Nothing To Prove
A couple weeks back I ran across a quote from President Ronald Reagan that I really believe needs to be re-introduced to the public discourse in our country these days. The story goes that when Reagan was assembling his staff at the White House he told them, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor.”
Now, you think about that in context of our current political and social climate, and it almost seems like another planet, doesn’t it? Because the atmosphere that we live in today is so polarized, and people live on such a hair-trigger that any disagreement on any issue—no matter how insignificant—is sufficient reason to cut off all ties with that person. A couple weeks ago one of the contestants on the new season of Dancing With The Stars made the mistake of tweeting that one of his fellow contestants (former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer) was “a good guy”.
That’s it—that’s all he said—and within days he had to delete all of his social media accounts because of the death threats he was getting from his fellow liberals! There was no way to apologize or justify his statement before the world. He had to pay—and pay dearly—for his transgression. Because the way our world works—the way the “gospel of man” works—is that the person who agrees with you 99.99 percent of the time is a .001 percent traitor (and that is enough to condemn you forever!)
When the Apostle Paul talks about “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), and being “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Gal. 4:3), this is a big part of what he is talking about. And the truth is, you know what it is like to live in that atmosphere, don’t you? To constantly feel like you have to justify your choices, your opinions and decisions in this world? That you need to carry on a constant stream of explanations, qualifications and exceptions to everyone so that you can avoid the wrath of the Facebook mob.
And the the real problem for us as Christians is that this same mindset of constant self-justification seeps into the way we relate to God, as well. I don’t know how many times I have heard this—and I’m sure you have too—but whenever I invite someone to come to church with me, I almost always hear a variation of the same objection: “I don’t belong in church! I’m not good enough to come to church! Oh, if I ever walked into a church, the roof would probably cave in—I’ll get struck by lightning...”
Do you know what that feels like? Have you ever faced that apprehension that says, “I’ll stick out like a sore thumb in church—everyone will instantly see I don’t belong there, and they’ll be judging me the whole time. Even walking into the building, someone is going to see me and think, ‘What is she doing, walking into a church?!’ I’m not good enough. I simply can’t justify calling myself a Christian!”
If you’ve ever been there (or if you’re there right now), then this chapter of Galatians is perhaps the single most glorious passage in the entire Bible! Because what Paul says here is, first of all, that you cannot justify yourself before God (so quit trying!) So what I aim to show you today is that:
When you are justified by faith in Christ alone, you have nothing to prove to anyone!
And I want us to see two things about justification—that it is the ground of your right standing before God, and the ground of your right living before God. First, look with me in verse 16 to see that Justification means
I. Your Right Standing Before God (Gal. 2:16)
I. Your Right Standing Before God (Gal. 2:16)
16 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.
If you were to picture the message of the Bible as a mountain range, with all of the books of the Old and New Testaments spread out before you like the Rocky Mountains, I tell you that this verse would be one of the highest peaks in that whole mountain range. When you stand on the peak of a mountain, you can see everything else, can’t you? Well, Galatians 2:20 is like that—this verse is the simple and direct answer to the grand Question of human existence: How can I be made right with God? To grasp this verse—to understand it and believe it not just with your head but in your heart—is to grasp the fundamental truth of Christianity:
You are justified by your faith in Christ alone
Look at how Paul structures his statement: At the beginning of the verse he says “a person is not justified by works of the law”—and then at the end of the sentence he says it again: “by works of the Law no one will be justified!” And there is another repetition inside those repetitions: “through faith in Jesus Christ” there in the first line, and then “in order to be justified by faith in Christ” towards the end. And in the middle of those repetitions he makes the statement “we also have believed in Christ Jesus...”
All of this to say that Paul reinforces this point as forcefully as his considerable rhetorical skills will allow— “faith in Jesus Christ, believe in Jesus Christ, faith in Christ”, and “not justified by works of the law, not by works of the law, by works of the law no one will be justified”.
This is the entire thesis statement of the book of Galatians (and one of the central truths of the meaning of salvation). In your handout there is a definition of justification, and it says that justification is
Justification: The gracious act of God by which He declares a sinner righteous solely through faith in Jesus Christ.
(Platt, D., Merida, T., & Akin, D. L. (2014). Exalting Jesus in Galatians [Kindle]. Nashville, TN USA: B&H Publishing Group.)
When you place your trust in Jesus Christ to save you—when you simply believe that His death on the Cross cancelled your sin-debt before God—God declares you righteous in His sight! This is what Paul says in Galatians 3:6 happened to Abraham in the Old Testament:
6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
This is the fundamental truth of salvation in Jesus Christ—to believe in Jesus Christ alone as the only basis for a right standing before God. You are justified before God—made right in His sight—only by your faith in Christ alone.
And if that is true (and it is plain from the Scriptures that it is), then that means that
No one is justified by what you say they should be (Gal. 2:1-10)
Look with me at the earlier part of the chapter. Paul is telling us about when he went to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles to have them evaluate his preaching:
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Titus was a Gentile convert that had come to faith in Christ under Paul’s preaching. When they got to Jerusalem and were meeting with James and Peter and John (v. 9), some people there began to put pressure on Titus to be circumcised (v. 3). “Well, you know Titus, if you really want to be a Christian, you have to become a Jew first—and the way you do that is to submit to the Law of Moses and be circumcised!” Titus was under pressure from other so-called “believers” (though Paul accuses them of being “false Christians)—they were pressuring Titus to conform to what they said a “good Christian” should be!
Have you seen that kind of pressure today? In fact, have you ever looked at someone and said, “Well, if they really were a Christian, then they would… (fill in the blank)”. It might be something as superficial as what clothes they wear or what kind of music they listen to, but it can go much deeper than that. That someone isn’t really a good Christian if they have tattoos, or if they are divorced, (or if they have never been married), or if they have a criminal record, or if they struggle with addiction. Some churches say that a person can’t be a real Christian unless they have had some kind of supernatural “baptism in the Holy Spirit” and have spoken in tongues… The list goes on and on. That person might be saved, but you’re always relegated to some kind of “second tier status” in God’s sight unless they achieve this particular goal...
But the Apostle Paul makes it clear that no one is justified by what you say they should be! Titus had nothing to prove to anyone about his justification before God! He didn’t have to conform to anyone else’s expectations of what it meant to be acceptable in God’s sight—he had already become acceptable in God’s sight through his faith in Jesus Christ alone!
Your right standing before God comes from being justified by your faith in Christ alone—you have nothing to prove to anyone. But we also see in this chapter an equally important truth, that
You are not justified by what YOU think you should be (Gal. 2:11-14)
I think that in some ways this is what we see in verses 11-14 of our text:
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Peter’s problem wasn’t that he didn’t understand what it meant to be justified by faith in Christ alone—he did understand it, better than most of the other people there at the time! He knew better than anyone else there that Jews and Gentiles were both justified the same way, and it wasn’t by keeping the Law!
In Acts 10 we read about Peter’s vision of a great sheet let down from heaven full of all kinds of animals that were “unclean” under the Law of Moses. Jesus Himself tells Peter to “rise, kill and eat” (Acts 10:13), and tells him that “what God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). So when Peter came to the Gentile church in Antioch, he knew that “by works of the law no one will be justified!” So he gladly sat down with his fellow believers in Christ and had a nice big ham and Swiss on rye sandwich—Jesus Himself had told Peter that the Old Testament dietary laws were over and done (cp. Mark 7:19).
But then, when his fellow Jews came, Peter had a crisis of conscience—should he really be eating unclean food with Gentiles? He was the one, after all, who demonstrated that Gentiles belong in Christ! But he began placing restrictions and qualifications on himself that he had no business doing! He was afraid that the others would think he wasn’t being a good Christian by breaking the dietary laws that he knew were null and void! And Paul writes that Peter’s hypocrisy even caused Paul’s first friend in the faith--Barnabas—to throw his lunch in the trash and scoot his chair over to the “law-keepers” side of the room too!
Sometimes it is that hypocritical voice inside that causes us to slip into self-justification, isn’t it? Even though you know that your standing before God is through faith in Jesus Christ alone, you are still tempted to make it all about what you do: If you’re really going to be a “good Christian”, if God is really going to be pleased with you, then you need to force yourself to get up an extra hour early for personal devotions and prayer, or that you need to get control of your temper or quit smoking or get your spouse to come to church with you… And again, the list goes on and on. You’re a Christian, but you’ll never be a good Christian until you achieve this particular goal...
But Paul reminds us here in Galatians that when you are justified by faith in Christ, you have nothing to prove to anyone—including yourself! It is not what you think of yourself that matters, but what God thinks of you! It is not how you approve of yourself, but whether He approves of you! And when you have come in faith to Jesus Christ alone for your salvation—not what others think you should do, not what you think you need to do—then you are completely, totally and eternally justified in His sight, and there is now no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1)!
But at this point there’s a question in your mind, isn’t there? (I can see it in some of your faces!) Perhaps over the last few minutes you’ve been wondering: “If the only thing that matters in our right standing before God is our faith in Jesus Christ, then are you saying that it doesn’t matter what we do?” Because when we take Galatians 2:16 at face value—that there are no good deeds that we can do that will give us a right standing before God, that will justify us in His sight—then what does it matter what I do? What is to stop me from saying, “Well, I put my faith in Jesus Christ alone to save me, so that means that no matter what I do I’m going to heaven!”
But Paul won’t let us take the doctrine of justification by faith alone that far—your faith in Christ alone is not just the basis of your right standing before God, but it is also the basis of
II. Your Right Living Before God (Gal. 2:20)
II. Your Right Living Before God (Gal. 2:20)
Look at verse 20:
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.
When you come by faith to Jesus Christ—when you place your trust in Him alone to save you—then your life is fundamentally and totally changed! Listen: When you are justified by faith in Christ alone, you have nothing to prove to anyone—but your life will be living proof that you are justified!
A pastor and author named David Platt uses this illustration in his book on the Gospel called Follow Me: Imagine that I came to church today and said to you, “Wow, did I ever have an interesting trip on the way here! I blew out a tire at the bottom of Eriton hill, right there on that curve, and when I got out to change it a fully-loaded log truck came barrelling around that curve about fifty miles an hour and hit me straight on! Ran right over me!” Now, what would you say if I came in here with a story like that? Probably something along the lines of, “No, you didn’t! Knock it off—there’s no way that happened to you!”
Now, why would you react like that? Because if I had gotten hit by a log truck going fifty miles an hour around a curve, I wouldn’t be in this condition, would I?? If that had happened to me, it would be obvious to anyone, right? But how many people claim to have come to Jesus Christ in faith whose lives look absolutely no different than before?!
That’s what Paul is getting at here in Galatians 2:20—when you put your faith in Christ alone for your salvation, you are fundamentally and totally changed! He says, “I have been crucified with Christ”: When you come to Jesus, you
Die to your old affections and desires (2:20a)
In his letter to the Romans, Paul puts it this way:
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
When you are justified before God by faith in Jesus alone, your life is living proof of your justification! You no longer desire to sin the way you used to—instead, Jesus Christ now lives in you! You
Live in Christ’s affections and desires (2:20b)
This is the fundamental truth of the Christian life—that you are not trying to live up to others’ expectations (or even your own expectations), but you are living the life of Jesus Himself! You now love the things that He loves, you desire the things that He desires! And so when you wake up an hour early to read the Bible it’s not because you’re trying to live up to someone’s expectations of what “a good Christian” does—you’re doing it because you genuinely love to do it! When you respond with kindness instead of anger to someone who insults you, it’s not because you’re forcing yourself to conform to your idea of what a Christian is—you’re responding that way because it is Jesus speaking through you to them!
That’s what Paul means when he says here that “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20b). That every aspect of your life—whether you’re doing dishes or changing diapers or loading a truck or filling out paperwork or herding cows or delivering fuel or disciplining a child or cooking a meal or folding clothes or meeting with your boss or doing homework—every single moment of every single day is spent trusting in Jesus to live and act through you!
Because when you trust Jesus Christ alone to make you right with God, He goes to work to transform every single element of your life, so that your old sinful passions and desires die off, and His passions and desires become increasingly yours! When you are justified by faith in Christ alone, you have nothing to prove to anybody—but your life will be living proof that you are justified!
You die to your old affections and desires, and live His life in you, the one “who loved you and gave Himself for you!” When you are justified by faith in Christ, you are
Secure in Christ’s sacrificial love for you (2:20c)
It doesn’t matter whether some legalistic Christian out there thinks you don’t measure up—the only opinion that matters is the opinion of the One Who gave His life to deliver you from the penalty and power of your sin! And it doesn’t matter what kind of self-accusing voice you have running in your head telling you what a rotten Christian you are—what matters is the opinion of the One who went to that Cross to save you! Your justification rests only in the grace of God to save you on the basis of your faith in Jesus Christ alone! Not Jesus plus circumcision, not Jesus plus good behavior, not Jesus plus a squeaky-clean image, not Jesus plus tons of Bible knowledge—but in Jesus Christ alone!
And if you are here this morning and you're justifying yourself before God by pointing to all of the good in your life, that somehow He will be impressed with your discipline and your generosity and your high moral standards—you need to consider what Paul says in verse 21:
21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
If righteousness before God were attainable through your good works—if you could be “good enough” by living a moral and upright and decent life—then Jesus’ death was pointless! If it were possible for you to be saved by your own efforts, then Jesus letting Himself be nailed to that Cross—voluntarily letting Himself be tortured to death in one of the most hideous methods of execution ever devised by wicked men—was the dumbest thing anyone has ever done! Someday, when you stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, and you look on Him seated there, the prints of the nails still visible in His hands and feet, are you really going to say to Him, “Yeah, Jesus, you really wasted your time on the Cross—look at me! I saved myself with my good works!”
Please—don’t do that! Please don’t nullify the grace of God with your foolish, self-destructive trust in your own ability to be good enough for God! There is nowhere else to turn—there is salvation in no other name under heaven—there is no other way to be made right in the sight of Almighty God! Drop the self-justification, walk away from the pride that says you don’t need God’s help to be a good person, that you can do it on your own! You will never be justified in His sight until you quit placing your trust in what you can do for Him and put your faith in what He has done for you! Call out to Him in faith that He will make you right once and for all before Him! Won’t you come—and welcome!—to Jesus Christ?
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
Think of someone you know who is a good employee, an unselfish friend, a generous person. Should we consider that person a Christian on that basis? How do people use those kinds of characteristics to justify themselves today?
What would you say to someone who affirms their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their justification, but shows no signs of love for Christ or evidence of His life living in them?
Martin Luther referred to justification by faith as “the doctrine on which the church stands or falls”. Why does this doctrine affect everything about our church’s life and witness?