Scripture Entry – I Do Not Nullify the Grace of God

“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose,” (Galatians 2:21).  This text has grabbed my attention recently.  When I wake up, it is with me; when I lie down, the Lord reminds me of it.  As I think upon an impending position paper on justification by faith, this is the verse that continues to present itself to my soul.  

Paul’s declaration is no doubt a defensive and resonating sentence intended both to rebuke and bring about repentance Godward.  The simple reading is yet profound.  Shall we move away from grace as the source of justification?  Shall we seek another way of right standing with God than by faith alone in Christ and His merit alone?  Then Jesus died for no purpose.  

This is a word for many.  The unbeliever in the world who imagines all manner of means to save himself from what he denies is coming – he would contrive of human means no less.  The unbelieving person steeped in religious tradition in India or Iraq or an unknown land or in our local church choir – his tradition gives him comfort at the prospect of God’s accountability.  Evangelicals who have in these days sought to redefine many things in an attempt to restore “circumcision” as an aspect of saving righteousness – these no doubt have invented many words to cover the brightness of God’s grace.  Luther conjectured the decline of this most precious doctrine and gave many reasons for thinking it would be so.  He was right.

Men seek their own havens, ironically, from Him who is our only Refuge.  Indeed, we need to give a steady attentiveness, and a weighty thought to Paul’s words.  If we seek to add something to the perfect work of Jesus in order to secure salvation, or if we seek to attain a right status with God on the basis of human merit, then, in fact, Christ died for no purpose.  For did not Christ fulfill the law in our place when we could never.  Did not Jesus Christ die, sinless though He was, in our ungodly place as the predestined ground of our justification before God?  God chose one way, and He is Jesus Christ.  Insofar as we move away from His righteousness as the sole basis of our standing before God, there, we move away from God’s provision for salvation, and there is no other way.  Christ is the Way!  

Christ came to redeem us from the law; would we go back to it on a daily basis as our boast before God?  Perhaps then we have not been delivered from it at all!  No, God demands sinlessness from sinners!  It is not possible that we might save ourselves.  Why do we contrive such?  Why do we endeavor such?  All the while grace beckons us by faith to embrace Christ – for faith sees Christ truly, that is, as our perfect Righteousness and Standing before God.  Indeed, if we have been united to Christ, then alone does God declare us justified.

But this verse says much more.  Justification by faith in Jesus Christ is the doctrine that encompasses many treasured truths.  Paul writes that Christ died for no purpose if we deny such gracious justification in and through Christ.  So then, the cross, the blessed atonement is at stake in our denial or embrace.  Our Lord Himself is at stake – indeed, why be born (virgin birth; Incarnation), why live wholly unto God (sinless life), why humble Himself to the tortures of men, to the cross of His passion, to the obedience unto death, to the wrath of God, indeed, unto hell on account of our sin?  And what of God’s plan of salvation?  We say “let us do away with it in favor of our own!”  That certainly sounds in keeping with Adam!  If we live by the law, we shall die by the law, for if in one point we fail in the law, we have transgressed the whole of it, and the God whose holy and infinite character it refers unto.  If we set aside this doctrine, this truth, this glorious reality, then we kill all hope of salvation from God.  All of this is wrapped up in Christ’s death, a death that we say is of no purpose if we reject such a great justification.

How precious is the death of our Lord to us?  If we neglect such a basis of salvation, then we shall cast aside the notion of Christianity altogether – it will not stand; there is no church.  However, Paul says that he does not nullify this grace of God.  What grace?  Justification.  How do we speak of justification?  Through union with Christ (2:20), God declares the ungodly right before Him, forgives us of our sin, and freely sets us at peace with Him who is Holy, granting to us favor, and familial status in His household – all this is owing to the cross of Christ where He dealt with our sin once and for all and was there judged on our account such that by grace through faith in Christ, God rejoices to impute Christ’s perfect righteousness to us, the ungodly.  Amazing grace!  Amazing Savior!  Amazing Gospel!  Jesus saves sinners!  Christ died for a purpose, yes, and was raised and ascended to the right hand of power.  As He is accepted by the Father so our Father accepts us in Him alone.  Yes, Christ died for a purpose – let us rejoice in it as we are in it, and let us take it to the nations – rest from your labors, by faith embrace the sufficient Savior, and there be justified in Him.  Amen.

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