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Galatians: The Faithfulness of Christ

Updated: Jul 3








"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”


Galatians 2:20 (NIV)






The Scriptures have much to say about our formation and transformation as a people of God. As others have said, the Scriptures are not just for information but for transformation. We could list all types of sins, and it is sometimes appropriate to speak directly about sin. However, if we call out sin and don't talk about transformation, we are simply patching something broken. Notice what James records: 


James 1:13–15 (NIV)

"When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."


Sin is not just an isolated act but the result of a desire within us. This desire entices and pulls us away from the Lord's desire for us. If we are just focused on the sin, we neglect the problem. Sin is the result of a more significant issue.


We have all rushed out the door late for work. When we are running late, we always find a low tire. In our rush, we add air to the tire and hit the road. We make it to work, and the tire pressure reads 32 psi. However, we have not dealt with the problem. Our tire has a leak; until it is fixed, it will go low again. 


If we only focus on the sin, we are not correcting the problem. At best, we are just adding air to the tire. It may get us down the road for a few days, but the problem is that a leaking tire will run low on air again. 


The Scriptures teach us about our formation and transformation. Information, such as knowing that my tire is low on air pressure, is good information to know. However, formation and transformation occur when the tire is replaced. 


We are studying Galatians, and in Galatians (2:15-21), Paul drives to the heart of the problem: identity. Paul will speak about a transformed identity.


The Text  


Galatians 2:15–21 (NIV)

"We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. "But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn't that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. "For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”


The Conflict


As we studied through this letter together, we talked about the conflict. Certain Christians of the circumcised group are trying to persuade other Christians to follow the laws and traditions given by God to the Israelites. The laws, such as circumcision, have been identity markers distinguishing God's covenant people. The difficulty is that the laws have become information. Instead of inspiring transformation, to some, the law had become information used to build barriers. These barriers separated God's covenant people from others (2:12). Armed with information, the barriers divided table fellowship and built walls within the church (2:11-14). An identity transformation needed to happen.


Justified


As we dive into our text, Paul brings up the topic of justification.  


Galatians 2:15–16 (NIV)

"We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified."


There is a lot to digest in these few words. In the following few lines, Paul will use the word justified four times. This word is a judicial word meaning to have satisfied the requirements of the law or to pronounce someone in full accordance with the law. Paul is arguing that the works of the law cannot place us in proper standing with God. Building on information will not be enough, "...by the works of the law no one will be justified." 


We are justified through Christ's faithfulness. Scholars debate the translation of "faith in Jesus Christ." Should it be "faith in Jesus Christ" or translated as "faith of Jesus Christ," meaning Jesus Christ's faithfulness? I favor understanding this passage as the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. This slight shift emphasizes Jesus' faithfulness. Faith in Jesus tends to put the emphasis back on my abilities. N.T. Wright, in his translation, I believe, helps us hear this slight shift in focus:  


"But we know that a person is not declared 'righteous' by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. That is why we too believed in the Messiah, Jesus: so that we might be declared 'righteous' on the basis of the Messiah's faithfulness, and not on the basis of works of the Jewish law. On that basis, you see, no creature will be declared 'righteous.'" (1)


Paul is moving a community of Jesus' followers to rely fully on the sufficiency of Messiah Jesus. There must be a transformation of identity. Reliance on the works of the law is much like adding air to a tire with a leak; it does not correct the problem. Transformation is through Messiah Jesus.


Identity Shift


Paul builds to an identity shift and transformation that must occur in the lives of Jesus followers. All, both Jew and Gentile, come together as one New Covenant family, having our identity formed in the Faithful One, Messiah Jesus.  


Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."


This famous verse, made into a song, is the foundation of who we are as followers of Jesus. Through Christ's faithfulness, I now live a new life as part of God's new creation. New creation living is transformation. This transformation is having my identity made new in Christ. New creation living relies on the sufficiency of Christ and not on my merits. New creation living does not seek to erect barriers that have been broken down, nor does it exclude others from the table. All who are in Messiah Jesus are God's family. 


Crossing The Context


The law provided information. This information taught Israel about sin (Rom. 7:7-8). However, justification and forgiveness were given through God. The law was given in many ways so Israel could learn to rely on God.  


Hebrews 10:4–7 (NIV)

"It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, 'Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.' "


Today, our justification is not based on our merits or works. We cannot pay off our justification or salvation through meritorious works. Our justification and salvation are in a new identity: being in Christ. 


I had a tire on my car that I faithfully aired up every week. I knew it would lose 10 lbs. of pressure, so my routine was to air it on Sunday. By God's grace, we finally saved money to replace the tire. A few weeks later, as I was driving to work, I realized what a relief it was to get in the car and drive. I did not have to worry about checking the air. I knew the tire was inflated, and I could have confidence in the new tire.  


We often get caught up in merit-based salvation and don't realize the drain it's having on our lives. We are so consumed with checking the air in the tire that we don't realize how it is weighing on our minds. Checking the air can relate to church attendance, Bible reading, focusing on staying away from sin, and diverting our eyes. Jesus invites us to rest.  


Matthew 11:28–30 (NIV)

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."


Merit-based salvation focuses my attention on what others are not doing. Instead of focusing on Jesus, I am concerned with who sits at the table and who should not be invited. Merit-based salvation builds barriers that Jesus has removed. 


Paul and the gospel invite us to experience a new identity, which is formed in Christ's faithfulness. It's not an identity earned; it's an identity assumed through Messiah Jesus' faithfulness—an identity transformed through life in the Spirit and not based on collected information. 


Who forms my identity? 


Is our life lived in the faithfulness of Christ?






Notes:

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from: ”Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


1. Excerpt From N. T. Wright. "Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians." Apple Books.


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