Galatians: Never Justified by Law

Moses and 10 CommandmentsSince the beginning of time, what is the most perfect law ever given whereby men might live? Is it not the law God gave at Mount Sinai through His prophet Moses? The Ten Commandments form the bedrock basis for all of the Law of Moses, which only Israel received. God personally intoned the Decalogue from the top of the mountain, and the people trembled when they heard His voice (Exodus 20)! God has not given another law which so perfectly establishes His concerns for mankind and His own glory.

But did God not give us a new law in Christ Jesus? Indeed, the New Testament mentions, even in Galatians, the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2), but I contend that Christ’s law does not nullify or replace God’s Mount Sinai laws (Matt. 5.17-19).

But doesn’t Hebrews speak of nullifying the old law of Moses and bringing in a new law in Jesus? With our digital access to the biblical texts, it’s easy to search for “old law” and “new law.” I challenge you to run a search on those two phrases and read every instance you find.

What’s that? You couldn’t find a single instance of “old law” or “new law”? Interesting.

Illegal ImmoralWhat you will find are references to “old covenant” and “new covenant” (Heb. 8.13; 9.2, 15; 12.24) and to a “first covenant” and “second covenant” (Heb. 9.1), but that’s not exactly the same as “old law” and “new law.” A covenant is an agreement between parties; law may be included within the covenant, but it’s not equal to the covenant itself. We would do well to distinguish between Old Testament moral laws (instructions towards holy living), ceremonial laws (such as sacrifice, temple worship, special days, and circumcision), and civil laws (such as specific penalties for breaking laws).

Jesus and His apostles continued to refer back to the Law of Moses for moral guidance. Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18 for the Greatest Commandment and it’s human corollary (Matt. 22.37-40). He told a young man in Matthew 19.16-19 to keep the commandments in order to have eternal life. Paul often taught Christians using the commandments and the Law (Rom. 7.7-12; 13.8-10; 1 Cor. 14.34; Gal. 5.14-15; etc.).

JusticeMoral law has been the same since God created man. When has it ever been right to murder, to lie, to cheat, or to steal? When God spoke the Ten Commandments, He was not giving the world something new; He was instructing Israel in His character and in how they ought to live before Him! God’s moral law, then, displays His holiness and provides a means for us to understand our right place before Him. But it also condemns, giving judgments for violations.

If the Law of Moses contains the most perfect revelation of moral law since time began, then the way to have a relationship with God must have been through the correct keeping of that law, right? Wrong! This is Paul’s contention in the letter to the Galatians. Notice:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal. 2.21)

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Gal. 3.11; and notice Paul quotes from the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2.4, for this proof!)

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. (Gal. 3.21)

Law has never given life, has never justified a man before God!

There is a huge reason that Paul never contrasts the “old law” with a “new law” in Christ. He always contrast the law with faith and grace. Just as the Jews were not and are not justified by law, neither are we justified by law. Any law.

Think on these things.

Is Jesus Your Personal Savior?

Jesus Crown of ThornsIn The Message, which is an interpretation of the Bible and not an actual translation (so read it with great caution!), the introduction to Galatians includes the following:

Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary includes under its entry for “Logos”:

In relation to humanity, Jesus the Logos was not the impersonal principle of Stoicism, but He was a personal Savior who took on human flesh in the incarnation (John 1:4–14).

Most of the evangelical world employs this phrase. Perhaps “Are you a born again Christian?” (isn’t that redundant?) is even more popular, but “Have you made Jesus your own personal Savior?”* definitely competes.

Can we claim Jesus as our own “personal Savior”?

In the BeginningI understand personal in the relational sense–that Jesus saves me personally; He and I share a personal relationship. The alternative to this personal relationship, I suppose, would be a relationship only between Jesus and His body, the church, which does not somehow translate into a relationship between Him and each individual.

What does the Bible teach on this?

Truly, you cannot find those exact words–“personal Savior”–in the Bible. But what about the concept? As I consider the question, my thoughts are immediately drawn to two of the most God-fearing and God-loving men in the Bible, one who lived under the Old Covenant and one under the New: David and Paul.

David

David wrote of his relationship with God, even as his Savior, in the Psalms.

I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18.1-2)

I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. (Ps. 3.4)

Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation! (Ps. 38.21-22)

Jesus Holding MeCan you feel the sense of a personal relationship in David’s words? Yahweh was not just the God of Israel; He was David’s God! There is something comforting and empowering in this relationship, because the relationship does not depend upon the state of anyone else in the world–it’s directly between a man and his God.

Paul

Paul also helps us understand the nature of our relationship with Jesus the Savior.

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. (Gal. 2.20)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil. 3.12)

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1.12-14)

You

Can you say Jesus is your personal Savior? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? I dearly hope you do! It is the single most important relationship any human being can have–and you either are His or you aren’t.

Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts and comments–I’d love to hear them.


* I DO have a problem with that statement, but it’s not with the “personal Savior” bit–it’s with the “have YOU made” bit. Nobody makes Jesus to be his or her Savior. More appropriately and biblically, they should ask, “Has Jesus saved you?” or “Have you been saved by Jesus?”

Confidence!

Standing StrongTwo understandings I hold seem on their face to contradict:

  1. I am confident I am wrong on some spiritual matters
  2. I am confident I am in relationship with Jesus Christ

Chew on those for a moment.

How can a person be confident in his relationship with Jesus, confident of his salvation, and also confident he is wrong in some of his Bible understanding?

Actually, I wonder how someone can be otherwise. Would it not seem the height of arrogance for one to think he has every spiritual matter completely figured out? The humble (and realistic) appreciate their finite knowledge and intelligence. Only God is all-wise and all-knowing. Therefore, there must always be room for growth, for adding new information, for adjusting understanding.

Our confidence must never come from ourselves. When we believe our salvation depends on how right we are about things, our salvation becomes dependent upon ourselves. Hear me now–there is a right and a wrong, good and evil; it’s just that we, in our finite selves, will never fully discern these things. We grow in our discernment, learning every day (Lord willing) to more rightly divide the word of truth.

God gives us grace despite our imperfect knowledge. How much more grace should we give each other, then? In truth, we should be strict with ourselves and gracious with one another, but we often get those reversed.

Paul wrote:

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Eph. 3.8-13)

ConfidentFrom where did Paul’s confidence come? It came from Jesus Christ! Paul was fully confident in Jesus’ power, Jesus’ love, Jesus’ accomplishment. Paul placed no confidence in his own work.

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us… (Titus 3.4-5)

We can put up with brothers and sisters who understand Scripture differently than we. Sure, there are items with which we must have no disagreement, but the “same mind” Paul wanted the brethren to have (1 Cor. 1.10 and Phil. 2.1-4; 4.2) is not an exact oneness of understanding on everything but a oneness of attitude towards God and towards each other. Paul wanted them to have the same mind Jesus had (see Phil. 2.5ff), the mind of abject humility and obedience to God.

When we divide from and formally disfellowship our brothers and sisters because they have a different understanding, we may actually be demonstrating a mind which is not consistent with Christ Jesus! Sometimes we must break fellowship with one another for a season…perhaps for longer…but that does not mean we must view one another as lost in sin. Paul and John Mark broke fellowship for a time and couldn’t plow together in the same yoke, but that was only for a season. Neither was spiritually lost.

Have confidence in Jesus Christ. Hold fast that confidence! And love your brothers and sisters who also hold fast that confidence.

Latest Sermons

We just updated the sermon archive to include the last two Sunday morning sermons:

How First Century Churches Used Collected Money (download)

What Is a Real Christian – Part 2: Complying with God’s Terms of Salvation (download)

Are You Confident in Your Salvation? Why?

Trust ExpertsWhat thing or person completes the following for you: “In ______________ do I trust for my salvation”?

Careful, now. Answer honestly.

“Why are you confident in your salvation?”

If you answer, “I am not confident in my salvation,” please shoot me a response e-mail, because that needs to be remedied! God wants you to be confident. Read 1 John 1.1-4, and see that God wants your joy to be full. You should “know that [you] know Him” (2.3), and you should “know that [you] are in Him” (2.5).

But allow me to address the rest of you who are confident in you salvation. Why are you confident?

Are you confident because of your church or your minister?

“I am sure of my salvation because I’m a member of the right church and my preacher preaches the right doctrine.”

Let us immediately dismiss this, for no person or body of men can ever save a soul.

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:

“As I live, says the LORD,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Rom. 14.10-12)

Trust DadAre you confident because you follow God’s laws?

Does your assurance come from having been baptized (in the correct way and for the right reasons)? Does your confidence swell each first day of the week as you assemble with the saints and correctly partake of the Supper of the Lord? “I do lots of good works. I’m obedient.”

The recurring sermon of every Bible preacher under both Old and New Covenants has been and continues to be, “Repent, and bear fruits worthy of repentance.” So the fruit of a changed heart surely should be seen in us, giving us a level of confidence as to our position with the Lord. However, the fruit is merely a sign of the salvation and not the very thing itself. The good works we do may reveal that we have been saved, but the works themselves don’t save!

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…” (Titus 3.5)

Are you confident because of your inward repentance and faith?

“I know my heart is right.”

Please don’t depend upon some attitude of your heart, some inherent internal goodness. Can you be saved without faith and repentance? Not hardly! But these, again, simply expose the fact that you are saved!

If we are completely honest with ourselves, each of us knows he is not worthy because the intents of his heart continue to hold traces of evil motives and weaknesses to temptation. When is faith ever good enough? When is repentance ever absolute? We might believe our latest repentance came from a complete and utter brokenness, but then in a few more days our weaknesses resurface again! O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Reaching UpSo From Where Does True Confidence Come?

Our confidence, ultimately, comes from Jesus Christ, the One whose word never falls to the ground, whose promises are never broken. He exists, He lives, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Our confidence should never be in our seeking but in the One Whom we seek! Christ is our Yes and our Amen.

“For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Cor. 1.20-22)

Brother and Sister, rest confidently in this, that God saves in Christ, not because of any works we accomplish but because of THE WORK Christ has done and the work the Holy Spirit continues to do in us.

In Christ do I trust. It is no longer I who live, but Christ 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 (Gal. 2.20).