NT, Part 12. Part 5 in our discussion of Galatians.
Imagine the power of the Law for a first-century Jew, dictating every social circle, every waking moment, every meal, every holiday, every Sabbath, and every interaction of daily life. The purpose of the Law was to define sin and to, hopefully, curtail it. Righteousness wasn’t available through the Law.
Jews of good conscience knew that their thoughts and secret deeds, their actions and reactions within their families, their lies, their bad choices meant that they had no hope. They were exactly like us. So what could be done? The solution is found in Christ.
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20 NASB).
The legalistic person Paul had been before he met Christ on the road to Damascus was now in his past. His goals then had been shaped by rigid religious aspirations and prideful achievements. His harsh and deadly efforts to kill Christians were committed with the fierceness of an extremist, a zealot (Galatians 1:13-14).
But now, the Spirit of Jesus dwells in Paul. He is a new man. Paul’s former self has died.
This is the essence of the Christian faith. The old self dies, slowly but surely fading into oblivion as the new self, day by day, matures by the grace, the leading, and the guidance of the Spirit of Jesus.
The Problem of Sin
“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 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 2:15-16 ESV).
Here’s the problem: The Galatian Jews believed that if they pursued the Biblical Law, they would no longer be classified as “sinners.” Therefore, they focused on rigid obedience, considering themselves to be better than the Gentiles and classifying these as “Gentile sinners” who didn’t even know the Law, filthy uncircumcised pagans.
Paul had once been a zealot who had thought and said these very words, so he knew the prideful root of the problem. Because of his previous persecution of the church, he later categorized himself as “the foremost of all sinners.” Paul no longer considered himself to be better than anyone.
Nevertheless, Paul was one of the most learned scholars of The Scriptures (the Old Testament). At the time of the writing of The Letter to the Galatians, A.D. 48, there was no New Testament. The letters and accounts written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by John Mark, Matthew, Luke, James, John, Peter, and others came later.
Justified by Faith, not by the Law
Paul was the man to deal with the legalistic Jewish Christians who had memorized the Biblical Law and looked down upon Gentile Christians. These early Jewish Christians required growth in humility, for we are ALL sinners. NONE of us, NOT EVEN ONE, are sinless.
And, sinless is the requirement to enter the presence of a Holy God. This is why God the Son came, lived a sinless life, allowed himself to be crucified, and rose from the dead to ascend to heaven. His blood paid for the sins of all who would entrust themselves to him. Christ achieved what none of us could ever earn.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, these Jewish believers had recognized that they were indeed sinners, for they couldn’t keep the Law perfectly. No one can live their life in absolute perfection, neither Jew nor Gentile. Only one person, Messiah Jesus, succeeded at keeping the Law perfectly, for his obedience was flawless.
“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! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God” (Galatians 2:17-19 ESV).
Since believers are forgiven, striving to keep the Law after becoming a Christian or adhering to legalistic do’s and don’ts prove that we haven’t fully grasped the significance of our salvation. We could never be justified by obeying the Law, neither before nor after our salvation.
Rather, we are justified, declared righteous, because we believed and entrusted ourselves to Christ. Nothing more needs added. We are free to live for the Lord, devoted to loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.We believed and entrusted ourselves to Christ. Nothing more needs added. We are free to live for the Lord, devoted to loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. #Salvation #Grace Click To Tweet
The Jews who turned to Christ as their Savior had repented and been baptized. They were learning these truths. What they hadn’t counted on was persecution from other Jews, for they were, afterall, still Jewish.
But now that these Jewish Christians were spending time with fellow Christians who were Gentiles, the legalistic Jewish church attenders started calling these Jewish Christians “sinners” just like the “sinful Gentiles.” Sadly, this type of judgment from legalists often continues in our churches today.
Freedom in Christ
“For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.” (Galatians 2:19 ESV). Recognition that they couldn’t keep the Law convicted them, and the Holy Spirit convinced them of the mercy and love of Christ, who had died to pay for every wrong we have ever done. Only in him can we find our way to God.
“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. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the Law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:20-21 ESV).
The same is true for us today. If righteousness could have been maintained by rulekeeping, God the Son could have stayed comfortably at the Father’s right hand, never becoming one of us, never dying such a gruesome death.
But, God the Son knew we needed him, and so he came. And because he did, we can all receive salvation and the transformation that comes with repentance and turning to Jesus.God the Son knew we needed him, and so he came. And because he did, we can all receive salvation and the transformation that comes with repentance and turning to Jesus. #Faith Click To Tweet
To be forgiven for every sinful act and to never have to attempt to earn our way to God would bring overwhelming joy to those who had labored for their entire lifetime to maintain the Biblical Law.
Likewise, Gentiles who had been slaves to paganism with its immoral and often gruesome rituals, some even having sacrificed their children to their former idols, would now not have those sins held against them, because of Christ Jesus’ sacrifice of himself. Even these could be healed from the horror of their past actions.
“Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.”
Rock of Ages, by Augustus M. Toplady, 1776.
Because of Jesus, all can now be forgiven, as if we ourselves were crucified with him. We died to that old sinful nature, which always pulled us the wrong direction. We died to our old selves, but Christ now lives in us. His presence in us through his Spirit begins the healing process.Because of Jesus, all can now be forgiven, as if we ourselves were crucified with him. We died to that old sinful nature. We died to our old selves, but Christ now lives in us. His presence in us through his Spirit begins the healing… Click To Tweet
We now live by faith. It is not us, but Messiah Jesus, the only One who can empower us to love when we feel unloving, to be kind when we feel downright mean, and to keep our mouths shut when we feel like uttering harsh words. We have died to who we once were, for we were crucified with Christ Jesus.We now live by faith. It is not us, but Messiah Jesus, the only One who can empower us to love when we feel unloving, to be kind when we feel downright mean, and to keep our mouths shut when we feel like uttering harsh words. #Faith Click To Tweet
As believers, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us. This is why the apostles gave up their former lives, traveled far and wide, invested their time in writing Scripture, and then died brutal deaths at the hands of the persecuting Romans, or all alone on a deserted island, as did John. They knew Jesus.
And, this is why Paul penned this letter immediately upon hearing that the Judaizers were destroying the faith of the Gentile believers in Galatia. This letter would have brought great relief to the fledgling church in Galatia.
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