15 We ourselves are Jews bybirth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person isjustified not by the works of the law but through faith in JesusChrist. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justifiedby faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no onewill be justified by the works of the law. 17 Butif, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to besinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 Butif I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstratethat I am a transgressor. 19 For through the law Idied to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified withChrist; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but itis Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faithin the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 Ido not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through thelaw, then Christ died for nothing.
Over thelast week or two I have been enjoying going through Paul’s letter to the churchin Galatia, and so I thought I would talk a bit today about this passage whichwe have read, that is kind of pivotal to the whole letter.
I hope youdidn’t get put off by the opening, where it says ‘we ourselves are Jews bybirth’. The points he makes are relevantto us all – both Jews and Gentiles.
But first,I need to make a few background remarks.
The Gospelis all about the Father. But wait aminute, I hear you say, I thought the Gospel was about Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus Christ? OK, let me rephrase that. The Gospel is all about Jesus BECAUSE it isall about the Father.
God ourFather wants you to be with Him. Hewants your fellowship. He longs for youto be with Him. But there is aproblem. And that is that you aresinful, and sin cannot enter the presence of God.
In a waythat was the message of the Old Testament, and in those times there was a‘temporary fix’ to the problem, involving sacrifices to animals and a scapegoatand so on. And that temporary fix waslimited and had to be applied time and again.
When Jesuscame to earth, he became God’s ‘permanent fix’ to the problem. When we are in Jesus, the Father doesn’t seeour sinfulness, he sees the righteousness of Jesus.
I hope you never lose your astonishment for the gospel. We have the same access to the creator of theuniverse as a toddler, child of the president of the United States has to theOval Office – more so, indeed, because in that case there is probably a nannyemployed to control the access! Perhapsto use a more up-to-date analogy it is like those toddlers wandering into thepicture when Dad or Mum are engaged on a ‘serious’ business Zoom meeting. Not a care in the world – they just want tobe with the parent!
In Jesus we can march right into the Father’s presencewithout even a by-your-leave. There isno impediment, Jesus has removed every barrier to our being there. We believe we are in Jesus, and we are withthe Father.
So, in Jesus we can be with our Father in Heaven. No barrier, no pre-conditions – unless youregard faith as a pre-condition. Wedon’t even have to repent to enter the Father’s presence! We don’t have torepent because we are hidden in Jesus and He is without sin. A bit later in Galatians, Paul talks about usbeing ‘clothed’ with Christ. (Gal 3:27)
Don’t worry, you will repent soon enough! And I will get to that. But I want first to explore this word‘justified’ that we have in our passage today. We are justified by faith in Christ, not by the works of the Law.
The Greek word that is translated here as ‘justified’ is dikaiow. And its related noun, dikaiosune is oftentranslated righteousness. And in other parts of the New Testament it hasvarious meanings such as vindication, or acknowledging the justice ofsomething. But this term ‘justified byfaith’ seems to be used in a special sense by Paul in his writings, and heprincipally uses it in Romans and Galatians, which are significantly bothletters that are concerned with the early Jewish converts reverting back towanting to please God by ‘doing stuff.’ That stuff might be being circumcised, or only eating kosher food, orkeeping separate from people regarded as sinners. All very well meaning, no doubt, but theproblem is that it is all completely pointless. If we are in Jesus, there is nothing we can doto make God more pleased with us. If wehave faith in Jesus – in reality, it’s faith into Jesus – then we can bewith the Father without doing anything else.
I think that it’s in that sense that Paul talks about beingjustified by faith in this passage. Weare justified, saved if you like, by being with the Father. We are saved from not being with theFather. Being with the Father makes allthe difference. Eternal life is knowingthe Father, John the evangelist said. Andit is simply faith in Jesus that makes that possible. And that alone. That’s why God went to the lengths that hedid.
The problem is that we cannot stand being beholden toanybody, and certainly not God. There’ssomething inside of us that keeps reverting to wanting to ‘do our bit’ forGod. And that is certainly not a problemconfined to the Jewish converts. So thetemptation is constantly of thinking it will please God if we do something forHim. In that sense we are all ‘foolishGalatians!’ (Gal 3:1) And then, worse than that, is that peoplemake up rules about the stuff we must do to please God, and try and impose iton everyone else. We are so slow to learn that we do not have to meet Godhalf-way. If the incarnation meansanything, it is that God has come all the way.
OK, so I said you didn’t have to repent to enter the Kingdomof Heaven, the place where God the Father is. And I know that is contrary to a lot of modern evangelism. I’ll say it again. In Jesus you can march right in. You don’t have to clean yourself upfirst. That is impossible anyway.
But I’m pretty sure that you will end uprepenting! Spend any amount of time inthe Father’s presence, and you may well be repenting left, right andcentre. That is the natural outcome ofbeing in the Father’s kingdom.
Think of the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. I hope I can count on you all knowingit. Jesus didn’t go up to Zacchaeus andsay, “If you repent of your sins I will come to your house”, did he? He just said, “I’m coming.” But after spending an afternoon with Jesus,Zacchaeus was repenting all right! Werepent because the Kingdom is at hand, not so that we can enterit.
Being near the Father causes us to see ourselves as wereally are, and that causes us to repent. And that brings us to what at first sight seems like a curious comment thatPaul writes in verse 17 of our passage.
17 But if, inour effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to besinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!
I’m not sure if I should be quibbling with the NRSV – the NearlyRight Scripture Version – but I think it would be nearer to the Greek if itwere translated:
But if, seeking to have been found justified in Christ, weourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ a promoter of sin? No way!
Do you see the point that Paul is making? The more we seek to be in Christ, to be withthe Father, the more we will be conscious of our sinfulness. But that doesn’t mean that Christ is theorigin of our sinfulness.
Now we often think of repentance as being sorry for some ofthe things we have done, and sorry for some of the things that we have not donethat we should have, to loosely quote Thomas Cranmer in the Anglican prayerbook. But I would suggest to you thatrepentance is actually more about being a person who is like that. And when you come to realise that, you maywell start begging to be changed.
And that is the point at which you find to your consternationhow God does transformation. God doesn’tdo improvement! He goes in for death andresurrection!
The root of repentance is the realisation that there is agreat gulf between Earth and Heaven, between the Flesh and God’s Spirit,between the Temporal and the Eternal. And you find that the only bridge across that Gulf is Jesus. And as you go to cross that bridge, you findthat the bridge is the cross! That iswhy Paul says in this passage “I have been crucified with Christ.”
Once your spirit has tasted life on the other side of thebridge – eternal life – it will always be wanting to return. Unfortunately, the flesh will always rebelagainst crossing the bridge because the bridge is a cross. And that is the tension we live with asChristians. We are spiritual beings in abody of flesh. We are citizens of heavenin an alien country. I can’t do betterthan Paul in his letter to the Romans. “Wretchedman that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ ourLord! (Rom 7:24)
That is where faith comes in. Faith is what gets us into Jesus, and thatis what gets us to the other side, into Heaven, into being with theFather. And it’s funny, when you are therethe flesh no longer looks quite so strong, it looks weak. And you will long to be changed from onedegree of glory to another! (2 Cor 3:18)You will begin to be conformed to the image of Jesus, which is the atmosphere,or as I said last time I spoke, the culture of Heaven.
Entering into the Kingdom of Heaven, the place where theFather is, is a three-step process – Hear it, believe it, do it. And I must confess that during my lifetime Ihaven’t been tremendously good at the ‘do it’ part. I don’t know what your experience is, and I’mnot assuming that it should be the same as mine, but for me I can be with theFather in a nanosecond. But unless Iconsciously spend chunks of time seeking to enter his presence, I never thinkabout being with Him in the first place.
The Gospel is all about Jesus because it’s all about theFather.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.