"THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL"

GALATIANS 2:15-21

FEBRUARY 8, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

 

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           “It doesnt get any better than this!  Have you ever uttered those words?  Holding a new born baby.  Sleeping in on a cold winter morning.  Grilling brats in the backyard with good friends.  Watching the sun go down on a deserted beach with the love of your life. It doesnt get any better than this! Have you ever uttered those words?  Well, Im going to utter them again this morning.  When it comes our passage of scripture, It doesnt get any better than this!

            Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, said our passage for today captures the chief doctrine of the Christian faith.  Luther said it is so important that if we dont understand the doctrine captured in these verses, we really dont understand Christianity at all. He said we could be right about many other church doctrines, but if we are wrong on this doctrine, we are wrong at the very center of the Christian faith. Luther also said that what the Apostle Paul outlines here is so important that we must believe it, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually. I hope to do that, as gently as I can, in this sermon.[1]

            So lets read our verses for today.  Turn to page 946 in the pew Bible, to Galatians 2:15-21. Remember the context.  Paul has just recounted his disappointment with Peter concerning his change in behavior when it came to eating with Gentiles, and then he moves on to the underlying reason for his disappointment with Peter. The key verse, will be the verse 16.  Ready?  Here we go

 

            We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.  And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not be doing the works of the law, because no one can be justified by the works of the law.  But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ not then a servant of sin?  Certainly not!  But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.  For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is 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 justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

 

            The doctrine at the very center of the Christian faith, the doctrine Luther would have us believe and teach and beat into the heads of others is justification by faith, and if we were to reread verse sixteen slowly and carefully, we would discover that Paul repeats three theological, technical words. Paul mentions faith twice, justified three times, and law three times. In fact, this verse, which is packed with dense theological truth, actually says the same thing three times. Paul repeats himself so we wont miss the basic truth. He wants to make one point and one point only: We are made right with God only through faith in Jesus Christ and not from good works of any kind.

            Lets unpack those three words.  Lets make sure we understand them.

            Well begin with the word justified.  We commonly use the term justify in two ways. We say a person is seeking to justify himself by explaining or making excuses for what he has said or done.  We also use the term in conjunction with word processors where we are putting together a document, and want to justify the margins of a typewritten page, that is align the line of type on one side or another or both.  If you read this message on line, you will find I aligned the type on the left side of the page, but not on the right side of that page, but I could have done both.

            Paul, on the other hand, borrows the term from a court of law. The word refers to a verdict from a judge that allows a defendant to go free. It means that the defendant is declared not guilty, innocent of all charges, and there is no record against him in the eyes of the law.

            Let me see if I can illustrate the point.  There was a man in England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across to the continent to go on a holiday. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the engine of his car. He cabled the Rolls-Royce people back in England and asked, "I'm having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?" Well, the Rolls-Royce people flew a mechanic over! The mechanic repaired the car and flew back to England and left the man to continue his holiday. As you can imagine, the fellow was wondering, "How much is this going to cost me?" So when he got back to England, he wrote the people a letter and asked how much he owed them. He received a letter from the office that read: "Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce."

            That is justification ... no record of our every doing anything wrong.  As far as the east is from the west, God has removed our sin from us (Psalm 103:12).  Think of it this way Justification: just as we had never sinned. If God declares us justified, our record is clean and clear and we are free to go.

            That brings us to our second word law. Three times in verse sixteen Paul says we are not justified by the works of the law, but lets be clear.  Law, as conceived and experienced by Paul and his fellow Jews, was nowhere near our understanding of it today.  The function of modern day law is to govern the relations of persons each other, not with God.  For the Jews obedience to the law rendered one into a right relationship with God, making one acceptable to God.

            After coming to Christ, however, Paul no longer believed that.  In fact, he had nightmares about it, because he couldnt keep the law.  His strenuous efforts to get right with God were always being thwarted by his sinful human nature.  In his Letter to the Romans Paul said, he keeps doing what he doesnt want to do, and not doing what he wants to do (Romans 7:15-20).

            Here was his problem.  Paul came to realize the truth of what he said at the end of verse sixteen where he said, No one will be justified by the works of the law.  Why?  Because the standard is perfection, and who can meet that standard?  Who can keep the law perfectly?  Paul couldnt and it gave him nightmares.   

            Of course, thats a shocking thought, and the person on the street doesnt believe that. If you ask people, Do you have to be perfect to go to heaven? most will answer No, of course not.  If that were the case no one would go to heaven. They say, If you do more good things than bad things, God will gladly open the pearly gates for you.  But the answer to the question Do you have to be perfect to go to heaven, is Yes. If we want to go to heaven, weve got to follow Gods law to the letter, never break one of them. That means we are left with only two options if we want to go to heaven:

            1) Weve got to be perfect ourselves. Which the Apostle Paul said he could not pull off. Or

            2) Weve got to find someone who can be perfect in our place.

            Since weve all blown number one years ago, the only thing left for us is number two. Its not the law that makes us right with God, its something else, and that leads us to our third word. 

            Our third word is the word faith. What justifies us, what gets us off the hook with God is not the law, but rather faith in Christ.

            Now remember as Paul used the term faith is both a verb and a noun.  Faith is not a passive, grateful reception of Gods grace and mercy, but rather an active entrustment of oneself into the hands of Christ.  Now you grammarians out there are thinking, Meyer, faith as a word does not have a verb form.  You cant say, I faith him.’”  You are right, so when Paul talks about faith, we can also think of the word trust.  Faith in Christ involves both belief and trust.

            Salvation is a gift of God received through faith. This is a humbling doctrine because it declares that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. There is nothing we can do to contribute to our own salvation. Paul repeats this three times in verse sixteen so we wont miss it. Salvation comes to those who stop trying and start trusting in Jesus Christ.

            Then he deals with a major objection he has heard from his Jewish friends.  His Jewish buds and buddettes who became Christians said, Well, if thats true, Paul, if people are justified through simple faith and not the law, then people will take advantage of God.  People will think that they can keep sinning willy nilly because all they need to do is have faith in Christ.  Thats their get out of jail free card.  Look once again at Pauls answer to that.  Well, Paul, first, acknowledges the objection from some of his Jewish Christian friends Verse 17

 

            But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ than a servant of sin?

 

            Thats the objection.  Doesnt justification by faith encourage sin?  Note Pauls answer

 

            Certainly not! then skipping to verse 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

 

            Justification by faith is not a license to sin, but a strength by which to live.  Justification by faith puts us under obligation to Christ for what he has done for us.  We do good works to put a smile on his face and not to gain a spot in heaven. 

            Let me close with this.  In the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (1/17/98) Judy Zimerold writes:

 

            Three-year-old Katie was taken to her pediatrician during a recent bout with the flu. As the doctor examined her ears, he asked, Will I find Big Bird in here?

Apprehensively, Katie replied, No.

            Then, before examining her throat, he asked, Will I find the Cookie Monster in here?

            Again, No.

            Finally, listening to her heart, he asked, Will I find Barney in here?

            With innocent conviction, she looked him directly in the eye and said, No, Jesus is in my heart. Barney is on my underwear.

 

            Let me put it this way: It doesnt matter who is on our underwear so long as Jesus is in our heart. A Christian is a person in whom Christ now lives. Hes the one who spurs us on to good works.  Hes the one who motivates us to keep the commands of God.

 

 

 

           



[1]How God Saves Sinners: Coming to Grips with Justification by Faith a sermon by Dr. Ray Pritchard.