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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1321

Dr. Ed Pettus October 1, 2017 Galatians 2:15-21

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“The Life of Faith”

 

  • Faith in Christ/The Faith of Christ

 

This Galatians passage is very intriguing because of the possibilities that exist in translation and in interpretation of the phrase “I live by faith in the Son of God.” You see, that is not the only translation available to us. The King James Version reads this way, “I live by the faith of the Son of God.” It is a small preposition that makes a world of difference in how we understand Paul’s words. It bids the question, do we live by faith in Jesus Christ or by the faith of Jesus Christ? It makes a huge difference when we begin to imagine our faith in Christ as compared to Christ’s faith! Imagine the possibilities for our life if we could live by the faith of Jesus Christ! (I also know that it may mean that we live today only because Christ was faithful. I say this so you will know that I know that, but it is not the focus of this sermon!)

No matter how we interpret this passage, one thing becomes clear to us - faith is the issue, whether it is our faith in Christ or Christ’s faith living in us, it is faith that is formed. Paul is writing about the underpinning or the foundation of living the Christian life.

 

One could argue for the life of faith living by the faith of Jesus Christ through other expressions Paul uses. In Galatians 4:19 Paul expresses his deep concern for the forming experience, My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,

Paul’s hope for believers is that Christ be formed in us. The great verse that ties much of this together is verse 20 of chapter 2, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. If Christ lives in us, then it may indeed be possible that His faith lives in us as well. Certainly the result of His faithfulness is made known to us through the grace of God in our salvation. And Paul tells us that Christ is being formed in us.

An interesting translation of Galatians 2:19-20 is found in the Complete Jewish Bible that reads more like a paraphrase and it says this, When the Messiah was executed on the stake as a criminal, I was too; so that my proud ego no longer lives. But the Messiah lives in me, and the life I now live in my body I live by the same trusting faithfulness that the Son of God had, who loved me and gave himself up for me.

Such a wonderful phrase, to “live by the same trusting faithfulness that the Son of God had”. My hope is that the gift of faith God has given will be formed into the faith of Christ and that I and we may indeed live by faith, trusting God through every trial and joy, trusting God through all things just as Jesus did.

 

  • Justified by Faith

 

Paul speaks multiple times of being justified by faith. Justification is one of the major topics, if not the major topic, of the Reformation. I will be preaching on that topic when we celebrate the Reformation at the end of October, but I wanted to say a brief word here because it is repeated four times in this short passage of Galatians.

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. 17But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

 

Justification is the doctrine of being made right with God. God justifies us by His grace through faith. We are set free from sin and guilt. Justification is not just a condition we find ourselves in, but it also brings with it responsibility. Charles Couser says that the life of a Christians is "to follow the self-giving, crucified Christ, to participate in his continuing mission in the world. In other words, justification is not only a gift but also a demand; it is responded to not by a passive resignation but an active obedience." (Charles Cousar, 62) Our faithful response to God’s faithfulness is to obey all that God has commanded. Being justified by faith is a gift that demands something of us. It is something like receiving a birthday present with air holes punched in the top. You suspect that this is the kind of gift that is going to continue to demand something from you. A puppy demands care and feeding and cleaning – the gift that keeps on giving! The gifts of faith and justification and salvation are demanding as well, obedience, love, hope, and courage are demanded by the gift itself.

Making the statement, "Christ lives in us," brings continuous demands upon our lives. And by demands, I don't mean burdensome, hard, tasks that we hate to do -- because what we find in Jesus Christ is that his burden is light.

 

  • Crucified with Christ

 

In our baptism we are symbolizing many things, one of which is dying with Christ, being crucified with Him. God justifies His people in the experience of being crucified with Christ. Paul uses the perfect tense of the verb which makes the most accurate translation, "I have been, and continue to be, crucified with Christ." It is an action which occurred and continues to occur shaping the present. Dying with Christ is not a one time event at baptism, but is a continuing event throughout life. It describes the on-going journey in service to God.

Jesus describes it this way:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24).

The continual crucifixion is the same as denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily. It is something that I believe we have to work at daily. We deny ourselves daily by giving ourselves over to God, over to others, over to deny the things our old nature claims we must have, but our new nature in Christ tells us we can do without. Think about the times we buy things on an impulse rather than thinking it through and seeking to follow Jesus’ command to deny the self. I ask myself time and time again if something I see or pick up to examine in a store is something I really need. I think about denial of self in terms of marriage when each spouse is asked to look out for the interests of the other. The same is true in the church as we are all asked to look out not just for our own interests but for the interests of others. This is part of what it means to be crucified with Christ and to continue to be crucified with Christ.

 

  • No Longer I, But Christ in Me

 

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

 

This is one of the most counter intuitive statements we might read in Scripture. It is also a counter to the dominant worldview. In the world it is all about me, all about “I”. But in the biblical world it is all about Christ. Life with Christ is no longer about me, me, me! We dedicate our lives to Christ and to making Him known to others. Whenever I think about these kinds of verses, I wonder what it would be like if we lived with this sentence constantly in our thoughts. “It’s not about me, it’s about Jesus.” What if we repeated that kind of thought over and over? This is a statement of transformation. We move from the I of the old nature to the Christ of the new nature. Just as we are constantly be crucified in Christ, we are also being constantly transformed in Christ.

In passages like Romans 12:2 Paul actually commands transformation: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect. There is also the transformation toward heavenly images: And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)

Or a more down to earth passage, 2 Cor. 5:17, So if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. The transformation has already occurred to some degree by our being in Christ. Everything is transformed into a new creation. But there is more to be done, for we are finite, fallen beings who continue to need transformation in our lives.

 

 

  • The Gift of Faith

 

Paul teaches us about the gift of faith. We trust God because of what God has done, not because of anything we have done. We have been saved through faith which is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). This gift becomes for us a way of life for we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Paul writes that this gift has been assigned to each of us by a certain measure.

3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Rom. 12:3

And yet, that faith that has been assigned can and does grow. We can foster that growth through disciplines of faith like prayer or study. I like to think that Paul’s work on faith in Romans 1 yields itself to growth. 16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Rom 1:16-17 We might look on this phrase “from faith for faith” as the faith of God being gifted to us as a measure of faith. Or we might see it as a growing faith, a faith fed by God, from His faith to ours – living by the faith of the Son of God. That truly makes it a great gift from God.

 

When we think about gifts we might first consider the gifts we receive at birthdays or Christmas. Some gifts we treasure, others we store away in the basement for years until it is rediscovered for the next yard sale, and even more might be re-gifted for someone else to “enjoy”. God’s gift of faith is one that we cherish and yet it is one we want to share almost like re-gifting, giving it to others. But unlike re-gifting, we keep it and we share it. It is one of the greatest gifts we will ever receive and it is the gift we pray that others may also receive.

 

I want to close this message with the passage we heard at the beginning of worship today. Psalm 26:1-3 says,

 

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. 2 Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind. 3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.

 

Other versions speak of walking in trust of God or in His truth, but in light of our walk through the Scriptures today, I like the idea of walking in God’s faithfulness. If Galatians 2 is truly about having the faith of Christ, then Psalm 26:3 becomes more real as we live out of the faithfulness of God. We are working toward the same trust of God that was in Christ Himself. That is a great gift indeed. Thank the Lord, for great is His faithfulness and great is His gift of faith. Amen.