Those with Him are Faithful (Galatians, Part 20)
This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.
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.
What does it mean to be “justified” (v. 16)?
It means that God, as the judge of everything good and right and true in the world, is declaring that someone is “in the right,” despite the fact that the whole world (and every person in it) is corrupted by sin and caught up in rebellion against God (and therefore no one can lay claim to be “in the right” on their own).
When God says that someone is justified (or “in the right”), that means several things. First, it means that despite all the evil and rebellious things they have thought, said, and done, God is not holding any of those things against them and is wiping them clean of everything about them that is “not right.” Second, it means that now that a person is “right,” they can be adopted into the family of God and given an equal place along with the rest of God’s adopted and justified children. Third, everyone who is justified in this way is fit to live in God’s kingdom, where everything evil is banished, where every bit of death and pain is swallowed up by life, where everything sad comes untrue, and where God fulfills the longing of every human heart by giving himself fully to his creatures to enjoy forever.
How can a person be justified by God in this way?
Well, one possibility (in theory) is that a person can be declared to be “in the right” by God by actually being in the right. This is what Paul means when he says “justified by works” in verse 16. If a person was free from corruption, and if their thoughts, words, and deeds were consistently and always good and right and true, then of course God would look at them and declare that they were “in the right.” But you and I blew that before 9:00am this morning—and every other day of our lives. Again, this is why Paul says that “by works of the law no one will be justified.” This means of being justified (and being adopted into God’s family) on the basis of our own goodness is simply not an option for us. We need another way.
So the only possible option for us is for God to give us this status of “being in the right” as a gift. This is what Paul means by being “justified by faith in Christ” (v. 16). Unlike us, Christ is perfectly in the right. He can say, “I always do the things that are pleasing to [my Father]” (John 8:29). The Father himself says at Jesus’ baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Jesus is the one who is called “faithful and true” (Rev. 19:11). He is the One who truly can lay claim to the Father’s love and acceptance and the only One who is worthy to enter the Kingdom of God and bask in the goodness and joy of the Father.
But what if we could bind ourselves to Jesus somehow and get those privileges and joys for ourselves? Yes, that would work. Amazingly, Jesus offers to take us with him into the family of God and give us a place next to him in God’s kingdom! If we will love him and trust that he is able to do this, then this gift is ours—and this is what Paul means when he says we can be “justified by faith in Christ.” We can be unified with him and what is true of him can be given to us. Remember how Jesus is called “faithful and true”? Revelation 17:14 says that Jesus is “Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”
We’ll talk more about this next week.