Summary: It takes faith to believe that Jesus lives in me, but it takes an understanding of grace to stop trying to be good and do good.
Charlie Chaplin was the first movie actor in America to attain superstar status. He was the king of the silent movie era in the early 20th century. He was most famous for playing “the tramp.” The tramp was such a popular character that look-alike contests were held all around the country. People vied for prizes by imitating Charlie Chaplin as the tramp. In fact a young up-and-coming actor was first noticed when he won a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest in Cleveland. His name was Bob Hope.
Charlie Chaplin enjoyed telling the story of when a Chaplin look-alike contest was held in San Francisco. As a joke, Chaplin decided to quietly enter it. Amazingly, he failed to even make the finals! The judges decided five other men looked more like Charlie Chaplin than Charlie Chaplin did! Charlie Chaplin was staring the judges in the face and they didn’t recognize him.
Sometimes we think a Christian is someone who performs a lot of outwardly religious deeds: Praying five or six times a day; attending church every time the doors are open; or giving money for the poor.
The Bible teaches that a real Christian is someone who has been rescued by God when they couldn’t help themselves. The message of Galatians is there is nothing we can do to rescue ourselves from our sinful condition. Instead, God graciously initiated a rescue mission by sending Jesus to die on the cross.
We know WHY God rescued us, because He loves us. But sometimes we’re a little fuzzy about HOW God rescues sinners. To understand this better, let’s review the context. Paul was in the church at Antioch that had both Jewish and Gentile members. God’s grace was the glue that held these two factions together. Peter came to visit from Jerusalem, and, at first, he had no problem eating with Gentile Christians. He didn’t even object to pork barbecue being served.
But Peter’s behavior changed when some Jewish VIPs came from the church in Jerusalem. Suddenly Peter started acting like a Pharisee. He wouldn’t eat with Gentiles, nor would he eat their dirty food. This total reversal in behavior made Paul’s blood boil with righteous indignation. Peter and even Barnabas were acting two-faced: They were hypocrites. When Paul wrote this years later, he still remembered the details.
Galatians 2:14. “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’”
Then Paul continued to explain to Peter and the others that salvation is not obtained by obeying rules, it is by grace alone. And the process God uses to save us, or rescue us is called justification. This entire message is on the amazing Bible doctrine of justification, how God saves sinners.
I love Bible doctrines. When I was younger I remember telling someone, “I like New Testament doctrine so much, I’m going to name all my children after New Testament doctrines.” My oldest daughter is named Jennifer Christian and my second daughter is Laura Grace. I told Cindy if we had a boy, I was going to name him John Justification Dykes. I think she’s glad we didn’t have a boy!
Most Christians know a lot about faith and grace, but if you asked them what justification means, they scratch their heads. Let’s do an experiment. Turn to your neighbor for a second and define justification in 20 words or less. Go ahead; try it. Or you may just admit, “I don’t have a clue.” That’s okay, because in a few minutes I hope everyone has a greater understanding and a deeper appreciation for justification. We’re going to talk about the definition of justification; the explanation of justification; and the application of justification.
1. THE DEFINITION OF JUSTIFICATION
Paul used the word “justify” or “justification” 19 times in all of his letters, and four of those times are in these two verses. These are words Paul continued to speak to Peter and the other hypocrites.
Galatians 2:15-16. “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing 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 observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
Paul writes that we aren’t justified by keeping rules and regulations. We’re justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Let me give you a working definition of justification in less than 20 words: “Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous in Jesus Christ.” That’s so important I want to repeat it several times with emphasis on the important words.