daily biblical sermons


When we put our trusting faith in Christ, God declares us righteous and reckons to us his own righteousness
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, 27th Week of the Year, October 08, 2020
Galatians 3:1-5, Luke 1:69-75, Luke 11:5-13


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain? – If it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Thus Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’” (Galatians 3:1-6).

 

 

St. Paul is writing to the Christian community of Galatia, because he has heard that other Jewish Christian evangelists have entered their community after he had evangelized them and convinced them that they must be circumcised and keep the full Mosaic law to be saved. So, St. Paul tells them not to be deceived by these new teachers, because the full Mosaic law with circumcision and all its ceremonial laws is only for the Jews, and since the Galatians are Gentiles, they are justified only by their faith in Christ, not by keeping the Mosaic law.

 

 

St. Paul is not only talking about the ceremonial and dietary laws of the Jews, but rather about the full Mosaic law, which is a moral as well as a national and ceremonial law. Law (both ceremonial and moral), St. Paul tells us, is not the way of justification for a Christian. This applies to everyone including Jews, and it is about is the full Mosaic law, which has both moral and ceremonial aspects.

 

 

St. Paul’s principle is very radical and simple. No one is justified by doing the works prescribed in the law (moral and ceremonial), but only by faith in Christ, because of his atoning death on the cross that made full satisfaction and reparation before God for all our sins so that when we put our faith in him, God the Father counts Christ’s suffering and death on the cross as paying our debt of suffering and death that we have with God for our sins and therefore declares us ungodly sinners righteous and reckons to us his own righteousness.

 

 

This is St. Paul’s basic doctrine of justification by faith, not by works, when we put all together in one sentence the points that he makes dispersed throughout his letters. We do not always find all the elements of his doctrine in one or two verses, but we must find verses here and there throughout the entire corpus of his writings to understand what he is talking about.

 

 

Unfortunately, the lectionary skips one of the most important verses, which would occur between yesterday’s and today’s reading, in which St. Paul clearly expresses his doctrine of justification only by faith, not by works. This verse is, “[We] know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

 

 

Here St. Paul states very clearly that justification comes through faith, not through works (of the law). By works of the law we must understand the full Mosaic law, which contains moral as well as ceremonial precepts. In other words, by doing good moral works as prescribed in the law, especially in the Ten Commandments, no one is justified. Also, by being circumcised and by not cooking meat in milk and not by any other ceremonial law is anyone justified. Only faith justifies us.

 

 

We are justified only because of Christ’s death on the cross, because he died as the substitute sent to us by God to suffer our punishment for our sins for us so that we would not have to suffer it if we put our faith in him. And since those that put their faith in Christ have no more penalty or death sentence to pay for their sins, God declares them righteous, for their sins have been fully paid for.

 

 

But if we proclaim that we have to do good works for God to justify us or that we justify ourselves by doing good works, we have misunderstood St. Paul’s doctrine of justification. St. Paul concludes chapter two of Galatians with another key verse that the lectionary has unfortunately chosen to skip, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose” (Galatians 2:21).

 

 

In other words, Christ died in vain if we can be justified by keeping the moral and/or ceremonial law of Moses. But since we cannot become justified before God by keeping the moral precepts of the law of Moses, which is the law of God, because justification only comes through faith in the death of Christ that made reparation for our sins and atoned for them, Christ did not die in vain. So, we must remember that “a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16a). So, our moral good works do not justify us before God, “because by works of the law shall no one be justified” (Galatians 2:16b).

 

 

Now in chapter three of Galatians, which we begin reading today, St. Paul continues to drive home this point with the Galatians, who seem to think that they have to do all kinds of works in order to be justified before God. They think that keeping the Ten Commandments, being circumcised, and following the ceremonial as well as the moral law is necessary to be justified. St. Paul tells them that that is not at all the way that we are justified, but rather only through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

 

So, Paul starts off chapter three by saying, “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2). Here when St. Paul is speaking of receiving the Spirit it seems that he is referring to the special gifts of the Spirit, like speaking in tongues. “Did that come to you Galatians,” he asks, “by doing the good works that the law prescribes? You simply heard the preaching of the gospel and put your faith in it and began to speak in tongues.”

 

 

The same thing happened to Saint Peter, when he was preaching to the pagans in Cornelius’s house. “While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word … For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God” (Acts 10:44, 46). These gifts of the Spirit came upon them through their faith in the word St. Peter was preaching about Christ. These gifts indicate that these people were justified by God and received the Spirit. Did this justification and reception of the Spirit come as a reward for their good works? They had no time to do any good works, for they were hearing the gospel for the first time and believed and receive these gifts by faith, not by works.

 

 

So, St. Paul asks the Galatians in today’s reading, “Let me ask you only this: did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2). It was not through works of the law, but through faith.

 

 

Then comes another fundamentally important verse, which unfortunately is also skipped by the lectionary: “Thus Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’” (Galatians 3:6). The lectionary chooses to end the reading today with verse five and to begin tomorrow with verse seven, thus skipping this key verse (verse six).

 

 

What does St. Paul mean when he says, quoting Genesis 15:6, “Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’” (Galatians 3:6)? In this one verse St. St. Paul summarizes his theology of justification by faith, not by works.

 

 

St. Paul uses Abraham as an example of how people are justified. We are justified through faith, not through works, for God considered Abraham righteous because he believed. And if God considers you righteous, you are righteous indeed. In his letter to the Romans St. Paul explains this a bit more, saying, “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about … For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:2, 3).

 

 

So, then St. Paul summarizes again his great doctrine of justification by faith, not by works with Abraham as the example, saying, “And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). In other words, for someone who does not do any good works but simply believes and trusts in Christ (or in the revealing God for Abraham), “his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). And God is the one “who justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5). So, if we ungodly sinners come before God with trusting faith in Christ our Savior and repent of our sins, God will declare us righteous. In other words, he will justify us, not by our works, not because of our good moral life, not because of the ceremonial laws that we keep, but only because of our faith.

 

 

The reason for our righteousness is the death of Christ, who suffered the just death sentence of all that put their faith in him. So, when we put our faith in Christ, trusting in him to save us, God declares that all our sins are paid for by his death and declares us righteous.

 

 

The reason why some people stumble at this teaching of St. Paul is because they know that good works are important to the Christian life and are rewarded when Christ returns or when we die, and they think that St. Paul is denying this. The reason for this confusion is that many people confuse justification with sanctification. Justification is a pure act of God that we do not cooperate with by our works but only by accepting and receiving it through faith. Justification transforms us from being sinners into being righteous, when we receive it with faith.

 

 

Then, once justified, sanctification must follow, which means that we must begin to keep God’s moral law, which he has revealed in the Scriptures, especially in the Ten Commandments and in the teachings of Jesus, and when we do so, we grow in holiness (sanctification), which will be rewarded on the last day, for Jesus says, “The Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matthew 16:27 NKJV).

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