MESSAGE FOR MAY 4, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 2:17-21
This morning, we continue to move through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Last week, we examined the very core of this letter’s message. Verse 16 expresses it this way, “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.” That is the heart of the gospel --fashioned by God in eternity past and accomplished by Jesus in his death and resurrection. If you want to be acceptable and pleasing to God, there is one thing to do. That is, place your active, eager trust in Jesus Christ—all he is and all he did for you. Faith alone, apart from any works of the Law—apart from any performance on our part--is what enables us to have the saving death and the perfectly righteous life of Christ applied to us by God, so that we are both forgiven and looked at by God as being righteous, acceptable and pleasing in his sight. This is not a sham righteousness—it is real because we have been united with Christ Himself. That is justification in a nutshell and that is what Paul began last week.
This week, we begin to delve into Paul’s unpacking of this truth of justification. He has stated the truth in verse 16, but he hasn’t yet explained it or defended it against the false teaching of the Judaizers. He begins his treatment in these verses by doing just that—defending his gospel from a vicious allegation from the Judaizers. He says, “But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. 20It 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. 21I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
Because this is a challenging text to understand on many fronts, for the sake of clarity, I want to handle the exposition of these verses a bit differently this morning. These verses lend themselves quite well to a bit a drama. Because Paul begins by essentially quoting an objection raised against his gospel by the false teachers and spends the rest of this text responding to that objection, it has the feel of a debate with two arguments being brought to bear against each other. Because the text is technical in nature, because Paul writes from an intensely personal, first person perspective and because it easily transmits into a debate setting, I want to teach this text by employing a little (very little) drama to explain the meaning of these verses. The explanation of the verses will still be there—this is not for the purpose of entertaining--but to better capture some of the dynamics that existed between the Galatians, the false teachers and Paul and to hopefully clarify the fairly technical nature of Paul’s response to this objection by the Judaizers.
We will stage a mock debate this morning where I will first play the “role” of a false teacher, a Judaizer, as he is making his case before the Galatians. He will center his comments around this objection Paul cites in verse 17. Following that, “Paul” will take the debater’s podium and will respond to the false teacher, using the arguments found in the following verses. First, here is Simeon the false teacher. He hails from the town of Planos, and will now address you “Galatian” believers who he has already badly defiled through his false teaching.
SIMEON OF PLANOS*
“My dear, dear co-laborers for truth---my fellow children of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—lovers of God’s holy law and obedient believers in Jesus. It is my profound pleasure to be here today for the purpose of ridding you of any confusion that has been sown among you by those who preach an incomplete gospel that does violence to both the traditions of our fathers and to the holy Law of God. In the brief time I have allotted to me, let me address just one issue that I believe will more than suffice to show you the foolishness of the teaching you have received from Paul, who would have instructed you far more fully and accurately had he listened a bit more intently to his teacher, that great upholder of the faith and champion of the holy law of God—the apostle Peter. Sadly, that did not occur and so I am pressed into service today to clean up the mess he has left us with.
Here is my chief objection this morning to this vile teaching which you will doubtless find infinitely compelling. The so-called “apostle” who first taught you about Jesus has said several things that, when you put them all together simply do not hold together. In fact, probably unbeknownst to him, these teachings bring the Name of our Savior into grave disrepute. Here my argument. Paul has taught you that a person is made acceptable to God, yea, even pleasing to God by faith alone without any need for obedience to the holy Law of God. He explains this “curious” teaching by saying that when a person places their faith in Christ, God imputes the righteousness of his Son, Jesus to the one expressing faith. That imputing of righteousness not only forgives you of all your sin, but also places all the righteousness of our Lord Jesus on your account. Hence, there is no need to keep the holy Law in order to be made right with God, because Christ has kept it for you and God, having united you with Christ, has made his righteousness genuinely yours by this union with the Lord Jesus.
While this is perhaps a novel way of looking at the atonement of our dear Lord, it is not only completely unworthy of a former student of the holy Law of God, it is destined –please attend to this—this creative, but incomplete belief system is destined to transform anyone who believes it into a blasphemer of our blessed Savior. If that doesn’t frighten you, dear ones, it should. Hear this again--this incomplete belief system Paul preaches is destined to turn anyone who believes it into a blasphemer of our blessed Savior. All one has to do to see this is to think about it for an instant. Let’s assume you place your faith in Christ alone—Christ alone is responsible for your righteousness—you in no way complete it through your own obedience to the holy law of God. It’s Christ and Christ alone because you have been united with Him, making his righteousness, your own—his payment of sin, your own. But my dear ones, as you live your life believing this, let’s just say, you find yourself in some sin. You sin and because there is no law to restrain your actions, to keep you in check—you sin a very great deal. Let’s admit together—we all sin. You sin, Paul, as the purveyor of this lawlessness certainly sins. Even such a person as I, who so highly regards and studies and seeks to humbly serve God by clinging to His holy Law--even I must admit that I occasionally sin.
Now, do you not see the wicked, blasphemous implications of this foul teaching? If it is true that you are united with Christ and it is Christ who alone makes you righteous, then when you sin—it is Christ who promotes sin. Paul has made this entire theology of salvation so dependent upon Christ alone and not our own performance of the holy Law, then when I sin, Christ must be blamed—he promotes it. Let me put it directly—according to this way of thinking, “…if in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is[n’t] Christ then a servant of sin?”[Gal.2:17a] My precious family—treasurers of God’s holy Law—hear this loud and clear---To this teaching of Paul, I must take exception, “May it never be!”
PAUL THE APOSTLE
“Brothers and sisters, it gives me great joy to speak with you about the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ “ for it, [not our works,] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”[Rom.1:16] Though most of what this false brother has said has filled me with the indignation of Christ, with one statement I can agree. That is---May it never be that Christ’s Name would be brought into disrepute by a true understanding of his glorious gospel. “Certainly not!”[Gal 2:17b] Anyone who holds to the godless and twisted notion that when a believer is justified by grace through faith alone apart from works—that this makes Christ a servant or promoter of sin—this person, by my apostolic declaration, is cursed of God and is an enemy of the cross of Christ. Beloved, here is the truth. It is in fact those who try to win God’s favor through their performance of the Law who are held captive to sin and by their enslavement to sin they are the ones who bring reproach upon the Name of our Lord Jesus.
Permit me (if you will) to use myself as an example to demonstrate that living by faith and not works brings the most joy and triumph to us and the most honor to God. If I were to forsake the grace of God and begin trying to earn God’s favor through my performance of the Law—if I were to rebuild that hopelessly enslaving prison cell of the Law that I have destroyed through faith in Christ, then I would go right back to living under the oppressive control of sin. What the false teachers have not told you, beloved--even though they know it perfectly well--is that it was never God’s intention that we be pleasing to him by our performance of the Law. That’s not why he gave his Law to his people. The law is not a ladder you climb to get to heaven. If you view the Law that way, then let me inform you of something James—a pillar of the Jerusalem apostles has said, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for [or, has broken] all of it.” [James 2:10] Hear this well: if you choose to try to be pleasing to God by the works of the Law, then you are accountable to keep the law to perfection. God’s intention for the law is far different.
He has given us his holy, righteous and good Law as a reflection of his character and though its’ uses are more than one, its first purpose is to reveal to us the depth and wickedness of our sin and our great need of a Savior--the Lord Jesus. “…through the law comes knowledge of sin” [Rom 3:30] I can testify that “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”[Rom.7:7] That is God’s first use of his Law toward sinners. Because that is his main purpose for the Law, when a person seeks to be pleasing to God by keeping his Law, the Law proves itself to be fully inadequate. It can do nothing more than reveal to us our sinful hearts, our desperate need of both forgiveness and for God’s own righteousness that comes, not through the law, but only through faith in Christ. By God’s grace, I tore down the Law in my own life in the sense that I no longer look to it as a way for me to be acceptable or pleasing to God. “If I rebuild what I have torn down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.” I will go right back to living under the oppressive tyranny of sin in my life.
God in his great mercy repeatedly reminds me that I could never be acceptable to him on the basis of my performance of the Law. Every time in my prideful flesh I try to please God through the Law, the Law fans into flames the blazing fire of my indwelling sin. I can testify that “…when the commandment came, sin came alive (in me) and I died”[Rom.7:9] That is, I saw that I was condemned by God if I were to trust in what I could do to please him under the Law. “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” [Rom7:10] Whenever I have try to follow the Law of God to be acceptable to God I am brought to the point of crying out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” [Rom 7:24] I wonder if any here today have made that cry as you have vainly tried to be acceptable to God by your performance. Beloved, God answers my cry, not by telling me to obey the Law, but by repeatedly pointing me to Jesus Christ, who alone is my righteousness.
I could put it this way: “through the law [which condemns my efforts to please God by obeying it] I died to the law, [I gave up on it as a way for me to please God] so that I might live to God.”[Gal. 2:19] I have not given up on the law so as to live a godless, debauched life as the false teachers slanderously claim. The good news beloved, is that though I know only defeat and discouragement when I am trying to please God by my performance, by God’s grace, I can truly fulfill the law in holiness and triumph when by the Spirit I live by faith in Christ and what he has done for me in his death and resurrection.
Do you not know that the Law can never change your heart? It never teaches your stubborn heart to say “no” to sin and yes to God. Do you think that I would have been willing to suffer and live the radical life of obedience through the power of the Law? The Law either brings me to self condemnation as I see its holy requirements, or if in my pride, I apply it selectively to my life (as I used to do as a Pharisee) then, I end up becoming self-righteous, looking down my nose at others who aren’t nearly as holy as I am. Self-condemnation or self-righteousness—that’s the best the Law can do for me. As much as the lives of the Judaizers are all about themselves, living in Christ is not about self, it’s about Christ! The false brother who spoke earlier to you has mocked my gospel that is founded in our being united with Christ. The truth is--because God has placed me in Christ, I have been liberated from the old self that was hopelessly obsessed with ME, my will, my way, what I wanted.
In his mercy, God placed me IN Christ, so that when Christ defeated the controlling power of sin through his death on the cross, I died with him and shared in his victory over the self-centered power of sin. Likewise, when Christ was buried, I was buried; when Christ was raised to new life, I was raised to new life in him; when Christ was seated above all the demonic powers, I too was seated above them in him. Can the Law do that? The Law could never make me free from the power of sin. My union with Christ has freed me to walk in liberty from the controlling power of sin as I trust in him. How can this be? Because “I have been crucified with Christ.”[2:20] My old self—that part of me that had to have my own way and pouted if I didn’t get it—that part of me that was always trying to manipulate people and circumstances so I could have what I wanted—that part of me that was either on the one extreme, lost in self-condemnation over my sin, or on the other, boastfully exulting in what a holy man I was. That wretched, sin-soaked, wreck of an old self was crucified with Christ when He was crucified on the cross of Calvary. “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.” [Rom.6:6] “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” [Rom. 6:10] That’s not life under the Law. It’s by faith that you “consider”—that is, you continuously call to mind the truth--that you have a new relationship to sin because you have been crucified to its controlling power over you because you were united with Christ on his death at Calvary. That’s a miracle!
Here’s something just as miraculous, beloved. Because I have been crucified with Christ, “It is no longer I [the old self] who live.”[Gal 2:20a.] My self-obsessed, self-absorbed, self-centered old self has been replaced. By whom—by the Law? May it never be! Don’t you remember what I told you when I was with you, beloved? “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” I no longer determine where I live, or what I do for a living, or who my friends are, or how much money I make, spend or give away—that was the OLD self that wanted ruthless control over those things. Do you think I would spend so many nights in cold jail cells, running from Jewish authorities, debating false brothers like Simeon, weeping over Christ’s church, living as if I were the scum of the earth, if my self-centered old self were still in control of my will? Let me ask you, as you look at the life of Paul the apostle, has living by faith and not by the Law brought me to the debauchery the false teachers warned you a life of faith alone would lead to?
I speak like a fool now, but you have forced into it--by the grace of God—my life looks much more like the life Jesus lived than the false teacher’s, not because I am trying to superficially simulate his life by living under the Law, but because he…lives…in...me. “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…” [Gal 2:20b] I no longer look to myself, but by faith I look to Christ in all things. When I sin, I look to Christ as the payment of my penalty and as my righteousness. When I am attacked, I look to Christ for my defense. When I feel weak and my flesh chafes at God’s call on my life with all the deprivation and persecution, I look to Christ and am reminded that “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philip 4:13]
But beloved, there is one more piece of this that you have forgotten—this is the piece the false teachers never emphasize and that is—there is overwhelming joy in this life of faith.ChriCHrie What brings this joy? Is it because in the triumph that Christ brings I can avoid a guilty conscience and feel better about myself? That is just another form of the Law!—meet the standard so I can be a spiritual success. No, beloved. The joy comes from the truth that my walk with Christ is rooted in his love for me and not obedience to rules. This is not simply a religion—it is a love relationship with Jesus who “…loved me and gave himself for me.” [Gal 2:20c] Why would I not love him?--he died for me. Do you remember what I was doing when he saved me? I was “…opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” [Acts 26:9-11] On the Damascus Road, the Lord revealed to me that I was persecuting the Lord Jesus himself. I was attacking the One who loved me and gave himself for me. By God’s grace, I love Jesus so much because he has forgiven me so much. [Luke 7:47] “…the love of Christ controls us…” [2 Cor 5:14] “…the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” [1Tim1:14]
That’s why, unlike the false teachers, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If I could have been made acceptable to God by my performance of the law, then Christ died for nothing, but Christ did NOT die for nothing, Christ died to save ME…because I desperately needed to be saved by grace, through faith in Christ apart from the works of the law. That is my testimony, so “…Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”[Gal5:14-15] The Law can never make a new creation—its purpose is to condemn the sinner, not create a saint. Only Christ through the cross can set me free from the sin the false teachers so self-righteously fear and condemn. Only faith in Christ as my penalty for sin and my righteousness—only Christ with whom I was crucified and who lives in me—only Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me can set me…can set you free from sin, dear Galatians. This is the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that is the power of God for salvation. May God give you the grace to live out this gospel of grace through faith in Christ, apart from the works of the Law.” Let’s pray.
*“planos” is the New Testament Greek word for “deceiver”
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