This Sunday I’m starting to preach through Galatians. I think the main thing Paul is doing in Galatians is calling his readers back to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the theology of Galatians, it seems the gospel is unpacked in terms of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. In short, forgiveness of sins and being counted righteous in the eyes of God is grounded in Christ and apprehended by faith.
The problem, however, is the Galatians were drifting away from the good news. There were some professing Christians that had come along and evidently told the Galatians that in addition to Jesus, for them to be right in the sight of God, they also needed to add “works of the law.” Now, that phrase is highly debated in Pauline studies. Yet, the “works of the law” seems to refer specifically to circumcision (cf. 2:12; 5:2, 6, 11; 6:15) and generally to the law of Moses. The point, I believe, is that the false teachers were asserting that faith in Jesus was not enough. You needed Jesus plus “works of the law” in order to be justified.
The Galatians had been “bewitched” (3:1) by such teaching and were drifting from the gospel. Paul, like a faithful shepherd and caring father, will not stand by and watch. He puts pen to paper and calls the Galatian Christians to cling to Jesus alone. He writes:
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 justifiedGalatians 2:15–16
For Paul, then, the good news was cast in terms of free justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We believe in Christ and are justified (cf. Rom 5:1). Full stop.
The danger, however, is that we would say amen to all of this and then, in a year, or 5 years, or 20 years of faithfully clinging to Jesus as our only hope, we start to focus on our own moral efforts. That is, we think more about what we do than we think about what Christ has done. If that happens, we have started drifting from the gospel and our souls are in danger.
So my heart this morning is to call us, like Paul, to look to Jesus. Don’t drift from the simple and stunning news that your right standing with God depends on one thing and one thing alone: your faith in Jesus Christ.
This doesn’t mean the way we live is irrelevant. No, we are not a lawless bunch. We are still called to love God and love neighbor (5:14), to walk by the Spirit (5:16), and to bear Spirit-wrought fruit (5:22–24). Yet, that spiritual life is evidence that we are new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). The spiritual life we live is not what makes us right in God’s eyes. To put it another way, our pursuit of a pious and holy life is not the basis or ground of our right standing with God. The ground is Jesus. The way we take hold of Jesus is by faith. Then, having taken hold of Jesus, we live Christlike lives in the power of his Spirit because we are new creations.
In the end, the good news (i.e. the gospel) is that “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:26).
Don’t drift from this good news.
Believe in Jesus. Hope in him. He is enough.