I knew a man consumed with self
In rebellion against his God
A prideful man - felt justified
Was right in all he did
I knew this man believed the lie
That he was all he needs
For when he failed this stubborn man
Grew harder in his belief
I know this man condemned by sin
Was unable to break free
So determined in his ways was he
Self-righteous - he was me.
I know a man in whom God dwells
Who’s self was crucified
A sinful man found justified
Made right by Jesus Christ
I know this man’s been made alive
His life’s been sanctified
The Holy Ghost, not self he boasts
Through faith in Jesus Christ
I knew a man condemned by sin
But now he’s been set free
To die with Christ and live in Him
By grace this man’s now me.
As we transition from Galatians chapter 2 to 3 it’s important to remind ourselves of the context. Chapter 3 follows a bit of a history lesson Paul provides these Galatian believers.
In Galatians 2:1-10 Paul recounts the events of the Jerusalem Council… And he does this to make it known to the Galatians that he was not only familiar with the false teachers who had come to their churches preaching a distorted Gospel, but to point out this very point of contention had already been settled years before. Paul is clear that in Acts 15 the Apostles (specifically Peter, James, and John) had not only rejected the heresy peddled by the same men who had now come to Galatia, but they completely agreed with the Gospel message Paul had been preaching… “Grace.”
In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul recounts his confronting of Peter in Antioch… He does this to illustrate that though the matter of “Grace.” had been settled through the Jerusalem Council Peter’s decent into legalism showed how easy it was for any believer to slip into a legalistic mindset through either fear of abuse or a sense of moral superiority. In a sense this story explains why this issue had now resurfaced in Galatia.
In Galatians 2:15-21 Paul recounts a sermon he gave in Antioch following his rebuke of Peter’s legalism that focused on explaining the origin of our justification… In doing so Paul explains how silly it is to trust the law to perfect a person when the law itself didn’t possess the power to save! The reality is that you can never take grace far enough for a life experiencing God’s grace is fundamentally inconsistent with a life in sin. As Saint Augustine once wrote on the subject, “For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.”
In dealing with the issue of legalism Paul has been hammering home one important truth…Faith in the power of God’s grace as demonstrated through Jesus’ death on the cross (and not works of the law) is the only mechanism by which a person is justified. In His grace (undeserved merit) Jesus atoned for your sin so that when you place your faith in that work you might be found righteous and justified before God.
And while many of us might understand this truth on a conceptual level most struggle with the practicalities of how this exactly works? Note: Understanding the practicalities of how grace justifies a person before God is paramount if you’re to understand the practicalities of how grace transforms a person’s life from sin into Godliness.
Sadly (and I think this lends to a lot of confusion expressed by many of you), Christians have developed this notion that salvation is a work Jesus did apart from our involvement (true) and that the only role we play is acceptance by faith (false)! Most mainstream views of salvation end up being relegated to something like this… “I prayed the prayer of salvation accepting the fact that Jesus died on the cross to atone for my sin so that I can receive His imparted righteousness and be declared justified before God.”
And though that sounds nice it’s no wonder people have a hard time determining what follows praying a prayer! Since salvation is seen as something I have (given and received) most wonder what to do… Which easily leads to a “Grace, And” or “Grace, But” distortion.
And yet, on the flip side, if salvation is seen as nothing more than a receipt that gives a person a set of free tickets, passes, and vouchers to receive by faith then it’s only logical that a “Grace, So I can do anything” distortion emerges!
Here’s how this mindset develops… “Jesus’ death on the cross provides the atonement receipt that pays for my sin, which is HUGE because I could never pay that debt on my own… Now that I’ve received this atonement receipt I can take it to the Pearly Gates and exchange it for the forgiveness ticket giving me open access to God’s throne… And since I’m in the theme park of heaven it’s only logical I cash in this forgiveness ticket to procure my justification pass which will allows me into the righteousness club… Which once I’ve gained entry affords me the all access, no condemnation name tag so I can do whatever I want, because you know… I’m in the club, having been justified, forgiven, and all my sin atoned for by Jesus! Once saved always saved baby!”
Please understand there is one fundamental reality that makes all three distortions unfounded. Every aspect of salvation (atonement, forgiveness, justification, righteousness) occurs via a relational association and is not a golden ticket you accept! Salvation demands an intertwining and fusing together of your life and Jesus’ by faith! It’s not something I have or possess rather it’s something I experience. For example…
Q: Why does God accept Jesus’ atonement for your sin?
A: Because you died with Jesus on the cross!
Paul made it clear in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ!” which is important for while you needed to die an eternal death, because of His sinlessness Jesus only needed to die once to satisfy your debt. Romans 6:5-6, “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death… knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.”
Q: How can God declare you righteous and justified?
A: Because you died with Christ you’re now dead and Christ lives in you!
Since you were resurrected to life in Jesus’ resurrection when God looks at you He no longer see you (you died) but instead He sees Jesus and His righteousness in you! When God evaluates my life He only sees me just-as-if-I’d never sinned for one reason and one reason alone… He sees Jesus living and not me! Once again Paul continues in Galatians 2:20, “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 Jesus, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Jesus.”
The essential reality of salvation and every process involved demands a relational association with Jesus which explains why Scripture always uses a similar set of phrases to describe the Christian… “In Him, in Christ Jesus, with Him, with Christ…” Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Salvation is not a voucher program provided by Jesus that you receive in faith, but is instead brought forth through a relational association initiated by Jesus that you continue in by faith! Your salvation (your atonement, forgiveness, justification, and declared righteousness) only occurs if you’re found living “in Christ Jesus!”
Let me attempt to illustrate this idea… What if I went to the hottest club in Atlanta on the most happening night of the year and tried to get in when the weekend before I’d partied with a group of friends, got hammered, tried to fight a security guard, and threw up all over the DJ’s turntables. Seriously, there’s no chance in hell they’re going to let me in! Unless… Let’s say a stretch limo pulls up to the front door and I get out with my close pal Christopher Bridges AKA Ludacris who also happens to own the club. As you can imagine since I’m with Luda not only am I able to avoid the line, but security lets me in without asking any questions, escorts me to the VIP, and gives me an unlimited tab. You see since I’m rolling with Ludacris not only are my past transgressions immediately forgiven and my slate wiped clean, but his reputation and privilege are afforded to me as well. If I’m found to be with Luda everything else takes care of itself! Now keep in mind this unmerited favor I’m enjoying has absolutely nothing to do with who I am nor was there anything I did to earn it (in fact I clearly don’t deserve it). Instead, the favor I’m enjoying has everything to do with who I have a relational association with!
Think about it (and this is what many don’t understand about salvation)… Having Uber drop me off by the front door of the club - approaching security and telling them they have to let me in because I’m with Ludacris when I’m not with Luda isn’t going to gain me access! Furthermore, explaining that Luda and I are tight because I hang around a lot of people who know him, give money and am a member of the fan club Ludanation, faithfully attend his concerts every Sunday and Wednesday, and know all the words to Ludaverse will also prove pointless as none of these things are evidence of a personal relationship. I can even demand security call Luda, but all he’s going to say upon hearing my name is “I don’t know him!”
This is why the Gospel of “Grace.” is nothing more than the position that all you need for atonement, to be forgiven, justified, and declared righteous with God is an active relationship with Jesus. Because salvation is not something you have but instead Someone you know, the very thought of “what do I do now” reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of salvation!
Sure salvation is something I’ve been given by Jesus that must be received in faith, but what have I actually been given? The answer… A Savior! I’m saved through God’s grace in that I’ve been given a relationship with Jesus to be enjoyed and continue in! “What do I do now” is replaced with a Savior I get to know now!
And it’s with this in mind that Paul segues to another important point… Galatians 3:1, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?”
“O foolish Galatians!” - Eugene Peterson’s commentary called “The Message” presents this as “You crazy Galatians!” The Amplified Bible, “O you foolish and thoughtless and superficial Galatians!” The Greek word for “foolish” is “anoêtos” meaning “not understanding or unwise.” It wasn’t that these Galatians didn’t know the truth, the problem was that they were failing to carry the things they knew to be true out to their logical end. They weren’t relying on doctrinal truth to determine how they practically lived!
“Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth…” The Greek word “bewitched” or “baskainô” means “to charm or cast a spell over.” Paul’s contention was not that these Galatians didn’t know the Gospel, but rather the reality they were willingly being led astray!
How had they come to know the truth? Paul affirms that when he had come to Galatia during both visits he “clearly portrayed” through his teaching the importance of “Jesus Christ crucified.” This phrase indicates it had been “written for public posting” or “billboarded.”
Galatians 3:2, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”
In line with everything he’s been discussing in the previous two chapters Paul is now wanting his audience to admit what the mechanism of their salvation had been… Had they “received the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” It’s as though Paul is asking them in light of everything he’s said thus far, “What happened when you were first saved? Did you clean up your lives in order to be saved by Jesus and filled with His Spirit? No! You heard the Gospel and you believed in faith!”
His point… It’s only logical that if the beginning of our relationship with Jesus was supernatural then our continuance should also be the same - supernatural.
Galatians 3:3-5, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain - if indeed it was in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”
Paul’s focus now transitions away from our salvation and instead centers upon what comes next… “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” He then takes it one step further by asking if “Jesus supplied the Spirit who works miracles by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”
Here’s his argument… If a relationship with Jesus founded upon faith in His grace brought forth through His death on the cross is the only mechanism by which a person is saved, isn’t it then only logical that a relationship with Jesus is also the only mechanism by which a person can live a Godly life? (It’s what he means by “made perfect.”)
In doctrinal terms Paul is referring to a process called “sanctification” or literally the “setting apart.” Practically, sanctification is the process by which our lives become more in tune with and reflective of God’s character. Basically, sanctification is the process following salvation whereby a sinner becomes Godly. In a simplified sense it’s the process by which we become more like Jesus.
Once again the topic at had centers upon the mechanism by which this happens! Paul’s contention is that the practicalities of how grace justifies a person establishes the precedent by which grace also transforms a person’s life from sin into Godliness.
Keep in mind… A sanctified life cannot be manufactured, earned, or developed any more than your justification could be! As Paul contended in Galatians 2:21 “Grace.” is applicable to more than just our justification. It’s why he said, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
Understand… Sanctification like justification is nothing more than a natural byproduct of my relationship with Jesus initiated and fostered through His grace!
Honestly, your spiritual development is not all that complicated. If you want to become more like Christ (the type of human Godliness) you need to do nothing more than what you did for salvation… Have a relational association with Jesus! Hang out with Him!
Please note (and this is where so many people get it wrong)… The key to a sanctified life is not acting like Jesus! It’s the fundamental flaw of legalism. If you’re trying to be like Jesus you’re going to fail miserably and consistently for the flesh is powerless to please God.
Keep in mind this simple fact… Behavioral or physical modification in the attempts of assuming a new internal constitution is never successful. At best this approach is either hypocritical and superficial (you’re simply pretending to be what you are not). At worst it’s unnatural and therefore a contorted, warped version of the original.
Think about it like this… While Bruce Jenner believes he is a women, his internal constitution actually says he’s a man. Though he’s genuinely suffering from a real condition called “Gender Dysmorphia” instead of dealing with the underlying issue he’s gone to great lengths in the attempts of changing his constitution by looking and acting like a women (works). In order to do this Bruce has gone to extreme lengths to grow out his hair, he’s taken hormone treatments, had plastic surgery to give himself breasts and create more famine facial structures, he’s changed his name and legal gender, and has even begun dressing like a women. And yet, nothing about Caitlin Jenner is natural or normal. Acting like a women does not change the fact he still has a Y chromosome and will always be a male.
On a side note… My heart breaks for Caitlin Jenner. Instead of helping him address the real psychological problems he’s been tormented with for years, our culture has celebrated an approach to psychosis that is both counter-intuitive and in the end destructive to the individual for no amount of physical modification can fix a metal malady. Because I know this is a hot-button topic within our society I’ve included a link to an article written about the history of the transgender movement by Walt Heyer who had a sex change himself and lived as a women for 8 years. His perspective is telling.
And yet, here’s my point… Christians who focus on acting like Jesus in the attempts of changing their internal constitution so that they become Christ-like end up projecting the same type of awkward persona to the world around them.
You see the legalistic approach to sanctification by works (demanding what I do or don’t do to be like Jesus) never works. In actuality seeking to become like Christ by acting like Christ is why so many Christians end up presenting a contoured version of what Christ is actually like! Sadly, Jesus is often misrepresented by the people trying their best to be like Him!
Understand… Real behavioral modification can only take place when a natural change first occurs within a person’s constitution. This is why in order to be Godly you must first undergo a genuine, internal transformation of your constitution. We call it regeneration, rebirth, or to be born again which occurs when Jesus indwells your life through His Spirit!
In John 3:2-8 we’re told a story of a man named Nicodemus who came to Jesus concerning the very topic of moral transformation. Here’s Jesus response, “‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God… Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Then just a few verses later Jesus explains how to be born of the Spirit… “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
Understand… Jesus is saying new birth occurs at the moment of conversion… The moment you believe, accept, and place your faith in Christ… The moment you accept that your death occurred with His is the same moment you experience a new life initiated by Him. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ (relational association), he is a new creation (new constitution in the Spirit); old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
You see once a person’s internal constitution has changed because they’ve been born again by being filled with the Holy Spirit this behavioral modification whereby we grow to become more like Christ (sanctification) happens both naturally and effortlessly.
Note: This phrase “Christ-likeness” is misleading because it seems to infer that somehow I grow to become like Jesus. And yet, if I’m dead how is this even possible? The answer - It isn’t! Instead of seeking to acting like Christ sanctification occurs when I choose to remain dead so that Christ can act through me! It’s why my works plays no role!
Friend… Some of you might have come here this morning and you’re thinking, “Zach, who cares about this grace thing. I have serious issues I need practical help solving. My marriage is falling apart. My children are out of control. My job is not only frustrating, but I’m finding it consistently unfulfilling. I’m struggling with substance abuse or an addiction I can’t seem to kick. How about giving me some tangible remedy to this issues?”
I am! When it’s all said and done the solution to all your problems is more of Jesus! Jesus is the only one who can save your marriage. Jesus is the only one who can appropriately address the issues you’re having with your kids. Your job is frustrating and unfulfilling because you’re seeking it to provide something only Jesus can! Never forget Jesus is the only one who can free you from the bondage of an addiction.
“Well what do I do?” The Gospel message says nothing! You’re the problem and He’s the solution! So friend, the tangible remedy to any of your issues is simple… Get your eyes off the problem, admit that you’re not the solution, and instead focus on your relationship with Jesus. You see since your only hope is a relational association my exhortation is rather straightforward… Die to yourself and allow Jesus to work in and live through you!