“Justified by Faith, Crucified with Christ, Redeemed from the Curse”
(Galatians 2:15-21; 3:10-14)
Today we continue with the third in our six-part sermon series on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. We began by looking at Paul’s opening assertion that there is “No Other Gospel” than the one he preached to them, yet the Galatians lately have been falling for a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Then last week we found out more about “The Gospel Paul Preached,” that it comes from God, not from man, that it is a gospel of grace, and that this gospel changes lives.
Now today Paul takes us further into the changed situation in which we Christians live. In our text, Paul describes this changed reality in three ways: 1) We are justified by faith. 2) We have been crucified with Christ. And 3) We are redeemed from the curse. So now, let’s consider these three wonderful realities for us to rejoice in. Because of the gospel, we are “Justified by Faith, Crucified with Christ, Redeemed from the Curse.”
First, we are justified by faith. Paul writes: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
“Justified”: This is not talking about how we line up the margins of our paragraphs on the page–although that image does give us the idea of having things being straight up and down. You see, how do we get things “straight up and down” between us and God? But that’s what needs to happen if we’re going to be “justified.”
The term “justified” actually is a legal term. It has to do with “justice.” The image here is that of a courtroom setting. Somebody is on trial–you are. You’ve been accused of breaking the law–God’s law. The evidence is brought forward. It doesn’t look so good. Here’s what the law says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” And here’s what your record shows: You haven’t done this. Your love for God has been half-hearted at best. Pretty weak, in fact. Here’s what the law says: “You shall have no other gods.” Here’s what your record shows: You have been putting other things ahead of God–whether they are things like money or family or pleasure or success or what have you–you have been fearing, loving, and trusting in many things other than the Lord your God. It shows up in how you fail to give due honor to the name of the Lord. It shows up in your negligence to gladly hear and learn and apply the word of God.
Then there is the other half of God’s law, which says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But here’s what your record shows: You haven’t honored those whom God has placed in authority over you as you ought. The “Honor your father” commandment is not limited to Father’s Day, you know, and it extends to other God-given authorities beyond your physical father. The record also shows that you have had hateful, harmful thoughts toward your neighbor. You have not helped him as you should. You have not honored God’s institution of marriage as well as you should. All your lustful thoughts are brought forward as evidence. You have hurt your neighbor’s reputation with your tongue, gossiping behind his back. Then there is the envy and covetousness you have in your heart for your neighbor’s possessions. You may hide it from men, but you can’t hide it from God.
No, the evidence is overwhelming, and it is fairly damning. In God’s courtroom, under the law, you and I are guilty as charged. No plea bargain is possible. The penalty is death. And justice must be served. The judge can’t just waive the charges, or wave them off, because he’s an old softie. The judge cannot reduce the sentence or suspend it because of your supposed “good behavior.” No, then the judge, God, would not be just. The law demands that the penalty must be paid.
So how are we ever going to get out of this alive? The evidence is undeniable. The law is unchangeable. The punishment, unavoidable. How can we hope to be justified, that is, declared not guilty, in this kind of a courtroom? Here’s how: The law does get fulfilled, the keeping of it. The law gets fulfilled, the punishment for breaking it. And the one who does this, both of these things, is Christ Jesus, our perfect substitute, who does them in our place.
It is not our works of the law, but his works, Christ’s works, that satisfy God’s law and maintain his justice. Christ fulfilled the demands of the law on our behalf. He always did the right thing, without fail. He alone is the one righteous man. Likewise, Christ fulfilled the law in terms of the punishment called for. He suffered death, the big death under God’s judgment–again, on our behalf, in our place. And because he is the very Son of God, Christ’s perfect righteousness is sufficient to cover our lack of righteousness. And the death he died is powerful enough to satisfy God’s justice. The law is fulfilled, we are acquitted, and God still is being a just judge when he declares us not guilty. That’s justification.
This all then is received by faith. We are justified by faith. That means trusting in Jesus’ works, not our own, in order to be put right with God. And it’s not that “faith” is any sort of good work that we do to merit our salvation. No, that’s not it at all. Our faith saves us, not because it is “our faith,” as though we’re doing some heroic act of believing that outweighs our sins. But rather, our faith saves us because it is faith in Christ. This saving faith has value solely because of its object, namely, Jesus Christ. Don’t attribute anything in your justification to you, to the things you do or to some quality in you. You and I are justified by faith because it is faith in Christ. And even this faith that we have–even that is a gift from God. It is faith, trust, worked by the Holy Spirit, through the means of grace, the gospel in Word and Sacrament. All the glory goes to God.
So that’s the first way St. Paul describes our changed situation, namely, that we are justified by faith. Secondly, Paul says that you and I have been crucified with Christ. He writes: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Paul here is talking about how his life has been changed because of the gift of faith he has received. He doesn’t live the same way he used to. And, guess what, neither do we. We no longer live thinking that we can justify ourselves before God by our own keeping of the law, as though somehow I was a good enough person that I could earn God’s favor. No, my old sinful nature prevents that from happening. I always would mess up and fall short, if judged by the standard of the law. The law would always condemn me to death and hell.
But something happened to change all that. I have been crucified with Christ. He took all my sins, all my unrighteousness, and he was nailed to the cross with that sin and for it. And because I have been baptized into union with Christ, baptized into his death, therefore I have been crucified with Christ. My old sinful nature was buried with him in baptism, and, just as Christ was raised from the dead, so too I have been raised up with him into newness of life. I’ve been joined to Jesus. So now each one of us baptized Christians can say with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
How will this play out in your life this week? There will be times when your old sinful nature will be beckoning you to return to the ways of the world, to give in to temptation, to follow the desires of your flesh which war against the ways of the Spirit. These are the times to say no, to confess the truth of the new reality that is yours as God’s baptized child: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Yes, God has a better way for you and me to live. Lord, help us to live it.
We are justified by faith. We have been crucified with Christ. Then third, we are redeemed from the curse. Paul writes: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” But: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’. . . .”
It’s a heavy thing to be under a curse. The curse of the law fell upon us when we sinned, when we disobeyed God’s commandment. From our first parents’ fall into sin until now we have been laboring under that curse. Things don’t work right. Creation is all messed up, groaning in futility. Floods and tornados wipe out homes and fields. Crops fail. Mothers experience pain in childbirth. Work becomes toilsome and difficult. Conflict and blame divide people who ought to love one another. Families become dysfunctional. Disease and death intrude and invade our lives. “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” This is the curse, that things tend to get worse, and then you die.
But Christ has redeemed us from the curse. What did it? The cross. The cross of Christ reversed the curse. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” He bundled up all our sin and took it into himself, into his crucified body hanging on that tree. In this way we are redeemed, released, and set free.
Christ has redeemed us from the curse. We’re out from under. He’s taken that load off our backs. “Come unto me,” he says, “all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The sword of Damocles dangling over our heads–it’s not there anymore. The heavens are open, and there’s bright sky overhead. Eternal life, not death and damnation–eternal life awaits us. We’ve been redeemed from the curse and brought into blessing.
Dear friends, today St. Paul has unfolded for the Galatians–and for us–the changed situation, the changed reality, that Christ has brought us into. First, we are justified by faith. God declares us not guilty in his heavenly courtroom, because Christ Jesus has fulfilled the law in our stead. Second, we have been crucified with Christ. The old man of sin has died and was buried in baptism, and now the new man, joined to Jesus and alive to God–the new person you are in Christ arises to newness of life. And third, we are redeemed from the curse of the law, the curse of death, and brought into the blessing of life everlasting. “Justified by Faith, Crucified with Christ, Redeemed from the Curse”: This is our changed situation, our new reality, and it is something to rejoice in.