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You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

Galatians 5:4-5

We have seen that the Scriptures affirm repeatedly that salvation is a gift freely offered by God’s grace and received by those who put their faith in Christ (see, for example, Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:24). But as Paul writes to the Christians in Galatia, he is deeply concerned that they were perverting the gospel, and insists that “if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed,” (Galatians 1:8).

Their error was that of adding “the works of the law” (Galatians 2:16) to the work of Christ. They were not denying the historical facts of who Jesus is or what He had done; but they were denying the sufficiency of the work He had accomplished on the cross. Through their actions they were rejecting the truth that righteousness could be achieved simply by faith in Christ. They believed they must add to His work by keeping the commandments, but Paul was adamant that “…a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ,” (Galatians 2:16). Indeed, if it was possible to be righteous in God’s eyes simply by keeping the commandments, then the death of Christ would not have been necessary (Galatians 2:21).

For Jewish people, the sign of their acceptance by God and participation in His community was the God-given rite of circumcision (Genesis 17:1-14). But some Jewish Christians were teaching that in order to become a Christian, one must submit to the rite of circumcision, even if they weren’t Jewish (Acts 15:1). But Paul will have none of it! He says that to insist on religious rituals for righteousness is to undermine the work of Christ and leave us estranged from Him and fallen from grace!

Does God desire that we be righteous? Absolutely, but this righteousness comes only through faith in Christ (Romans 4:5) and will not be fully seen in us until we enter heaven. This is “the hope of righteousness” which believers long for, because “when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure,” (1 John 3:2-3). And thankfully, the Lord Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower and transform His redeemed people to live lives that are pleasing to God (Galatians 6:16-26).


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