Full Circle

It would stand to reason that Christians who hang with reformation theology would have a problem with talking about “works.”  One blogger recently suggested that reformed Christians have a “fear of works.” Even from its inception, the Reformation was reactive against the authority of the Papacy and the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church regarding penance and works as being a payment for sin.  At that time the Catholic church was the only option in terms of Christian teaching and worship, and its intimate relationship with the ruling powers easily allowed the false doctrine of justification by works violate and tarnish the gospel.  Martin Luther, John Calvin and others challenged the church’s position and many were burned at the stake for their challenge.

But the Bible does teach us to do good, in fact (dare I say)  it requires Christians to do good works.  Surely without good works there would never have been a Reformation and no one would have taken up the banner of the true gospel even to death without them.  There is a dramatic difference between justification by works, which is outright heresy, and justification by faith.  Indeed we are justified by our faith, and it is this gospel that is so clearly defined in the book of Galatians.

… 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.
(Galatians 2:15-16 ESV)

Paul is making a solid contrast here.  Earlier in the book of Galatians he challenges the people of this church in Asia Minor, telling them that they have been teaching a false gospel and that those who do are to be cursed!  Harsh words, and yet the point made.  Look at that distinction: there is nothing that can be found in the law that justifies.  Only Christ can set us right with God.  Only Christ’s atoning work can make us acceptable to God.  Justification means that Jesus did something for us that we could not do for ourselves: he lived a perfect life, became our perfect sacrifice, cleansed us from our sin, and set us right with God.

If we are justified by Christ’s works, then what are we on about?  Why is it important to live differently since Christ has paid for all my sin, past, present and future?  Christ did not only pay our penalty, but he also freed us from sin.  This plays out in two important ways.  Look at the next verses in Galatians:

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
(Galatians 2:17-20a ESV)

The purpose of the law is to condemn us to death.  “For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.”  Paul says here that the knowledge of the law shows that our sin has destroyed our lives, and any effort we take in trying to restore what we have destroyed demonstrates our complete inadequacy in such matters.  It also makes clear that Christ is utterly unique, that he alone has been able to set right was left in ruin.

Re-Animated

What comes next is the plain mystery of the gospel: “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”  No, this is no adaptation of Re-Animator, but it is a strange concept.  Is this like Jesus is my chauffeur and all I have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride?  Does this mean that my will is not at all involved in living the Christian life and producing the fruit of the Spirit?  Try on the rest of verse 20 and 21:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
(Galatians 2:20-21 ESV)

Notice the switch: Paul first says that he “no longer [lives]” but then says that he does! Which is it?  Sounds like Paul says it is both.  There is some sort of intimate relationship between our life and Christ’s in us.  The fact that we “live by faith” does not mean that we are living under our own steam.  “By faith” is a weighty phrase which means we not only live in knowledge of the gospel, but we live with the strength of the gospel.  Christ living in Christians means that he is the breath and the heart beat that keeps our souls not only alive, but capable of doing something.

Our Call “To Do”

Then Paul goes back to the law in verse 21.  The gospel, it seems, is something that is completely apart from us (v. 18), but when Christ is alive inside us we are moved to do good works and to follow the standard set out by the law.  If we belong to Christ, we can no longer be slaves to sin, because Christ himself is no slave to sin (v. 17).  The power, strength, and breath that Christ animates in us is not only the motivation but the ability to follow what God requires.

Wait a minute, does this not then mean that we are trying to “rebuild what [we] tore down?”  Certainly not! Read that last verse again: “I do not nullify the grace of God….”  When we do good things, when we attempt, as Christians, to follow the law it never takes the place of what Christ has done for and apart from us “for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

Dear reader, even though Christ lives in us and gives us the ability to follow the law, we are still prone to wander into sin.  Sadly, sin still often seems so reasonable. and the law can never be followed perfectly, which is the only way that it can be in order to please God.  No matter how hard we try to follow God’s law, even under the power of Christ himself, we are doomed to failure.  Whatever good we do, Christ is still our only hope, which brings us full circle:

… 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.
(Galatians 2:15-16 ESV)

Advertisements

About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

Comments are disabled.

%d bloggers like this: