Galatians 2:16. 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.
Everyone hates legalism don’t they? Legalists are overbearing, prudish, jerks, am I right? No one ever wanted to hang out with a Pharisee. They’re the worst.
Legalism is the idea that obeying the rules will make us better people. From a theological perspective legalism means that only by obeying God’s law can we be made right with God.
The church at Galatia was full of legalists. Jewish Christians that were telling the Gentile Christians that even though they were saved by faith in Jesus, now they must begin to follow all the Old Covenant laws in order to stay in God’s favor. For these legalistic Jews, Jesus was a door for the Gentiles into Judaism and its laws, rather than a door into a whole new covenant. It is this legalism that Paul will deconstruct in his letter to the Galatians.
And he will do it by beginning to show us the gospel in all its beauty – a person is justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
This statement would be deeply offensive and shocking to the Jews in Galatia. God gave Moses the law on Mount Sinai as the new way of life for Israel. It is God’s perfection. His holiness. His righteousness. The law is what makes the Jews God’s people.
But what they were failing to see was that the law was also their condemnation. Yes, the law is perfection and it was given to show Israel how to live. But the law’s perfection was supposed to be a mirror that actually revealed sin (see day 174), not bring perfection. Yes, by keeping the law, the nation would live life to the fullest, just as God had intended back in the Garden of Eden. But a law only works if you obey it perfectly. To fail in any part of the law is to be cursed. In this sense the law did its job. Its perfection revealed our imperfection. So the very thing that was thought to bring life actually brought death. Not because the law itself is bad, but because the ones trying to keep it are bad.
And we’re all trying to keep it.
Let’s be honest, we’re all legalists. We’re all Pharisees. Maybe we’re not trying to keep all the Old Testament laws. But we’re all living by a law. A standard. We’re all constantly performing. At church. At work. In the classroom. On the ball field. In your marriage. Living up to expectations. Your parent’s expectation. Your friend’s expectations. Society’s expectations. Your own expectations.
If it’s not the “big L” Law of God, it’s a thousand other “little l” laws that we place ourselves under.
But the truth that we’re all forgetting every day is simple: by works of the law no one will be justified. In fact, by works of the law we die. Let’s break it down:
The Law is a standard. We’re all looking for a standard to follow. “Just tell me what to do.” “How do I measure up?” “How’s my performance?” “What’s my grade?” God’s law has provided this standard. But we are also constantly being graded by our own standards – get good grades, be beautiful, make the team, have a clean house, be happy.
The Law becomes an accusation. Because the Law (or law) continually places us under these standards, soon the Law begins to accuse us. We’re never living up to the standard. We’re never where we “ought to be.”
The Law offers us control. We hate the accusation of the Law, but we love to be in control. And law offers us this control. So back to the law we run. OR we replace one law with another. Maybe you’ve reject God’s law for your own law. But you are still under the accusing eye of an impossible standard.
The Law becomes death. As we fail over and over to live up to the standard of the law, we try harder and harder, becoming more and more controlling. But this controlling of our own lives, this constant self-justification, is killing love in our hearts. Control and love cannot co-exist.
And so here we are, trapped in the dead end of the law. Deceived into thinking that what condemns us will actually justify us. And the sad things is we live most of our life blind to all of this. We are oblivious to all the laws we place ourselves and others under each day.
If only there was a whole new way to live. If only there was “to live is Christ.”
Can you identify the laws you place yourself and others under each day?
You in Christ
How does being in Christ free you from self-justification?
Christ in you
How might you live free from the standard of law today?
Playlist: songs of justification.