Justification through Faith
Open Your Bible
Galatians 3:1-9, Genesis 15:1-6, Matthew 3:1-12, Romans 4:13-25
As an early twenty-something, I loved crafting handwritten letters. Throw in some turquoise calligraphy ink and a wax seal, and you had an elegant artifact from the past. Letters have a level of intimacy and importance that texts simply can’t convey, and each one is a labor of love.
During this letter-writing phase, I also had what you might call a spiritual crush on the Apostle Paul. (C. S. Lewis was a close second, but, you know, he can’t compete with an actual apostle.) Paul’s legendary passion for truth was compelling, and as a twenty-something weaving together a worldview, his letters served as models for discipleship in my life. One evening at Starbucks, I handed out “epistles” to my friends—handwritten notes of encouragement that challenged them to persevere with hope.
The book of Galatians is considered one of Paul’s most intense epistles. Although his language was strong and corrective, it was also a labor of love. His intent wasn’t to admonish the Galatians just to cool his head; it was to expose a false gospel that had begun seeping into the community. This false gospel was reverting back to justification through law. When Paul calls these people “foolish” and like those with “a spell” cast over them (Gl 3:1), it’s because their version of the gospel had them in bondage. With a sharp prod, he pushed back against their habits. “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law,” asked Paul, “or by believing what you heard?” (Gl 3:2).
Though they had first believed the Spirit through hearing, they soon sought salvation through human performance again. I admit, I understand the temptation. Following a law is so much easier because it’s a visible, measurable act. But the realm of belief? Well, that can feel far more terrifying—a mere “whistling in the dark,” as Frederick Buechner puts it. But Abraham’s promise of faith is more than just a haunted optimism. It’s the very foundation of his covenant with God (Gl 3:7–9).
As an apostle of Christ, Paul’s role spurred him to awaken people out of disobedience by calling out ungodly behavior. Yet, as an apostle of Christ, he wasn’t calling them out from a place of anger or indifference. He was moved with compassion over how their efforts were sabotaging their own freedom.
Because it was for our freedom that Christ came.
It’s hard to trust God if we distrust his method of salvation. The promise of faith is a gift, but goodness gracious is it hard to accept sometimes. I’m thankful for figures like Paul or Martin Luther or, most importantly, the Spirit on this faith journey. When we surrender our own strength or desires to control the outcome and give ourselves over to the work of the Spirit, true freedom awaits. Let’s keep walking that long obedience in the same direction, together.