23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:23–27, NKJV)
With these few words, the Holy Spirit summarizes God’s gospel plan for human redemption through Jesus Christ. He said: (1) The law of Moses prepared people for Christ (“before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law…our tutor to bring us to Christ,” 3:23-24); (2) Our means of justification is “by faith” (not by the law of Moses, 3:24); (3) Since “faith has come” (the gospel, 1:23; 3:2), the law of Moses no longer has binding authority over anyone (“we are no longer under a tutor,” 3:25); (4) Justification by faith makes Jews and Gentiles children of God (“you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” 3:26); (5) Justification by faith happens at baptism (“for as many of you as were baptized into Christ,” 3:27); and (6) The lost become children of God at baptism, when their relationship with Christ begins (“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” 3:27). Without a doubt, the child of God has “put on Christ.” But, one is “baptized into Christ” in order to “put on Christ.” Therefore, without being baptized into Christ one has not yet become a child of God. One has not yet been justified by faith. Baptism is a necessary part of being justified by faith.
1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, (Romans 4:1–5, NKJV)
Abraham is the great example of justification by faith and not by works of law. Remember, “works” in Paul’s context is sinlessness – never violating God’s law (Rom. 3:20, 23, 27-28). The boast of justification by works is sinlessness (v. 2). Just one sin forever eliminates the ability to claim justification by works of law. Only sinlessness make righteousness a debt owed (v. 4). Like us, Abraham was a sinner in need of grace. And so, his faith was counted to him for righteousness (v. 3, 5; Gen. 15:6). The nature of Abraham’s faith is described in James 2:21-24. There, Abraham’s works of faith (obedience) were essential to his belief (which was accounted to him for righteousness, cf. Heb. 11:17). Even so today, saving faith is obedient faith, not to earn salvation, but so that we have a complete faith – the kind of faith that is accounted to us for righteousness.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:27–28, NKJV)
No one has room to boast before God of being a perfect keeper and therefore, of being justified by law. Everyone under the law of Moses sinned against it and were condemned as sinners by it (Rom. 3:19-20, 23). By the works or “deeds of the law,” no one is justified because all have sinned against it. It is the “law of faith” (the gospel), which is “apart from the deeds of the law,” that justifies sinners. Paul defines “works” in this context as “the deeds of the law” (the Greek text does not include the article, so literally the phrase here is “deeds of law”). Keeping law for justification demands sinless perfection. That is earning salvation. But, that avenue is forever impossible to us, since we have all sinned. None of us can earn our salvation. Scripture says we are justified by faith (v. 28). The gospel (the faith, Gal. 1:11, 23) produces personal faith (Rom. 1:16-17). Personal faith includes obedience, but an obedient faith is not “works” that earn salvation. Obedience is the action of trust in Jesus to save you when you obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9). When we trust and obey the gospel our only boast is in Jesus, not in ourselves (Lk. 17:10; Gal. 6:14).
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, (Romans 3:23–25, NKJV)
All of us have sinned and are worthy of death (Rom. 6:23). None of us could justify ourselves before God. We could not remove our sins by our own power, because we were spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). Separated from God by our sins, we were under divine wrath (Rom. 1:18). We needed grace to save us. The kindness and love of God appeared to the world “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 24). God acted to save us. He set forth Christ Jesus “as a propitiation by His blood” (v. 25). A propitiation is the means of appeasing wrath, that which atones for sins. The death of Jesus atones for sins, it is the means of removing God’s wrath and replacing it with mercy (1 John 2:2). The atoning sacrifice of Jesus is “through faith” – not through the law (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16). The gospel has the power to save you by producing faith in your heart (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:17). When that happens, your faith prompts you to confess your faith in Jesus, to repent of your sins, and to be baptized to be saved (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-38). This is salvation “by grace, through faith” (Eph. 2:8).
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (Romans 5:9, NKJV)
To be justified means to be declared righteous, free of guilt and innocent of sin. The death of Jesus is the basis for our justification from sin. Without it we would have no way to be freed from the guilt of our sins and the wrath sin brings (Romans. 3:19; 6:23). The New Testament attributes the sinner’s justification to many things, including God’s grace (Romans 3:24), man’s faith (Galatians 2:16), and the works of faith (James 2:24). God’s love prompted the sacrificial death of His only begotten Son on Calvary’s cross (Romans 5:6-8). Although Christ died for every sinner, only those who have faith in Jesus are saved from wrath through Him (Romans 3:26; 5:9). Yet, sinners are not justified by “faith only” (James 2:24). Faith is dead without obedience to the word of God (James 2:17, 20). Do you have faith to do whatever Jesus commands of you? Or, is your faith merely an affirmation without obedience? Whoever “fears God and works righteousness” is acceptable to Him, not because they earn justification, but because they believe God justifies them by the blood of His Son when they obey His word (Acts 10:34-35). It should not surprise us that water baptism is the action of obedient faith by which sinners obtain justification by Christ’s death (Romans 6:4; Acts 22:16). The nature of your faith is crucial in assuring your justification by the blood of Jesus.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. (Romans 4:3–4, NKJV)
Obedience to Christ is not a work of merit that nullifies grace. The theology of Calvin has persuaded untold millions that obedience is a work that “earns” or merits salvation. If true, then James contradicts Paul, for he said, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God” (James 2:21-23). Faith is made complete by obedience. There is no contradiction in Scripture, only with Calvinism’s faulty definitions of faith and works. Like us all, Abraham was a sinner in need of grace. Only perfect law-keeping (sinlessness) would nullify grace and make salvation a debt (Romans 4:4). The faith that saved Abraham was not sinless, but it was obedient (as witnessed in the matter of Isaac). Through the gospel, it is obedient faith that God counts for righteousness today. Obedience earns nothing; it is the action of a dutiful servant (Luke 17:10). Obedience is the work that justifies the ungodly, for without it, faith is dead (James 2:20). Obedient faith, not faith only, justifies sinners (James 2:24).
23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,” (Romans 3:23–25, NKJV)
The reality of sin in our lives makes it impossible for us to ever earn our way to heaven. God, out of His great love for us, provides sinners (us) with redemption from sin in Christ Jesus. His grace, freely given, justifies through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Since not everyone is saved (Jesus said few find the way to life, Matthew 7:14), it necessarily follows that sinners have a responsibility to respond to the gospel call to be saved in His Son. God’s grace is available to sinners in the blood of Jesus Christ, by which God’s wrath against sin is appeased (that’s propitiation). Redemption by the blood of Christ (His death) is obtained when we are “baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3). The action of faith that brings the sinner into contact with the atoning blood of Jesus, is baptism. We need God’s grace to be justified from our sins. Without grace, we are lost. Grace is available to all, and is received by those who “fear God, and keep His commandments” (Acts 10:34-35). Thank God, that He has revealed His plan to redeem us in His Son.