Christ: The Only One Who Saves
Passage: Galatians 5:1–5:6
Why must we stand firm in Christ’s gift of freedom? Because if we don't, we lose Christ’s benefits. Because if we don't, we gain an impossible task. Because if we don't, we lose Christ and reject grace. Because if we do, we gain rest and assurance. Because if we do, we gain God.
Do you know what the best part about eating at a buffet is? You don’t have to say “no” to anything. It’s such a relief to not have to pick and choose from a menu. You just pay your $8 and head to the buffet line. If there isn’t room on your plate for something you want this round, that’s ok, you can just come back and get it later. You can try things without committing to them as your full meal. But if you have to order from a menu, you have to say “no” to so many things. If you get the enchiladas you can’t get the fajitas. If you order the shrimp, you are saying “no” to the steak. By ordering one thing, you are saying “no” to everything else on the menu.
Today, we are in our fourth message in a five part series called “Five Truths About Salvation.” This year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation so we are taking time to learn about the five truths at the heart of it. These truths state that salvation is 1) by grace alone 2) through faith alone 3) in Christ alone 4) revealed in Scripture alone 5) for God’s glory alone.
So far we have learned that Scripture alone is the #1 authority for our knowledge of salvation. That grace alone is the only source of our right standing with God. And that faith alone in Jesus Christ is the only way we are saved.
This week, we are talking about the basis for our salvation. What’s the foundation? What establishes it? On what basis can we be declared righteous before God? The answer the Reformers gave was: in Christ alone. By grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, we gain a right standing with God.
When it comes to our right standing with God, we don’t go through a buffet line and choose a whole bunch of things to put on our plate and hope they make us right with God. No, we chose one item on the menu: Jesus Christ.
To get a better understanding, we will be looking at Galatians chapter 5, verses 1 through 6. The big question this passage answers is: why must we stand firm in Christ’s gift of freedom? Why must we stand firm in Christ’s gift of freedom?
First, let’s talk about why this truth of Christ alone came out of the Reformation.
John Calvin on Christ as Mediator
The centuries prior to the Reformation in the 1500s created an environment of death and anxiety. Just over 150 years earlier, the bubonic plague or “Black Death” killed one third of Europe’s population. So many died, people thought it was the end of the world. From that time, every dozen or so years the plague would pop back up and ravage a town.
So people had this sense that death is close at hand. Skeletons appeared in lots of art depicting the closeness of death. And because death is close at hand, standing before God your Judge is also close at hand. All your sin would be exposed before the almighty Judge of the universe. This should be terrifying to all of us! How are you going to stand before this Judge? You are a wretched, guilty sinner. You need someone to help you. And who will it be? The Roman Catholic Church.
How can you stand before God, your righteous Judge, when you die? You need to be made righteous. You need to confess your sins. You need to make restitution for the punishment due for your sins. This is what the Catholic Church taught. But as we have seen, this did not bring relief. Martin Luther was a perfect example. No matter how much he did, he still felt that God was angry with him. God offered him grace, but Martin Luther thought he always fell short of doing his part.
Another famous name of the Reformation is John Calvin. When Calvin was born in 1509, Luther was already 25 years old giving lectures at the University of Erfurt. Luther lived his life in Germany, while Calvin was born in France and spent most of his ministry career in Geneva, Switzerland.
But Calvin shared Luther’s sense of struggle, unease, and doubt about his standing with God. Calvin had a traditional Catholic upbringing so was raised with the same mindset as Luther: do your best and God will meet you with grace.
At one point, Calvin defended the Reformation in a letter to a Catholic cardinal. In it, he described the life of a young boy in the Catholic Church. Perhaps this was a reflection on his own experience. He said that the Catholic Church taught that people are miserable sinners and must receive God’s mercy but only those who show themselves deserving would receive it. Calvin described the process of going to a Catholic priest, confessing, then receiving good works to satisfy the punishment for sin. But then he writes:
“When, however, I had performed all these things, though I had some intervals of quiet, I was still far off from true peace of conscience; for, whenever I descended into myself, or raised my mind to thee, extreme terror seized me -- terror which no expiations nor satisfactions could cure.”
Like Luther, the experience Calvin describes for this young boy is one of continual doubt, anxiety, and terror before God.
Compared to Luther, we know very little about John Calvin’s life because he was shy and avoided drawing attention to himself. However, John Calvin was perhaps the greatest writer of the Reformation and he laid out the teachings of the Reformation in a way no one else did.
How did Calvin become a Protestant? How did he become part of the Reformation? As I said, Calvin didn’t like to talk about himself but we have a general idea. He started out studying to enter the priesthood then at his father’s request changed course to become a lawyer at 19. When his father died three years later, Calvin started pursuing classical literature instead.
During these studies, he followed a movement that said you need to go back to the classics of the past in order to reform society today. For a Christian, that meant going back to the bible.
When Calvin began pursuing his career in classic literature, 14 years had passed since Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. Luther was already on the run for his life and had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church. Calvin read some of Luther’s works and writings of other Reformers. At first he was offended by them. He wasnt a fan of these new and novel ideas. But, Calvin says that God eventually subdued his heart and softened him to receive the gospel that the Reformers were spreading.
One evidence that this new teaching took root is shown in 1533. Exactly 16 years after Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, Calvin’s friend, Nicholas Cop, gave a convocation address at the University of Paris where he had just been appointed as dean. In it, he offended his Catholic hearers by criticizing the Roman Catholic Church and by promoting Protestant ideas. He proclaimed Christ as the only mediator with God. Cop had to run for his life. But what’s interesting is that Calvin had to as well. Why? Did he help write the speech? Did he write it and Cop delivered it. We aren’t sure.
One thing we do know is that “mediator” was the word for Christ that Calvin used more than any other. You need a mediator when a relationship has gone wrong. The mediator tries to bring restoration and harmony between the two parties. Calvin emphasized that this role belonged to Christ alone. Only Christ can bring peace between God and man. Calvin was critical of the Catholic Church for stripping Christ of his power and dignity. He claimed they speak his name but do not have him in reality. They have replaced Christ as the only Mediator between man and God. Only Christ can make us clean and righteous before God.
Here, we turn to our Scripture passage: Galatians 5:1-6.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is trying to show his readers that when it comes to our righteousness before God, it isn’t a buffet line. You can only choose one item off the menu and when you do, it excludes all others. At the church in Galatia, a group of false teachers, called the Judaizers, were pressuring the church. They were telling these new Christians that if they wanted to be right with God, then they needed to practice certain Jewish laws in addition to faith in Christ. Paul wants to steer the Galatians back to the one, true gospel message of freedom.
Paul shows them the menu. There desire is to be righteous in God’s sight and there are only two options on the menu. Option 1: You can try to accomplish the impossible task of keeping all God’s laws perfectly. Option 2: you can trust in Christ and God will declare you righteous. Choose one or the other.
The big question our passage for today, Galatians 5:1-6, answers is: Why must we stand firm in Christ’s gift of freedom?
In chapter 1 verse 5, Paul writes:
5 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
If you trust in Jesus - if you cling to him, put your confidence in him, if you boast in him - then he has set you free. And the whole point of setting you free is so that you can live in freedom. So, Paul says, stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Jesus doesn’t set us free to go back to our slave master. Stand firm in the freedom he has given. Don’t go back to slavery.
What is the yoke of slavery? Paul says trying to make yourself right with God through your own good works is slavery. Why? Because you are getting on a treadmill that never turns off. You will constantly be walking but will never reach your destination. You will never be righteous. You will always be working at it and always fall short.
Instead, Christ has freed you from making yourself right with God. He has done all the work. When you trust in him, you can step off the treadmill. Even though people are trying to get you to hop back on it, stand firm! Don’t step back on it. You will be submitting again to slavery.
Paul gets more specific in answering our big question. He gives five answers in the following verses for why we must stand firm in Christ’s gift of freedom.
First, he says in verse 2:
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. (Galatians 5:2)
The big pressure the Judaizers were putting on the Galatians was the need for circumcision. This was the mark of God’s people in the Old Testament. The Galatians have put their faith in Christ to be made right with God, but then the Judaizers are coming along and saying, “No, faith in Christ isn’t enough. You need to also obey the law. And the first command you must obey is circumcision.”
So the Judaizers are trying to make the Galatians think that there is a buffet line when it comes to righteousness before God. You have Christ on your plate but you need to put circumcision on it too and then the other works of the law. But Paul is making them order from the menu and is saying, “No look, if you accept circumcision, Christ is of no advantage to you. If you pick circumcision from the menu, you are saying no to Christ. He will just be an option on the menu that doesn’t help you. If you submit to the yoke of slavery, you are saying ‘no’ to the freedom given to you by Christ.”
You are either on the treadmill or off the treadmill. If you trust in Christ, you are off the treadmill of making yourself righteous. But if you accept circumcision, you are getting back on and Christ doesn’t benefit you at all. How could he? The benefit he gives is that you are off the treadmill.
The big question we are answering is: why must we stand firm in Christ’s gift of freedom? The first answer is: Because if we don't, we lose Christ’s benefits. Because if we don’t, we lose Christ’s benefits.
His perfect life, his death on the cross, his resurrection, and his kingship do not benefit us. All that he has done as our Mediator is no advantage because we are saying no to him as our Mediator and are trying to fix it ourselves.
That’s our first answer. Let’s look at verse 2 for our second. Paul writes:
3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. (Galatians 5:3)
It may seem inconsequential for them to accept circumcision. What’s the big deal? Paul knows better than anyone how this works so he can personally testify. Circumcision is the entry point. You are accepting the premise of the Judaizers that our works are what make us right with God. You are rejecting the premise that Christ apart from works makes you right with God. You have two choices: justified by Christ or justified by your works.
Circumcision means you are saying yes to getting on the treadmill. And once you are on, it never stops. You are enslaved to keep its demands but you will never reach your goal of righteousness. You are either on the treadmill or off the treadmill.
The big question is: why must we stand firm in Christ’s gift of freedom? The second answer is: Because if we don't, we gain an impossible task. Because if we don’t, we gain an impossible task.
No one can keep the whole law. It is impossible. So if you don’t stand firm in freedom, your only other option is the impossible task of obeying every single one of God’s commands. If Christ isn’t your Mediator, then you have to make things right with God yourself but you can’t.
We get out third answer in verse 4. Paul writes:
4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:4)
If you want to be justified by the law - if you want to be made right with God through your own effort and works, then you are severed from Christ. You have separated yourself from him. In fact, you have fallen away from grace. You have walked away from God’s undeserved gift that he has offered you.
Earlier, in chapter 2 verse 21, Paul wrote:
21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:21)
If righteousness could be attained through the Law, then there was no point in Christ dying. If we could already get righteousness through our own efforts, then it was totally unnecessary for God to send his Son to die for our failures to obey the Law. To say this is to nullify God’s grace, shown to us in Christ’s death on our behalf to provide righteousness.
The big question is: why must we stand firm in Christ’s gift of freedom? The third answer is: Because if we don't, we lose Christ and reject grace. Because if we don’t, we lose Christ and reject grace.
A relationship with Christ comes from trusting in him. It comes through faith. If we don’t trust Christ to make us right with God, then we do not have a relationship with Christ. We don’t trust him to be our Mediator. We receive God’s gift of right standing with him through faith and if we do not trust that Christ can make us right with him, then we are rejecting God’s gift of grace.
We get our fourth answer in verse 5. If we want to be justified by our own works, why does that sever us from Christ and separate us from God’s grace? Verse 5 says:
5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. (Galatians 5:5)
“Hope” to us often means something we wish will happen. “I hope the Bears win today.” In Scripture, “hope” is something in the future that will for sure happen. That’s why Paul says they “eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” They know it’s coming and are eagerly awaiting its arrival.
What they eagerly await is the sure promise that they will be declared righteous. Now, that may sound weird because what we have said throughout this series is that we are declared righteous now. God sees us as righteous because of our faith in Christ. That is true. But, judgment day has not come. We have not stood before God in his law court. That happens when Jesus returns. But, if you trust in Jesus today, when you do stand in God’s law court you will be declared righteous. That future judgment is so sure that today God sees you as righteous because in his mind, the declaration has already been made.
So Paul says they eagerly await the day when they will stand before God without any fear of condemnation because even though they were never able to follow the entire law, they will hear from God’s mouth, “Righteous!” Why is he so sure of this? Because when they believed, they received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has a ministry of assurance and comfort. The Holy Spirit assures us that God really does see us as righteous and that we really are united with Christ so we can eagerly await God’s verdict in the future.
The big question is: why must we stand firm in Christ’s gift of freedom? The fourth answer is: Because if we do, we gain rest and assurance. Because if we do, we gain rest and assurance.
We can step off the treadmill and rest. And we don’t need to feel anxious that we aren’t running anymore or worry. We are assured that even though we aren’t on the treadmill, our righteousness is taken care of. We are free. We trust in Christ as our Mediator to make peace between us and God.
Lastly, we get our fifth answer in verse 6. Why can we have such confidence that we will be declared righteous? Verse 6 say:
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)
Why is he so confident in this hope? Why this assurance? Because in Christ, the defining mark isn’t circumcision but faith expressed in love for others (cf. 5:13-14). Circumcision is not what marks out the people of God anymore; trust in Christ is.
The big question is: why must we stand firm in Christ’s gift of freedom? The fifth answer is: Because if we do, we gain God. Because if we do, we gain God.
That’s what it means to be part of God’s people. You get God. You are in relationship with him. You are adopted into his family. He sees you as his son or daughter. He sees you as righteous because of Jesus. And he sends you his Spirit to assure you all this is true.
Now, because you trust in Christ, your right standing with God is secure, so you can love people freely. It is no longer a means to your right standing with God.
Know that only Christ can make you right with God. You have two options: make yourself righteous or trust in Christ. Jesus can be your Mediator or you can try to fix your mess with God on your own. But only one option leads to a right standing with God. Only one option leads to freedom.
But we are prone to wander from grace and try to make ourselves righteous. When we do that, we are believing lies about God.
First, you might believe this lie: God isn’t gracious, so I need to prove myself. Some of us know we aren’t good enough. You are on the treadmill but know you can’t keep up. It is at way too high of a speed. You are exhausted. No matter how much you strive, you can’t make it. You feel guilt and shame. You feel burdened that you always fall short. You just keep working and feeling dread that your effort isn’t good enough, because it isn’t and you know it.
But you don’t look to God because you don’t believe he is gracious. He has nothing to offer you. He just expects you to get your act together and keep it together. He will not offer any help. So you always are looking to yourself to do the impossible. You say, “God isn’t gracious, so I need to trust yourself.” You don’t think God will forgive. You don’t believe his promises. So instead of trusting in a gracious God, you trust yourself. You are caught in an endless cycle of striving but never measuring up.
Believe the good news that God is gracious, so you don’t have to prove yourself. He offers a restored relationship with him as a gift by grace through faith in Christ.
Second, you might believe this lie: God isn’t that holy and sin isn’t that bad, so I can prove myself. Instead of thinking, “I could never be good enough,” you think “I could be good enough.” You think that your good deeds and the way you live your life can measure up in God’s law court. The problem is, you think the treadmill is moving slower than it is and you think you are moving faster than you are. So you think you are keeping up but actually you are just falling farther and farther behind.
When we think we can prove ourselves to God, we don’t see him rightly and we don’t see ourselves rightly. We think that he isn’t that holy so his standard is attainable and that our sin isn’t that bad. Maybe we think our offenses are minor compared to others so God will overlook them. But we need to understand that the seriousness of the offense increases in proportion to the importance of the person wronged.
For instance, imagine a 12 year old boy named Billy. Billy has a stealing problem. Imagine at the end of the day, his mom discovers he has stolen from five different people throughout the course of the day. He steals a toy from his younger brother. He steals $5 from his dad’s wallet. He steals an answer key from his teacher. That day, the President came to visit his class. Billy stole an ID badge from one of the secret service. To top it all off, he stole the President’s cell phone. Will Billy’s mom react the same way to Billy taking his brother’s toy as she does to taking $5 from his dad’s wallet? No. Will she react the same way to Billy stealing $5 from his dad’s wallet as she does to him stealing the President’s cell phone? No. Because the seriousness of the offense increases in proportion to the importance of the person wronged.
In the same way, God says he is the King of the universe. He created us and we live in his kingdom. How can we for a minute think that a King should not be bothered by people who live in his kingdom and depend on him for their very breath but who pay no allegiance to him? Who break the laws of his kingdom? Who wrong other people in his kingdom? Who break the first and primary command he gives them which is to love him with all that they have and put him first? Our sin is far worse than we often believe!
Believe the good news that God is very holy and your sin is very bad, but you don’t have to prove yourself. You don’t have to cover up and pretend you are better than you are. Christ has paid it all.
I personally prefer a moving sidewalk over a treadmill. You know at the airport when you are pulling all your luggage then suddenly you are able to get on that moving sidewalk and relax? You rest and it takes you to your destination. In Christ, we can rest and we can know he is taking us some place.
Here’s a question to reflect on this week: Do you live your life on the treadmill or off the treadmill?
Christ Alone and the Roman Catholic Church
This truth gives one of the most severe critiques of the Catholic Church. Instead of leading people to rely on Christ alone, you must partially rely on yourself. You have to trust in yourself and your own works to make you right with God.
Entering the Catholic Church is entering a life of making yourself righteous. That is exactly what Paul condemns here. By being baptized as a Catholic, you are stepping onto the treadmill.
Here’s the question: “On what basis can you hope to be righteous in God’s sight” Paul’s opponents would have said: my obedience to the Law. Roman Catholics would say: my works cooperating with God’s grace. If the apostle Paul or Luther or Calvin were asked, “On what basis can you hope to be righteous in God’s sight,” their answer would be: “Christ alone. He is my only hope. He is my great High Priest. He is the Mediator who brings me to God in peace. He has paid for all my sin’s guilt and punishment. Christ plus nothing is the basis of my right standing with God.”
The big question we are answering is: why must we stand firm in Christ’s gift of freedom?
First: Because if we don't, we lose Christ’s benefits.
Second: Because if we don't, we gain an impossible task.
Third: Because if we don't, we lose Christ and reject grace.
Fourth: Because if we do, we gain rest and assurance.
Fifth: Because if we do, we gain God.
Because of what Christ has done, we can step off the treadmill. We can trust in him as the sole Mediator to bring peace between God and us. We can put total confidence in him. We don’t have to live life piling up our plates with good works or other things from the buffet line to make us right with God. We can choose him and have total confidence and a sure hope.