East Lincoln Alliance Church

Faith that Justifies

Faith that Justifies
Galatians 5:1-12

Every once in a while, you will hear a celebrity or politician talk about their faith in Christ and sometimes it’s great, but other times it makes me cringe because their life doesn’t match up with their faith at all. They have a reputation of being greedy, immoral, vulgar, self-centered or mean and nothing seems to match up with the kind of life a Christian is called to lead. I remember when I first heard about Jessica Simpson – the celebrity daughter of a pastor who was choosing to wait until marriage because of her faith in Christ. At first it sounded great, but then I started to hear about all kinds of things that made me cringe. Because of her lifestyle I wished she hadn’t mentioned Christ at all. And there are many like her.

But they have faith… Are they justified before God? Will they inherit eternal life because of their faith? Is it enough to believe in Jesus if you go on to live a worldly lifestyle? Millions of people are banking on that, but something in our spirit disagrees – something rises up within us to make us feel like there has to be some kind of standard of behavior in order for faith to count for justification.

Yet, we have just spent several weeks looking at what Paul has written to the Galatians to argue that a person is not justified by works of the law – there is no standard of behavior that has to be met for justification to happen. A person is not justified by works, but only through faith in Christ. You have to trust in Jesus and it is by virtue of that faith that you are united with him and all he’s done for us and you are justified before God. Justification depends on Christ’s works and it doesn’t have anything to do with your works.

Does that mean that as long as we believe in Jesus we can ultimately do whatever we want and we’ll be good to go? It’s a tough question, but critical for each of us to understand, because we’re talking about the difference between being saved and not saved. There’s a lot at stake and we dare not go through life making assumptions that we find out are wrong in the end. The verse that haunts many people that we don’t want to happen to us is where a person who believed in Jesus stands before him and he says, “Depart from me, for I never knew you.” Jesus says that’s going to happen to many people who believe in him. So how do you know if your faith is going to stand up on that day? And how do you reconcile this with all that Paul has been teaching so far in Galatians?

In our passage for today, Paul makes some concluding remarks to wrap up the arguments he’s presented in the previous two chapters and he begins to turn the corner to explain what faith looks like. We’ll see more in weeks to come, but this morning we will see some key things to help us understand the true nature of faith that can give us confidence that we are indeed justified and will be warmly welcomed into Christ’s kingdom.

The setting is again that the false teachers in Galatia were convincing the new believers – especially the Gentiles – that in order to truly become Christians and be justified, or declared righteous by God, they had to first become Jews through the ritual of circumcision and then obey the Jewish laws. It was through obedience to law that God was pleased and they would be saved. So the people were being dragged into religious slavery under the law. They were held captive by the obligation to obey the law in order to be saved.

So Paul has spent the last 2 chapters tearing down this false teaching and reminding them of the true gospel – that man is justified by faith, apart from works of law. Through faith we are united with Christ – his righteousness becomes ours and his death on the cross pays the penalty for sin. This is God’s plan of redemption that can be seen all the way back to the promises given to Abraham in Genesis 12 and the covenant God made with him. When the law came in 430 years later it was never given to justify the sinner, but rather to enslave the people under guilt and the knowledge of sin. But then it was to drive people to trust in God for salvation so that they would be justified by faith.

So having explained all this in various ways, he now brings those arguments to a conclusion in the beginning of Galatians 5. He makes 3 concluding statements – the first is in verse 1.

Read Galatians 5:1.
1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Paul tells them that everything Christ did to set them free by his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection – it was all done for their freedom. That was the whole point behind why he did what he did. Therefore these believers in Christ must stand firm in the faith – trusting in Christ for salvation and not give in to the false teaching and submit to slavery again under law. To go back to the law after knowing all that Christ had done to set them free would be to treat his works with contempt – worthless – and to Paul, this was intolerable, so he calls them to stand firm – don’t give in to the joy killing, freedom killing, gospel destroying lies of the false teachers.

He then goes on to give a summary of the outcome for those who don’t stand firm, but give into the false teachers. This is his second concluding statement in verses 2-4.

Read Galatians 5:2-4.
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

For the Galatians, standing firm began with the issue of circumcision. Circumcision seems like a strange thing to receive so much attention in the Bible, so I want to give a little background on why it was so important to the Jews. God made different covenants with Abraham and one was the Covenant of Circumcision in Genesis 17. In that covenant God promised to bless Abraham and his descendants and bring them into the land of Canaan, and the condition was that Abraham and his descendants must be loyal to him and worship him alone and not the gods of the pagan nations. The sign of that covenant was circumcision.

Why circumcision? The Reformation Study Bible notes that “By this ritual the organ of procreation was consecrated to God,” and according to the NIV Study Bible, that was very intentional. In circumcision Abraham was essentially saying: “If I am not loyal in faith and obedience to the Lord, may the sword of the Lord cut off me and my offspring as I have cut off my foreskin.” So circumcision had a very symbolic meaning for Abraham and his descendants and was critically important to them. Every male born into the Israelite community was circumcised on the 8th day as the sign of this covenant and this happened generation after generation.

The problem was that circumcision eventually became more than just a sign. Like all the other laws, the people came to believe it was a requirement for justification, and that’s what the false teachers in Galatia believed too. They believed that if you were a male you had to first be circumcised before you could be justified. You had to follow the other laws as well, but it began with circumcision. So accepting circumcision became the telltale sign that a person was giving in to the false teaching and beginning to rely on works of the law for salvation and not Jesus Christ. So in telling the Galatians to stand firm and resist slavery, he focuses in on why they should not accept circumcision.

Paul warns them if they go down that road Christ will be of no advantage to them – everything he did in his life, death, and resurrection wouldn’t help them. Furthermore, if they go down that road, it wouldn’t end with circumcision because then they would be placing themselves under the taskmaster of the law again and they would be obligated to obey every command in it – and for absolutely no purpose! The law couldn’t save them; it could only make them aware of their sin. So they would be forced to do something that was impossible and it would be of no benefit to them whatsoever. If they went down that road they would be severed from Christ and they would fall away from grace. Their freedom in Christ would be over.

I think of it like swimming in the middle of a lake. The air above represents faith in Christ – freedom, grace, eternal life and joy. The water represents all the commands in the law, guilt and condemnation. If you’re swimming in that lake you have to keep your head above the water in order to live. If you choose to put your head under the water, even if it’s only one inch below the surface, you’re going to drown. The water can’t give you life – you have to go to the air for that. Paul says the same is true for those who accept circumcision – as soon as they go down the road of relying on works of the law for salvation, it’s like putting their head under the surface of the water. They are cut off from Christ – they might as well be all the way at the bottom of the lake. All he’s done for them and all he has for them does them absolutely no good.

But for those who stand firm and don’t submit to the yoke of slavery, it’s totally different, and that’s what Paul says in his third concluding statement in verses 5-7.

Read Galatians 5:5-7.
5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

So Paul says the only thing that counts when it comes to justification before God is faith. Circumcision and uncircumcision count for nothing – they are non-issues; following Jewish laws counts for nothing – only faith, because it’s only through faith that we are united with Christ and all he’s done for us. Faith is what leads to freedom – the freedom that Christ came and died to purchase for us. Therefore we must stand firm in faith. But what does that faith look like? Is it different than the faith of the celebrity with the horrible reputation that claims to believe in Jesus? There are three things Paul says here that describe it for us.

First, he says faith is “through the Spirit” in vs. 5. The faith that justifies is produced by the Holy Spirit – it is a gift of God. So we don’t muster up this faith in our own power – it comes from God. There is a man-made faith that we come up with and a faith from God that he gives us. Anybody can have a faith in Christ that comes from themselves – often that only depends on a person’s upbringing and the social pressures they face. Most people born into a family and culture that is Christian will take on the Christian faith of their family and friends. That is not the kind of faith that justifies. The kind of faith that justifies is born of God and is given as a gift when someone is born again. The difference between the two can be almost impossible to discern especially if you’re born into a Christian family and culture, which many of us are. But there are other ways to see it…

Second, Paul says that faith produces the hope of righteousness. It is by faith that we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. So the faith that justifies is a faith that looks forward to getting rid of this fleshly body that so often drags us into sin, so that we will enjoy unhindered worship of Christ. It’s not the kind of faith that wants to get as much sinning in as we can while we still have the chance here on earth. It’s a faith that struggles with our present remaining sinfulness and can’t wait until our sinful flesh is gone and we don’t have to fight against it anymore.

Finally Paul says in vs. 6 that faith works through love. Just because you’re justified by faith apart from works doesn’t mean that works don’t matter. In fact, I like the wording here – “faith works” and the way it works is through love. So works don’t have any effect on our justification but the faith that results in justification will also produce works of love because that faith comes through the Spirit and the same Spirit also produces works of love in us. Faith that justifies is not merely a mental affirmation of facts – that’s part of it, but it will also produce acts of love – faith works through love.

So the kind of faith that justifies is a faith that comes from God, looks forward to future righteousness, and works through love. If this is the kind of faith that is evident in your life, then you can be confident that you are justified before God. If you see that this is not the kind of faith that you have, but you want to, ask God to give you faith – it is a gift from him. And if you are going through a time where your faith is weak – like we all do from time to time – the same is true for you – ask God to strengthen your faith so that you believe his promises are true and have confidence that you are justified before him. 

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