Paul draws us into a conversation about what it means to be justified with God. Is it something we play a part in, or is it all Christ’s doing? When we say we are justified by faith, is it our faith or Christ’s faith?
Scripture: Galatians 2:15-21
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!
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Additional Background Information
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The conversation about the meaning of justification has been debated by Christians since the early church. Learn more though these links:
Justification — Explore the theological concept of justification.
Sola Fide — Justification by faith alone. This doctrine is one that differentiates many protestant traditions from the Roman Catholic church.
Monergism — Justification is from divine action alone.
Synergism — Justification comes from a combination of divine and human activity.
Martin Luther — A leading figure in the protestant reformation, Luther wrote about the idea of justification by faith alone.
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Nikki’s Video Script
This week we are looking at the book of Galatians again in 2:15-21. Often times, when I find myself wading in to Paul’s writing, I often find myself feeling like the wading is short and I am in deep water very quickly. Today’s text is that way for me. Paul starts stringing words together that may have been easier on the listeners of his day than they are our our ears today. He talks about being justified by faith in Christ and not by works fo the law. And he goes on and on…..until I find myself tuning out because it seems like a lot of work to understand.
However, in the end, it is worth doing the work to understand more about where Paul is coming from. In this text, he talks a lot about being justified. He is arguing that we are justified by faith, not by works. But what does he mean by justified? Often times, in church we oversimplify what Paul is talking about by saying that we are simply made right with God. This is true, but he is not implying a simply wiping away of all our wrong doing and brokenness. Rather, this justification implies a real accounting of what was not right and a movement toward better behavior and action.
Another important issue to consider is what does Paul mean by faith? A great deal of ink has been spilled over the phrase in verse 16 that may be translated in your text as either faith in Christ or faith of Christ. There are questions about the tense used there and it changes the meaning of the phrase in significant ways. If you ascribe to the idea that it is faith in Christ, you are claiming that we are justified by our ability to have faith in Christ. A choice is required then on our part. However, if you ascribe to the idea that the phrase is faith of Christ, you are placing your bet on Jesus and that our justification comes by the actions of Jesus, not ourselves.
I often think that as Christians, we try to hold on to both of these ideas at the same time. We like to say that we cannot save ourselves, but that Jesus saves us. And we like to say that we must accept the gift of justification and salvation by believing in Jesus. When we do this, we create a contradiction. I will not suggest that this is an easy debate to consider, but I do assert that it is worth considering the implications of each idea.
Scripture is rarely easy and often times, what we find in there causes us to ask more questions than find confidence in answers. It is good to wrestle with these ideas in Scripture and allow the struggle to make room for the work of God’s Spirit in our lives and in our faith. When scripture makes you ask more questions — when is demands more of you than you thought it would — when it makes you go, ‘huh?’ – that is the time to pay attention and really dig in to the work. Our temptation may be to pretend the struggle isn’t there, but when we do that, we miss an important opportunity for God to transform us in the struggle.