14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? 15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Keeping God’s commandments perfectly is impossible. There never was an expectation that we would succeed under the law. That’s why the law came with a litany of sacrifices from the start. However, sacrifices were a temporary payment. The purpose of the sacrificial system wasn’t to remove sin; that wasn’t possible. The purpose was to foretell of the perfect sacrifice that could remove sin – Jesus.
The problem is that we took this system and thought, “If we can keep this, we’ll be righteous.” Hence, we have the fallacy of self-righteousness. The idea that I can keep the law better than you means I can look down on you and feel good about myself. This leads me to imagine that I’m in better standing with God than you are.
But Paul makes a point here that should serve as a big bucket of ice water for anyone with this religious thinking. “For by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Even if we kept the law perfectly, we still would not be justified before God. One way to think of the word “justified” is “just as if I’d never sinned.” The problem is that we aren’t sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. We are born with a sin nature. Our actions, no matter how good, can never change that. Only through the blood of Jesus can we be made new.
Justification by faith is what started the Protestant Reformation. For centuries, the church taught that good works served a redemptive purpose and this lie still permeates much of our thinking today. Performance-based Christianity isn’t Christianity. It is a religious lie used to make one person feel good at the expense of another. Paul explains to Peter that as Jews, who were given the law and were God’s chosen people, “even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law.” If God’s chosen people couldn’t get in through good works, how could anyone?
We are justified by faith alone. It’s all about Jesus, no exceptions. And if it is all about Him, then neither you nor I can mess it up. Jesus has justified you – brave grace!