Dec 13, 2015
Galatians 2:15-21

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In way of opening this morning I want to point out that Satan has but two strategies in the life of the believer… He either wants you to fall back into carnal living or fall forward into legalism knowing that both make a mockery of the cross! 

And while most Christians are able to resist the urge to return to a carnal lifestyle (or to at least understand how destructive this is to our spiritual lives), legalism is a very lethal form of error for it disguises itself in moralism and plays to the natural, Christian desire to please God. And it’s in this sense that legalism is so sneaky. 

Legalism says, “If you love God, you’ll obey Him. If you want to please God, you’ll serve Him.” And while on the surface this perspective seems reasonable, sadly it is actually nothing more than a power play of the flesh craving inclusion!

You see the Gospel of “Grace.” rejects this notion by instead saying, “Because God loves you, you’ll want to obey Him. Because God is pleased with you, you’ll want to serve Him.” 

Do you see the difference? Legalism always places the onus of your relationship with God upon self, whereas the Gospel centers the focus of your relationship on what God has done for you! “I love God because I do ______” verses “Because God loves me I do _________.”

Unlike legalism, the Gospel presents what we do in the name of God as being nothing more than a reciprocation to all that God has done for us! The flesh has no room for pride in self as every good thing in my life flows as a manifestation of His goodness.

Keep in mind… Though it tries to look the part legalistic moralism is not Godliness! Legalism is rather the fostering of a terrible lie that our obedience to God is based upon what we do for Him verses a natural manifestation steaming from all that He’s done for us! 

Anytime a Christian attempts to be “more right” with God they in actuality couldn’t be “more wrong!” Anytime I find myself seeking God’s good pleasure I’ve lost sight of the reality I’ve already been given His good pleasure! It’s a dangerous warp in thinking designed by a very real enemy seeking to lead us away from the source of spiritual vitality. 

And it’s with this in mind that I want to take a moment before we get to our text and address an issue related to Christian liberty and specifically the way in which we deal with legalism we haven’t addressed thus far in our travels through Galatians. 

Sadly (and it happens more often than not), when a person comes face to face with a spirit of legalism and has to fight to defend the freedom “Grace.” affords there ends up being a tragic counter-reaction that develops in the heart of the individual defending the Gospel.

All to often when engaging the legalist it’s easy for a person to in turn grow legalistic in the way they believe all Christian freedoms should be enjoyed! It’s so easy… For example… It’s so easy to think that because we enjoy a freedom others have chosen to abstain from enjoying we have somehow become more “in tune” or consistent with the Gospel message; and yet, the irony is that this perspective is wrong for it also stands guilty of possessing a false sense of moral superiority inconsistent with “Grace.” 

You see “Grace.” takes our eyes off what we do or refrain from doing (or for that matter what others are or aren’t doing) and places them squarely on Jesus and what He’s done for us! “Grace.” allows each individual to walk with Jesus according to their own conscience and it removes our right to impose our personal convictions onto another.  

As we noted last Sunday, if you have the conviction that you need to abstain from drinking alcohol you have that right, freedom, and prerogative as long as you realize you have no right to impose that conviction onto others… Separate yourself from those who do drink… Or see that position as somehow making you a better Christian!

But on the flip side it should be reiterated that if you responsibly enjoy the freedom to drink you have that right, freedom, and prerogative as long as you realize you also have no right to impose that conviction onto others… Separate yourself from those who don’t drink… Or see that position as somehow making you a better Christian!

The danger of this counter-reaction to legalism is that it can take a person who enjoys their freedom and foster a false sense that they’re now somehow better than the person who’s yet to fully experience the liberating nature of “Grace.” This approach falls into the slippery category of being “so right you’re wrong!” It’s haughty and proud!

While the traditional legalist prides themselves on what they do and/or refrain from doing for Jesus, the exact same snare can exist for those who react to legalism by taking pride in their liberty and not their Liberator. Heaved forbid!

Pastor Timothy Keller tweeted the following statement I find to be so true and why we should all resist this tendency… “The fastest way to become a Pharisee is to hate Pharisees.”

Moving on… Remember the core problem of all legalist and those who’d distort the Gospel of “Grace.” (and more specifically what Peter finds himself guilty of in Galatians 2) is not a failure to believe the Gospel, but a failure to fully trust that the Gospel works! 

And it’s to this point why, following his public rebuke of Peter, Paul now transitions into a sermon in which he reminds those in Antioch, the believers in Galatia, and you and I looking at this text this morning where the power behind the Gospel ultimately lies… Grace not law!

Galatians 2:15-16, “We Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

Paul begins by pointing out that while the Jews had a clear moral advantage over the Gentiles (“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles…) in that they had been called out of the world to be God’s chosen people, given the law to obey, His presences to be relied upon, and His promises to hold onto the Jewish people had failed to find themselves “justified by the works of the law.” The law failed to be a moral influencer!

Note: Justification is more than being forgiven. It means there is now no longer any record of my wrong doing. Whereas forgiveness absolves me of the consequences of my sin, justification imparts a right-standing before God just as if I had never sinned.

When it came to the issue of being “justified” before God (“to be rendered righteous” or seen by God “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned) these Jewish Christians, specifically Peter and Barnabas, rightly understood the “works of the law” had always fallen short in their aim. Paul even goes so far as to affirm that “by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

It’s to this point that both the Jews (who had the law) and the Gentiles (who didn’t) shared a commonality… No one could “be justified!” Paul would write in Romans 3:9-12, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.’”

Let me explain why “works of the law” fail to justify a person… Justification (which is a righteous position one has before God) can only come after the complete atonement of sin (the total satisfying of our sinful debt - Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.”)

You see you can work, strive, and hunker down in the attempts of your life being found right before God, but this will come to no avail as there is still nothing you can fundamentally do to atone for sin apart from dying an eternal death. No act but death atones for sin!

And since no “work” of sinful man can atone for his sinful state and rectify his rebellion against God there can be no justification which makes the “works of the law” rather useless.

Isaiah 64:5-6, “For we have sinned - In these ways we continue; and we need to be saved. We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

Paul is reminding his audience that, while their “works of the law” failed, justification before God had been made possible through Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. Jesus satisfied the debt for sin through His sacrificial death so that “by faith in Christ” and this very work we might be found justified before God. Salvation came to both the Jew and the Gentile, not through our works or the law, but as a gift of God. 

Paul substantiates this point saying, “Even we (Jews with a moral advantage) have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law.”

Understand… In light of the legalistic tendency to emphasize “our works” and the law, Paul is hammering home the reality that neither have ever played a role in our atonement for sin or justification before God… Today, every Christian has been forgiven and declared righteous (justification) for one reasons and one reason alone… Our belief and faith in the work of Christ Jesus!

Paul is clear there are 2 things essential for your justification before God… First, “belief in Christ” (“to think to be true”) that through Jesus’ crucifixion our sins were atoned for - our debt was satisfied. Second, “faith in Christ” (“trust and confidence”) in that we’re now found righteousness because we’re found in Him - His death imparts His righteousness! 

Galatians 2:17-19, “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.” 

This question… “If, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin?” hits at the core fear of the legalist that this idea of “Grace.” can lead to sinful behavior… That our freedom in Christ can be used to sin. It’s like Paul is asking a question aimed at addressing this natural fear of liberty being a license, “If someone walking in Grace is found in sin does it mean he took Grace to far?”

Notice Paul’s response, “Certainly not!” (in the KJV this verse is translated as, “God forbid!”) But then notice the pronoun choice… “For if I build again… I make myself a transgressor.” Once again it’s as if Paul is challenging this entire notion by asking, “If I’m found to be in sin while enjoying God’s grace… In a sense if I were to reestablish those things that were rendered vain… Is it Christ’s fault? No! It’s mine! I’ve made myself a transgressor!” 

Flowing from this point Paul provides the key concept in order to substantiate the crux of his argument… “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.” In context Paul is making it clear that sinful behavior in the life of the believer should not be attributed as a failure of “Grace.” but rather a failure to live consistently in the Gospel of “Grace.” 

Don’t forget the entire purpose of “Grace.” is that it accomplished a work in your life the Law never could. The law commanded - it demanded that you “live to God,” but grace enables you to “live to God” as a reciprocation of His given favor! It’s why legalism is misguided. You can never take grace far enough! In actuality sin is the indicator you haven’t!

While the law condemns the heart of rebellion, Jesus’ love transforms the heart of the rebel. Grace enables you to “live to God” by replacing your desire to sin with a desire for Godliness, the ambition to please self with a pursuit to please Him! Rebellion into surrender.

Understand… “I’m saved by grace so I can do whatever I want” is a correct statement; however, if by “whatever I want” you mean anything other than pleasing Jesus then at best you don’t understand “Grace.” or at worst you aren’t actually saved!

With this in mind, this statement “through the law I died to the law” is Paul’s way of pointing out the silliness of using the law in place of grace in order to correct a believer in sin. 

How illogical it is to use the law to address sin when the law has not only failed to justify, but has already taken a person as far as it can! Paul is emphatic the law has already done its job in his life! It condemned him a sinner, sentenced him to death, and executed him. 

Look at what he says next… Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” 

“I have been crucified with Christ…” Paul is saying that Jesus was crucified for me as me! While the law sentenced me to death Jesus took my place, my sin, to satisfy my debt, so that I could be justified before God! The Bible affirms this reality over and over again that as a sinless man Jesus willingly offered Himself to be our Sacrificial Atoner. 

1 Peter 2:24, “Jesus bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed.”

Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Note: This work by Jesus stands accomplished… Paul specifically places this work in the past tense: “I have been!” It’s done! What Jesus did for you and I on the cross was a permanent, lasting work! Our debt was paid (atonement) - His righteousness was placed onto our account so that we all now stand today and forevermore justified!

Paul then says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me!” Friend, this is why the Gospel of “Grace.” yields holiness, not licentiousness. I not only died with Christ, but was also resurrected with Him! The message of the Gospel is that Jesus lives in me and works through me. In faith I’ve associated myself with His death so that I can now walk in His life!

Notice Paul says concerning Jesus that it was He “who loved me… and gave Himself for me.” Once again legalism challenges you to “give your life to Christ, so He can live in you” when the Gospel declares that “He gave His life for you, so you can live your life in Him!”

How does this play itself out practically in our lives? Let me begin by saying what this doesn’t mean… “Grace.” does not mean I seek to follow Jesus’ example (it’s what I call the WWJD heresy - that Jesus is an example I’m seeking to immolate)… The problem with this notion is that in and of myself it’s impossible for me to do what Jesus would do!

Instead, the Gospel message reminds me that I’m dead and that Jesus lives in me and works through me! This means when there are Godly manifestations coming out of my life I can’t take any of the credit… It’s 100% Jesus and none of me! No pride in my flesh!

And when there are ungodly manifestations coming out of my life (when I say things He wouldn’t say, think thoughts He wouldn’t think, or act in ways Jesus wouldn’t) the Gospel of His grace reminds me that these things are not consistent with who I am in Christ Jesus and that I need to refocus my attention on walking in His Spirit. Failures remind me I need Jesus!

Honestly, what good is the law? Think about it… In the moment of failure the law only emphasizes a false identity (I’m actually righteous), fills my heart with condemnation (I’ve already forgiven), and tells me I need to be trying harder (Which is not the solution)… All of which distract me from what I need the most - the transforming power of God’s grace! 

Paul’s solution to sin in the life of a believer is not law, but a renewed awareness of the presence of Jesus in my life brought forth through and by His amazing grace!

Paul closes his sermon… Galatians 2:21, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

This word “set aside” in the Greek is “atheteô” meaning “to frustrate, refuse, or do away with.” Paul was so swift to confront Peter’s legalism because the propagating of the notion that God’s favor is either earned or maintain was not only untrue, but dangerous because it limits the effective work of grace in our lives! It emphasized my problem, not the solution!

Keep in mind the law has no place in the life of a believer because it fosters distance between you and God! The law reminds you of His holiness and illustrates the depths of your fallenness. And yet, what we all need most in the moment of failure is not distance from God, but a great Reconciler to remind us that in spite of ourselves He still loves us. Romans 2:4, “The goodness of God leads you to repentance!”

Paul wraps things up with what can only be described as a “drop the mic moment”… He says, “For if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” If what we do or don’t do (the law) played any role in our justification or perfection then Christ died for nothing! His point is that we either need all of Christ or no Christ at all!

I want to point out one more important concept that weaves its way throughout Paul’s sermon… Did you notice from our text how personally Paul took these concepts? 

Sure, while he’s communicating some intense theology, Paul’s presentation emphasizes how significant the doctrine of “Grace.” was to his own life. Nineteen times is just seven verses Paul uses the personal pronouns “we, me, myself, and I.” And this is not an accident!

Please realize the exchanged life (Christ’s death and His life) describe by Paul is not simply a concept to be understood but rather one to be personally experienced. You must know these things by experiencing them if they’re to have any real meaning in your life.


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