Summary: We are not justified through works of the law, but through faith.
Text: “Know that a person is not justified by the works of 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 the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16).
Message: As Christians, we are saved by faith not by religious works.
Doctrine/Teaching: Justification through faith.
Response: To trust Christ alone for salvation, not one’s own religious works.
A. Religion tells people to earn merit through works.
1. Once, when I was in Pakistan, I saw a man with a flock of birds in a cage. Another man came and bought a bird. I thought he was buying the bird for his kids to play with, but to my surprise, he immediately set the bird free. My translator explained that some people in Pakistan believe that setting a bird free is a good deed that erases a previous bad deed. They look for forgiveness through the ritual of setting birds free.
2. On another trip, I was in Ethiopia. The week before our team arrived in the city of Chuko, the townspeople sacrificed nine cows. They felt this religious ritual would give them favor with God.
3. In the nation of Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, I visited the famous Monkey Temple that stands on a hill overlooking the city of Katmandu. I saw an old man diligently spinning prayer wheels. I witnessed a woman offering rice to a statue. I saw an old monk burning incense. These individuals were trying to earn merit through human effort.
4. To many of us, it may seem strange to think that setting one animal free or killing another, that spinning wheels, offering rice, or burning incense could affect one’s status with God. But, beliefs like this are common all over the world.
5. A common trait of every religious tradition is the need to perform a “special deed” or a “sacred ceremony” in order to be blessed by “the gods”: Muslims pray towards Mecca five times each day; Hindus offer incense to idols; Buddhists go on long pilgrimages. And for most religions, being on “god’s” good side requires a lot more than one or two simple rituals—there are whole lists of “to do’s”: Buddhists follow an eight-fold path, Hindus believe in karma, Jews keep the Torah, and Muslims impose Sharia law.
B. Even the religion of Christianity tells people they can earn merit through works.
1. Each religion asks its followers to do special deeds and good works in order to keep “the gods” happy, to avert divine or cosmic wrath, and to atone for sin. Through these means, religion makes spiritual discipline the key to a successful walk with God. Spiritual disciplines include things like fasting, prayer, penance, alms-giving, serving in the community, and generally doing good. As a person does all these things (and whatever other things in terms of moral laws and ethical codes that religion requires), religion promises the rewards of divine blessing and favor, with the ultimate reward being some form of “eternal life.”