The Life of Grace

Last week we looked at Galatians 2, verses 11-16 together. We saw a confrontation that took place between two leaders in the church. Paul stood on the side of grace, he stood on the side of salvation through faith in Christ alone. Peter stood on the side of the law. He stood with the circumcision party, with the people who demanded that in order to be saved, you must follow the law. Peter acted in a way that was out of step with the truth of the gospel. And so Paul confronted him about it. And he goes on to explain what the true gospel is. We see him continuing to do that in our passage for today. Verses 17-21 is where we’ll be, but I’ll begin reading in verse 15.

Galatians 2
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 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 justified.
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Paul here is defending his teaching on justification. He’s defending his teaching that we are justified, not by works, but by faith in Christ alone. By faith in the grace of Christ alone. That teaching was challenged in his day. The circumcision party was disputing it. They were disputing the sufficiency of grace. Can grace really be enough? That was the question they asked. And Paul’s answer is, “Apart from grace, what do we have?” He says at the end of verse 16, “by works of the law no one will be justified.” So yes, grace must be enough! It must be because, if we don’t have grace, we all stand condemned.

We as humans, as sinful humans, we can have a problem with this grace-focused theology for many reasons. One example is, that it may rub us the wrong way because of our pride. In pride we don’t want our salvation to be all of grace, because we want some credit for it. We want some reason to boast in ourselves. Some reason to pat ourselves on the back, and feel good about ourselves.

Perhaps a less common reason for grace rubbing us the wrong way, is that we may think that having too much grace, too strong a theology of grace, will lead to an increase of sin in our lives. The idea behind this thinking is that grace encourages sin. But I want to argue, from this passage, the exact opposite message. That grace does not encourage sin, but in fact, grace works to vanquish sin. Grace works to put an end to sin in our lives.

Galatians 2
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

Does Jesus become a servant of sin by justifying sinners? On one hand we can answer that without doing much thinking at all: the answer is no! He cannot be a servant of sin. Or, as some other translations say, a minister of sin, or a promoter of sin. Jesus Christ is perfectly holy. Simply by what we know about His holy nature, we have evidence enough to answer the question. We have evidence enough that Jesus cannot be a servant of sin.

But, let’s think about this a little more. Does Christ become a servant of sin by justifying sinners? Does He in fact encourage sin by justifying sinners? We know He doesn’t, because He’s holy. But we also know He doesn’t, because justified sinners live differently than unjustified sinners. Being saved by grace changes a person. It changes us. And we’re going to get more into that later in this passage.

But some people might say that we shouldn’t talk about grace too much. That if you talk about grace too much, it will lead people to sin. This is probably what the circumcision party said. That you can have some grace, just don’t emphasize it too much. But this is the message of Satan. Whatever he can do to have grace thought of as something that needs to be restricted, something that needs to be limited. That is a win in his book. Satan wants a law-based gospel preached, which is really no gospel at all.

When your only options are grace or the law, you have to preach grace! Why do I say that? If you remember, a while ago, when we looked at the first part of Galatians 2, that led us to explore Acts chapter 15. Acts 15 is a parallel passage to the first verses in Galatians 2. So, in Acts 15, Peter – believe it or not, Peter – was rebuking the circumcision party for calling the Gentiles to follow the law of circumcision. Listen to what he said. Starting in verse 10 he said:

Acts 15
10 why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Peter was saying that seeking salvation through obedience of the law, is a yoke on the neck that no one can bear. It is a crushing load! Absolutely crushing. No one can bear it.

Now, this ties in to our passage back in Galatians 2. Paul goes on in Galatians 2, verse 18 to say:

Galatians 2
18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.

What is Paul doing here? He’s putting himself in Peter’s shoes, in a sense. Not the Peter of Acts 15, but the Peter who needed rebuking himself in Galatians 2. Peter was the one who was rebuilding what he had torn down. In Acts 15 we saw Peter tear down a works-based theology. Yet here in Galatians 2 he is rebuilding that works-based theology. So Paul is putting himself in Peter’s shoes, when he says: “if I rebuild what I tore down”

If Paul did what Peter was doing here, what would he be rebuilding? He would be rebuilding his confidence in the law to save him. Rebuilding his confidence in the law to justify him. Paul was once hugely confident in the law’s ability to save, the law’s ability to justify. That is exactly the background he came from.

In Philippians 3 verse 4 Paul said, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.” And he goes into a list. Us self-righteous people, we just love to list off reasons why we measure up, why we deserve acceptance by God. Listen to Paul’s list.

Philippians 3
5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

He had it all. Compared to other so-called “law keepers,” Paul had it all. And yet, what does he do? He tears these achievements down. Paul’s confidence in himself, his confidence in the law to save him is torn down. In the next couple verses, he says:

Philippians 3
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

He counts his works, his achievements as rubbish! Another translation uses the word “dung.” His works are dung, they’re garbage, they’re worthless. They could not save before, and they cannot save ever. So why, why would he ever rebuild what he had torn down? As verse 18 says, doing so would only, once again, prove him to be a transgressor. No matter how many makeup tests he was able to take, no matter how many second chances he got, every time he would be proven a transgressor. That was true of him, and that is true of us.

Galatians 2
19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

The law does not have resurrecting power. It cannot bring the spiritually dead to life. “Through the law I died to the law, that I might live to God.” Paul’s saying: I cannot live to God through the law, it’s impossible, because I’m dead to the law. I’ve failed the law.

James 2
10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

Paul’s saying: The law crushed me; it gave me no hope. It showed me that I could not find life in it. And so, I died to it.

Recently, I was listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler, and he said something about the law that pertains to what we’re seeing here in Galatians. He said: “The Law is like an MRI. It can show you that you’re sick, but it has no power to heal you.”

You know, ultimately, the problem is not with the Law. God’s Law is perfect. The problem is not with the law. The problem is with us. We are sinners, so we cannot be justified by the law. And trying to be justified by the law, is simply another way of sinning. Because it is rejecting what God has said about us, it is rejecting the grace He offers us, and it’s trying to do things on our own, as self-saviors.

The more that I depend on my works to bring me close to God, the further from God I will become in my heart. The same is true for you. The more you depend on your works to bring you close to God, the further from God you will become in your heart.

It is a grievous sin, to think that we can be justified by our works, to think that any of us can live a “good life” according to God’s moral standards, that we can be “good people” according to God’s standards, and earn His favor. It is a hopeless endeavor. There is no life down that path. No one can do it. John Piper has said, “The transgression against God is to presume that you can climb your way up a ladder of morality into his favor.”

Where does that leave us? Where does all of this leave us?

Paul says he died to the law, so that he might live to God. The only way he was able to live to God, was to die to the law.

What does that mean? What does living to God look like?

Galatians 2
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Being crucified with Christ means that the old me was killed on Calvary. It means that I am not counting on any works I have done to save me. My old list of works, my old list of achievements, is rubbish. Anything good that’s in me now, it doesn’t come from me! It comes from Christ. It comes from grace. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

The only way we can live to God – as verse 19 says – is if, it’s not really us that’s living, but Christ in us. It’s not us; it’s Jesus.

So, how does that happen? Verse 20 – “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” So all of our faith, all of our hope, all of our confidence – placed in Jesus Christ. That is how it happens. That is how it is Christ who lives, and not us. It’s by faith. We live by faith in Jesus. We cling desperately to Him, and to the grace that’s found in Him. And when we do that, it changes things! It changes us. It changes us when we nail our works to the cross, when we die to ourselves on the cross, and we live only by faith in the grace of Jesus. That is a changed life. A new life. The change there is not that we start sinning more. I said earlier that grace does not encourage sin, but instead it works to vanquish sin.

When we trust in the grace of Jesus, we find the motivation and the power to live differently. As long as we trust in our works, trust in our ability to follow the law, we will be distancing ourselves from God, because we’ll be puffing ourselves up before God. Trusting ourselves pushes our hearts away from true love for God. But trusting God, trusting grace, that transforms us. We no longer seek to live for our own praise, for our own glory, because we know what wretched sinners we are. So we live, not for ourselves, but for another. We live for the glory of our Redeemer.

As we sang earlier, He is our dear refuge, so we run to Him each day. We abide in Him. We follow Him. Because we love Him. And that love didn’t come from us. We love Him because He first loved us. We love Him because His grace has the power to melt our hearts, it has the power to form love in our hearts for Him.

Grace says that Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us. And He did that despite who we were, despite our sin, despite our works. He loved us and He gave Himself for us.

Have you ever had your soul laid bare before other people, and in a way that exposes a really unattractive side of you? Maybe you sinned against someone, that’s very close to you. You sinned and you tried to cover it up, you tried to hide it, but then the person found out anyways. Or maybe you’re confessing an area you struggle in to a group of Christian brothers and sisters. You’re confessing an area of weakness, that you wish you didn’t have.

In times like that, your sin is exposed, your flaws, your insecurities are exposed. The ugliness of your heart, even, is exposed. Have you ever had something like that happen, and you feel shame, you feel guilt, you want to recoil from the situation, just run away. Put yourself in that situation. You’re feeling that way, you’re exposed, and yet, the person or the people you’ve been exposed to respond to you in a way that’s totally unexpected. They respond with true, unconditional love.

Just imagine that taking place. You’re expecting anger. You’re expecting severe disappointment from others. You’re expecting to be shunned, to be viewed as an outcast, perhaps. Yet they respond with genuine, Christ-like love and compassion. They don’t push you away, but instead they draw even nearer to you.

It’s an amazing thing, a beautiful thing. And it’s all of grace. We may sometimes have that kind of experience with other people, and it can give us, just a glimpse, of God’s love for us, of how deep the Father’s love is for us. It can give us just a glimpse of God’s grace given to His children.

Paul says, in verse 21, that he does not nullify the grace of God. Other translations say he does not set aside the grace of God. If we aren’t setting aside the grace of God, then we are embracing the grace of God. We’re living as those who are fiercely dependent on grace. We’re saying, “There’s no going back for me. No trying to rebuild what I once destroyed. My future is a future that hangs on the grace of God. I am dependent on the future grace of my Lord.”

Being dependent on someone can be scary. It can bring some risk, some uncertainty to a situation. What if you trust someone, you depend on someone, and they let you down? It can hurt. It can be really painful.

But who is this God that we are dependent on? Who is He? He is Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified in our place. The one who loved us and gave Himself for us.

The cross is a demonstration of true love, a demonstration of true commitment. Jesus would never have done what He did, if He were not committed to us. The cross is proof of His commitment. He’s not going to change His mind. He’s not going to hold His grace back from us. We are exposed before Him, all the time. He sees every thought, every sinful motive, every action, and He does not pull away from us. And He never will. Because we are His people now. We are sons of God, daughters of God – brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Galatians 4
4 when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

For those who were God’s enemies, for those who were proven guilty under the law, this is sheer and utter grace.

Galatians 2
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.