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JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, LIVE BY FAITH (Summary of Galatians)

Galatians 1:1-6:18
Key Verse: 2:20

We thank God for granting us the words of Galatians from first to last. It is truly God who discloses his words to his people. The words of God are the life line for the people of God. God gave us many precious words from the epistle of Galatians. But each one of us needs to hold to one word very clearly so as to put it into practice. It is for this reason that we want to study the summary of this epistle. When I meditated on this book in its entirety, among the many precious verses, Galatians 2:20 came to my mind. It seems to be a proper key verse. Based on this key verse let’s have this summary study with the title, “Justified by faith, live by faith.”

First, justified by faith. From the very beginning of this book, as Paul introduces himself, he presents the gospel by saying, “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raise him from the dead” (1:1). And then he said in the greeting, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (1:3-4). The gospel is Christ’s death for our sins and his resurrection.

Paul was astonished when the Galatians were turning to a different gospel deserting the one who called them by the grace of Christ (1:6). Paul wanted them to know that the gospel he preached was not of human origin but divine, revealed to him by Jesus Christ (1:11-12). In Jerusalem he confronted false brothers who preached circumcision. But Paul did not give in to them even for a moment so that the truth of the gospel might remain with God’s flock of sheep. When Peter came to Antioch, he revealed his hypocrisy before those related to circumcision group, by separating himself from the Gentiles at the eating table out of fear. All the other Jews there, and even Barnabas, were led astray (2:11-13). Paul was greatly troubled. When he saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, he said to Peter in front them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” Paul knew that there is no justification in following Jewish customs. Following Jewish customs was against the gospel truth.

In that critical situation Paul’s doctrine of justification came out. His great doctrine of justification by faith did not come out of his desk, but in facing such a crucial time of spiritual crisis in Christianity. He continued, “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Jesus Christ that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (2:15-16). By thrice emphasizing “not justified by observing the law”, he stresses that a man is justified by faith in Jesus Christ, whether a Jew or a Gentile, surely by faith in Christ Jesus who gave himself for our sins, and whom God raised from the dead.

What is justification? It is to be right with God. It is a sinner to be accepted by the Holy God. It is obtaining God’s approval for eternity. All human beings who are sinners, long for this justification in their deepest hearts. One young lady grew up in a Buddhist family. She received death sentence because of her illness and complications. Before her death, she was desperate to seek a sort of way of justification. She wanted to meet a great Buddhist monk. She was told that in order to meet such a monk she had to bow down 3,000 times. She did so, taking 2 hours and 40 minutes. Finally she met a great monk, only to her great disappointment. She could not get the answer to her question of what would happen to men after returning to the dust. She only heard that such monks bowed down even 10,000 times before Buddha, and to them there was no such a thing as justification through the resolution of the problem of sin. Many monks strove to remain in solitary places, avoiding people and surrounding themselves with only nature, in order to avoid sinning. Also Martin Luther’s fasts, long hours in prayer, self-flagellation, pilgrimages and constant confession could not bring him justification. His climbing the holy stairs (“Scala Sancta” in Latin) on his knees in Rome did not bring him justification, either. Also, one young man’s seven-day-long prayer fast could not bring him justification. As Ian shared in his message at the conference, the fame of such people as Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), Robin Williams (1951-2014), Whitney Houston (1963-2012), Kurt Cobain (1967-1994), Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014), and Amy Winehouse (1983-2011), could not bring them justification, but only the tragic end of suicide. Also, Paul’s great scholarship and religious zeal could not bring him justification, but miserable inner cry, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Certainly, no one is justified by observing the law, the works of the law, which include all human efforts and following the basic principles of the world for salvation.

There is no way out for justification in such works and efforts. Justification is only by faith in Christ Jesus. Paul makes it very clear in this epistle. He said in 2:21, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.” It is unthinkable that Christ, the Son of God, died for nothing. How could Gods sacrificing his Son on the Cross be for nothing? That is unthinkable and absurd. Galatians heard the gospel message of Jesus crucifixion by Paul and believed in Christ Jesus. Then they were justified and as a result received the Spirit. Paul reminded them of this saying, “Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard?...After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Again he said, “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (3:2-5). “Justified” means “redeemed.” So he said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” Christ redeemed us so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (3:13-14).

Being justified through redemption was impossible through the law. It was only through faith. So Paul stated, “For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole wold is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed” (3:21-23). Only when that faith came, was justification possible.

Also being justified means becoming children of God. So Paul said in 3:26-27, “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Justification, redemption, adoption as God’s children calling God ‘Father,’ and the indwelling of the Spirit are connected. Paul expressed this amazing blessing this way, “When the (set) time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father’” (4:4-7). And definitely, being a son means being an heir (4:8).

In light of all this, what an amazing blessing it is to be justified. It is only through faith in Christ Jesus. Paul again made it clear saying, “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will have no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ: you have fallen away from grace” (5:2-4). Being alienated from Christ and falling away from grace is too dreadful to imagine. Such a dreadful and horrible thing comes to those who try to be justified by law, that is all human effort.

Those who are justified by faith in Christ Jesus have true hope, the hope of future righteousness. So he said, “By faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” Those who are justified by faith, by faith wait for future glorification, rather than working for it.

Truly, justification by faith is an amazing and unfathomable blessing of God. We must keep this blessing by all means and by any means. For this, we should always turn to the cross of Jesus, and our faith is to be rooted in it. It is as a hymn song says, “Could my tears for ever flow, Could my zeal no languor know, These for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone. In my hand no price I bring; Simply to Thy cross I cling.” When I hear of the stories of great men and women of God for their great love for God and great achievement, I receive much grace and at the same time I am so shamed of my poorness, poor love for God, poor obedience to him and poor achievement. At that time I feel so unworthy before God. Then that’s the moment I should rely on what Christ has done, particularly the cross of Christ Jesus, despite my unworthiness. Nothing or no one can take away my justification before God, although I have to repent of my poorness. There are also other times I feel that I did something and become proud. Then that’s also the time to come to the cross and humbly cling to it. We can learn from Paul. He was so attached to the cross of Christ Jesus that he confessed, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me" (2:20) and through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (6:14).

When we are numb to the grace of justification, we do not think seriously whether we are accepted by God, but are only sensitive to whether we are accepted by people. It is easy to be deceived by self-justification (Lk 16:15). Then we are distanced from repentance, becoming blind to see ourselves. To keep the grace of justification we need to examine our hearts in the light of God’s word and repent when the Holy Spirit gently convicts us of our sins. In this way we can keep a right relationship with God.

Justification is always in the present tense : “I am justified.” It is of no use that I was justified. If anyone is not sure of his justification in Christ now, his eternal destiny is too pitiful to think of. The words "save" and "salvation" are notably missing from Galatians. Yet, we believe that justification is equivalent to salvation. If I am assured of being justified by faith in Christ Jesus now, it is guaranteed that I will be accepted by God when I breathe my last in this world. As a hymn song goes, “And when before the throne, I stand in Him complete, ‘Jesus died my soul to save,’ My lips shall repeat.” The only thing we can claim before God is this, “Jesus died my soul to save.” We thank and praise God for his amazing grace of justification through the cross of Christ Jesus. May we keep this grace every day and to the end of our lives.

Second, live by faith. God’s grace of justification is so great and so wonderful. I, a sinner, is accepted by God: What a grace it is that I have God’s approval for eternity! The only way of living for those who are justified by faith in Christ Jesus alone is to live by faith in him. Paul said in 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” No one loved us and gave his life for us, but Jesus the Son of God. In this love we are justified God. The only way to pay this debt of love is to live by faith in him. To live by faith in the Son of God contrasts to live by my own human effort or to live according to the standard of the world. To live by faith in him is to rely on the Son of God, Jesus’ merit, his unchanging and sacrificial love, and to be united with him crucified. In other words, it is live in his grace and to live for him.

As for Paul living by faith involved preaching the gospel through which Paul himself could be justified and through which others also would be justified. Actually this is the very last command of the Lord Jesus after his resurrection from the dead (Mk 16:15). In this epistle of Galatians Paul did not say directly, “Preach the gospel.” However, it was reflected in his life. In this letter the word “preach” in relation to Paul is written 8 times: “Even if we or an angel should preach a gospel other than we preached to you…” (1:8), “I want you know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something man made up” (1:11), “When…God was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (1:16), “They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is not preaching the faith he once tried to destroy’” (1:23), “I…set before them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles” (2:2), “They saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles” (2:7), “It was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you” (4:13), “If I am still peaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted” meaning “he preached the gospel, not circumcision” (5:11). As Paul lived by faith in the Son of God, he preached the Son of God, namely, the very gospel, as of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3). I newly realize that this was a secret of his spiritual growth.

Paul fought with gospel enemies so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for God’s flock of sheep (2:5). He showed his uncompromising spirit toward gospel enemies wishing them to emasculate themselves and even reprimanding them with eternal condemnation (5:12; 1:8,9). He wanted the Galatians to have discernment to see their false motives (4:17) and desires for recognition from the world, boasting in their flesh, and a life of seeking self-glory (6:12-13).

Living by faith also means standing firm in glorious Christian freedom. So Paul declared in 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Those who are justified by faith have the privilege of free access to God. No human relationship, system, rule or circumstances should hinder this great freedom. Living by faith is enjoying this freedom. It includes freedom to worship God, freedom to study his words of the Bible, freedom to pray, freedom to preach the gospel as we thought of, and freedom to serve him. Particularly God wants us to use our freedom to serve each other in love. An excellent example is Paul himself who wanted to be in the pains of childbirth again until Christ is form in God’s flock of sheep. And he said, “If someone is caught in sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” To restore someone caught in a sin gently means to help him with the mind of Christ, to solve his sin problem before God and thus restore his right relationship with God and others. Such a restoration work is a truly beautiful thing in life and God’s community.

Living by faith in the Son of God is directly related to living by the Spirit. Paul said in 5:16, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” He also said, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” When we live by the Spirit who is living in us, we can overcome licentiousness and legalism which are two great inner enemies for all Christians. Living by the Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience (forbearance), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These Christian virtues can be the result of living by faith.

Living by the Spirit is not just living in “spiritual high”. It requires practical struggle with our sinful nature of flesh, believing that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” And living by the Spirit is daily walking by the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit.

And to live by faith and by the Spirit is to sow to please the Spirit, not the flesh. As we have previously considered, life is sowing. At the time of death, our sowing ends. There will be no more chances to sow. While we are living in this world, we can sow. And a man reaps what he sows. Remember that pleasing the Spirit is sowing. It is sowing a good seed, while pleasing flesh is sowing a bad seed. Many do not think that pleasing the flesh, that is pleasing oneself and other people, not God, is sowing a bad seed. But what they sow will appear like cancer for the ruin of one’s body and soul. In the same way what people sow to please the Spirit will not disappear but accumulate to bear good fruit leading to eternal life. We remember Apostle Paul who said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (1:10). In his life there were many misunderstandings and attacks and discouragement and troubles. But what really mattered to him was a new creation in him and in Gods flock of sheep (6:15) And to him the most important thing was his relationship with Jesus. So finally he said, “Let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (6:17). He was not only an apostle but also a slave of Jesus who received his branding as his slave through persecutions for the cross of Jesus. He lived his life to please God, Jesus the Son and the Spirit in any life circumstances and to the end.

We thank and praise God for the wonderful grace of justification by faith in Christ Jesus alone. In this grace may we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us, keeping in step with the Spirit, and sowing to please the Spirit.

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