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Saturday, 11 June 2016

Galatians 2:15-21 Salvation is by Grace, Not by Deeds

Have you ever been in a gathering where you felt that you did not belong? Have you even been in a club where you had to obey the rules? If so, then perhaps you can understand why Paul wrote the passage from Galatians that we heard earlier in this morning’s service.
Paul has just recalled what must have been the most awkward dinner party of all time. The Gentile believers tried to join the Jewish believers for dinner and things got very awkward, especially when Peter made a scene of refusing to eat with the Gentiles. Paul was shocked by Peter’s hypocritical behaviour. You see, Peter welcomed Gentiles when he was with Paul, but he refused to welcome them when more conservative Christians-namely, Jewish believers-came near. Paul gave Peter a stern lecture about this behaviour, and in doing so he defended his position on the issue of new believers having to follow Jewish customs.

The Jews believed that in order to be acceptable to God and have a right relationship with him, it was necessary for people to obey the law. There are people today who have the same belief. Obeying the law meant doing deeds that were listed in the Laws of Moses instead of doing things according to one’s own will. In the eyes of the Jews, obeying the law meant that they were justified in the eyes of God. Being justified means conforming to a standard of acceptable character or conduct. Unfortunately, being justified under the law meant being made right, not being made just, fair or equitable. 

Paul distinguished between those who observed Old Testament laws (Jews by nature) and those who did not (sinners or the Gentiles). The law always reminded people of God’s standards and our inability to meet them. Paul argued that observing Old Testament laws could not justify a person; therefore, Gentile believers should not be required to keep these laws but should be taught to obey Jesus’ teachings instead.

Paul argued that the era of winning God’s favour by following the law has ended. The law was only necessary to help believers before the time of Christ. If Christ is in human beings, the law is unnecessary. Christ’s death and resurrection have ensured our salvation. To believe or act otherwise is a sin.

Paul’s experiences, and in particular his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, proves that God does what the law can’t do. God justifies and rectifies. It’s as if we ae in a court of law because we have been accused of committing a crime. God is the judge, Satan is the prosecutor (or Crown Attorney), and Jesus is our lawyer. Under the law, we would have to admit that we are guilty as charged and throw ourselves on the mercy of the judge. Under God’s grace, God as judge acquits us, accepts us as his children and makes us with Christ heirs of his kingdom. God’s righteousness is his justifying action in relation to the people. All of this can only happen when we have faith in God.  

God’s standards are perfect, and because we aren’t perfect people we can’t meet those standards on our own. New Christians in Galatia were being persuaded that faith alone was not enough. They needed to add certain works of the law in order to be saved. That was a step backward in their spiritual growth. Paul argued that if we could earn our way back to God by our own efforts, Christ would not have had to die for our unrighteousness. Adding human works to faith would be the same as setting God’s grace aside. It would be hypocritical. We can’t do anything to earn our salvation. We can’t be justified or declared righteous on our own merits. We are justified by faith. The law can’t give us salvation. Only faith in Christ can give us salvation.

There are three ways in which we can deal with this hypocrisy when it occurs:

1.      By being accountable to one another. God’s standard of living applies to all of us, and we need help trying to meet this standard. Rebukes must be made with love and concern for those who falter.

2.      By impacting others. Our actions as Christians will be seen by others and will affect their attitudes toward Christ. Our lives must be lived in conformity with what we believe and teach. To put it another way, we must “practice what we preach.”

3.      By being committed to the truth. If we claim to be followers of Jesus but we live in ways that are the opposite to that claim, we aren’t living in keeping with the truth of Jesus’ teachings. God wants us to live lives that demonstrate that we are committed to what is true and right.

People who have not experienced God’s grace often attack it as a license for sin. Paul was horrified that some might think that faith in Christ somehow encouraged people to sin. God’s grace does not give us a license to commit sins. It is a strength to live in righteousness. When a person is declared righteous, he or she changes radically and his or her standing before God changes. When we are justified by God, we have an obligation to live the life God wants us to lead. People who have the Holy Spirit living in them don’t think or act like they did before they were saved. God gives Christian a new desire for holiness. 

The law can only bring us to the threshold of grace. It can’t get us through the door. The law administers death, but Christ gives us life. The law commands by saying things such as, “Do! Try! Behave!” The gospel comforts us by declaring, “Done! Trust! Believe!” The law shows us that we can’t solve the problem of sin ourselves, but the gospel of Christ provides us with the solution.

Just as Christ died and rose again, we die to our own, sinful lives and rise to a new life in Christ when we come to Christ in faith. Christ makes us into new people. Our own agenda becomes subordinate to Christ’s agenda for our lives. Dying to sin gives us a pardon from past sins and the law. It also gives us a passion to never sin again. Dying to sin brings power to resist temptation. We will still have the urge to sin, but God’s power in us will give us the power to overcome these urges. When we die to sin, we become partners with Christ, and that includes becoming partners with Christ’s suffering, sharing his way of life, living by his purpose and sharing his motives.

Being crucified with Christ has both a legal and a relational component. Legally, God looks at us as if we had died with Christ. We are no longer condemned for our sins because Christ paid the price. Relationally, we share in Christ’s sufferings and have died to our old way of living. Christ now lives in us through the Holy Spirit and empowers us to live a life of obedience. When we allow the Holy Spirit to live and work in our lives, we become vital representatives of Christ.  

Several years ago, a noted violinist was playing a concert to a very prominent crowd. He walked out on stage and showed the audience his violin. He told them, “This violin is a Stradivarius, one of the rarest and most valuable violins in the world.” The violinist then proceeded to play one of the most beautiful tunes the audience had ever heard on his violin. But after he was finished and the crowd had applauded heartily, he took that violin and broke it into a thousand pieces.

A collective gasp could be heard throughout the auditorium. So after a few moments of silence, that violinist said, “That wasn’t actually a Stradivarius violin. I bought it today at a pawn shop for 40 dollars. But I did this to make a point: the violinist is much more important than the violin.” With that, he brought out the real Stradivarius and finished his concert.

What’s true in music is true with people. It’s not the talent or charisma of people, but the one who’s making the music that matters. We are just like that old violin… completely inadequate on our own. But in the hands of the Master, He can make beautiful music in our lives. Living the Christian life is hard. We can’t do it on our own. Only God, living through us in the person of the Holy Spirit, can do that. God’s peace and power can only be experienced when we say no to ourselves and our ambitions and yes to God. God sacrificed Jesus for our sins, so it is only fair for us to make the sacrifices we have to make to love God and show that love to the whole world.


1.     Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1624-1626)

2.     Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary: Galatians/Ephesians (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 2015: pp. 51-57)

3.      ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.

4.     Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982, pp. 42-50)

5.      MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)

6.      Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles, 2005)

7.      Dr. Jack Graham, “How God Can Turn Your Mess into a Masterpiece.” Retrieved from

8.      Dr. Jack Graham, “Why is the Christian Life So Hard?” Retrieved from

9.      Pastor Ed Young, “The Center of Love.” Retrieved from

10.  Stephanie Dyrness-Lebdeil, “Commentary on Galatians 2:15-21.” Retrieved from

11.  Janice B. Scott, “Are you a Pourer or a Disapprover?” Retrieved from

12.  The Rev. Dr. John J. Lynch, “Justified by Faith.” Retrieved from http://episcopaldigitalnetwork,com/stw/2016/06/02/justified-by-faith-proper-6-c-2016/






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