The gospel tells us that we can’t refine ourselves, because we are inherently sinful. But knowing that does not keep people from trying. One way they try to do this is by adding to the gospel message, thinking that their additions make them more holy and more acceptable to God. However, this is simple not true.
Justification by Faith Alone
Throughout biblical history, many groups have sought to impose laws along with the gospel as a means for salvation. The Judaizers, in Galatia, are one example. They believed the Gentiles must first become Jewish proselytes and submit to the Mosaic law along with believing in Jesus as their Savior in order to be saved (Gal. 1:7; 4:17, 21; 5:2-12; 6:12-13). But this is not the Bible’s message of salvation.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul disagrees with the Judaizers’ when he says,
“a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ…because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal. 1:16)
Paul makes it clear that we are not justified by the works of the law but by grace. This is a theme he will re-enforce time and again throughout the letter.
Christ of No Advantage
Paul tells the Galatians that the Judaizers who add to the gospel message by requiring the Gentiles to be circumcised are creating another gospel. One that does not save. He tells us that
those who “accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage” to them (Gal. 5:2).
In other words, when one adds to the gospel, they are no longer justified by Christ’s work on the cross, but by their own works.
Obligated to Keep the Whole Law
In the case of the Judaizers, who are saying gospel + works = salvation, do more than just add a few works to an already free gospel. They are obligating themselves to keep the whole law since their gospel is not the gospel of Christ. In other words, by eradicating the true and free gospel of Jesus Christ they are placing themselves under the stipulations of the law, which must be kept perfectly in order to provide them with salvation.
What we find then is that we cannot reconcile ourselves to God (Gal. 2:16; 5:3-5). For if we try to add to the gospel, then we make Christ of no advantage to us, and we force ourselves to keep the law perfectly, which we cannot do. The true gospel tells us that we can only be justified by faith alone (Gal. 3:10-14). So then, we can’t refine ourselves. We can only be refined and reconciled to God through the gospel.
Questions for Reflection
- Are there things that you add to the gospel message, requiring people in your church to do before they are saved?
- How does the gospel free us from having to do works in order to be reconciled to God?