Scripture: GALATIANS 2:15-21.
Do you know people worn out trying to get right with God? If there is a God, it is essential we get right with God. So people do all they think God would require of them. They seek to live a good life. They exhaust themselves with acts of charity, good deeds and benevolence, hoping this will write themselves into God's good books. They say "I'm as good as the next man. Far better than many of those what go to church, even if I say it myself."
At funerals, friends of the deceased, recite the deeds of the deceased. A litany of remembrances, kind words, decent acts - trying to impress upon us the deceased should be thought of in the best possible light. They have heard something of living by faith so they try to live by faith. Some learn to trust God asking through prayer for God's blessing. Some intellectually ascent to statements of belief thinking that right knowledge is the key ingredient. But neither trusting life-style nor intellectual ascent to faith propositions is the key to living by faith. Being a good person is important for the community but do people understand that goodness has nothing to do with getting right with God?
The verses that conclude Galatians 2 contain some of the most significant truths of Christianity. In particular, Paul clearly states the doctrine of justification by grace through faith and defends it. The words justify and justification occur four times in these verses. Paul writes the message that is central to the letter, to his gospel, and indeed to Christianity generally. The theme is, we live because we have been justified by faith. This theme has become a core doctrine of the Christian faith.
Paul used the term faith in his letters to the Galatians and to the Romans, two key theological letters, 85 times. The term justify and justification 30 times. It is a key doctrine: We live because we have been justified by faith. This statement flows out of the situation at Antioch where Peter and other leaders of the Church, separated themselves from some of the new Christians who came from a non-Jewish background, and made sure, they as Jews, also kept the Jewish Laws. Paul rebuked Peter strongly, and emphasised that we are made right with God not by keeping the Jewish Law, or by a life-time of good deeds. But we are justified by faith alone. Even Jews who were born into the race and who knew the Jewish faith should realise that.
For even these advantages do not make people right with God. GAL 2:15-16 "We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." Even Jews must be saved through faith. So obeying Judaism is an inadequate basis for Christianity. For although the Judaism possessed the Law we are made right with God through God's grace and what happened upon the Cross of Jesus. This is summed up in the phrase justification by faith. Living by faith is indispensable for salvation.
Justify is a forensic term borrowed from the law courts. It means to declare righteous or innocent. The opposite of to justify is to condemn. Because of our human nature and acts we stand condemned.
Does everyone fail God's standard? Rom 3:23 "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" But in Christ, God declares everyone who has faith in what Jesus did on the Cross is no longer guilty. We have been made right with God through believing what Jesus has done for us. This being made right, or justified in God's sight, does not mean our character has improved overnight or our actions are no longer faulty. Rather, it expresses the judicial action of God. He has declared us Not guilty! in spite of what we have done. Does this have anything to do with our merit or effort? It is simply an act of God's grace. We, who believe Jesus died for us, are pardoned, acquitted, and then reinstated as God's children and as fellow heirs with Jesus Christ!
Does this experience apply to everyone? God justifies only those He unites to Christ, a union that takes place when we believe in Jesus. God's grace is the source of us being right with Him and our faith results in this justification. Is faith then, trust in Jesus? Faith begins with knowledge, so it is not blind. It builds on facts, so it is not speculation. It depends on the outcome, so it is not impractical. Faith is trusting Christ and proving his promises. Verse 16 literally "we have believed into Christ." This implies an act of personal commitment, not just assenting to the facts concerning Christ. It also implies a person turns from the only other means of getting right with God: by our own effort and goodness. Is there any way we can get right with God by doing good deeds? Paul writes 16 "We, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law because by observing the law no one will be justified." Good deeds do not justify us. Faith alone saves us.
But do you think by not encouraging salvation by good deeds and human effort we discourage others from being good and encourage godless living? 17 "If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!" A man who attended our Chapel In the City on Thursdays once argued that. He was not a Christ-ian but was interested in all the good deeds Wesley Mission does to help people. He said: "I can't understand you. You work your heart out to help the poor and you inspire others to get in there with you, but you then say, none of all this we are doing to help others is going to save us. Well, if it is not going to save us, what the hell are we doing it for? If believing is enough, why should I bother helping others?"
Paul replies God has first joined us to Christ by our faith and this transforms us. When we are in Christ we are new creatures. 2 Cor 5:17 Because we are justified by faith, we now serve others and live a life of good deeds. But how does understanding justification by faith lead to a life of committed service to God and of helping humanity? The Earl of Shaftsbury, one of Victorian England's great reformers, found his impetus came from, as he wrote: "justification by Faith, that grand doctrine, the very life of the Bible, was the great saving truth, without which no other truth in Scripture would be worth having - salvation by a crucified Redeemer." Like Paul he could say 20 "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." When a person realises s\he is saved, they then serve.
The last sentence shows the heart of Christianity lies in the grace of God and in the death of Jesus Christ. 21 "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" The grace of God and the death of Christ, are two basic planks in the platform of Christianity. As John Stott notes, "If anybody insists that justification is by works, and that he can earn his salvation by his own efforts, he is undermining the foundations of the Christian religion. He is nullifying the grace of God (because if salvation is by works, it is not by grace) and he is making Christ's death superfluous (because if salvation is our own work, then Christ's work was unnecessary).
Paul's logic is incontrovertible. Yet do you think that to earn salvation is somehow praiseworthy and noble? Actually it is vainglorious and ignoble. Should we not accept what God offers? Not to receive God's offer of salvation is to insult Him. And if you believe in do-it-yourself salvation, the insult is greater.
A survey published in the April '98 edition of MOODY magazine by Barna Research reveals when Americans were asked "Can a good person earn his or her way to heaven?" over half, 55%, agreed. 82% of Roman Catholics agreed, and that is to be expected for traditionally this has been Catholic teaching. Mormons likewise universally agreed because that also is their teaching. But it was rejected by most Protestant denominations, especially those which uphold the authority of the Bible. Because Protestants hold at the centre of their beliefs the teaching that we are justified by faith in Christ a cornerstone Protestant doctrine.
In 1515, Martin Luther, Augustinian monk and Professor of Sacred Theology in the University of Wittenberg, began to expound Paul's Epistle to the Romans to his students. As he prepared his lectures, he came to appreciate the centrality of the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith. Martin Luther wrote: "I greatly longed to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, "the righteousness of God", because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous. Night and day I pondered until I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise."
As a consequence of this new insight which Martin Luther gained, the whole of European history was dramatically changed. New powerful empires built by the Germans, the Dutch and the British followed very closely on this theological understanding which liberated people and nations and shattered the old Holy Roman Empire. Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones says: "Here, then, is the rock-bottom and foundation of Protestantism as over against Roman Catholicism and every type of teaching that exalts the sacraments. It is the basis also of all opposition to all attempts on the part of men to justify themselves by their own works and deeds and efforts in the sight of God."
The question is: How does belief in the gospel of Christ bring salvation? How can everyone who has faith know God's power to make you new?
Righteousness is an attribute of the character of God, to which we must conform. But we are not capable of meeting God's demands. We can never meet with God's approval. We can never legally stand before God acquitted at the bar of God's justice. But Paul says there is good news for us: God has made a way for us to be right with Himself. By our faith in Jesus we are united with Him and with His righteousness revealed upon the Cross.
But what is this essential faith we must have? Archbishop Sir Marcus Loane put it well: "Faith is much more than an academic belief or a credal statement; the most basic meaning of faith is trust. Mental assent to what is true must lead to a personal commitment to Him of whom all truth must speak, a combined response from the mind and the heart: the mind to give intelligent understanding; and heart to yield trust and obedience."
Is this greatest news ever proclaimed? We can be right with God and have eternal life through faith in what Christ has done for us on the Cross and through His resurrection. We are free from the frustration of trying to earn our way to God and find eternal life. We can receive it by our faith in Christ! Be right with God through faith now!
Three slogans summarise Protestant Christian-ity as set forth so eloquently by Paul. Sola fide - by faith alone - affirms that God's gift is received by humans by faith and not by any work of ours. Sola gratia by God's grace alone. Sola scriptura by the record within the scriptures alone. Do you trust Christ, Christ alone for your salvation by faith alone? Nothing else you do can make any difference.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
THE SACRED ANOINTING T Sargent. Hodder & Stoughton, 1994.
SHAFTESBURY, THE POOR MAN'S EARL. J Pollock Hodder and Stoughton, 1985.
ROMANS M L Jones Banner of Truth Vol 1 1985.
THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS L Morris Wm B Eerdmans 1988.
GOD'S MERE MERCY M Loane New Creation Publications 1986.
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