Righteousness, or Self-righteousness?

Galatians 2:15-21 (ESV)

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 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. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Strange words for Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus) to say. For just a few short years ago, he had been putting people in jail, even to death for violating the Law (Hebraic Law). He had been persecuting the early Christians because he believed that they were worshiping a false God. But then Jesus Himself knocked him off his horse on the way to Damascus. God showed Saul the error of his ways, and although he was already a very learned pharisee, the truth of the Scriptures that Saul had missed.

Now Paul was one of the most prolific at leading others to Christ, and he reasoned through the scriptures to do so. Paul is responsible for writing about half of the New Testament. Although it was not really Paul, but the Holy Spirit, writing through Paul.

So now Paul writes that no one is justified by obedience to the Law. I think this is probably one of the most important Scriptures. It certainly is one of the Scriptures that impacted my life the most. The last verse above Galatians 2:21 – I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the Law, then Christ died for no purpose! I consider this my life verse. It is the verse that has caused more change in my life than any other. Because we can never be justified by obedience to the Law, does not mean the Law is not important, nor does it mean that we should not even try to do what is right. It merely means that this is not what justifies us. We are still obligated to the Spirit of the Law. Not the Letter of it. God judges us on our motives.

Yes our actions are important, but WHY is more important. Do we sin because we are not obligated to the Law? Then we are wrong. Do we do good deeds so others will see them and give us praise? Then we are wrong. Although we are not justified by obedience to the Law, we should seek to do what is right, because it is the right thing to do. Let God be glorified because people see us doing good, and not seeking any adulation. Let us seek to lead others to the God of Mercy, the God Who Saves. Jesus, Who died and rose again, that we might be His Righteousness. He became sin that we might become His righteousness.

Jesus said (Luke 9:23) “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” This is our example, to follow Christ – even to the Cross!

by Virgil Stripes

photo: crosses carved into the walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher -- presumably by Crusaders.

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