spirit at the same time. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we walk out this new covenant newness of life. Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ. Your old self is killed at the cross with Christ. Yet Jesus arose from the grave and likewise so do you with him. But you don’t arise the same. You arise with Christ now living in you. Your old self didn’t arise. Your new self in Christ. Your new self in Christ and Christ in you. And now you live connected to him by faith. And not just any faith. But rather, Holy Spirit inspired faith. There is something different about a Christians faith. A christians faith is a faith born out of the Holy Spirit. Born out of a heart that the Holy Spirit has changed. Born again faith is different than the natural mans faith. Born again faith is Holy Spirit inspired faith. And it’s rooted in Jesus. And friends, Jesus didn’t stay dead. Why didn’t Jesus stay dead? Because God was satisfied with his death. God was satisfied with his atonement, his payment for sins. But also because it was the Holy Spirit who rose him again. Jesus rose from the grave by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is who God creates the world through. Yes. Through Jesus but through the power of the Spirit through Jesus. And Jesus rose from the grave through and by the power of the Spirit. So in Christ we are created new by the power of the Spirit and we given power by the power of the Spirit. Power to live the Christian life. New Creation resurrection life. Let there be light. And there was light. Lazarus come forth and Lazarus came forth. The Apostle Paul is calling the believers in Jesus in Galatia, and by implication, us: “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” (2:20) They had started out with faith in Jesus, but they were putting their faith in something else to make them right instead of Jesus. Paul is calling them back to Jesus. With the awareness that the good news is good news for all of everything. Not just something that is good news for when we sometime might die. Good news not just preparing us for our death. But good news also for our life. — “I am crucified with Christ, yet not I that live, but nevertheless Christ that lives in me” In fact, death has no hold on us. You want to live. Live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself for you”