Summary: The question before Paul, Peter, and indeed us is, "How can a condemned sinner be justified?" Paul’s answer to this crucial question is before us in this sermon.
Charlie Chaplin was a huge movie star in the silent-picture era.
One of the by-products of his popularity was the look-alike contests that sprung up around the country. Contestants attempted to imitate Chaplin dressed as the “tramp” character he made popular in his films. Even the young up-and-coming actor Bob Hope entered such a contest in Cleveland, Ohio, and won.
Legends have sprung up that Charlie Chaplin himself took part in one contest. Steve Chandler, in his book 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself, says that Chaplin was on holiday in Monaco when he decided to enter a Chaplin look-alike contest. Others cite the incident as taking place in Switzerland.
Although the event has been embellished through the years, it actually did occur. Chaplin entered a look-alike contest in San Francisco. Amazingly, Chaplin failed even to make the finals!
In a similar way, sometimes we do not recognize the truth about God and what he has revealed to us even when it is staring us in the face.
In today’s text, the apostle Paul teaches how a person comes into a right relationship with God. Let us read Galatians 2:15-21:
15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 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.
17 “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:15-21)
Martin Luther, the great reformer in the 16th century, called the doctrine of justification by faith alone “the article of a standing or falling Church.”
What Luther meant is that the doctrine of justification is so central to the life and vitality of the Church that by that doctrine the Church would either stand or fall. If the biblical doctrine of justification was taught and believed, the Church would stand. If the doctrine was abandoned, the Church would fall. It is that simple.
J. I. Packer, one of today’s leading theologians has this to say about the doctrine of justification:
"For the doctrine of justification by faith is like Atlas. It bears the whole world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of God the Savior. The doctrines of election, of effectual calling, regeneration, and repentance, of adoption, of prayer, of the Church, the ministry, and the sacraments, are all to be interpreted and understood in the light of justification by faith, for this is how the Bible views them."
Later on in the series we shall develop the relationship between justification and some of the doctrines of the Bible. Our present task will be to examine the essential nature of justification.
I draw your attention today to the doctrine of justification because it is the first time in the letter to the Galatians we encounter the term “to justify.” The verb “justified” occurs three times in verse 16, once in verse 17, and the noun “justification” (translated as “righteousness”) occurs once in verse 21.
Let me mention by way of review that there was confusion in the Galatian churches over how a person came into a right relationship with God. That is, there was confusion over how a person was justified before God.
False teachers, known as Judaizers, had infiltrated the church and were teaching a false doctrine. They taught that a person came into a right relationship with God by faith in Jesus Christ plus obedience to the Mosaic Law. In particular, a person had to believe in Jesus as Savior plus be circumcised and follow certain dietary regulations. In other words, a person was justified by observing the law.
Even the apostle Peter fell prey to their bewitching teaching to the point where Paul had to publicly confront and rebuke him regarding his hypocrisy (2:11-21).
The portion of Scripture that is before us today is most likely part of the lecture Paul gave Peter. The question before Paul, Peter, and indeed us is, “How can a condemned sinner be justified?”