Paul argues that no one can be justified or made righteous before God through following the law. Only faith in Jesus Christ can justify us.
Paul makes this point to both Jews and Gentiles. All people, regardless of background, can only be saved by God's grace through faith in Christ.
Justification means being forgiven and pardoned of our sins, so that we are seen as righteous before God. This happens through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
True faith involves humbly acknowledging our sinfulness and need for a Savior, and trusting completely in Christ's sacrifice for our salvation.
Even righteous figures like Abraham and David needed God's grace and could not be justified by their own merits. No one can earn salvation - it is a free gift.
To truly grasp this, we must recognize the seriousness of our sin before God. This leads us to seek relief only in Christ.
Eternal life comes entirely through God's mercy. We must reject all pride and self-reliance and fully commit ourselves to Christ.
Full Sermon Text in Modern English:
"We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." - Galatians 2:15-16
So far, we've discussed why Paul, when talking about the ceremonies, symbols, and premonitions that were practiced before Jesus Christ arrived, concludes that a person can't be considered righteous or acceptable to God unless they follow the entire law. At first glance, these might seem like two separate topics. However, as we've been saying, Paul needs to bring us back to the basics to show us the foolishness of thinking we can earn God's favor through our own worthiness.
Now, we've already talked about why Paul includes the word 'law'. Despite the common belief that a good person can earn God's favor and acceptance, people are seriously mistaken about this. No matter what we've done, we can't win God's favor because he deserves the absolute best we can offer. So, there's no way we can earn merit (if we can even call it that) unless we fulfill the conditions of the covenant he made with us. He said that anyone who follows the law will receive life and salvation (Leviticus 18:5).
When God said this, he was ready to accept our total obedience as worthy of salvation. But this doesn't mean we can earn favor, because none of us have fully done our duty (as we'll see later). So, the promise would have been lost, or at least ineffective because it wouldn't apply to anyone, if God hadn't sent a solution. In other words, even though we're unrighteous, he forgave our sins and accepted us as righteous.
When Paul says we can't be justified by following the law, he means that if we think we can earn grace and salvation because God promised that those who follow the law will be seen as righteous, we're totally wrong. No one follows the law perfectly. We need to understand that we're all guilty in God's eyes and have a sentence of condemnation hanging over our heads.
To make this clearer, Paul compares Jews and Gentiles. He points out that even though they were born Jewish and not 'sinners of the Gentiles', they understood that they could only be accepted by God through faith in Jesus Christ. Even though everyone has fallen from grace due to Adam's actions, and therefore have no personal merit, it seemed like the Jews had a special advantage. God had chosen them as His children and called them His servants. But this is where the Jews messed up.
When the Bible talks about 'the uncircumcision', it's referring to the sin that we all inherit from Adam, which condemns us from birth. But the Jews thought that God had saved them from this universal curse, and they were pretty proud of it. Yes, they were given a great honor, which they should have appreciated more than anything else in the world - God had chosen them to be His people, His inheritance. But they should have also humbly admitted that they weren't worthy of this honor.
We also tend to get a bit cocky when we experience God's grace; the Jews, for the most part, wrongly thought they were better than everyone else. They believed that God had seen something in them that made Him prefer them over those He had rejected. This arrogance led to a terrible lack of gratitude. They didn't give God credit for all the good things they had received from Him, but instead, they were full of pride, as if God thought they were better or more deserving of eternal salvation than the Gentiles.
Paul starts his argument by saying, 'we who are naturally Jews...' It seems like he's acknowledging that they've been given more grace than the Gentiles, who weren't accepted into God's church. But when he says this, he's not trying to make the Jews feel superior. Instead, he's showing them all the things they've received from God, to teach them that they don't have any reason to brag.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul says two things that might seem contradictory at first, but they actually make perfect sense together. First, he asks, 'Don't we have more privileges than the Gentiles?' and he answers, 'Yes. We were chosen to be his people; he gave us circumcision as a symbol and proof that we're his children; he made a promise with us; he promised to send us the Redeemer of the world. So, if we think about all the blessings God has given us, we've been truly blessed, and raised above all other people.' Here, Paul is emphasizing how good God has been to them (Romans 3:1 and 2).
But then, he asks the same question again (What's the advantage of being a Jew?), but this time, he answers, 'None at all' (Romans 3:9 and 10). 'Because we're all under God's curse. If the Gentiles are going to be condemned, then we're going to be condemned twice as much, because they can claim ignorance. But they can't escape God, and they'll perish even though they've never been taught or learned about doctrine. So, it follows that we'll be condemned by the law, because God has taught us and yet we've continued to sin and break his righteous laws, which means we're now facing even greater and deeper condemnation than even the Gentiles and non-believers,' he says.
So, the Jews were different from the Gentiles — not because they were better or more righteous, but simply because God chose them out of his own generosity.
In the same way, kids born to believers aren't any better than those born to non-believers or even Turks when it comes to their inherent nature. We're all part of a flawed and cursed group that God has condemned, so none of us can puff ourselves up and think we're better than our peers. However, Paul states that our children are sanctified, meaning they aren't tainted in the same way as those born to non-believers or pagans (1st Corinthians 7:14). This might seem contradictory, but it all makes sense when you consider that, by nature, we're all flawed and corrupt, with the sole exception being Christ. But there's also a supernatural gift, a special privilege that God grants so that believers' children are dedicated to Him, and He acknowledges and accepts them as His own. This is why today's church children are seen as God's people and among the chosen ones, just like the Jews were set apart from the rest of the world under the law. This is why Paul says, 'We are Jews and not sinners of the Gentiles.' By 'sinners,' he's referring to those who remain in their impurity and haven't been cleansed by God's grace. Indeed, circumcision itself was a symbol and proof that God accepted Abraham's family and their descendants as His own special and familiar people. In the past, this is what set the Jews apart from non-believers; even though they were all equally children of Adam, God had chosen some and left others as outsiders to His family. If we ask why this is, the only answer can be purely because of God's grace, since the Jews themselves weren't exceptional in any way.
Let's now delve into the argument that Paul is building here. He states, 'Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.' By saying this, Paul is pointing out that any grace they've received from God doesn't mean they can rely on themselves or other people as if they've earned this from God. Instead, they need to find solace in His generous gift, understanding that salvation comes solely through Jesus Christ, who came to save those who were already lost. This is backed up by another passage, where it says that he 'came and preached peace to you which were afar off and to them that were nigh' (Ephesians 2:17).
Jesus Christ is that peace, because it's through Him that God can love us and show us mercy. This isn't just true for those who were previously distant like the Gentiles, but also for the descendants of Abraham, regardless of the respect and prestige they already had (since this wasn't naturally theirs). Paul states that the Jews who converted to Christianity knew they couldn't be justified by the works of the law, but only by faith in Lord Jesus Christ. He contrasts the two to illustrate that we can't be justified by grace unless we completely let go of any personal merit.
This is definitely worth our attention. Even Catholics claim to be justified by faith, but that's only half the story and the rest of it ruins the whole thing. They're convinced that a person can't be considered righteous in God's eyes without Jesus as the Mediator and without relying on him for salvation. Catholics are well aware of this, but they often say, 'We are justified by faith but not by faith alone.' This is the point they disagree with, and it's the main thing that sets us apart.
However, Paul points out their mistake when he says, 'but by faith,' because this phrase suggests that everything people offer to God to win his favor is rejected. So, the door is firmly closed to all merit, as Paul states that the only way to approach God is through faith. We'll soon understand better why Paul contrasts faith with the law as if they're opposites.
The law assumes that if we do what God asks of us, we'll be good servants and he'll reward us as promised. Faith, on the other hand, assumes that we're poor, lost, condemned souls and that we need to find in Jesus Christ what we desperately need.
Let's break it down like this: imagine two guys who are both hungry and need a place to stay. One of them has cash and expects to get service that matches his budget. They both ask for food, but the other guy is broke and doesn't have a dime, so he asks for charity. They both have the same need - food - but the first guy has the money to pay for his meal. So, after a good meal and nice treatment, the host is happy to get paid and doesn't feel like the guest owes him anything. Why? Because he's been paid and even made a profit. But the poor guy who asks for charity, his life depends on the person who can give him food and shelter, because he can't give anything back.
In the same way, if we try to earn our righteousness through following the law, we need to deserve that righteousness; then God will get from us and we'll get from Him in a give-and-take way. Is that even possible? Not at all, as we'll dig into more later. So, we have to conclude that we can't earn righteousness by following the law, and if we think we can make God owe us something, we're just going to make Him angry. The only option is to come like poor beggars, so we can be made righteous through faith. Not like faith is something we produce ourselves, but we have to come humbly, admitting that we can only be saved if it's given to us as a free gift.
That's why the law is contrasted with faith. Paul is showing us that anyone who thinks they can make themselves acceptable to God through their own good deeds is basically rejecting the grace of Jesus. We'll dive deeper into this later.
Someone might argue: The law was given by God, so it can't be in conflict with faith, which also comes from God. The response to this is straightforward. God created both the day and the night, water and fire, cold and heat. The day isn't in conflict with the night. Instead, God, in his wisdom, has arranged them in a specific order; we have the sunlight to work during the day, and at night, the sun disappears so we can rest. So, even though day and night are different, they're not in conflict. The same goes for fire and water. Every creation has its purpose - fire and water complement each other well; but if we mix them, they would clash! This is the same for the law and the gospel. Those who believe we're justified by both the law and the gospel are mixing things up; it's like they're smashing heaven and earth together! In short, it would be easier to mix fire and water than to say this: that we can earn some of God's grace and yet also need help from Jesus Christ. If we think about what the law is and why it was given, we'll find that it doesn't conflict with the gospel or faith, but there's a perfect harmony between them. So, this argument is settled. If we say that both faith and the law come from God, we're correct; but we need to consider (which we'll do soon) why God initially established them both.
Let's go back to what Paul said - he claimed that our only path to justification is through faith in Jesus Christ. When Paul talks about justification, he's referring to being seen as righteous in God's eyes. It's crucial to grasp this concept because it's all about how we achieve salvation. Imagine how awful it would be if, after living a long life, someone asked us how to find salvation and we had no clue how to answer! There are many who have enjoyed God's blessings without understanding how to be acceptable to him. That's why we need to pay extra attention to what Paul is saying here. He says we're justified. But how? Are we already righteous - are we without fault? Not at all, but God accepts us. The term 'justification' points to the favor God grants us when we become his children and he becomes our Father. You might wonder, why does the Bible use the term 'justify' when it seems so out of place? We could just as easily say that God loves us, that he feels compassion for us, that he wants to be our Father and Savior - why not use these phrases instead of talking about justification? The Bible doesn't use this term without good reason.
When we break down the concept of salvation to its simplest form, we can say that we're saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. But this doesn't mean we fully understand our inherent flawed nature or the solution we need to implement. To truly trust in Jesus, we need to accept that we're lost due to Adam's sin and our own wrongdoings. We should have realized this by now.
We'll never grasp that our sins make us guilty in the eyes of God unless we understand our need to make things right with Him. In other words, we won't recognize God's righteousness if we just say, 'We're saved by grace and faith.' God can't contradict Himself because He represents supreme justice; He's pure and perfect, and therefore, He despises evil.
But here's the problem - we're entirely corrupt, filled with wickedness. So, logically, God must detest us. If He does, we're in trouble because we're doomed. That's why we need to be justified, or made right, before we can be acceptable to God. This means we need to be cleansed from our sins and wrongdoings; otherwise, we'll never truly value God's mercy (as I've mentioned before).
If we admit that we're sinners, we'll understand that God hates sin, but despite this hatred, He's provided a way to save us - by forgiving our sins and purifying us from them through the blood of Jesus Christ, who provides us with spiritual cleansing. God cleans us up so He can accept us, allowing us to experience His love and be confident of our salvation. That's why the term 'justification' is used in the Scriptures.
Catholics might argue about its meaning like they're clueless. They're like, 'What! Justified by faith? Faith doesn't make a person flawless — so how can it justify us?' They don't get that when the Bible talks about justification, it's referring to God covering our sins (like I've been saying) and, because of his suffering and death, wiping them out in the name of Jesus Christ. Regardless of what others might say, it's written that we're seen as righteous in God's eyes when he forgives and pardons our sins. Actually, Paul talks about this in the fourth chapter of Romans, where he quotes David saying, 'Blessed are those whose lawless acts are forgiven, and whose sins are covered' (Romans 4:6 and 7; Psalms 32:1). In another part, he says, 'God made him who had no sin to be sin for us' (meaning he took all the blame for our sins), 'so that in him we might become the righteousness of God' (2nd Corinthians 5:21). So, when we're connected and united with him and his body, we're seen as righteous, because his obedience was so perfect that it was enough to cleanse and remove our sins. Now we've covered what 'justification' means.
Let's focus on the term 'faith'. Paul mentions here that they have 'believed' in Jesus Christ. If you were to ask someone who doesn't know much about it what they think faith is, they might say 'belief', but they probably wouldn't really understand what either of those words mean. Do we want to be as clueless as them? Let's make it clear that both our faith and belief are centered on Jesus Christ. Is salvation possible through faith? Absolutely, if we believe in Jesus Christ.
Let's think about why Jesus Christ is presented to us as the one we should put all our faith in. It's simply because we find everything we need for our justification in him. We've already mentioned that we're considered righteous in God's eyes when He forgives our sins and no longer holds them against us. And how does this happen? It's through the blood of Jesus Christ which was shed for our purification. His suffering and death paid for our sins and calmed God's anger towards us. We don't need to look for any other way to pay for our sins, other than the sacrifice made by God's only Son, Jesus Christ.
He is referred to as God's beloved Son (Matthew 3:17), so that we can be loved through him; he is called the Righteous One (Isaiah 53:11), so that we can share in his righteousness; and he is called the Holy One (Luke 1:35), so that we can be sanctified through him. This is why we are directed towards Jesus Christ when we think about 'faith'.
The Catholics have their own views on this topic, and from what they say, it's clear they don't really know what it means to have faith. They ask, 'Can a person really be justified by faith alone, given that even demons believe?' It's true, and James makes this point (James 2:20). But he also mocks those who claim to be Christians and say they have faith, but show no evidence of it.
The Catholics have gone even further off track by saying that faith is simply believing in God, and that God is the object of our faith. But by belief, they just mean imagining that there's a God somewhere who created the world and now runs it. They stop there, comfortably ignorant, but don't hesitate to call themselves good Christians and Catholics, despite their lack of understanding.
So, it's no surprise that they, lacking insight or intelligence, oppose the teachings in the Bible, or stubbornly deny that a person is saved by faith alone. They don't even know what faith is.
That's why we need to pay close attention to what Paul says here: if we don't focus on Jesus Christ, we can't truly understand faith. Without him, we can't understand forgiveness of sins, how to approach God, how to trust in him, or how to pray to him. We also won't understand what it means to have peace of mind, or the hope of eternal life. All of this is out of our grasp until we get to know Jesus Christ and rely on him.
This kind of faith brings grace: when we realize that we're flawed beings, detestable in God's eyes, and look for a solution in Jesus Christ. We must accept that he sacrificed himself for us to save us from the curse we were living under, and that he has cleansed us with his blood. Through his obedience, he has erased all our sins so we can be confident that God accepts and welcomes us as his children. That's the meaning of this passage.
Paul made it clear that he, along with all the Jews who had converted to Christianity, were saved by their faith in Jesus Christ. He emphasized, 'for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified'. We've heard him say this before, specifically about his own people, but this time he's making the point to everyone, everywhere. When he says 'no flesh', he's basically saying that it doesn't matter if you're a Jew or a Gentile - the path to salvation is the same for everyone.
Even though the Jews were circumcised, chosen as God's people, and sanctified by Him, they couldn't rely on that for salvation. Their only hope was God's pure grace. This puts them on the same level as the Gentiles, with no difference in status. Paul's goal here is to knock down any pride people might have about their own virtues.
Let's be honest, many of us know we're far from perfect. We can't possibly take credit for anything, as if we deserve something from God. People who are caught up in all kinds of bad behavior are too embarrassed to even suggest that they could earn God's salvation through their own merits or good deeds. They're even ashamed to face other people because of their actions.
But then there are those who pretend to be holy in front of others, so much so that they fool themselves into thinking they deserve heaven - as if God owes them something! These hypocrites, despite their greed, wickedness, and other flaws, convince themselves that God doesn't see their corrupt behavior and will accept them because of their so-called merits.
People who regularly go to church, bouncing back and forth from the bar to the chapel, buying indulgences and observing religious practices, they inflate their egos with false pride and believe that God owes them something. But when Paul says 'no flesh', he's making it clear that it's pointless to separate ourselves into categories of 'righteous' and 'unrighteous'. We all need to humble ourselves and acknowledge that even our best efforts are worthless in God's eyes.
Even if someone seems perfect to us because they never hurt anyone, resist all kinds of evil, and live a clean and sober life - even if they seem like an angel - they're still flawed on the inside. How can this be? Well, we can't judge a book by its cover, because all that glitters isn't gold. We can't determine what's sinful or virtuous without looking at what's inside.
If someone doesn't give God the credit He deserves, they're not just disrespecting people, they're disrespecting God. So, no matter how much praise or recognition they get from others, if they're full of pride and ambition, the only thing that will humble them is getting to know Jesus Christ.
So, even those who seem religious on the surface will be judged by God. Paul's aim is to prevent people from relying on their own good deeds. But there's more to it. When he says 'no flesh', he's not just talking about people who've been abandoned by God, or those who haven't been transformed by his Holy Spirit. He's also referring to believers. Even though God's Spirit lives in us once we've come to understand the gospel and have been incorporated into the body of Jesus Christ, we're all considered 'flesh' due to our inherent nature. So, when Paul states that 'no flesh shall be justified', he's saying that non-believers are condemned in Adam and stay condemned, and that believers, because they'll always be flawed and have many imperfections, are just as condemned. This condemnation applies to everyone, because anyone who tries to be justified by following the law will always find themselves guilty - even the most saintly person who ever lived. Consider Abraham, who was seen as perfect, or David, who was full of virtues, or Noah, Job, and Daniel, who were named as three righteous men by Ezekiel (Ezekiel14:14). They all fall into the same group as men who could only be justified in God's eyes through grace.
So, I'm asking you all, where do we stand? Those who believe they'll be justified by their good deeds, or 'meritorious works' as they call them, aren't they just being overly proud, led astray by the devil? Who can compare to David, or Noah, or Abraham, or Daniel? Even those who've done well in God's eyes, who are truly passionate about dedicating themselves to God, they know they're still far from reaching the standards set by David, Noah or Daniel!
Knowing this, we can see that the Holy Spirit is trying to humble those who think too highly of themselves, to make us realize that we don't have even a tiny bit of righteousness, so we should seek everything related to our salvation in the grace of Jesus Christ. Now we understand what it means when it says 'no flesh shall be justified'. It's like Paul is saying that, when it comes to our nature, we're only evil inside, no matter how good we may seem on the outside.
We might be highly praised and respected by the world; we might be surrounded by empty flattery; but until God works in us to change us, we're full of filth. In fact, all the virtues that people praise are nothing more than vices that will lead people to destruction and throw them into hell. Even those who've been renewed by God's grace, and who've learned to obey him by doing the things God loves and cherishes, they can't bring anything to God that can settle their accounts with him.
They'll always be in debt because all the good things they have come from God; and even these people are corrupted by sin and weakness. So, we must let go of all confidence in our own righteousness. Because, from the greatest to the least of us, we're all condemned. If we seek justification by the law, we're greatly mistaken — we'll never find it.
Now, we can better understand what I've been saying about Jesus Christ being a safe haven for those who recognize their spiritual needs. This means that the only real way to prepare for belief in Jesus Christ is to have a deep, vivid understanding and awareness of our sins. This is why Christ said, 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest...and you will find rest for your souls' (Matthew 11:28 and 29). Elsewhere, the Bible clearly states that he was sent 'to bring good news to the humble...to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners' (Isaiah 61:1).
Therefore, those who enjoy their sins will never turn to Jesus Christ. They may brag about having faith, as many who mock God misuse this sacred word. Everyone wants to be seen as a Christian, and no matter how morally corrupt they are, they will claim to believe as much as anyone else. But when someone talks like this, it's clear evidence that they don't have a shred of faith. When true believers say, 'I believe', they do so with humility, knowing that if God hadn't shown them mercy, even the little faith they have would be taken away.
Those who loudly claim to have complete faith are nothing more than hypocrites, who have never experienced true religion or the fear of God. The term 'faith' will always be disgracefully misused by these people, who do nothing but mock God. They can't tell right from wrong, and are so foolish that they revel in their own sins. Take a drunkard, for instance, who has no sense of shame; after binge drinking, he wants to stay drunk. Then there are the adulterers, liars, blasphemers, and the like — all of whom claim to have faith; but despite this, it's clear that they're not ready to meet Jesus Christ. Why not? Because they don't understand that they can only be justified by grace.
However, let's remember that to fully understand that we can't be justified by the law, we must envision God on his judgment throne and hold ourselves accountable before him every morning and evening, knowing that we must answer for our entire lives. Also, we must realize that we would be condemned countless times if God didn't show us mercy and lift us up in his infinite compassion. Then we will understand that we can't be justified by the law, because we're all guilty every time we compare ourselves to God. We need to have such fear, that we can't find peace until Jesus Christ has saved us.
So, you see, it's good for us to feel burdened, that is, to despise our sins and to be so distressed by them that we feel surrounded by the pains of death, so that we seek God to relieve us of our burden. However, we must seek him knowing that we can't achieve salvation, either fully or partially, unless it's given to us as a gift. Paul isn't saying that we can find some of what we lack in Jesus Christ, and provide the rest ourselves. He's saying we can't be considered righteous through our own merits or deeds, but only through faith.
So, let's get this straight - there's absolutely no salvation without Jesus Christ. He's the alpha and omega of faith, he's everything. We need to stay humble, realizing that we're only setting ourselves up for condemnation. That's why we need to find everything related to salvation in God's pure and unearned mercy. We should be able to confidently say that we're saved through faith. God the Father has assigned his Son, Jesus Christ, to be both the creator and the one who completes our salvation. We need to let go of our self-centeredness and fully commit ourselves to him, so all the credit goes to him.
Let's take a moment to humble ourselves before the grandeur of our mighty God, acknowledging our wrongdoings, and asking Him to make us increasingly conscious of them. This way, we can despise them more and more, and grow in our repentance - a virtue we need to practice throughout our lives. Let's strive to glorify His grace, as it is revealed to us through Lord Jesus Christ, so much so that we become completely engrossed in it. And let's not just do this verbally, but put our whole trust in Him. Let's nurture this trust until we are welcomed into our eternal home, where we'll receive the reward of our faith. May He bestow this grace not only on us, but on all people, and so on.