May 5, 2019

Easter Three, Sunday May 5, 2019 — Galatians 2:20-21 — If Righteousness comes through the Law…

Passage: Galatians 2:20-21
Service Type:

Sermon for Easter Three – Sunday May 5, 2019

Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria

May the pure, life giving truth of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, restored to the human race through the Reformation, forever remain your single most treasured possession.  Amen.

Galatians 2:20-21

20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

In the Name of Jesus Christ,

    Our Righteousness and Salvation,

       Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Blood –

We are faced with many difficult choices in life…and making the wrong choice can result in tragedy.   In many cases there is no ‘safe’ choice; it’s one or the other – not both.

We have to decide who will be first in our lives – GOD or Money.  While the world around us invites us to be materialistic and live for this world’s goods, (‘He who dies with the most toys, wins!’), Jesus said (Luke 16:13):

13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

      We may have to decide whether we will side with Christ…or Family.  When family and friends turn from Christ and His Word, we are not to condone it or follow them.  Jesus said (Matthew 10:37-38):


37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.


      We also have to decide whether we trust in Christ’s life and death…or place our hopes in our goodness.  When we must stand before the Judge, we cannot be declared righteous on the basis of Jesus’ life AND our own.


For those who think that they can be good enough to stand before God on their own…Christ died for nothing.  They turn Jesus living and dying from salvation into a travesty of justice and a tragedy of mammoth proportions. If Righteousness comes through the Law…then Jesus death was a useless tragedy.  If Righteousness comes through the Law then the prophets, angels and apostles lied.  If Righteousness comes through the Law then You are your own Savior.

May God the Holy Spirit guide us and open our understanding that we may learn and grow from these words.  We pray:   

“Lord God of hosts, you are the refuge of every sinner and the strength of all the trust in you.  We praise you for having called us to faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  You have made known to us the worthlessness of our own good deeds and the perfect merit of Christ.  You have directed our faith away from the commandments of men and caused us to rest our hope on the promises of the Gospel.  You have revealed the beauty of Your grace which rescued us from condemnation and assures us of salvation in Christ.  Grant us your grace that we may receive Your forgiveness with thanksgiving. Use us as your witnesses to bring the message of pardon in Christ to people everywhere. Open our eyes to a better understanding of your Word and a deeper appreciation of your love.  Grant that we continue in Your Word and live according to it by the Holy Spirit.  Hear us for the sake of Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.



There was a time when the Apostle Peter tried to play both sides.   It happened in Antioch (Galatians 2:11ff).  When Peter was alone in Antioch, he reflected the unconditional love of Jesus by eating and drinking with the Gentiles.  He ate what they ate and treated them as fellow Christians…after all, they had been cleansed of their sins through Jesus’ shed blood. They were no different than he was, and he expressed the attitude of Paul, who would later write (Galatians 3:28):

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

However…that all changed when certain prominent Jews arrived from Jerusalem.  Peter was afraid of what they would think and say, so He stopped eating with the Gentiles.  He stopped treating them as equals, as fellow Christians.  It was the Jewish way…they treated the Gentiles as outsiders, unclean, unfit…because they were uncircumcised and because they did not observe all of the Law given through Moses.  Even Barnabas was carried away in the charade.

It wasn’t just that Peter wouldn’t eat with them.  It was that He left the impression that the Gentiles could only be accepted if they trusted in Jesus…AND OBEYED THE LAW OF MOSES.

The Apostle Paul opposed the Apostle Peter.  He pointed out that it can’t be both ways…it’s one or the other.  We are either right with God by means of our obedience to God’s Law or by faith in Christ.  If we trust in our obedience to God’s Law then we can’t claim that Christ’s obedience makes us right with God by faith.

Let me put it another way, a way that is more easily digested today. Either you think that you are right with God and will go to heaven because of what you have done…or what Christ has done.  These two ideas cannot be combined.  It’s one or the other.  Either you trust in your righteousness…or Jesus’ righteousness.

In the Scripture before us the Apostle Paul offers his choice…or rather, God’s choice for Paul.  Paul didn’t decide to believe in Jesus.  He decided to persecute Jesus and all those who claimed to believe in Him.  He decided to go to Damascus to arrest and detain those who claimed to believe in Jesus.  Paul chose to terrorize Christians.   God had mercy on Him.  The Lord Jesus appeared to Him outside of the city and blessed him with faith in what he had formerly rejected.  Paul didn’t choose Jesus…Jesus chose Paul to be His spokesman…and everything changed.

The Apostle Paul learned that he had been wrong his whole life.  He had thought as a Pharisee that if He was a good person and outwardly kept God’s Law, then God would accept him.  He learned that all of his efforts were worthless and that His goodness was a sham and a lie.

He came to trust in Jesus’ active and passive obedience.  The Holy Spirit taught him to see and believe that Jesus, the Son of God, came to this earth into flesh and blood in order to be perfectly obedient to God’s Law as his substitute.

Jesus kept and fulfilled God’s Law for Him…and Jesus’ perfect life was credited to His account by faith.  He wrote to the Galatians (4:4-5):

4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Jesus came to be obedient to God’s Law for you.  He came to do what God demands of you in the commandments.

Paul also came to see Jesus’ death as the atonement for His sins.  He no longer placed His hopes in the Law of God and in his being perfectly obedient to it.  Instead, he believed that Jesus death delivered him from the commands and condemnation of God’s Law.

Jesus…both his living and dying…became the focus of his life and his hope for heaven.  The Holy Spirit led him to express it like this:

20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.


I live in God’s sight by faith in Jesus, who lived for me and died for me.   This was the message that Paul had for the Galatians, who were being told that they themselves needed to be obedient to certain rules and regulations in order to be sure of heaven. They were being told that Jesus death wasn’t enough to balance the scales and to turn them from God’s enemies to His Children.

 This was the same message given to Martin Luther as a child. He was taught that He needed to make up for his sins by performing certain acts of restitution.  Jesus death wasn’t enough to atone for his sins…he needed to offer his own obedience.  He was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  He believed that God demanded He be righteous…but He was not.  He was a sinner.  He despaired of heaven…until he learned like the Apostle Paul how one becomes righteous in God’s sight…not by obedience to rules and regulations…but by faith in Christ’s obedience in life and death.

It can’t be both ways.  Either Jesus has made atonement…either it is finished…or it isn’t.


The Apostle Paul and Martin Luther and countless other Christians have learned to despair of themselves and instead to hope in Christ.  Now consider the answer given by the Apostle Paul, the reason why He refused to let go of Christ and hope in His own goodness.

21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

Do you realize what is being said in these words?  If righteousness comes through the Law…if we can be righteous, perfect, acceptable to God by means of our obedience to God’s Law – THEN JESUS DIED FOR NOTHING.

Let me say it again in a slightly different way: “If you can be right with God by keeping the 10 Commandments…then Jesus’ death was a useless tragedy.”   


      Why would God send His Son to live under the Law as our substitute…if we can do it ourselves?

      Why would God allow His Son to suffer and die for sins…if we can make up for them and live holy lives alone?

If we can be righteous through the Law…then Jesus life was a charade and His death a useless waste.  Why send someone to dive into the pool to save Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps from drowning…if he can swim to safety all by himself?


If you can live a holy life…Jesus life was unnecessary.  If you can cleanse yourself of sin by your obedience…even in part…then Jesus didn’t need to die.

It can’t be both ways.   We are either righteous because we have lived holy lives in perfect obedience to God’s Law or because Jesus’ life is our perfection and his death delivers us from our sin and guilt.

Wait…there is more: If we can be righteous through the Law…then God Himself, His prophets, angels and apostles all LIED.


Ø  When Adam and Eve sinned, GOD promised to send a Savior, the Seed of the Woman.  Why send a savior…if we can be righteous and make up for sin and offer our own righteous lives in trade?

Ø  The Psalmist David, seeing his sins prayed that God would deliver him by providing the righteousness he needed to stand before God (Psalm 31:1, cf. also Psalm 71). Why pray that God provide righteousness…if we can be righteous all by ourselves?


Ø  The Prophet Isaiah promised that God would lay our sins on His Servant (Isaiah 53:6) and that He would bear them enabling us to be justified (Isaiah 53:11), declared ‘not guilty.’  Why say such a thing if we could just live holy lives ourselves and make up for sins?

Ø  The Prophet Jeremiah called the Christ, “The Lord our Righteousness” indicating that His perfect life would be for us the righteousness demanded of us by God.  Why promise us righteousness from another if we already have it?

Ø  The Angel sent by God at Jesus birth called him the “…Savior who is Christ, the Lord.”  Why would we need a Savior if we could be righteous and earn heaven by observing the Law?

Ø  If we can be righteous by the Law…then the Apostle Paul lied, for he declared (Romans 3:28):

28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.


Wait…there is still more: If righteousness comes through the Law…then YOU are your own Savior. It can’t be both ways.  Either you are a sinner and you need a Savior…or you are righteous and have no need of Christ.

It can’t be both ways.  We either live by God’s Law and hope to enter heaven on the basis of our obedience…or we trust in Jesus perfect life and death.  Either Christ is your savior…or you are.

Let’s fast-forward to the Day of Judgment and our final arraignment.  The Scripture says that we must all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

How will you plead when you must stand before the Judge?  “I’ve been a good person.”  “I’ve kept God’s Law.” “I was kind to animals.” “I think I’ve done enough to make up for my wrongs.”

Those who plead in this way…believe that Jesus died for nothing. What lies ahead of them is rightly described as a tragedy.  God provided them righteousness in His Son, but they despised it in favor of filthy rags (cf. Isaiah 64:6).


How do you plead?  “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”  “I’m with Jesus.  He lived for me…and His perfect life is my righteousness.”  “I’m with Jesus.  He died for me…and has paid my debt in full.  My sins are forgiven.”




Those who plead in this way…have despaired of themselves and the Law and placed all their hopes in Christ.  Yes, and though they are considered fools and worse…to them the judge will say:  “NOT GUILTY!”  Then He will say (Matthew 25:34):

“Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Jesus didn’t live for nothing... He lived for you in perfect obedience so that you by faith in Him might live with Him and see the glory of heaven.

Jesus didn’t die for nothing…He died for you, laden with your sins to free you from them and from the Law’s accusations.


May God continue to bless us through His Word that we do not set aside or despise the undeserved love of God in Christ…in favor of our goodness…but instead cling to His living and dying that we might be justified by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.  Amen.

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