This Sunday we will be starting a new sermon series through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In Galatians, Paul passionately defends the gospel of God’s grace against those who would distort it by suggesting that our justification before God comes in part by our own righteousness, instead of solely through faith in what Christ has done (Galatians 2:16). “Justification by faith”, then, is the main doctrine dealt with in Galatians. It is at the heart of the Christian message, and can’t be distorted without distorting the gospel into something altogether different – in fact, no gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-7), and without stripping the death of Christ of it’s purpose (Galatians 2:21).
Justification can be defined as “an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q 33).” It deals with our very status and standing before God – certainly no small matter. John Calvin wrote that “Justification is the main hinge on which religion turns.” Martin Luther called it the “principle article of all Christian doctrine”, such that we must “know the gospel well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”
And, we all need this continuous reminding of the gospel, because we all have “gospel-aversion”. In our sinful fallen flesh, we resist the gospel; we don’t naturally embrace it; rather, we reject it and instead embrace a distorted version of it. We flip it upside-down in order to make it fit into our upside-down ideas of how human salvation should operate. We turn it backwards in order to make it fit into our backwards sinful pride which insists that we in some way, or to some degree, save ourselves, or can claim some boast or merit in our own salvation. We think that God’s love is “bought” by our good deeds; we think that our religious service “earns” God’s favor; but the true gospel tells us that God’s love, favor, and acceptance can only be received with empty hands, by the undeserving, as fully free gifts from a gracious, merciful God. In fact, the glory of the gospel is that our best works deserve the opposite of what God’s grace gives us in Christ.
So, in the words of Martin Luther, we need to beat it into our heads continually. That’s what Paul’s purpose in Galatians is – to beat into the heads of the Galatians, and our own heads, what the true gospel is – that there is no other gospel; that we are not made right with God by our own righteousness – which when held up to God’s standard is not so impressive as we might otherwise think – but we are made right with God by the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, credited to us through faith: through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone, to God’s glory alone.