What do the following have in common?
(1) Those parents who used their kids to blow up churches in Indonesia in suicide attacks. What could have motivated them?
(2) A boss who is constantly angry at his workers, putting excessive pressure and unrealistic demands on them.
(3) A year 12 student putting very little effort into his studies.
(4) A pastor who binges on chocolate and Netflix.
(5) A man struggling in his midlife life crisis flirting with his co-worker.
(6) A teenage girl obsessing over her body in the mirror. The statistics tell us that in Australia body image is the top personal concern among 11-24 year olds.
In each and every one of these cases, there is a failure to either understand or apply the most profound truth ever given to us humans. That truth is this: we are declared right with God based solely on Christ’s death and resurrection, and not by how we perform in this life. Galatians 2:15-16:
We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of 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 the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (NIV)
Three times the same point is repeated. God will fully accept any person who trusts Jesus, and they will be accepted not because of their own quota of good works. Or let me put it another way: God will not reject any person, no matter how atrociously they have behaved, if they truly turn to and lean on the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
Let’s look more closely at three key ideas in verses 15 and 16.
The first is the word ‘justified’. This is a word from the law courts. A person is justified when the judge declares them innocent of all charges and the person walks out of court free and declared not guilty. When a person is justified, whatever spiritual debts they have accrued in God’s sight have all been put on Jesus’ bill and not theirs. The good news is that we can know now what God is going to say to us on the last day. He will declares us “not guilty” through faith in Jesus.
Whenever I walk through metal detectors at an airport, and the alarm doesn’t go off, I say to myself, “Yes, I am justified, and approved of by God. This is how it will be on the day of judgment for all who have put their trust in Christ: they will receive the verdict, “No condemnation in Christ Jesus”.
The second is the phrase “the works of the law”. This speaks of our obedience to God’s law. Three times we are told, “by the works of the law no one will be justified”. Our attempt to obtain God’s approval in our performance is a complete dead end. We are neither justified by any good works we might have, nor are we left to be condemned by our bad works.
Does this mean what we do doesn’t matter? No, it matters a real lot, but it’s not relevant when it comes to being justified before God. If we are not justified by good works, then how are we justified? That leads us to the third point.
The third is that we are justified “by faith in Jesus Christ”. Three times we are told that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is not simply knowing the truth that Jesus died for our sin. It is personally trusting that Jesus died for our sins. We trust that our sins were pinned on Jesus’ back instead of ours.
Faith comes to God empty handed, clinging only to the cross and nothing else. Faith trusts that Jesus carried the blame that we deserve. Though we actually are unrighteous, we are in fact counted as being as righteous as Christ himself, because we have his righteousness. Faith trusts that at the cross, the guilty are declared not guilty. As one write said, “Wherever Jesus sees faith, he has forgiveness on a hair trigger.”
Deep down we want and need validation. We all know that at some level we are not right. We are desperate for approval and we will try to get it from anyone—the kiss from someone you love, the smile from a friend, the nod from someone you respect. We want to hear, “Well done!” We want the recognition that honours your performance, the comment or ‘like’ on Facebook, the timely emoji that gives you the thumbs up! How many of us are still trying to prove our dead parent wrong.
These sorts of longings tell us that we need others outside of us to validate us. The problem is that we turn to humans for validation, and it doesn’t last. We have placed our heart in the hands of humans, who then crush it.
Too many give up too quickly on ever getting their approval from God himself. Yes, God does say that we are worse than we can ever imagine. But God also says that we are loved more than we could ever hope.
But most people shut down when they hear the bad news before they hear the good news that God is for us.
Trump did not come up with ‘fake news’. It has been around since Adam and Eve talked to the serpent in the garden. Some people believe the fake news, that they are so good that they don’t need Jesus to justify them. Others believe the fake news that they are so bad that Jesus cannot justify them.
Fake news can use technology to deceive us. I’ve been told how in some gyms, the mirrors in the cycling and treadmill section are shaped in such a way that makes people look thin, but the mirrors in the weights section makes them look like they have bulked up. We do anything, or go everywhere and to anyone except to the one who said that he will accept us if we only would trust his Son. Our deepest need for approval is found in Jesus alone, where the guilty are viewed as not guilty.
The story I often tell is about George Khouchaba, a long term member of MBM. As a twelve year old, George sadly watched his mum being killed by a drunk driver. It messed with his life and he rebelled. He broke into people’s homes and stole stuff. He wasn’t very good at it because he developed a long list of convictions, but by the time he was sixteen, he had come to Christ, and has lived a transformed life ever since.
George has one of those faces that looks guilty. At 22, he was waiting in a car for a friend to come out of a block of units. As he is waiting, the cops drive by and say to each other, “That guy looks guilty”. So they turn back and park behind him. The policemen walk up to the door and say, “What is your name?” He answers, “George Khouchaba.” “Where do you live?” “Fairfield.” “George, do you have a criminal record?” Now, the law of the land in eighties said that when you hit 18 years of age, any criminal convictions before you turned 18 are no longer held against you. Knowing that, George looked at the policeman, and says, “No sir”. Guilty as he is, George is treated as not guilty.
And so it is with you when you trust in Christ. Guilty as you are, in Christ you are viewed as not guilty. You are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and by nothing else. What that means is that there is no ‘us and them’ anymore. If none of us can be justified by our good works and if everyone is a sinner needing to be saved, then it’s a level playing field. Galatians 2:17:
But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! (NIV)
The more people who trust in Jesus, the more of us there are who are owning up to being what we really are—sinners. And what a relief! If you know that there is nothing you can do to earn God’s approval, and if you are mindful that you rub shoulders with other sinners who are trusting in Jesus’ death, then it’s very humbling. It’s why at MBM we have a value that “We don’t do pretend”. You saw that last week when Andrea talked about ‘angry mum’ or Teresa told us about how she ate her kids’ chocolates in the pantry.
But we need to be careful. For while I am comforted that I am not alone in my struggles—and that others battle with the same sins that we do—we must remember that we are not justified because we have found others who sin like us, or worse. Our deepest comfort is that Jesus’ blood has purchased God’s approval for us.
Do you know why we don’t need to fear what God will do to us when he meets us at the last day? Because God has already done it, Galatians 2:19-20a:
For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (NIV)
Judgement day has already fallen on you and I at the cross of Jesus Christ. We’ve already been crucified with Christ.
The worst thing that could ever happen to you has already occurred. It is behind you. Since you were condemned at the cross, you have died to the law. It can’t condemn you or I again. That is only because by faith you and I are now forever united to Christ. Our destinies are bound up together with Christ.
Think of a child in the womb of his or her mother. For those nine months, wherever the mother goes, the baby also goes. If the mum travels to Spain, then so does the child. If the mum goes into space, so too does the child.
In the same way, you are united to Christ. Your life is hid in him. You were crucified with Christ. As surely as Christ died, so did you. As surely as Christ rose, so did you. You are now alive to God, to live for God. And what Jesus did for you and me is what empowers you and me to live and act for Jesus. He who is in you and me is he who is for you and me. Galatians 2:20b:
The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NIV)
This is one of the rare times in the Bible where Christ’s death is described in a personal way. More often the Bible says that Christ died for his people, his sheep, his church, his bride, his elect—but not ‘me’ except here.
This is one of my favourite verses. God’s great plan that spans from eternity to eternity is radically individualized. Christ, who is the creator of the universe, loves me and loves you—not just ‘youse’.
Unlike Eastern religion, our personalities are not dissolved into the ocean of oneness. Unlike Islam, our salvation is driven by a personal love from God’s own Son, who died just for you and me. Unlike modern pop culture, it’s not a cheap cliché—it’s a love that was paid for by Jesus’ blood. Unlike absolutely every religion, there is no uncertain hope with the constant pressure to perform. We as individuals get to live this life in this body by trusting the Son of God who loved you and me as individuals and gave himself for you and me. Anything else except trusting in Christ for salvation spits in the face of God’s grace, Galatians 2:21:
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (NIV)
Jesus plus anything equals nothing. If you’re hoping to make it to heaven without relying 100% solely on Jesus death, you are in effect saying, “Jesus I don’t need you. I didn’t need you to leave heaven. I didn’t need you to live the perfect life. I didn’t need you to suffer and die the death I deserve. I refuse to be saved by grace. I want what I deserve. The life I live in this body I live by faith in me and my ability to be good enough for God.”
I was given a gift by one of our missionaries, Geoff Cuschieri. It’s a mirror. I would have loved to show it to you but it went out in a garage sale. Sorry Geoff! I really liked that mirror, because when you first see the mirror, you see yourself, reflected back. But then you look down at the bottom of the mirror, and etched into the mirror are these precious words, “For whom Christ died.” For years as I looked in the mirror at me, I was reminded every day that my right standing with God is found not by how many things I’ve done on my ‘to do’ list, or how many people say nice things to me, or how I look. My right standing before God hangs on the one who hung on the cross. We fight for this truth every day in our hearts.
You must learn to preach this to yourselves. Preaching to yourself that Christ died for you liberates you. And if you battle with depression, then anti-depressants may help you engage in this battle. But the fact that Christ died for you has radical implications.
First, knowing that you’re now accepted by God through faith in Christ frees you to apologize to others and welcome negative feedback.
Second, it allows you to love others without manipulating them to love you back.
Third, knowing that you are justified by faith means that you are broken hearted but not devastated when you are rejected in relationships.
Fourth, it means that you don’t have to feel shame when you feel that you are under-performing.
Fifth, it means I don’t have to be a workaholic or lazy.
Sixth, I don’t have look down on others who are different.
Seventh, it means that I am able to be vulnerable with people but not live in fear of rejection.
Eighth, I won’t lie to cover up my failure or embarrassment.
Ninth, I don’t have to be a racist.
Tenth, I can now serve without resenting others who don’t.
Eleventh, I can give without resenting other who don’t give.
Twelfth, I’m truly freed up to serve from grateful heart.
I used to not study hard at school and uni. I did this so that I could give myself an excuse for whatever mark I ended up getting. Then I became a Christian. I studied much harder, but my marks didn’t improve all that much—and that was ok. We are only justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.