“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21). The righteousness we need before God is not through law-keeping.
But maybe it means not completely through law-keeping. Maybe there’s room for a little bit. Maybe it’s really salvation by faith plus just a little bit of law-keeping. Like, maybe just circumcision. That’s not much.
The most radical statement on this is Galatians 5:1–2. If you were to push me to go to a text for faith alone, this is where I’d go. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision [just one little effort at law-keeping: if you accept circumcision, if you add that one little effort in addition to faith in Christ], Christ will be of no advantage to you.”
“If you choose to rely on law-keeping as a way of getting justified, Christ is no advantage to you.”
That’s wildly radical. “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law” (Galatians 5:3). If you choose to rely, just a little bit, on law-keeping as a way of getting justified — as a way of getting into a position where God is one hundred percent for you — Christ is of no advantage to you. If you go the route of justification by faith plus a little bit of law-keeping, you go the route of justification by total law-keeping. All or nothing.
Verse 3 again: “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” There are two ways of justification: the way of law-keeping, which requires your perfection, or the way of faith, which depends on Christ’s perfection. These two paths into the place where God is one hundred percent for you are so distinct, they cannot be mixed at all.
If you are trusting Christ for a righteous standing, where God is one hundred percent for you, you cannot mix one quiver of effort to establish your own righteousness. If you are seeking to establish your own righteousness, your own record of virtue as an entrance into the position where God is one hundred percent for you, you cannot mix the slightest faith in Christ as your all-sufficient righteousness. They are mutually exclusive. It’s one or the other: law-keeping to establish my righteousness or faith alone to rest in his.
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