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.
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. 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 2:15-21 ESV
How is can anyone be justified or made right with God? What is required by God in order that sinful man might be restored to a right relationship with Him? Is it some form of tithes or offerings, sacrifices or the keeping of religious rituals? Are we required to do good deeds, works of charity, or acts of righteousness? Does a right relationship with God require penance or piety, religious zeal or enthusiastic service in His name?
How you answer these questions will reflect greatly on your understanding of the gospel. It is not that offerings, good deeds, penance or piety are wrong. The issue is what is driving that behavior. What is the motive? The prophet Micah wrote:
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:6-8 ESV
It was King David who penned the following words after having his affair with Bathsheba:
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV
So are these two men trying to tell us that we can be made right with God if we come to Him with broken and repentant hearts? Are they teaching us that acts of justice, kindness and a heart of humility are all that God requires of us in order to be made right with Him? According to Paul, the answer to both of these questions would be a resounding, “No!” Humility, acts of kindness, sacrifice, service, and a broken heart are not the means to justification, but the fruit of it. Justification is made possible through faith in Christ alone. But that faith is not some kind of cheap, easy believe-ism that requires little more than mental assent to Christ’s existence. It is a heart-felt recognition of my complete inability to earn God’s favor on my own and my hopeless state of condemnation because of my own sinful condition. Faith in Christ is believing that He alone is God’s sin solution, the remedy for man’s sentence of death and eternal separation from a holy God.
Paul makes it clear to his audience, including both Jews and Gentiles, “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” (Galatians 2:16 ESV). Paul prefaced these remarks with the statement: “We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners…” (Galatians 2:15 ESV). And yet, he said that, even as Jew, he knew that a person is not justified by works of the law. In saying this, he was not negating the law, but he was clarifying that the law was not intended to make men right with God. It had been pointing to the coming of the Messiah, who would fulfill the law by keeping it perfectly, thereby making Himself a perfect sinless sacrifice and the acceptable payment for the sins of mankind. “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT).
One of the charges leveled by the Judaizers was that faith in Christ alone would lead to lawlessness. If you removed the requirements to keep the law, they argued, men would end up living in moral license. They saw law-keeping as a necessary requirement to salvation. But Paul argued, “But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not!” (Galatians 2:17 NLT). Paul’s point seems to be that for a Christian to put themselves back under the Mosaic law as a means of justification with God was not only unnecessary, but unprofitable. “Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God” (Galatians 2:18-19 NLT).
For Paul, a former Pharisee, everything had changed that day on the road to Damascus when he had come face to face with the resurrected Christ. From that day forward, he said, “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” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). His life was now based on faith in Christ, not law-keeping. This does not mean that Paul became lawless or licentious in his behavior. It simply reflects that his motivation and means to living in keeping with God’s divine decree of holiness came from a different source. He pursued righteous living based on his faith in Christ, not based on his own ability to keep rules or regulations. He discovered that the power to live a godly life, fully pleasing to God, came the Spirit of God, not the human will. The way to righteousness was not through the law, but through faith in the law-keeper, the Son of the law-giver.