Salvation does not consist of two parts; justification and our works. Salvation is by justification alone, by faith alone, and by grace alone. Why does this seem so hard to so many Christians? We will be having a great discussion on the merits of Christ and the free gift of salvation then someone will chime in, “yes, but there is more to salvation than ‘just’ grace”. I am astonished at the number of Christians who want to add law keeping to grace in order to become right with God.
In Galatians 5:1 Paul writes, “for freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Jesus set us free from sin, and the guilt of sin. Ryken in his commentary on Galatians says it so well, “When He was crucified on that hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus, was cursed for our sins. He died on the cross to atone for our guilt. He offered His life as the just price for our sins, so that we would never have to face the wrath of God for ourselves.” I am a sinner, always have been, always will be till Christ changes me at the second coming. But the Father doesn’t see me as a sinful being, He sees me through the covering of Jesus perfect righteousness. When God looks at me, He sees me through the filter of the blood-splattered body of Jesus given freely for me, a sinner, at Calvary.
Jesus has conquered sin, death and the Devil. Jesus has freed me from the law’s deadly curse against my sin. He has kept the law I couldn’t keep, paid the penalty I couldn’t pay, and won the victory I couldn’t win. I have been accepted because of Jesus Christ, not because of anything that I could possibly do.
Paul reminds the Galatians to stand fast in the gospel and don’t slide back into the world of slavery under the attempted law-keeping yoke that the false teachers were trying to hoist on them. The yoke of slavery was the Old Testament law that the Jews considered as a means of salvation. The Jews in Paul’s day taught the laws of Moses were a yoke, calling it, “the yoke of the commandments.” At the Jerusalem council Peter referred to the law as, “a yoke….that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” Acts 15: 10 The laws of Israel had made the people beasts of burden bowed down under the heavy load of law keeping.
Let’s look at Galatians 5: 2, “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” The false teachers were telling the Gentile Christians that if they didn’t get circumcised they couldn’t be saved. “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15: 1 Here is the crux of the argument for Paul, if the Gentiles become circumcised it means they are doing something towards their salvation. And if they do anything, even as small an operation as circumcision, they make Christ of no value.
If Circumcision became mandatory for all Christians, then salvation would be based on works rather than free grace. Ryken points out quite correctly, “Either people are justified before God partly by what they do for themselves or they are justified exclusively by what Jesus Christ has done for them.” F.F. Bruce notes, “They could seek justification through faith in Christ and obtain it or they could seek it through legal works and miss it. To seek it through faith in Christ was to seek it on the ground of God’s grace; to seek it through legal works was to seek it on the ground of their own merit.”
Anytime we say grace is not enough we are belittling the grace of God. Here is why I am so adamant against law keeping as a meritorious add-on to the gospel. If we believe that salvation is based on grace plus anything else then we can no longer plead grace for our salvation. Paul tells the Galatians and us if you want to keep the law as part of your salvation experience then you are bound to keep it all, every part of it and never stray from absolute perfection in your keeping that law. “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law.” Galatians 5: 3 Also Galatians 4: 21, “Tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law?” John Stott points out the idea behind to hear the law, “then just listen to the law, for the very law, whose servant you want to be, will be your judge and condemn you.”
If we try to be justified before God by anything we do we are not free in Christ. We are still slaves to sin and death because Christ cannot save us since we have put our trust in ourselves instead of His grace alone. Our standing before God depends on what Jesus has done and never on anything that we have done.
Paul now goes on to tell the Galatians the fatal consequences that they are facing if they slide back into works. Tomorrow please read Digging Deeper on this blog because it is where I will deal with the rest of these texts as I don’t have room on this post. Until then “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” Ephesians 2: 4