Justification vs Righteousness
Many people read Galatians 2:16 and come to the wrong conclusion that we no longer need to obey God’s law.
Galatians 2:16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
To understand Galatians 2:16 you have to understand the difference between justification and righteousness. Righteousness is the byproduct of justification. When a sinner is freely justified by the blood of Christ, they are now seen as righteous in the eyes of God.
Justification is all the work of Christ. We have no ability to justify ourselves. Let me explain.
Let’s say I get a $500 speeding ticket. I go before the judge and tell him that I can’t pay the ticket and I can’t go to jail, so instead of receiving the punishment I deserve for speeding, I promise the judge that I will never speed again if he lets me go. The judge will say, “You will pay the ticket, and you will not speed again because if you do, you will be right back in court.” I see my case as hopeless, but then someone freely pays my ticket. In the eyes of the court, my fine has been paid, and I’m free to go. This is what the blood of Christ does for the guilty sinner. The blood of Christ justifies the sinner, in which God now sees him as righteous. Now here is the problem, just like the court, if I speed again, I will be brought before the court again.
The grace that is found in the blood of Christ paid my sin debt, but that does not mean I can continue breaking God’s law without consequences.
Romans 6:15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!
By faith, we accept the gift of justification and by that same faith we now obey God’s law.
Romans 3:31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
A justified person is a righteous person and a righteous will obey God’s law, that’s how you know he’s righteous.
Romans 2:12-13 Gentiles who sin without having the Law will perish without the Law being used. Jews who have the Law and sin will be judged by the Law. Just to hear the Law does not make a man right with God. The man right with God is the one who obeys the Law.
A child of God who sins, after being justified and declared righteous through the blood of Christ, becomes unrighteous again. When this happens, they can come to God through the same blood of Christ and receive forgiveness and cleansing of their unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we don’t confess our sin, but continue to live in it, it will harden our heart and turn us away from following God. At this point, the child of God can die spiritually.
Hebrews 3:12-14 Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.
A hard heart is a spiritually dead heart, and a spiritually dead heart is one that is no longer following the Spirit. Here is the process by which we die spiritually because of unrepentance.
James 1:14-16 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters.
Romans 8:12-14 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
In conclusion: Justification freely comes to us from what Christ did on the cross. No obedience to God’s law can justify a sinner. The result of justification is that we are now declared righteous in the eyes of God. Remaining righteous, through continued obedience to God’s law, is our part in God’s saving work.