GALATIANS 5, 1-6
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
The question was first raised in the time of the apostles. Are we saved by grace? Or by works? Some Jewish Christians taught that in order to be saved you needed to believe in Jesus, and follow the Old Testament laws as well. So, the question was raised. Do Gentiles need to follow the Old Testament laws? And the apostles came up with a clear answer. No! We are not saved by believing in Jesus AND following the Old Testament laws! We are saved by believing in Jesus! PERIOD! And it was settled.
But the question needed to be asked again. Are we saved by grace? Or by works? You see the church began to teach that it wasn’t enough for you to believe in Jesus. If you want to be saved you need to follow all the laws the church lays down as well. But then in 1517 a young monk named Martin Luther asked, “Do we?” Do we need to follow all the laws the church lays down to be saved? And through the Scriptures again, the answer was clearly given. No! We are not saved by believing in Jesus AND following all the rules of the church! We are saved by believing in Jesus! PERIOD! And it was settled.
And over 500 years later, we are still asking the question, because some people are still telling us, it’s not enough to believe in Jesus, you also need to do something else, to be saved. And so again, we ask, “Do we?” And once again we turn to Scripture for the answer! Are we SAVED BY GRACE? OR BY WORKS?
The Churches in Galatia had been started by Paul on his first missionary journey. They were a mixture of Jews who had come to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and Gentiles, brand new to the faith. The Jewish Christians continued to live according to the laws of Moses, because that is what they were accustomed to. But the Gentiles didn’t. And that became a problem for these Jewish Christians. Now they wouldn’t be so blatant as to tell the Gentiles they needed to follow the laws of Moses or they would go to hell. They were more subtle.
“If you are a Christian, and a child of God, why wouldn’t you want to do those things that please God? I mean God gave these laws to the Jews, because He thought they were important. That’s why we follow them. Why would any Christian not want to do things that please God?” First it was just the dietary laws, the food that God didn’t want His people to eat. Then it became the clothes you would wear. How far you could walk on a Sabbath. And surely if you love God you would want to close your business on Saturday. And then it came down to circumcision. After all it was circumcision that brought you into a relationship with God, why wouldn’t a fine Christian not want to do that?
And even though these people would never be so brazen as to say, “Either follow these things or you will not be a Christian,” that was the impression that was given! Oh, sure you could be a Christian if you didn’t follow these laws, I guess! But just think what a better Christian you’d be if you did follow God’s laws.
So, these Gentile Christians were confused. They wanted to be a good Christian. They wanted to follow God’s path. And if that meant you had to go through all these hoops and follow all these laws, well, I guess I need to do it. And so, they complied.
But Paul was steamed about this. He recognized what these people were doing. They were saying that in order to be saved you need to believe in Jesus, AND do all these other things. And that is always WRONG!
Paul becomes very blunt with the Galatians. “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.” If you follow these people and do what they say, and if you go back and submit yourselves to the laws in order to be saved, “Christ will be of no value to you at all.” In fact, Paul says, “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ, you have fallen away from grace.” You follow these people, you rely on obeying the law to get you to heaven, you have lost Christ. You are no longer covered by God’s grace. And you are going to hell.
That’s a pretty serious accusation, Paul is making. But Paul would also say, what these people are telling you is equally serious. The way to get to Heaven is to be totally and completely reliant on Jesus. With both feet firmly planted on the solid foundation of Jesus and only Jesus. These people were asking these Christians to take one foot off from Jesus, and put it on another foundation, a foundation called works. And even though you have one foot on a firm foundation, the other foot is planted on a foundation of sandstone! What’s going to happen when that foundation of sandstone begins to get eaten away bit by bit? Soon, that foundation will crash, and what’s going to happen to you. One foot founded on a solid rock; the other foot founded on air. You know the result. You will crash and burn.
That’s why Paul was so harsh! That’s why Martin Luther was so adamant, and would not let go of His stand! We’re talking about our salvation! We’re talking about whether or not I am going to heaven! And God’s truth is, we are not saved by believing in Jesus AND anything else. We are saved by believing in Jesus! PERIOD! We are saved by grace! NOT by law!
Listen again to how Paul starts this section. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free! Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” How were we saved? Jesus died on that cross in order to take away the sins of the world! Jesus endured the wrath and punishment of God because he carried each and every one of our sins. And no one had any idea of what was going on. Even the disciples who were closest to Jesus, didn’t have any idea of what was going on. And then Jesus rose from the dead to tell the world, it’s done! God is appeased by My sacrifice. I have established peace between you and God.
And what Paul says, is that because of that one event, Christ “has set us free!” Free from what? Free from Satan! We are no longer under Satan’s power! We are no longer forced to do Satan’s bidding! We can do what God wants! We are free from death! Jesus has taken the curse out of death! We are free from sin! Sin will never again separate us from God. Jesus has died for that sin! Sin will never cause God to turn His back on us, and treat us as we deserve! We are also free from the law. There is nothing we need to do to save ourselves. Jesus has taken care of it all. There is nothing that we can do that will make any difference in our eternal life. When it comes to whether I am a Christian or not, absolutely nothing I do, will make any difference in whether I am saved or not. Jesus took care of that, totally without my help. Jesus did it all. It is by grace I am saved. Not by works!
Now that I am a child of God, are there things I can do that will please God, and do His will? Oh yeah! There are thousands of things I can do to show my love to God, and to show the world that I am a child of God, and to assist God in bringing others to faith. That’s why Paul tells us, “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision or uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith, expressing itself through love.” Jesus brings me to faith, and now He gives me things to do to show that faith. And sometimes I will be the poster child for Christian faith and good works. And sometimes, I will fail miserably in my attempts to do what God wants. But I do those things not to get saved! I do those things because I am saved, by God’s grace.
The sad thing is that even today, even though this question has been asked and answered many times, we still need to keep asking it, because people are still trying to convince us that it’s not enough to believe in Jesus. We also need to do stuff to be saved. Some will try to convince us that if we are good Christians, we should still follow the laws God set up in the Old Testament. Some will try to get us to question our eternal life, because of the many sins we seem to commit every day. And sometimes, that one can get us to question and perhaps get a little frightened.
But the one that probably threatens us more than all the others is the thought, “Yes, you are saved by faith in Jesus! But is your faith sincere? Is your faith strong enough to get you through all the troubles and heartaches of life? Is your faith strong enough to get you safely home to heaven?” And suddenly we get frightened. Because sometimes my faith is strong, but sometimes, it is very weak. And we begin to worry. Yes! Is my faith strong enough to get me to heaven? But did you notice what these people are doing? Do you realize where these people are focusing our eyes. They are talking about my faith, my faithfulness, my hold on God. They are actually making faith into a new law, into something that I need to do. They are focusing my attention on what I need to do to be saved. But the truth is my salvation does not depend on what type of hold I have on God. My salvation depends on what type of hold my God has on me! And God doesn’t ever let go!
Satan still keeps trying to confuse us, trying to get us to question our salvation, because our actions aren’t always the best. And the question gets raised again! ARE WE SAVED BY GRACE? OR BY WORKS? And through the words of the apostle Paul, through the work of a man like Martin Luther, God gives us the clear answer. We are not saved by believing in Jesus, AND something else. We are saved by believing in Jesus! PERIOD! It is by God’s grace that I am saved. And on that I can be sure!