Galatians 2:15-16 – We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Have you ever been so excited to say something that you forgot to take a breath as you said it? That is kind of what happens in the two verses about which are actually one sentence in the Greek text. This is one of the most significant sentences in the history of the world and the Spirit in Paul has a lot to say about something called “justification”.
To be justified is to be declared righteous in the sight of God. To be justified is the opposite of being condemned. The word “justify” is so important to Paul that he uses it some eight times in Galatians and some fifteen times in Romans.
The issue of justification is a complex one. God is a perfect Person. Heaven is a perfect Place. But we are not perfect. As sinners, how can we be in the presence of a perfect and holy God. Human history has, generally speaking, sought to resolve this problem in one of two ways.
Option 1: What we do – “Works of the law”
Among non-religious types, the general consensus among many is that they are kind of perfect the way they are. Such people blame their behavior on the fact that God made them that way, or life shaped them that way, and like to see themselves as good people who are victims. Other non-religious folks assume that God is not looking for perfect people, but just good people. And, they assume that they are good enough for God.
Among religious types, the general consensus among various religions is that if we do the right things that God will be obligated to accept us and declare us righteous. For this reason, religious folks like Saul of Tarsus are zealous, passionate, devoted, and focused intently on doing everything right and punishing everyone who does it wrong. This leads to either arrogance for those who think they have arrived at holiness, or despair for those who rightly see that they will never arrive at holiness.
Option 2 – What Jesus did – “Faith in Christ”
God, through Paul, could not be any clearer, there will be no line of people standing before God on the day and judgement and having him accept the resume of their life’s performance. Your works can damn you, but they cannot save you.
Thankfully, Jesus Christ is faithful. Bible translators debate whether Paul is speaking of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, or our faith in Jesus Christ. Both are true. Jesus is faithful and if our faith is in Him, we can rest assured that He will remain faithful to us, even when we are unfaithful.
This doctrine of justification was the central message of the entire Protestant Reformation. Justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone! John Calvin called justification by faith, “the principle of the whole doctrine of salvation and the foundation of all religion.” Martin Luther said that justification is the issue on which the church stands or falls.
Do you have faith in Jesus Christ alone for your righteousness before God?