6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power 10 on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.
11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
15 We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing 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 observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
17 If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
What is the most important question in life? I suppose most people would say it depends on how old you are and at what stage your life happens to be. “What will I be when I grow up?” “How do I succeed in life?” “Will you marry me?” “Will the kids ever move out of the house?” “Is the threat of global warming real?” I’m sure we can all think of relevant questions we’ve all asked throughout our lives, and some of them are really important.
The most important question though, is this: “How can a person be right with God?” That is the question that Paul answers in Galatians 2:15–21.
But before we get into that and try and answer the most important question, there are other essential questions we need to deal with first:
Firstly, is there something wrong with our world? Everyone would answer yes to that question, regardless of their faith or philosophy. The world is not perfect, and we all agree on that. But what is the problem, and why is the world in such a mess? People will admit and agree that something is seriously wrong, but we tend to put the blame on things that actually deny the real problem. We blame global warming, politicians, big business, lack of education, poverty – the list is endless. All of those are problems, but they are not the problem.
The problem is that man is a sinner. In Galatians 2, Paul makes a universal statement that Jews and Gentiles alike realise that things are not right between God and them. He is not saying that the Jews are better than the Gentiles. He is saying that the Jews, who have the Law from God, know better than anyone else that man is not right with God. In Galatians 3:22 he writes, “Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”
The vast majority of people live in denial that sin is the main problem that plagues our world. It is far easier to blame society, the government or our parents for the mess we’re in, because when we take the step of admitting that sin is the real problem, then we have to admit that we are part of the problem, and we don’t want to do that.
But what is it about sin that is so serious? Our sin is a debt. God has told us what to do, but we have fallen short of that obligation. We know the words of Romans 3:23 very well: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So now we owe God a debt which must be paid. The Lord spoke these words to the prophet Ezekiel: “The one who sins is the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4).
A word we don’t often use in modern English is enmity – “a state of active opposition or hostility” to God, and the first verses of Ephesians 2 describe just what enmity between us and God really is: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
God is not just angry about the sins we commit, but we are now objects of His wrath and righteous anger, so whether you have committed ‘big’ or ‘little’ sins (whatever that means) there is no difference: Because you are a sinner, you are an object of the wrath of God. James 2:10 is one of those verses in the Bible that most of us are reluctant to highlight or underline: “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
So regardless of how we try to interpret it, the reality is that our sin is a crime against the Holy God who created us. The answer to the first essential question before dealing with the most important question is yes – there is something wrong with our world – sin.
Secondly we need to ask why we need to be right with God.
We need to be right with Him because we are under the wrath of God. We are objects of His wrath. Again we turn to Scripture to spell it out for us. Romans 1:18 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” And our first reading today from 2 Thessalonians puts it like this: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power.” We are under His wrath, and the penalty for His wrath is coming. Because He is a God of justice, He will not turn a blind eye to our sin.
Jesus Himself said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36)
The bottom line is that we have a big problem: we are not right with God.
The answer to the first question is yes. There is something wrong with our world. And the second question is, why do we need to be made right with God? Because we are not right with God.
Let’s return to the most important question of all: “How can we be right with God?” The first part of the answer is that there is good news. We can be made right with Him. We are not a lost cause, beyond all hope.
Paul’s answer to the big question is in Galatians 2:16: “Man is not justified by observing 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.” The answer is justification by faith.
We cannot make things right with God by good works, religion or our spirituality. It only comes through justification by faith - the instantaneous act of God whereby He declares the sinner, who solely believes in Christ, to be forgiven and righteous in His sight.
The word instantaneous is important here. Justification by faith is a onetime act of God, and it happens in an instant. It is not something that happens over a period of time. Becoming more Christlike, being more obedient to Him, loving Him and each other more – all of those things are a process that continues throughout our lives, but being justified happens in an instant. Once it is done, it is done.
Take marriage as an example. You walk into the Church on your wedding day unmarried. At some point in the ceremony you move from a state of being unmarried to being married – completely married, and it happens in an instant. You don’t spend the rest of your life becoming married, because you are already a husband or a wife. You can’t become more married than you already are. And in much the same way, when you turn to Jesus in faith, you move from a state of wrath to a state of being justified – completely. You’re either justified, or you’re not.
But how does justification by faith actually work? Justification is the imputation of our sins to Christ and His righteousness to us. That’s another word we don’t hear very often these days. An exchange takes place. God imputes or transfers our sin to Jesus and His righteousness to us at the same time. The word “imputation” means to reckon or charge to someone’s account. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” It’s important that we see the double transfer here. Not only are our sins imputed or transferred to Jesus, but His righteousness is imputed or transferred to us. That’s why as Christians we’re able to say that when God looks at us now, He sees us as righteous and holy, because He sees the righteousness of Christ.
As our sins are imputed or transferred to Jesus and we receive His righteousness, God declares us forgiven in His sight. Not partially forgiven, or just the beginning of forgiveness, but completely and totally forgiven for all of our sins – past, present and future.
We are not righteous in the sense that we are morally perfect. Rather, we are declared righteous in God’s eyes by God. Justification is a legal term. God makes a legal declaration that we are right with Him. God declares sinners as righteous.
He doesn’t make the ungodly righteous in the sense of changing them internally and making them morally perfect. That’s a misunderstanding of justification by faith. Justification by faith is an event – it is not a process. Sanctification is a process. Sanctification is the journey God takes you on for the rest of your life as He transforms you more and more into the likeness of Jesus, and as we well know, one day you’ll take two steps forward, and the next day you’ll take three backwards. We do not reach perfection in this life because we remain sinners.
Forgiven sinners, but sinners nonetheless. However, if there was a point in your life that you turned to Christ in faith, then at that point God declared you righteous. He justified you, and regards you just as if you’d never sinned. And you remain justified by His grace. He will not take that away from you. Ever.
This is the point I was making last week. If you are a Christian, then you are forgiven, and your eternal salvation is a promise sealed by the blood of Christ. You have this promise and hope as an anchor for your soul.
The Bible teaches us that God declares the sinner as righteous. He is the judge and the sentencer, and He has the absolute authority to declare you righteous because it is He who must be satisfied. It’s not about anything you have done. He is the one who transfers the righteousness of Jesus to you.
Picture the scene: You have run up a string of debt, and you have nothing. The people you owe money to are banging on your door. Even the bank is about to take away your house (including the very door they’re banging on). Out of nowhere, someone transfers a billion rand into your account. Are you poor now? No, you are a billionaire. Are you a billionaire because you earned it?
No - you are billionaire because it was credited to your account.
As Christians, God declares us to be righteous. Not because we earned it, but because the righteousness of Christ was credited to our account. His righteousness was transferred, imputed to our account.
Justification is not something we earn, do or achieve. It is granted to us by God in response to our faith. We are not justified on the basis of the merits of our faith. Faith is simply the instrument through which justification is given to us. And why faith? Simply because faith is the opposite of works.
In works we, the individuals, try to accomplish something. Works is what defines every world religion with the exception of the Christian faith. Christianity is not a religion. It is a faith, and faith is the exact opposite of religion. Next time you fill in a form where you’re asked to specify your religion, cross out the question and simply write ‘Christian.’
In faith we rely and depend on someone other than ourselves to make us right with God, because we know that in and of ourselves we cannot make ourselves right with Him. In faith we are essentially saying, “Lord Jesus, I cannot make myself right with the Father, but you can. I therefore accept and identify with the cleansing power of your death on the cross in my place. You took my sin, and I receive your righteousness in exchange.”
It really is that simple, yet that profound.
Faith is trusting God to provide what we cannot provide, giving us what we could never achieve on our own and accomplishing what we could never accomplish.
Horatius Bonar wrote this wonderful hymn in 1864: “Not what these hands have done can save this guilty soul; Not what this toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole. Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God; not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load. Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin; Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within. Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee, can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free. Thy grace alone, O God, to me can pardon speak; Thy power alone, O Son of God, can this sore bondage break. I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love Divine; and with unfaltering lip and heart, I call this Saviour mine.”
Life is full of big questions, and how we choose to answer those questions goes a long way to determining the direction and paths of our lives.
But the greatest question of all is this: “How can we be right with God?”
And thanks be to God. By His grace He has answered that question in the most emphatic way: It is in justification by faith in Christ alone.
Homegroup Study Notes
The words justified and justification are often used in the Church, and is a major theme of the New Testament.
What do you understand by the term “justified by faith?”
Read Ephesians 2:1-3 and Galatians 2:16
Throughout our lives we make important decisions, such as career choices, who to marry, etc.
What do you consider to be the most important questions in life?
A point made on Sunday is that the most important question is this:
“How can a person be right with God?”
Do you agree, and why?
In order to try and answer this question we need to set the scene by dealing with other essential questions first. Discuss them in your group.
· Is there something wrong with the world?
· Why do we need to be right with God?
Now go back to the ‘most important question.’
When we turn to Jesus in faith, we are justified by God, and our sin is transferred (or imputed) to Jesus, while at the same time His righteousness is transferred to us.
The Bible teaches that this takes place instantaneously, and is a once-off event in our lives.
This is God’s declaration to us that we are fully justified in His sight.
What are some of the struggles you have in understanding and believing this truth?