|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 9
Meditation Title: Justification by Faith
Gal 2:15,16 We who are Jews by birth and not `Gentile sinners' 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.
These two verses are perhaps THE crux verses of this letter and so we would do well to examine them carefully. Paul starts out, We who are Jews by birth and not `Gentile sinners'. He is highlighting his background and he does it for a purpose. He is writing to churches who have been disturbed by Jewish believers, and so he comes to them as a Jewish believer for that is what he is. Even more he accentuates the Jewish perspective that those who are not Jews are Gentile sinners. A Gentile was simply anyone who was not a Jew and a Jew was someone who was part of the race that had been called into being by God and who had had a special relationship with Him. Indeed they considered anyone who didn't have such a relationship as ‘a sinner'. So Paul comes from this background and from this perspective. This is an important starting point.
The reason he makes this starting point is because of what he then goes on to say: We …. know that a man is not justified by observing the law. We, the Jews who have grown up with God, part of His nation, know that you don't get justified by observing or keeping the Law. He doesn't say it here but he knows that when you try to keep the Law you are constantly aware of failure, of our inadequacy when it comes to trying to keep the rules (see what he says in Romans 7).
Now people often get worried about this word, ‘justified' but it's something we do all the time. When we do wrong we automatically try and justify it, and explain why it wasn't really my fault! Adam and Eve both did it: “The man said, "The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Gen 3:12 ), i.e. Adam blamed Eve. “The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:13) i.e. Eve blamed the snake. The truth is we try to put ourselves in a good light, as if we weren't to blame, as if we were innocent. That's what we do when we try to justify ourselves and if we come up with good excuses we think we are justified in our actions.
So, says Paul, we Jews have learnt that in reality none of us is ever justified by trying to keep the Law; we still have guilty consciences before God (implied). No, he goes on, we've realised that that won't help us, only faith in Jesus Christ will. So, he says, just like you Gentiles we too have put our faith in Jesus Christ as the means of our justification. We're exactly the same as you, so don't try to become what we once were, because we've left that behind (implied).
Twice in these two verses he makes this point: a man is not justified by observing the law…..by observing the law no one will be justified. Of course what he is going on to say is that circumcision was part of the Law and so being circumcised is not going to help get you justified before God. Three times in these verses he makes the point about faith in Christ: We … know that a man is … justified … by faith in Jesus Christ. …. we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus…. that we may be justified by faith in Christ. Justification comes when we put our faith in Jesus – and only when we do that, but once we do that, that is all it needs; we cannot add to it.
Like Paul, we need to repeat this many times because it goes against the sinful nature that wants to contribute towards our salvation. We want to feel that we do something that contributes to clearing our name. Sometimes when we do wrong to someone, we try to make up for it by being particularly nice to them afterwards. If we fail at something we then try and work particularly hard at getting it right next time. Some people try to justify themselves by going to church and appearing religious. Some people keep to the socially expected norms of society. In such ways they feel good about themselves. I'm not a sinner. I do what God expects. No you don't! You don't acknowledge your inability to be perfect and you don't turn to God for Him to transform you and bring new life to you.
Very often we try to patch up our old lives. We work on the questionable bits and try to make ourselves look good, but we never deceive God. He knows the truth. We are still self-centred and godless. That is exactly what we are doing all the time when we're trying to patch up our lives. No, we have to come to a point of recognition that these lives need to die because, as they are, they just keep on producing more and more self-centredness and more and more godlessness. No, they have to die and then Jesus has to come and resurrect them by his life and power within them, so that his life – his character etc. – can flow through them. Any goodness is only what he brings in and through us. Until we get to this point we'll never see what Paul is going on about, why he is making such an issue about being justified by faith alone.