Wilfredo Garza lived the life of an illegal immigrant for more than 35 years. Year after year, he eked out a living crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. Some days he found work, some days he didn’t. Regardless, he was constantly looking over his shoulder. He was caught by the Border Patrol four times during that period. Every time, he was bused back to Mexico. Undeterred by each apprehension, he swam back across the Rio Grande only to try again. The cycle would likely have continued for several more years if not for an amazing discovery. One day, Wilfredo worked up the courage to walk into an immigration lawyer's office. There, incredibly, he found out that his father was born in Texas and he has spent time working there, which meant that Wilfredo was actually a U.S. citizen! All these years he possessed the very papers, his father's birth certificate and work records, that proved his citizenship, and yet he lived in guilt and fear. But now he has a certificate of citizenship. Now he doesn't have to sneak across the border. He can walk through the main gate.
I am amazed by the number of God’s children who have been bought with the blood of Jesus, who have their citizenship papers in hand, and have been trying to sneak into God’s family. Working with all their might to dig tunnels or climb fences, or do enough good things, say enough right things, spend enough time in the right building, when all along God has opened wide the front door to His palace! But this isn't a problem experienced only by contemporary children of God…remember the Galatians?
Paul said to them long ago…
We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. But if while seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners, is Christ then one who encourages sin? Absolutely not! But if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law. For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!
The title of this week’s lesson is “Living by Faith.” Most of us agree, at least in theory, that we are saved by faith. This has been a fundamental tenant of Protestant Christians. We are saved by grace through faith. But I do have a question, whose faith are we talking about? Is Paul saying here in Galatians that our faith in Jesus Christ brings about our salvation? Or is he saying something altogether different? I'll be honest with you; I think there is a certain reading of this text that encourages us to keep digging under that fence. Most of our English translations of this text tell us plainly,
We know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but instead by faith “in” Jesus Christ.
That’s what most of our translations say, that’s what the NIV says. Even the Revised Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version say that. What does this translation imply? We may not be justified by observing the Law, but if we have faith in Jesus, that will do it! Notice something. Once again, just like the Old System, salvation, justification, reconciliation with God begins with you! With what we do or believe our faith saves us! Church, I think we're missing the mark. In fact, I think the King James Version gets this one right. They are more in line with some of the older translations of this verse. And many more recent New Testament scholars are agreeing as well. More and more modern translations are going back to the more ancient reading of this text, NET for example, and many others are at least putting notes in the margins saying there is another way to translate this verse.
I believe a more accurate translation of this passage is the one I read to you a few minutes ago,
We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law…
Did you notice the difference? One little word changes everything. Is it our faith in Jesus that saves us, or is it the faith of Jesus Christ that saves us? I hate it when preachers start talking about Greek in their sermons, so I won’t do that. But I will talk a little English grammar. Those English teachers among us would tell us that the most natural reading of a “genitive” case is in the possessive sense meaning that this faith in question belongs to Christ. The most natural reading of this text, then, is that Paul is talking about the faith “of” Jesus Christ.
Now, beyond a grammatical issue, there is the contextual issue—the reading I am suggesting this morning just makes more sense with what Paul is saying! His main point is that the gospel is all about what God did, not about what you and I do! Salvation comes through the activity of God, not the activity of man!
Now at this point, some of you may have some questions. Some may hear what I am saying and wonder “Well, if it has nothing to do with what we believe, everyone will be saved. That preacher up there is advocating some universalist idea!” No, actually, I’m not. Listen, this is a theme that Paul returns to again and again in his letters. Listen to how Paul explains the same issue in his letter to the Romans, once again using the King James Version,
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe…(Romans 3:20-22)
The righteousness of God, which comes only through the faith of Jesus Christ, His faith to willingly die on the cross, His faithfulness to His promise, the righteousness of God, coming through that faith, is offered to all of them who believe. Yes, in order to be reconciled to God, one must accept the gospel of Jesus. But that process did not begin with our faith in Jesus as the Son of God. That process began with Jesus’ faith, which was exhibited in His sacrifice for us. We are saved by our faith through His faith.
So, what was Paul’s main point in writing to these Galatians?
There were a group of Jewish Christians who had arrived in the community with a message contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were encouraging Gentile Christians to first become Jews in order to become Christian. In other words, in order to accept Jesus, you must first obey the Law! For some reason, humans have always been reluctant to accept the idea of grace. These Christians were no exception. They wanted to dig their way into God’s House, but they failed to realize the door was wide open. Paul writes his letter to the Galatians reminding them that their standing before God does not hinge on their observance of the Law. The good news is that Jesus came to save in spite of our inability to measure up. Now, Paul urges them to live lives of faithfulness. He calls them to recognize a very important fact: Christians do not work to be saved, Christians work because they are saved! As one having been justified by the faith of Jesus Christ, I tell you this morning, my life’s ambition is to work with all my might to please my Father. Not because I doubt that He loves me, not because I question whether or not He will save me. He’s already proven His love; He’s already given me salvation. I work with all my might because I stand before you a dead man come back to life! And when I ascended from those waters…I became a new man, because it is no longer I who stand before you, but Christ who lives through me!
In the movie Air Force One, the President of the United States is taken hostage as terrorists hijack his official aircraft, Air Force One. Drawing on his former military experience, the President eventually kills or disables all the terrorists but one. The crisis, however, is far from over. There is no one left who can safely land the plane. The Vice-President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are working together in a tension-filled White House war room to develop a strategy for what appears to be a hopeless situation. As time runs out, the only viable solution is a daring rescue. The Air Force will attempt to attach a zip line from Air Force One to a military transport plane. Each person will go from the doomed Air Force One to a military aircraft by zipline! All of the passengers make it safely to the transport plane. Only the President and one terrorist remain aboard Air Force One. Just before the President hooks himself to the life-saving zip line, the terrorist comes out of hiding and a struggle ensues. Shortly thereafter, Air Force One dives into the ocean. The officials on the ground wait anxiously through the long periods of radio silence. They couldn't see what was happening. All they know from their radar screen is that Air Force One is down. A sense of defeat permeates the room as they assume the President has gone down with the plane. Finally, the flight crew radios the anxious officials gathered in the White House war room with these words…
"Liberty 2-4 is changing call signs. Liberty 2-4 is now Air Force One!"
The President had been pulled safely aboard the cargo plane just before his jet plunged into the ocean. The identity of the simple transport plane was dramatically changed, From Liberty 2-4 to Air Force One for one simple reason, The President came on board.
Before God came to live inside of you, you were plain and ordinary. You were doomed to the same fate as the rest of the world, a life of disappointment that ends with death, a life full of chaos that has no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But by welcoming God into your body, you are a new person, with a new identity, a new purpose, and a new name.
As resurrected people, let us give thanks for the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. For through His faith, we have found life. And through His death, we have found a model to follow. Through His resurrection, we have found assurance. My prayer is that you and I will quit trying to dig our way into God’s presence. Look in your hand. You have an invitation to come through the front door. Now, that, brothers and sisters, is good news!