Sabbath School Lesson for July 15-21, 2017
The problem Paul observed in the early church has existed in some form through all the history of man. We humans try to worship God on our terms, through our own power to do good. We sometimes think we understand justification by faith alone. But in all honesty, we often find it hard to implement–feeling like there is something more we should do to get to heaven.
A study of Galatians requires a long, hard look at justification, a term that makes us think of a court room. But the justification that God provides for us goes beyond a pardon or forgiveness for a crime that has been done. It actually justifies to the extent that there is no evidence the crime ever happened! See Isaiah 43:25. We are totally set free with nothing on our record, even when we know we are guilty of the most heinous offenses. How special is that?!!!
This week we look at how faith and obedience relate to our justification. Paul uses these terms heavily in his New Testament letters, and quite often in the book of Galatians. So, let’s study more deeply what he was referring to when he spoke of justification, works of the law, the faith of Jesus, and righteousness.
Often, we have presented the gospel as being about faith AND works, but in actuality, it is about faith alone. Does our behavior matter then? Of course, it does, Paul insists (Romans 6:15). Those who countered Paul were afraid that obedience to the law would be neglected by his message of faith alone, much as those who opposed Martin Luther, the Reformer who brought this topic to light again in the Middle Ages.
Memory Text: “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.” Galatians 2:20 ESV
As Adventists, we have sometimes in the past quoted Revelation 14:12 with an emphasis on those “who keep the commandments of God”, forgetting the rest of the verse which identifies God’s people as those with “the faith of Jesus”. Just what is this “faith of Jesus”? Perhaps we’ve tended to skip lightly over and around that part, because we haven’t fully understood the part Jesus really plays in our faith, and consequently, our salvation.
Sunday: The Question of “Justification”
This week we take up our study in the second chapter of Galatians. As part of Paul’s accusation against Peter’s behavior, he explains his stance at length by reviewing the meaning of justification.
It was important for Peter and those around him to be reminded of what it means to be justified. Jews and Gentiles alike stand before God. God isn’t concerned whether they’ve been circumcised or not. He only wants them to accept His Son as the Substitute for their sins, and live by the grace they’ve been given.
Jewish Christians, and all those who now tend to be legalistic in religious matters, needed to become more fully acquainted with the meaning of justification. Just because you were born a Jew, or grew up in a Christian home, does not make you any more acceptable to God.
Peter and his friends needed to be reminded that being justified meant a person was a full member of God’s covenant community, a true son of Abraham, the same as they were.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 2:15, Matthew 9:11, and Acts 15:10. Why do you think Paul was bringing up this point about who they were?
Read Galatians 2:16, Romans 1:17, and Habakkuk 2:4. Has our justification always been by faith? Why was Moses so fully instructed in the law, if the law wasn’t what saves us? Did God make a mistake in giving the law, or did humans make the mistake and how?
Read Galatians 2:17, 1 John 3:8, and Psalm 103:13, 14. If we sin after Christ justifies us, does it mean Jesus made us do it? Do we have to remain in sin, once we’ve fallen back into it?
Monday: Works of the Law
The phrase “works of the law” strangely does not occur anywhere in Scripture except in Paul’s writings. Just what he was referring to has often been in question. What law did he mean? Of course, it would include all those outdated ceremonial laws that Moses imposed on the people. But some have been taught in the past that it did not mean the moral Ten Commandments, that are still binding on Christians.
The truth of the matter is, however, that Paul meant ALL the law, the entire collection of laws and statutes that were given through Moses, including the Ten Commandments. Paul repeatedly tells us that our lawkeeping plays no part in our justification. There is no getting around this fact.
Therefore, our eyes had better remain fixed on the Lawgiver, rather than the law itself. As we concentrate on Christ, the Lawgiver and the only one to perfectly keep the law, we find it easier to become more like Him, and thus more of a reflection of His righteousness.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:2, 5, 10 and Romans 3:20, 28. Just because we are cursed by not keeping the law (Gal. 3:10), does this mean we are saved by keeping it? What part does faith, or the “hearing of faith”, have in our salvation?
Read Romans 3:10-20 and Isaiah 53:6. Why can’t keeping the law save us? What makes us incapable of keeping the law apart from Christ? What makes it so hard to give up all claims to righteousness, and put our faith completely in Christ?
How is God being just and fair by allowing Christ’s righteousness to take the place of our own faulty actions and bad attitudes? Shouldn’t we all be accountable for our misdeeds? What makes Jesus the only one capable of such a transaction?
Tuesday: The Basis of Our Justification
So, we are not saved by works, but by faith. We understand now that works aren’t supplemental to our faith…it is faith alone that saves us. Our faith then seems to be essential to our salvation. But wait a minute…is it MY faith that is important here?
What about that curious verse about the patience of the saints in Revelation that mentioned “the faith OF JESUS” (Revelation 14:12). Could it be that this faith we are talking about belongs to Jesus as well?
Actually, that verse in Galatians 2:16 has a more literal translation which captures who this faith belongs to. Instead of saying “faith in Jesus”, it would also be correct to say the “faith of Jesus”.
Here’s an early Syriac translation of that verse that perhaps conveys the meaning more accurately:
“Therefore we know that a man is not justified from the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus the Messiah, and we believe in him, in Jesus the Messiah, that from his faith, that of the Messiah, we might be justified, and not from the works of the law.”
Christ, then, is not only the supplier of our works, but our faith as well! No wonder He is seen as the only means of our salvation. We might be better off if we just said that justification is by Jesus alone. Jesus really does it all.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 3:22, Galatians 3:22, and Philippians 3:9. Can we substitute the concept of “faith OF Jesus” for “faith IN Jesus” in these verses? Read Matthew 17:20. What makes our small amount of faith so effective?
Read Psalm 119:90, 89:2, 8, 33, 36:5. What do these verses tell us about the faithfulness of God, and Jesus? What is it about Jesus’ faith that makes it better than our own?
Read Revelation 14:12. How do we keep the faith of Jesus, as well as the commandments of God? Why are righteousness AND faithfulness so important for our salvation?
Wednesday: The Obedience of Faith
Often we tend to compartmentalize obedience and faith–put them in two separate boxes with the word “and”. Without careful thought, the song “Trust AND Obey” may inadvertently reflect the idea that these two components are separate.
But in actuality, our commitment to Christ, our faith in Him, encompasses how we live, as much as what we believe. We must therefore keep our faith and our obedience together. But how?
When we are covered by Christ’s righteousness, this must also include His faith (or faithfulness). Genuine faith has always been a response to God’s faithfulness, hasn’t it? We must depend on God for the faith that it takes to obey.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 5:6, 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15, and Romans 1:5. What part do love and Jesus play in our faithful obedience?
Read James 2:19. How does this verse explain our faulty attempts at having faith? Why do we need Christ’s faith, as much as we need His righteous obedience? Why can’t they be separated?
Read John 3:14-16. How does this passage indicate that our faith and obedience are just a response to the love God has shown us, to the faith and obedience already lived out in the life of Jesus?
Thursday: Does Faith Promote Sin?
In a sense, this question “Does faith promote sin?” seems like a no-brainer. Of course, faith doesn’t promote sin. But perhaps too much emphasis on faith might tend to condone disobedience, or at best, allow sins to be minimalized (overlooked as unimportant). At least this is what many have thought.
To be sure, history has often proven that when the pendulum starts swinging away from legalism, it has a tendency to sway too far the other way, allowing us to forget about the effects of sin, causing sin to seep into our lives in varying amounts.
But this doesn’t need to happen, when we keep our eyes on Christ. Christ, the most balanced individual in the universe, is our tool of calibration. He is the standard measure we must incorporate into our very being.
Paul identified with Jesus so thoroughly that he could say, “I have been crucified with Christ…” (Galatians 2:20). So, too, must we become attached to Jesus. His death to sin and resurrection to new life must become ours. If we are to be fully equipped to complete our tasks here on this sin-laden planet, we too must become dead to sin and alive to righteous living.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 2:17, 18. Is Christ to blame if we sin after accepting Him? Does it mean Christ’s atonement was ineffective? Why is it still possible to sin after repentance and conversion then? And how is this situation remedied?
Read Galatians 2:19-21. What’s the difference in knowing Christ, having a relationship with Him, and being crucified with Him?
Read 2 Corinthians 5:17, 21. How does Christ make it possible for us to take on His righteousness and faithfulness? Can we really do anything to achieve salvation, but surrender our hearts to His will?
Many questions were addressed in the second part of Galatians’ second chapter. And the answers to each of them may surprise you.
- What constitutes justification, and who is qualified to receive it?…anyone (Jew or Gentile) who accepts it as a gift from God (Sunday)
- What aspect was Paul speaking of when he uses the expression “works of the law”?…all the law that was given to Moses, including the moral Ten Commandment law–even that can’t save us (Monday)
- Whose faith is important when it comes to our salvation?…Christ’s faithfulness, as well as His righteousness, saves us (Tuesday)
- How is our faith related to our obedience?…having the faith OF Jesus encourages us to obey in order to become more like Him (Wednesday)
- Must we be concerned with how we live, so long as we have faith?…our only concern should be with how close we are to Christ–His love progressively changes how we live (Thursday)
Wherever we find ourselves on the pendulum between legalism and liberalism, it would do well for us to continue calibrating ourselves with the only true focal point on this journey to heaven. That focus must be on Christ, because without His righteousness and faithfulness, we would be lost forever to sin and Satan. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the vehicle that carries us to our heavenly home.
Determine to have the faith OF Jesus this week, and see what changes it can bring to your behavior, your peace, and your love for those around you.
Next Week: Old Testament Faith
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/