Guilt: What To Do With It

Are you struggling with feelings of guilt? Are you ashamed of something you have done recently? Perhaps your whole life has been one failure after another. You’re powerless to do what is right. You can’t stop doing the things you do. While you may have given up a long time ago, there is hope. You just have to look beyond yourself and look to God who already has provided a solution to your problem!

The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.

– Luke 18:27

When it comes to guilt, you’re not alone. Everyone has done wrong. Some people pride themselves in being ‘law-abiding citizens’, however there is not one person who has not broken God’s law and offended Him in some way. It’s human nature.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

– Romans 3:23

God is absolutely righteous (morally good), but we are not. We may try to do things that please Him at times, but even our best is futile in God’s eyes:

We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.

– Isaiah 64:6

The problem with the wrong we do is that it cuts us off from God. He cannot look on sin because it goes against His nature, and He will not violate His nature.

Your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.

– Isaiah 59:2

The wrong things we do cut us off from God. The Bible calls this separation “death”:

The soul who sins shall die.

– Ezekiel 18:4

For the wages of sin is death…

– Romans 6:23

The short-term consequences are bad enough. The long-term consequences are unthinkable. Unless sin can be dealt with, we will spend an eternity in hell, separated from God forever:

“The Son of Man [Jesus] will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

– Matthew 13:41-42

It sure sounds hopeless. And it would be, except that God still loves sinners…

God loves you!

These are not just empty words. He proved it by providing a way out of our dilemma. Two thousand years ago, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to pay the penalty of sin for you and I. He lived the perfect life we could not live, and then He willingly died a shameful and agonizing death on a cross in our place so that we could live eternally with God!

For when we were still without strength [i.e. without hope], in due time Christ died for the ungodly. … God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:6-8

Jesus’ death was no accident. It was part of God’s plan from the beginning. 700 years before His birth, Isaiah prophesied about Jesus:

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. … By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. … He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

– Isaiah 53

God did not have to do this. But He loved you and me so much, He sent His Son to pay the complete penalty for our sin. To prove that Jesus’ death was acceptable, God raised Him from the dead, and now Jesus is at God’s right-hand, interceding (mediating) for those who trust in Him. It is His intercession that ensures those who trust in Him will never be separated from God:

Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:33-39

Once you place your trust in Jesus, sin no longer separates you from God because Jesus’ blood continually cleanses you from your sin:

The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

– 1 John 1:7

Once you place your trust in Jesus, you are perfect as far as God’s acceptance of you is concerned:

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

– Hebrews 10:14

I have placed my trust in Jesus Christ to save me. You can too. All you have to do to be saved is:

1. Recognize you are guilty before God,

2. Recognize God’s offering of mercy through Jesus Christ’s death,

3. Desire no longer to live for yourself but for God,

4. Ask God to save you, trusting only in Jesus’ work on the cross.

When you’ve had it with the results of doing things your way, try God’s way. Turn your life over to Jesus. He lived the perfect life you could not live, and died to pay the penalty for your sin.

By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

– Ephesians 2:8-9

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

– 2 Corinthians 5:21

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 6:23

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

– John 3:16-17

There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

– Acts 4:12

And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

– John 6:40

The Meaning Of Yahweh’s Name

Israel went through a time of slavery in Egypt. God had told Abram this would happen beforehand (Genesis 15:13), but He allowed it to happen anyway. Slavery is evil, but God always has a purpose and is able to bring good to His people out of anything.

Whatever manner God deals with His people, whether through something He does or something He allows, it is always to bring glory to Himself. Glory is simply the revealing of God’s character and nature such that we can understand and appreciate Him better. So to find out why the Israelites were enslaved, we need to ask how God revealed His character and nature through the situation. What do we learn about God from this time?

Remember when God told Abram what would happen to His descendants, He also promised to bring great good out of it? Abraham received many promises from God, but he never saw them fulfilled (Hebrews 11:13). Abraham continued to believe God in spite of this, but I wonder what everyone else thought? Imagine you’re one of Abram’s neighbors – say, an idol-worshiping Canaanite. You hear Abram say his God (of whom you know nothing) made a bunch of promises to him… but years go by and, even though Abram dies, you never see them fulfilled. Wouldn’t you think his God is no different than your god? After all, your god never fulfilled any promises either.

Four hundred years later, God appeared to Moses and said He was now going to act to fulfill the promises made to Abraham (Exodus 3:8). But the Israelites didn’t know God anymore. He was the stuff of legends to them. He hadn’t spoken in hundreds of years. Moses had to ask who God was so he could tell his people (Exodus 3:13-15). It was then that God gave His name: Yahweh (Jehovah).

Exodus 6:3 says God wasn’t known by that name to Abraham, and yet Genesis 12:8 says Abraham had called on the name of Yahweh. This is not a contradiction. I take this to mean Abraham knew the pronunciation of God’s name, but didn’t understand it has a meaning. It’s like knowing someone by the name of Cook, and not realizing he’s a great chef. Abram knew what God’s name sounded like, but he never experienced what it meant. Only later did God reveal the meaning of His name to Moses and the Israelites.

One phrase you see repeated in the Old Testament is “…and then they will know that I am Yahweh,” (i.e. Exodus 6:7-8; 14:4; 1 Samuel 17:47, 1 Kings 20:28, etc). Every time you see this phrase, God says He is going to act to fulfill a promise. So the meaning of the name Yahweh is tied with the God who acts to show Himself real and faithful to His promises. God is the great I AM, and He proves it by keeping His promises.

Abraham never saw the promises fulfilled, but the Israelites did. God revealed Himself to them in spectacular ways. As a result, they came to know God better. They knew Him as Savior, Redeemer, Provider, and One who loves them. They knew His holiness and righteousness through His Law. They experienced both His love and His justice, His blessing and His wrath. They knew He was faithful to His promises – even those made hundreds of years ago. They witnessed His power over nature and man. God was glorified in their eyes AND the Egyptians’ (Exodus 5:2, 7:5, 8:20-22, 14:4) AND the Canaanites (Joshua 2:9-11, Judges 9:24). And the glory was greater because God had brought His people out of what was an impossibly difficult situation. That is the same way He works today. He comes through for us even in impossible situations.

The Israelites’ slavery also had other benefits. It helped the Israelites to understand the relationship they had to their God. God did not set His people free from slavery. He redeemed them to be His own servants. He bought them: they were now His.

As Christians, we are also redeemed; we are now slaves of Christ. We have a harder time understanding the ramifications of this because we haven’t come from a slavery background. Israel knew what it meant, even though they rebelled over and over again. Thankfully, we have a Master is extremely good, and loves us. However, too many of us do not really know the name of Jesus. We hear it all the time, but we’ve never experienced its meaning: “Yahweh Saves.” Let’s use our difficult situations for what they are intended: to know and experience the name of Jesus. He is our Savior, Redeemer, Provider and Lover of our souls. He is holy and righteous. He is faithful to His promises… even those made thousands of years ago. This is the meaning of life.

“Say These Words…”

During the terrorist incident in Mali this past week, many hostages died. But one hostage was let go after an Islamic attacker told him to recite verses from the Koran. 1 This reminded me of an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown where he was at the wailing wall in Jerusalem. Anthony said he didn’t believe in a higher power. But after finding out he was a Jew, a rabbi quickly grabbed him, strapped on a phylactory, and got him to recite the words of a bar-mitzvah blessing.

I think it’s pretty obvious the freed hostage did not become a Muslim merely by reciting verses from the Koran, just as Anthony Bourdain did not become a practicing Jew and believer in God merely by reciting the words of a blessing. Words are just words. They don’t have the power to do anything… and they are very often said in vain.

Yet many people believe they will get to heaven because they said the words of a “sinner’s prayer” at some point in their lives. It’s as if the words had some kind of miraculous power to save. But this is unbiblical. There is no command or example in the scriptures that show salvation comes by means of saying certain words. 2 Salvation is a gift from God, and it comes by grace through faith. Faith can be expressed by the words of a prayer (written or not), but it is not the words that save. God saves, and He does so in response to from-the-heart faith.

This goes beyond salvation. Living the Christian life is also by faith, not words. Christians do not grow by speaking affirmations, positive words, or blessings. Only God has the power to cause things to happen by speaking them into existence. We don’t. Our part is to trust God in every situation we find ourselves in and to obey Him, leaving the results in His hands.

The saved have already been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms 3. To believe otherwise is to buy into a lie like the one Eve fell for: God is withholding good from you.

Notes:

  1. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/11/20/mali-hotel-attack/
  2. The first part of Romans 10:9 is not about repeating the words “Jesus is Lord”, but about testifying to His lordship in your life. But notice the requirement for faith in Jesus (“…believe in your heart…”). This faith requirement is repeated throughout the New Testament, but mouthing words is not.
  3. Ephesians 1:3

Second-Hand Faith

“…I am left, I alone…”

– 1 Kings 19:10

Hypothetical questions: If the person who led you to Christ suddenly told you, “I’m sorry. I misled you. I was wrong. There is no heaven or hell. Jesus is a fairy tale. God does not exist. … I have proof, and here it is…,” how would your faith fare?

What if all of the great Christian preachers, teachers, authors, apologists, radio and TV personalities, etc. you look up to suddenly said the same thing? What if everyone in the world abandoned Jesus and urged you to do so… what would you do?

I’ve thought about questions like these off and on for many years as a way of identifying whether my faith is real or not. It’s somewhat hypothetical: there will always be true believers. But there may come a time when it seems everyone around me has abandoned the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It has happened to some degree before and will happen again.

Since the early church, there have been those who appeared to be saved, and even had leadership roles in the church, but who fell away (2 Timothy 4:10). John tells us they left because “they were not of us” (1 John 2:19), meaning they were not really saved. These are somewhat isolated examples, but 2 Thessalonians 2:3 speaks of ‘the apostasy’ of the last days. There will come a time when there is a mass defection from the faith. I believe this speaks of people in the church that we would identify as believers, maybe even strong believers, because you can’t fall away from the truth unless you first have the truth. Some will fall away completely, while others will be seduced by a different gospel. I think we’re seeing this happen in America today. 1

I think one reason people fall away is because they have a second-hand faith. They believe in the doctrines of the Bible, and they say they believe in Jesus, but they don’t really trust in Him. They think they are saved because they agree with what the Bible says, but God hasn’t given them new birth. They don’t have the internal Witness, the Holy Spirit, who convicts of sin and helps them become more like Christ. They’ve heard or read inspiring stories of other people’s faith, but they haven’t stepped out in trusting obedience to the Lord and seen Him work in their lives. Then, when someone comes up with a convincing-sounding argument, or when difficulties arise, they easily fall away. Their faith is built on sand, not the Rock.

Do you believe in Jesus only because you’ve been taught to? Do you have a second-hand faith? Or have you stepped out in obedient faith and seen God prove Himself to be true?

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, supply with your faith virtue, with virtue knowledge, with knowledge self-control, with self-control perseverance, with perseverance godliness, with godliness brotherly affection, and with brotherly affection love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the full true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his sins of the past. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make sure of your calling and election, for if you do these things you will not ever stumble; for so an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you.

– 1 Peter 1:5-11 (VW)

Notes:

  1. I don’t believe this has anything to do with losing salvation. Salvation cannot be truly lost if you have it. But there are many in the church who think because they did this or that at some time in their lives they are saved. Although repentance and faith are necessary prerequisites, salvation is not based on something we do. It is entirely the work of God, and what He does, He carries on to completion.

Abandoning Fleshly Righteousness

The fleshly nature has two ways of expressing itself. The first is the one we are most aware and ashamed of: it is our desire to sin. But the second way is also bad, and maybe worse because we are not ashamed of it – we’re even proud of it: it is our desire for self-righteousness.

When I say self-righteousness, I’m not talking about a holier-than-thou attitude, or a hypocritical righteous facade. I mean sincerely trying to do the right thing through one’s own willpower and determination, but apart from reliance on the power of God. This kind of ‘righteousness’ falls far short of the righteousness God requires for salvation or for living the Christian life. That law-keeping is insufficient for salvation can be seen in Mark 10:17-23.

A young man came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied with the commandments, “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Do not defraud, and Honor your father and mother.” The man replied, “Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth.”

Jesus did not call the man a liar, nor did He try to undeceive the man on his ability to keep the ten commandments. This young man was able to keep the letter of the law – I’m sure not perfectly, but Jesus didn’t make an issue of it. But also notice Jesus did not say, “Don’t worry about it then. You kept the Law, you’re in!” Instead, He said, “One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross.” Jesus said eternal life requires more than just keeping the ten commandments.

As he walked away in sorrow, Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!” This amazed His disciples because the Law says nothing about wealth hindering one’s entrance into heaven. (Actually, the Law mentions nothing about heaven.) The Law even includes blessings of wealth on those who keep its commands (Deuteronomy 7:12-24, 28:1-14). But Jesus’ told the man to sell all he had, give to the poor, take up the cross and follow Him. The reason He did so was to reveal the fleshly heart condition that was keeping him from eternal life. The man was still a slave to his fleshly desires. 1

The righteousness of the flesh looks deceptively good because it claims the letter of the Law as its standard. We think if we can keep the letter of the Law, we’re righteous. We can see this in the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18:11-12:

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus to himself, God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.

– Luke 18:11-12 (VW)

Again, there is no indication that the Pharisee was being deceptive in his prayer. He was able to live up to the letter of the Law. And yet, it was the sinful tax collector who left justified, not the law-keeping Pharisee.

I can see Paul in this Pharisee. Before he was saved, Paul was also able to live up to the letter of the Law “blamelessly” (Philippians 3:4-6). But once he was saved, Paul realized his legalistic self-righteousness had brought him no closer to God. You see, the letter of the Law covers only a portion of the standard of righteousness. It is only the beginning.

Imagine somebody handed you a bottle with the label “Lemon Juice” on it, but you were suspicious that it might contain something else that was perhaps poisonous. How would you know the contents matched the label? You would test it against the characteristics of real lemon juice.

Lemon juice is a slightly yellow sour liquid. As you look at the bottle, you see it is a yellowish liquid, but how can you tell it is sour without tasting it? You can do a litmus test. Blue litmus paper turns red when dipped in acid. So you dip the litmus paper in the liquid and it doesn’t turn red. You have proved the liquid is not lemon juice.

But even if the paper did turn red, that would not prove the liquid was lemon juice, because any acid will do that. To prove the liquid is what it says it is, it has to pass all tests for lemon juice (which goes beyond testing just for ‘a slightly yellow sour liquid’). Each test by itself can only disprove what it is. Only all of the tests together can prove what it is.

The Old Testament Law is like a litmus test for righteousness. If you break just one command, then you are not righteous. But even if you keep all of the Law to the letter, that still doesn’t prove you are righteous. The Law is only one test – just enough to disprove our righteousness, but not enough to prove it. Jesus gives more tests for righteousness in Matthew 5:17-48. You may have kept the letter of the Law in regards to murder, and yet still be guilty of murder. You may not have committed adultery by the letter of the Law, and yet still be guilty of adultery. Keeping the letter of the Law does not prove you are righteous, because you still fail the other tests. But by breaking the letter of the Law (i.e. any one command), you immediately prove yourself a sinner.

For whoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

– James 2:10 VW 2

If you break one command of the Law, the Law has done its job in proving you a sinner (Romans 3:20).

The flesh thinks it can live up to the Law, but doesn’t realize the Law actually condemns it. Jesus shows us God’s righteousness is so perfect, we have no hope of fully meeting all of its requirements. We have to exceed the letter-of-the-Law righteousness of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). The Pharisee’s righteousness, and ours, are just filthy rags.

Self-righteousness is done in our own power, with no real need to be grateful to God. It is not the righteousness of (i.e. from) God 3. Only Christ’s righteousness satisfies God’s standard. But that righteousness will only do us good if we forsake our own weak, fleshly attempts. When Paul was saved, he abandoned his own “blameless” legalistic self-righteousness, and trusted entirely in the righteousness of Christ. Let’s follow his example.

But no, rather, I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

– Philippians 3:8-11 (VW)

Notes:

  1. Notice Jesus told the man, “One thing you lack,” then proceeded to mention four things: sell all, give to the poor, follow me, take up the cross. What the man lacked was not these things he had to do, but a heart that was fully submitted to Jesus.
  2. Likewise, Galatians 3:10 says, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the Law, to do them.”
  3. Isaiah 54:17, Romans 3:21-22, 10:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21, James 2:23

Is Sanctification By Law Or By Faith?

We tend to misunderstand what was going on in the Galatian church. Well, let me rephrase. I have misunderstood what was going on in the Galatian church, …but I do think many of us share the same misunderstanding.

What I mean is, as we read Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, we assume they were trying to be saved by the works of the Law of Moses. It’s real easy to come to this conclusion when we see warnings of “a different gospel,” and read statements like “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through the faith of Jesus Christ,” and “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” There is so much justification-by-grace-through-faith doctrine in Paul’s letter that we think he was correcting their misunderstanding about how we come to salvation. And there is nothing wrong with applying the doctrine in this manner. We are saved by faith, not by works. Any gospel that says otherwise is a false one. But salvation by works was not their main problem.

While there may have been exceptions, for the most part, the Galatians were not trying to earn their salvation. They had already received the true gospel (Galatians 1:9,4:9), and as a result they had already received the Holy Spirit by faith (Galatians 3:2, Ephesians 1:14). Getting saved was not their problem. The issue was how they lived after they were saved. They had a misunderstanding of sanctification.

That their problem was a practical one can be seen in Galatians 2:10, where Paul mentions Peter, James and John’s instructions on how believing Gentiles are to live, while leaving out any instructions on how Gentiles are to be saved 1. But it becomes much more evident in chapter 3 where Paul really starts chewing them out:

Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

– Galatians 3:3 (KJV)

This is the first place where Paul directly confronts them with their error. Notice the word ‘Spirit’ here. This is a gigantic clue he is not talking about how to become or stay saved …otherwise he would have said something like, “having begun in Christ.” It is the Holy Spirit’s role to make us practically righteous, not to declare us righteous before God.

The Greek word for ‘perfect’, epiteleo, is used nine times elsewhere in the New Testament. Every one of those usages refer to accomplishing something through actions 2. Epiteleo is never used in reference to our gaining or maintaining a right standing before God. In other words, we have no need to perfect our righteous status before God, because Jesus has already perfected it.

Also notice Paul did not condemn his readers merely for seeking perfection. He condemned them for the manner in which they sought it. This is another clue that sanctification is the topic at hand. The Galatian believers were trying to attain practical perfection through the Law. They thought they could achieve sanctification by works of the flesh. But sanctification is purely God’s work (John 17:17, Romans 15:16, 1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 5:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 2:11, 10:10, 13:12, 1 Peter 1:2, 3:15). They began their walk correctly (‘by the Spirit’), but then they ceased submitting to the leading of the Holy Spirit and let the Judaizers divert them. No wonder Paul was upset with them!

Although we apply the doctrine of justification in this epistle to our evangelism of the lost, it was written primarily to us believers, because we are vulnerable to the Galatians’ error. Sanctification by works is a much subtler error than justification by works, because it infects our minds so easily without knowing it. In some churches today, the Holy Spirit’s role goes no further than doctrine. Practically speaking, the Trinity becomes the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures. Perhaps this is a reaction against the errors of some who tend to have a fixation on the Holy Spirit at the expense of good doctrine. I don’t know. But I do know there are serious dangers in trying to live by the Law:

• It actually empowers sin in our lives (Romans 5:20, 7:5,8, 1 Corinthians 15:56). The more we seek to live by the Law, the more power sin has over us, even if that sin is only a prideful self-righteous attitude over others. It’s not the Law’s fault – the Law is righteous and good. But our flesh still has sinful desires which attempts to use the requirements of the Law to make itself look good.

• We downplay what Paul said in Galatians 3:10, that those who insist on living by the law are under a curse, because they put themselves in debt to keep the whole law, with its sacrificial system, holy days, circumcision, etc. While this is not the curse of Galatians 1:8,9, it is still a very bad thing.

• And a legalistic sanctification mindset slowly infects our justification mindset, eventually sowing seeds of doubt about our salvation.

I think a big part of the problem is our lack of appreciation of the gospel. When we read or hear a message about the death of Jesus, or the importance of trusting in Him, we file the information away under the heading ‘How To Be Saved’, not realizing the gospel is also good news about what God does to enable us to overcome sin in our day-to-day lives 3. Jesus’ death on the cross not only has justification benefits, it has sanctification benefits (Romans 8:3-4), and both come on the same basis: by grace through faith.

The Christian life is not one of following a standard but of following a Person. Many believe the only way to avoid sin is by keeping the Law. They are unaware that walking in the Spirit and abiding in Christ prevents sin, and does so much better than trying to obey the Law. (I’m not advocating lawlessness – that would lead to sin. Instead, we are to live by a different law: the law of the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2-4).)

But we lack faith to live this way. We’d rather hold on to our own works through law-keeping because we’re afraid to trust God to make us holy. As a result, we find no real victory over sinful habits.

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

– Galatians 3:24-25 (KJV)

Justification happens as a one-time event, but sanctification is a process that continues for the rest of our lives. We don’t drop law-keeping at the point of salvation, and then immediately take it back up again afterwards. We are no longer under that schoolmaster 4. We live by faith. Faith is not only the beginning of the way of life but its entirety. The faith that trusts God to justify us when we abandon our self-righteous works and believe in Jesus is the same faith that trusts that He will sanctify us as well when we abandon our self-righteous works and walk in His Holy Spirit. It is part of the same gospel. This is why Paul uses the doctrine of justification to address how the Galatians lived the Christian life. Sanctification is tied inseparably to justification.

We do not partake of a partial grace that gets us into heaven but doesn’t make us fit to live there. The gospel is the good news of all that God does to restore us to Himself. If we continue to rely on law-keeping to make ourselves presentable to God, it would be well to ask ourselves what Paul asked the Galatian believers: “Are we so foolish?”

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of {i.e. ‘in’} the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness [come] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

– Galatians 2:20-21 (KJV)

Notes:

  1. This is also seen in the practical words “our liberty in Christ” in verse 4, and “walked” in verse 14. Even the word ‘gospel’ in chapter 2 is repeatedly used in the context of how believers are to live, showing the gospel includes the doctrine of sanctification as well as justification. When Paul rebuked Peter in Galatians 2:11-21, it was over a practical issue of how he lived, not about his lack of faith in Jesus to save him.
  2. The word is used elsewhere in Luke 13:32 (‘perform cures’), Romans 15:28 (‘I have performed this’), 2 Cor. 7:1 (‘perfecting holiness’), 2 Cor. 8:6 (‘he would finish‘), 2 Cor. 8:11 (‘perform‘), Php 1:6 (‘He will perform‘), Heb. 8:5 (‘make the tabernacle’), Heb 9:6 (‘accomplishing the service’), 1 Pet. 5:9 (‘afflictions are accomplished‘).
  3. Another confusing point is that Paul uses the word ‘justified’ six times in his letter, while never using ‘sanctified’. We like to separate the meanings of the words into how to get saved and how to live. But these words are sometimes used interchangeably. We need to pay attention to the context. In this letter, even though we see Paul using the word ‘justified’, he writes about how we are live.
  4. The Law still has a purpose: to convict men of sin and to lead them to Christ. As the standard, it remains. But the Mosaic Law is eliminated as a means of living (Romans 7:1-6). Look at Paul who used to follow the Law “blamelessly” before he was saved (Philippians 3:6). After he was saved he didn’t use his salvation as an opportunity to keep the Law more perfectly. Instead, he counted law-keeping a total “loss”. This is what he meant when he called the Galatians (and us) to “be as I am; for I am as you are.” If you find this difficult to accept, I suggest reading straight through the epistle to the Galatians once a day for at least a week, so you can get familiar with the flow of Paul’s argument.