Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 5, Justified By Faith

In yesterday's passage we found Paul scolding Peter in front of the assembly at Antioch for refusing to eat with the Gentiles while men from Jerusalem were visiting. Before these men arrived, Peter had no problem eating with his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ. But after the men arrived, Peter treated these brothers and sisters as if they were unclean. Paul had to act fast in confronting Peter about his error, for even Paul's friend Barnabas was confused enough to follow Peter's example. Paul knew the problem would get worse and worse if he did not step up and reveal Peter's hypocrisy to him.

Today Paul reminds us all that justification in the sight of God can only be achieved by faith. We are not made right with a holy God by works of the law, for no imperfect human being can perfectly keep the law. Good works are commendable if done in the right spirit, but we can't earn salvation by doing good works. Salvation is by grace through faith, and Paul wants his readers at Galatia (and us today) to clearly understand this. Peter confused the issue by behaving as if the Gentile Christians weren't full Christians because they were not circumcised and did not follow the Mosaic law. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is rightfully upset about this. If salvation is through faith in Christ and not through the works of the law, then how can submitting themselves to the Mosaic law make the Gentiles more acceptable to a God who has already accepted them? If God has accepted them, how dare man treat them as if He has not accepted them?

Paul points out to Peter, to the men visiting from Jerusalem, and to all the Jewish Christians present that they have always known that the law doesn't save souls. "We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Chris Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:15-16) The believers of the Old Testament understood that only God could impute righteousness to them. For an example, let's look at what King David said in his prayer of confession and repentance when he acknowledged his sins of adultery and murder, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin...Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow...Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Psalm 51:1-2, 7, 10) If David had believed he could be justified by works, he would have said, "I'll make it up to You, Lord! I'll do enough good works to counteract my sinful works. I'll donate more money to the poor. I'll volunteer to help those in need. I'll make sure everyone in my kingdom has enough food on the table. I'll bring You sacrifices and offerings to soften Your heart toward me." But David understood his shortcomings. He knew he couldn't clean himself up, and that's why he asked God to do it for him.

Paul is saying, "Because we know we can't justify ourselves by works, we have come to Christ in faith, trusting that the perfect Son of God can do for us what we can't do for ourselves." But he also wants everyone to understand that salvation in Christ does not give anyone license to sin. "But if, in seeking to be justified by Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn't that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker." (Galatians 2:17-18)

As someone who grew up believing salvation cannot be lost, I often heard this said scornfully, "Some of you Christians believe in 'once in grace always in grace'." In other words, they were accusing us of believing we could be justified by the work of Christ and then live however we please and still be living under God's constant blessing. This is not the case and I personally cannot stand the phrase "once in grace always in grace". I prefer the term "eternal security" because it more accurately describes what I believe. I believe that once I trusted in Christ for salvation I was sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption, as the Scriptures tell us. I am marked as belonging to Christ, for the Holy Spirit confirms that I belong to Him. But this does not mean I am free to behave as I please, for I am now the daughter of God, and the Lord disciplines those who are His. (Hebrews 12:7-11)

Parents discipline their children for disobedience, but they don't throw their children out in the street and disown them for disobedience. It is the same with God our Father. He does not disown us (take away our salvation) when we sin after coming to Christ, but He does discipline us as a father disciplines his children. So no, we can't live any way we please. And why would we want to? Why would we want to dishonor our Lord who bought our freedom with His own blood? Why would we want to look like the world instead of looking like the One to whom we belong?  We are going to make mistakes from time to time, and if we acknowledge them to God and correct them right away, we can avoid many instances of being "taken to the woodshed" by our Father. But if we persist in disobedience, our Father will have to take corrective action, just as an earthly father takes corrective action when a child keeps doing the thing the father has said not to do.

We were not saved by works and we can't keep ourselves saved by works. Justification is by faith. When we realize we have messed up, the best thing we can do is what David did, which is to go humbly before our Father and ask Him to do what we can't do for ourselves: make us clean.

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