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“… 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.”– Galatians 2:20
Do You Feel ‘Justified’?
Imagine this: A new health food company called Healthy Futures announces an introductory promotion: it will give $100,000 to every registered citizen in your town who applies in the next 24 hours. Soon, you and your neighbors are dreaming about what to do with the unexpected windfall.
A week later, all who sign up receive a letter explaining that to receive the offer, recipients must join the company’s “Healthy Futures Fitness Club” and follow all club rules. Members must exercise for 60 minutes every day, drink only water, and consume only vegetables, grains, or Healthy Futures nutritional supplements.
Secondly, recipients can’t actually spend the money, which will be automatically deposited in the “Healthy Futures Investment Society” for a minimum of 20 years, with any returns retained by the company.
Finally, to reduce temptation toward unhealthy behavior, members must cut ties with relatives or other friends who are not also members of the Healthy Futures Club.
How would you respond to such an offer? What appeared to be free money might cost more than you are willing to pay.
This was not unlike the situation Paul faced when writing to the churches of Galatia. He had proclaimed the free gospel of God’s love and grace among them. Many had accepted the good news with joy and were growing in faith. Soon after, however, other preachers came along and claimed that Paul had not told the whole story. They agreed that the grace of God was freely offered, but said those who accepted it must also adopt the practices of first-century Judaism – including circumcision for men, dietary restrictions, and remaining apart from those who didn’t live by the same rules.
We can understand why the Galatians were confused – and why Paul was livid. But, we may face similar questions. How does one proclaim a free gospel that will change lives without prescribing the ways in which the change must come? How do we balance law and grace?
Law and grace(vv. 15-18)
Paul’s letter shows that even some of the most prominent leaders of the early church were subject to being confused. They had always lived by the law, and found it hard to rely on grace alone. Even the Apostle Peter was wishy-washy about it, a situation that Paul bemoaned in Gal. 2:11-14.
Peter knew better: Acts 10 records how he had received a revelation that God had made not only all foods acceptable, but also all people. He had witnessed the Holy Spirit coming upon Gentile believers in the home of Cornelius, and had declared: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
While visiting the church in Antioch, Peter ate and drank and had fellowship with Gentile believers – but when a group of legalists from Jerusalem showed up and criticized him, Peter withdrew and wouldn’t eat with the Gentile Christians (vv. 11-14).
Peter was his senior in faith, but Paul had no qualms about calling him on the carpet for his failure to uphold the truth of the gospel – that one’s relationship with God is based on grace and not law.
That is not to say that Paul had no care for how Christians behaved. He believed that accepting the gospel would change a person’s life, including his or her behavior. Still, he saw change as the natural result of gratitude and love for Christ, not as a prerequisite.
The legalists who had led the Galatians astray may have quoted Peter or other church leaders as their authority for insisting that Gentile Christians must observe Jewish law. Paul insisted that he himself had reminded Peter that, though they were Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners,” they also had been justified by faith in Christ, not by keeping the law (vv. 15-16).
Several key words and phrases call for closer examination. Paul spoke often of being justified by faith in Christ rather than works of the law. The words “just,” “justify,” and justified” are different forms of a root word that also appears in English translations as “righteous” or “righteousness.” It refers to being in a right relationship with God. In one sense this means we stand forgiven before God, but it also suggests that we are on a path that leads us closer to God and thus more just or righteous in our living.
By “the works of the law,” Paul means observance of the laws of Judaism. We should understand that ethnic Hebrews did not observe the law in order to become Jews: they were born into Judaism and believed God had chosen the Hebrews to live in a covenant relationship. Within the covenant, keeping the law was a way of maintaining favor with God and seeking forgiveness if they fell short.
Thus, the legalists who had distorted the gospel in Galatia probably did not claim that one must follow the law in order to become Christian, but that as new people of God they should follow the same rules that the Jews believed would honor God.
Paul insisted that believers are justified or made right with God “through faith in Christ,” a phrase that could also be translated “through the faithfulness of Christ.”
While vv. 17-18 may seem convoluted, Paul’s overall point is clear. When he speaks of seeking to be justified in Christ but being found a sinner, he is referring to Christian legalists who regarded those who didn’t keep the Jewish law as sinners. If trusting Christ’s grace made you a “sinner,” Paul asked, would Christ be “a servant of sin” by promoting it? Paul’s answer is an emphatic negative (v. 17).
Paul had given up, or “torn down,” his former reliance on the law by trusting in Christ. If he should return to depending on the law or “build it up again,” that would make him atransgressor (a real sinner), for he would be turning away from the sufficiency of faith in Christ (v. 18).
A better way(vv. 19-21)
Paul insisted that choosing Christ over the law is the better way. “I died to the law,” he said, “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” (vv. 10-20a). As Christ died in the flesh to demonstrate God’s acceptance of all who repent, those who trust in Christ put to death their feeble attempts to please God on their own, and choose to accept God’s acceptance.
When we understand that Jesus loves us despite our sin and we experience his grace even though we don’t deserve it – when we know the overwhelming joy of being forgiven and cleansed of sin – our lives will no longer be the same.
Having experienced the love of Christ, we learn to love others as Jesus loves. Having known God’s forgiveness, we are more likely to forgive. Having tasted what it is like to feel clean and right with God, we will naturally work to live a better life and to behave in such a way that we bring joy to God.
Paul expressed it this way: “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” (v. 20b). Those who trust in Christ no longer focus on ritual behaviors to earn God’s favor, but show to others the same love we have received from God. If ritual works could have made us right with God, Paul said, there would have been no point in Christ dying (v. 21), and he could not imagine that.
Paul’s language, with statements such as “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” may seem extreme, but gaining Christ does not mean losing ourselves altogether. Paul never stopped being himself: his Type A personality and penchant for zealotry was not extinguished, but redirected. Our calling to become like Christ allows freedom to express the love of Christ through the unique qualities that make us who we are.
Think about it. Would God create us all in wondrous diversity, and then say “If you want to become a Christian, you must let me flatten you out and stamp you with my cookie cutter”? There is work to be done that only we can do. There are people to be loved that no one can love like we do. There are people in need of the good news who will respond to us better than anyone else.
Our new life in Christ is a life of freedom. Paul had no patience with anyone who sought to deny Christian liberty by introducing a list of other requirements for being good with God, and he accused them of preaching a false gospel – a gospel that was no gospel at all, because it was bad news and not good news.
Today it is not uncommon to hear religious leaders imply that to be a truly faithful Christian, one must not only trust Christ, but also believe the scriptures are inerrant, support Christian prayer in public schools, keep women in subordinate roles, or support a particular political agenda.
If Paul were here today, he would remind us that adding anything to the gospel of grace creates a false gospel. In his own day, Paul stood up to the most famous leaders of the church and defended the gospel of grace. In our time, should we not call out those who add human requirements to God’s grace as preaching heresy and not gospel? “For if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” NFJ
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for June 12, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: Galatians 2:15-21
The goal of parenting isn’t to create mini versions of ourselves, but to help our youth discover who they are and the gifts and talents that they possess. As I minister with students, this is the thing that provides more tension in parent-youth relationships than any other issue. When do parents let go? How much freedom do I give to my students? How do youth discover who they are when their parents are hovering over top of them? Studies have shown that the more influence you want to have in the life of a youth the less control you place over them. So as your students embrace their own “freedom,” don’t be surprised when you see your own influence shining through.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Coach’s Word is Law” from Hoosiers via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: Galatians 2:15-21