Summary: What approach are you taking to be justified before God? Are you trying to justify yourself by what you do, or are you trusting yourself to what Christ has done on the cross of Calvary. Are you saving face with God or do you have a saving faith in God?
Saving Face or Saving Faith?
Have you ever found yourself in a precarious spot where you had to save face? Have you ever had to make excuses to protect your reputation? Have you ever found yourself trying to justify a course of action you took? If you answer no to all or any of these questions then you are either a liar or oblivious to your own nature.
By nature humans have a great bent for saving face. When God confronted Adam and Eve after their disobedience in Genesis chapter three you find Adam saving face. Instead of taking the blame, Adam diverted the blame to Eve and then to God. Eve saved face by blaming the devil.
For the last 14 years, our nation has seen the highest office in the government saving face. If it wasn’t saving face over a blue dress, then it was saving face over weapons of mass destruction.
I can tell you on numerous occasions where I made a great effort to save face. I can say that because I know my nature. Moreover, by reason of our nature as humans, I can state with great confidence that on numerous occasions you have certainly made great efforts to save face.
Why do we go to such lengths to justify ourselves? We do so to protect our reputation and to avoid the judgment of others.
This same tendency to justify ourselves with others, is also the tendency many have to justify themselves with God. Saving face may justify you in the eyes of fallen man, but it will never work in justifying you before the Creator. Our passage in Galatians chapter two will reveal this truth.
In Galatians 2:15-21, Paul is transitioning from arguing his authority as an apostle to teaching on one of the foundational doctrines of Christianity, justification by faith.
Martin Luther said, “If the article of Justification be lost, then is all true Christian doctrines lost.” He went on to say that we must, “teach it unto others, and beat it in their heads continually.” For the next couple of chapters in our study of Galatians, Paul is going to beat the doctrine of justification by faith into our heads.
Let me point out a few words that are used frequently in verses 15-21. The word “justified” is used 4 times. 3 times in verse 16, and 1 time in verse 17. 4 times you find the word “ pisteo” used. That is the Greek word we translate “faith” or “believe.” 4 times you see the word “works.” 6 times you see the word “law.”
What Paul is going to teach in this passage is that one is not justified by saving face, but by saving faith .
I want to pose a pertinent question to you before we study this text. Are you saving face with the Lord or do you have a saving faith in the Lord? There are three observations that I want to make from this text about saving faith. First, notice the central focus of saving faith, which is the work of Christ.
I. The Focus of Saving Faith is the Work of Christ
Verses 15-21 are connected to verses 11-14. In verses 11-14 Paul speaks about confronting the apostle Peter on sinful behavior. Peter, by his example, was teaching Gentiles that they needed to follow the Jewish dietary laws. Paul confronts the inconsistent behavior of Peter and those who followed Peter’s poor example. At stake was the truth of the gospel. What was at stake was the doctrine of justification by faith .
Notice what Paul says in verse fifteen, “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles.” In this verse Paul speaks about his and other leaders Jewish ethnicity. Paul is using terminology that was prevalent in Jewish culture. In the Jewish community that Paul grew up in you had a people who strove after righteousness. The Jews had the Law, but not the Gentiles. Therefore, the Jews considered Gentiles to be sinners.
Don’t think for a minute that Paul is calling all Jews saints and Gentile sinners. He is not implying that Jews are righteous and Gentiles are not. He is using common Jewish language to make his persuasive argument for justification by faith. It is good at this point to understand why all people, Jews and Gentiles, need to be justified before God.
The Greek word that is used for “justified” is a legal term. It means to “be declared not guilty, innocent, or righteous.” The opposite of “justified” is “condemned.” Condemned before God is where all humanity stands apart from Christ. Humanity stands guilty before a righteous God because we have broken the laws of a righteous God. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Since we all stand guilty before God, then we must find out what we have to do to become innocent. How can we stand righteous before God? Many take the saving face approach, while few take the saving faith approach. The reason that the saving face approach doesn’t work is found in its focus. Saving face is focused on the works of the law.