“A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16
How good is good enough to be saved? Are you good enough? This verse answers those questions.
Let’s briefly define “justified.” It’s a very important word. It means “counted righteous” or “to be declared righteous before God,” that is, to enjoy a status of being in a right relationship with God, to be accepted by him.
This verse tells us that it is impossible to be good enough to be considered right with God. Paul’s point is that while the law is good, it is totally inadequate as a means of salvation (Romans 3:19–20). That’s because the law cannot generate what it commands. No law exists that provides the power to follow what it demands. The law does not deliver what it mandates.
The grammar of this verse highlights the difference between the two options: not by doing what the law demands but through faith in Jesus Christ. Negatively, we are incapable of any kind of self-justification. Positively, we stand before God empty-handed, depending on Christ’s righteousness given to us and his death on the cross as our substitute.
BY GRACE ALONE THROUGH FAITH ALONE
The law shows us our sinfulness and our need for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to deal with our unrighteousness. From Jesus Christ “we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16). We are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and Christ’s merit alone. We are neither saved by our merits nor declared righteous by our works. We do not deserve grace, or else it wouldn’t be grace. This means that God grants salvation not because of the good things we do, or even our faith—and despite our sin.
“Faith in Jesus Christ” is key to our being right with God. But what is faith? J. Gresham Machen defines it like this:
Faith means not doing something but receiving something; it means not the earning of a reward but the acceptance of a gift. A man can never be said to obtain a thing for himself if he obtains it by faith; indeed to say that he does not obtain it for himself but permits another to obtain it for him. Faith, in other words, is not active but passive; and to say that we are saved by faith is to say that we do not save ourselves but are saved only by the one in whom our faith is reposed; the faith of man presupposes the sovereign grace of God.
This is the ring of liberation in the Christian proclamation. If our salvation is not grace all the way then we will spend our lifetimes wondering if we have done enough to get that total acceptance for which we desperately long: “I said the prayer, but did I say it passionately enough?” “I repented, but was it sincere enough?”
It’s not about how sincere we are. We are justified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice. Justification does not rest on any merit in us.
Faith in Christ puts our hope exactly where it should be: in the person and work of Jesus Christ.