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Lesson 4: Justification by Faith Alone *

Introduction: This week we begin our discussion of the heart of the gospel - how a Christian is saved from his or her sins. It is very important to get this right. Do you recall that in Galatians 1:8 Paul says that those who teach a false gospel should be "eternally condemned." I'll try to get this right! More important than what I write, consider carefully what Paul writes so that you will correctly understand God's will. Let's plunge into this critically important study!

  1. Jews vs. Gentiles

    1. Read Galatians 2:15-16. Recall that when we ended our discussion of the last lesson, Paul argued that Peter was acting like a hypocrite in separating himself from the Gentiles. I pointed out that Paul should (and would) make an argument based on the Bible. Is the argument you were promised? One based on the Bible? (Not exactly. Instead, Paul tells the Jews to think about their understanding of the differences between Jews and Gentiles.)

      1. What is that difference? (Read Romans 2:17-18. The Jews had a special relationship with God. He gave them many rules to make their lives better than the Gentiles who lived around them. They were a "light" among the Gentile darkness.)

      2. Despite this knowledge that Jews are favored by the law and have a special relationship with God, what do the Jewish converts to Christianity also know? (That they are not justified by the law. Instead, they are justified by faith in Jesus.)

        1. Are we supposed to believe this just because the early Jewish converts believed it?

    2. Read Romans 2:21-24. We just read the first part of Paul's argument here - that the Jews are favored by having the law and a special relationship with God. What is the result of having this special relationship? Did they keep the law that was such a blessing to them? (No. Instead of being a light, they dishonored and blasphemed God by their sinful ways.)

      1. So what is it that the Jewish converts knew that should cause us to accept that the law does not save us? (They knew they could not keep the law.)

      2. Let's not just leave this to the thoughts of people we do not know. Do you know that you regularly violate the law? (If you are honest, you will say (like the early Jewish converts) "yes, I violate the law on a regular basis.")

      3. Let's revisit Galatians 2:16. If you sin, can you be "justified by observing the law?" (Obviously, not. Paul does not start with a theological argument, he starts with the experience of every son and daughter of Adam and Eve. "[B]y observing the law no one will be justified.")

  2. Justification by Faith

    1. Galatians 2:15-16 uses the term "justified" several times. What do you think it means? (From the perspective of American law, it means that you violated the law but you are not considered to be guilty. For example, a person breaks into your home at night and you fear that person will harm you. If you shoot and kill that person when he approaches you, that is what the law calls "justifiable homicide." Intentionally killing someone is generally a terrible crime. But, in this situation the killing is "justified.")

      1. Have you heard the saying "Saved from your sins and not in your sins?" If we are justified even when we sin, is this saying true?

    2. Read Galatians 2:17. Think about the American legal situation that I just described. Does this law promote murder? Does it undercut the law against murder? (It leaves the authority of the law in place. It simply says that under certain circumstances, the rule of law is promoted by allowing a person to defend himself.)

    3. Read Galatians 2:18. What was "destroyed?" (If we apply this to Peter's situation, when he reverted to his old ways by separating himself from the Gentiles, he revived the law (legalism) and, as a result, condemned himself. Although some think the law has been destroyed, I think it is more accurate to conclude that the penalty for the law has been "destroyed" when we are saved by faith.)

    4. Read Galatians 2:19. This says that I died "to the law." It does not say that the law was "destroyed." How does a Christian "die to the law?" (Read Romans 6:3-7. When we are baptized, we die with Jesus, and we are raised with Jesus. We know that Jesus died because of our sin. Therefore, we (through Jesus) have paid the penalty for our sins. We have already paid the price that the law requires for sin. The law is not "destroyed," but it no longer threatens us because we have paid the full penalty for sin through Jesus.)

    5. Read Romans 7:1-4. Paul says we are like a wife whose husband dies, and thus she is freed from the law on adultery. Let's continue with this specific example. Are Christians free from the law of adultery? (Read Romans 6:1-2 and Romans 6:5-7. This tells us that we are not to go on sinning. It tells us that our "old self" died. The best way to understand this is to say that we died to the penalty for adultery - as well as the penalty for committing any other sin. But, we did not die to the understanding that the law exists to make our lives better. We did not die to the understanding that living a life in accord with God's will brings glory to Him.)

    6. Read Galatians 2:19-20. Would someone who commits adultery be "liv[ing] for God?" (Obviously not.)

      1. How does Christ live in us? (This refers to the Holy Spirit living in us.)

      2. Let's use an example. Assume that I said you died to all of the traffic laws. Would that make you a better driver? (If you were dead, you would not know about the traffic laws. Thus, assuming that you could drive while dead, you would be a much worse driver.)

        1. Now assume that the designer of all of the traffic laws "lived in you." What kind of driver would you be? (If I were infused with the person who designed all of the traffic laws, I would be in perfect harmony with them. I would not obey them because I might be ticketed by the police. I would obey them because I knew they created a safe driving world. I think that is Paul's point.)

    7. Read Galatians 2:21. How would a person "set aside" grace? (By thinking that he had to keep the law to be saved. The law will never save us. Thus keeping the law because we think it has an impact on our salvation is a mistake. Not only are we unable to keep the law perfectly because of our sinful nature, but trying to keep the law to be saved insults Jesus because it means He died for nothing.)

  3. The Law

    1. We have been talking about the law. When I was young, I was taught by some that is Paul referring to the "ceremonial law," meaning the laws written by Moses having to do with the sanctuary service. When I read older Bible commentaries, it seems that some of those commentators believe that Paul means the ceremonial law. Thus, I think this was (and may be now) the understanding among some Christians. Recall that the specific point in controversy is circumcision. Is that part of the ceremonial law? (No. Long before the sanctuary, God gave this rule to Abraham. Genesis 17:9-11.)

    2. If Paul is not talking about the ceremonial law only, does he include the Ten Commandments? (Read Romans 7:7-8. Paul refers to a "commandment," and we recognize it as the Tenth Commandment. Exodus 20:17. When Paul writes about adultery and coveting in his discussion of the "law," we learn that he believes we died to the Ten Commandments.)

    3. Read Romans 7:4-5. We might think that limiting Paul's definition of the "law" to the ceremonial law helps us with right behavior. What does Paul say about the impact of the law on right behavior? (The law arouses our sinful passions. You understand this. Tell someone that they cannot do something, and they want to do it. Thus, defining the law very broadly (and then saying that we died to all of it) helps us live better lives. Through Jesus, we paid the penalty for the violation of every kind of spiritual law.)

    4. Read Romans 7:6. How do we now serve God? (By living a life led by the Holy Spirit!)

    5. Friend, have you caught the good news here? When you were baptized, you participated in Jesus' perfect life and His death for your sins. The penalty for your sins has been paid. Will you now live a life led by the Holy Spirit? Why not ask, right now, for forgiveness of sin and to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Why not choose to live a life led by the Spirit?

  4. Next week: Old Testament Faith.
* Copr. 2017, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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