This is the fourth article in the Gospel in Galatians-series:
The first article dealt with the apparent contradiction that:
“a man is not justified by the works of the Law” (Gal. 2:16)
but “the doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13)
The second article asks, if people are justified through faith, why will they be judged by their deeds?
The third article concludes that Justification is not a legal process through which the sinner is merely forgiven but a substantive process through which the sinner is changed.
This fourth article, consequently, asks, if we will be judged by whether we are changed people, where does grace fit in God’s plan of salvation?
The word “grace,” when used in the context of salvation, appears only twice in Galatians, namely in two very similar phrases (2:21 and 5:2-4). These verses imply a close connection between Christ’s death and God’s grace. Therefore, when Paul refers to “grace,” he specifically thought of Christ’s death.
Three passages in Galatians use the phrases “in order that” and “so that” to explain why Christ had to die (1:3-4, 3:13-14 and 4:4-5). These passages explain the connection between Christ’ death and God’s grace:
Christ died “for our sins.” We are all sinners and we all deserve to die. However, somehow, through His death, Christ did something to solve the problem of our sin. If He did not overcome, we would all have been eternally lost.
Secondly, because Christ removed the problem of our sin, we are justified by faith. Christ’s death alone, for that reason, is insufficient for salvation: Faith is also required.
Thirdly and consequently, if Christ did not remove the problem of sin through His death, God would have been forced to judge us by our deeds, and we would all have been lost. But since Christ has removed the problem of our sin, God is able to judge us by our faith. To be judged by faith is grace. Therefore, Christ’s death enabled God’s grace.
Why Christ’s death enabled God’s grace is a topic of huge debate. Romans 3:25-26 explains why Christ’s death enabled God to be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith.”
– END OF SUMMARY –
GRACE OF GOD
The word “grace,” when used in the context of salvation, appears only twice in Galatians:
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (2:21).
“If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 … 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (5:2-4).
These verses are very similar. The following phrases are parallel:
|To receive “righteousness”||To be “justified”|
|“Nullify the grace of God”||“Fallen from grace”|
|“Through the Law”||“By law”|
|“Christ died needlessly”||“Christ will be of no benefit to you”|
Furthermore, both passages contrast how people are justified according to the Jews and according to Paul:
In Jewish thinking, people are justified “through the Law” (2:21; 5:4).
In these verses, Paul, in response, argued that people are justified through Christ’s death and God’s grace.
GRACE – CONNECTED TO CHRIST’S DEATH.
However, what is important for our question where grace fits, is that both these verses imply a close connection between Christ’s death and God’s grace:
According to 2:21, if people can receive righteousness “through the Law,” then “the grace of God” is not required and “Christ died needlessly.”
5:2-4 similarly states that, if the Galatians receive circumcision, then, “Christ will be of no benefit to you” and “you have fallen from grace.” “Christ” implies Christ’s death (3:13).
The point is that, in Galatians, we find “grace of God” associated with Christ’s death. God is grace. He does not desire any person to die. He wants every person to come to Him to become “a new creation.” However, when Paul refers to “grace,” he thought specifically of Christ’s death.
WHY JESUS HAD TO DIE
The following passages have been selected from Galatians to investigate, in more depth, the connection between Christ’s death and God’s grace. These passages explain why Christ had to die. Note, in particular, the phrases “in order that,” “so that” and “that” in these verses. Christ’s death is described before those phrases. What follows after these phrases describes the consequences or benefits of His death:
|“The Lord Jesus Christ … gave Himself for our sins||so that||He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (1:3-4).|
|“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law … 14||in order that||in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles” (3:13-14).|
|“God sent forth His Son… 5||so that||He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons“ (4:4-5).|
First, consider the column on the left: Christ’s death. He died “for our sins” (1:4) and “redeemed us from the curse of the Law” (3:13; cf. 4:5). The “curse” refers to the consequences of our sins (see 3:10).
We all are sinners and we all deserve to die: “the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin” (3:22) and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 7:23). Our sins prevented us from receiving eternal life. However, somehow, through His death, Christ did something to deal with “the curse of the Law.” Through His death, He solved the problem of our sin. As is also stated in Romans 8:3:
“God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.”
In this article, I often refer to Christ’s death, but if He sinned in any way during His life, His death would have been of no value. His entire life was a test, but His death was His highest test as well as the end of His test. His death, therefore, represents His entire life.
Incidentally, notice the word “redeem” in 3:13 and 4:5. These are the only instances of this word in Galatians and in both instances this word describes what Christ did through His death.
CONSEQUENCES OF CHRIST’S DEATH
After the phrases “in order that” and “so that,” Paul lists the consequences of the fact that Christ solved the problem of our sin:
“… rescue us from this present evil age” (1:4).
“… the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles … through faith” (3:13-14).
“…we might receive the adoption as sons“ (4:4-5).
Just a quick word to explain “the blessing of Abraham.”
It was important for Paul to write that Abraham was “reckoned … as righteousness” based on his FAITH (3:6) and that believers receive the blessings which God promised to Abraham “through FAITH” (3:14; cf. 3:8, 9, 11, 29). Paul’s point was that people were also justified by their faith in the Old Testament. Therefore, Paul argued, his claim that people are justified by their faith, rather than by the legal requirements of the Law, is a continuation of the gospel from the Old Testament; not a break from it.
According to 3:21, those promises are “able to impart life.” This means that Paul understood Abraham’s blessings as promises of eternal life.
Because they become the recipients of Abraham’s blessings, Paul referred to Gentile believers as “sons of Abraham” (3:7), as “Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (3:29) and as an “heir through God” (4:7).
From the consequences of Christ’s death, we draw the following conclusions:
Firstly, people can only be saved because of Christ’s death. If He did not overcome (Rev. 3:21), we would all have been eternally lost.
Secondly, the Gentiles receive “the blessing of Abraham … through faith” (3:13-14) and they are adopted as sons “through faith” (3:26). Christ’s death alone, consequently, is insufficient for salvation: Faith is also required.
Thirdly, and consequently, Christ’s death enabled the grace of God. If Christ did not solve the problem of sin, God would not have been able to forgive our sins. He would have been forced to judge us by our literal deeds, and we would have been eternally lost. But now that Christ has removed the problem of our sin, God is able to judge us by our faith. To be judged by faith, rather than by our deeds, is grace.
In this section, we try to understand where grace fits into God’s plan of salvation. Above, we have established that grace is closely connected to Christ’s death. We have now also discovered that the connection between Christ’s death and God’s grace is that Christ’s death enabled God’s grace. Salvation by faith would have been impossible without Christ’s sacrifice. In fact, no salvation would have been possible at all, for only sinless beings would have been allowed to live.
CONFIRMATION FROM ROMANS
To confirm this understanding, I selected from Romans the first occurrences of the word “grace” when used in the context of salvation. The first is Romans 3:24:
“Justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
Compared to the quotes above from Galatians, this verse is reversed, for it first mentions the consequences of Christ’s death and ends with Christ’s death. Since the sentence has been reversed, the “so that” in Galatians has here been replaced with “through.” But the message is the same:
- This verse links the word “redemption” to Christ’s death.
- Grace is “through” (the consequence of) Christ’s death.
The second occurrence of “grace” is in Romans 4:16:
“It is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace.” (Romans 4:16).
In other words, the fact that God judges by faith, and overlooks our sins, is grace.
EXPLANATION BY ROMANS 3:25-26
These few examples, therefore, confirm that Christ’s death enabled God’s grace. Why this is so, is a subject of huge debate. Romans 3:25-26 helps to explain why Christ’s death enabled God to be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith.” I quote:
Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be JUST AND THE JUSTIFIER of the one who has faith in Jesus.
In other words, without Christ’s death, it would not have been “just” for God to justify people simply based on faith. To explain this, please refer to Why did Jesus have to die or Christ’s death demonstrated the rightness of God’s judgments. That goes into the area of the Atonement Theories, which we will not attempt to explain here.
Because of the fundamental role which the Cross has in the salvation process, Paul often states that salvation is “in Christ:”
- “Our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus“ (Gal. 2:4)
- “Seeking to be justified in Christ” (2:17)
- “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but …” (5:6; cf. 3:14, 22, 26).
This same concept is also expressed in other ways:
- “Crucified with Christ” (2:20);
- “Baptized into Christ” (3:27);
- “Clothed … with Christ” (3:27);
- “Belong to Christ” (3:29 and 5:24); and
- “Severed from Christ” (5:4).
Sometimes the phrase “through faith” is added to “in Christ:”
- “A man is … justified … through faith in Christ Jesus” (2:16).
- “The promise by faith in Jesus Christ
might be given to those who believe” (3:22)
- “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:26)
However, as explained in the article In Christ, “through faith in Christ Jesus” does not only mean to believe in Jesus. The phrases “through faith” and “in Christ” are two different concepts. This is shown by the fact that one finds the phrase “in Christ” several times without the words “through faith,” for example 2:17, 3:14 and 5:6.
The main point remains that Christ’s death enabled God’s grace. Because of Christ’s death, God able to judge our inner man, rather than our literal, horrible and sinful deeds.
ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES
Perhaps the reader will benefit from listening to Graham Maxwell, a talented but somewhat controversial Adventist preacher, as he explains his view of God’s use of the law from the letter to the Galatians.