Do we have a part in our salvation?

The Galatians heard the right gospel and miracles started happening in their lives, and obvious miracles they couldn’t deny. But then they started “turning to a different gospel,” Galatians 1:4, a wrong gospel based on their own efforts (3:3), not the miracles of the Spirit (3:5). And why was that? Because, chapter 1:7, “some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Oh, so this can happen too, that Christians can start off well, but along come influential people with their own ideas of what the gospel is, and Christians fall for it.

But how is that possible? Because the wrong gospel appeals to the most fundamental weakness we’ve got – pride. But pride in what exactly? It’s pride in the idea that we can be “justified by observing the law,” Galatians 2:16 – meaning, “we can do this salvation thing ourselves.” We can make ourselves righteous. All we do is keep the commandments and God has to reward us. And in Galatians we find this “do-it-yourself” gospel of salvation having a huge impact, because even the likes of Peter and Barnabas fell for it, verses 12-13.

Paul didn’t, though. He knew exactly what was going on. So, verse 14, “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel,” he stood up to Peter and the rest of them and told them twice in verse 16 that no one is justified by observing the law. As Christians we totally depend on Jesus Christ for our righteousness and salvation, and he mentioned that twice in verse 16, too.

This incident proved very useful, however, because it made Paul draw a clear line in the sand between the right gospel and the wrong one, and it’s there in black and white in Galatians for any Christian in any age wondering what the difference is. The difference is clear: Any hint that we have a part in our salvation, or that we can make ourselves righteous, is just plain wrong.

It’s worse than wrong because “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse,” Galatians 3:10. It’s a curse depending on the law. Why a curse? Because relying on the law means having to obey “everything” it says (same verse). You can’t fail once. One sin and it’s game over. But there’s an even worse curse than that, verse 21, because even if we did somehow manage to obey everything the law says perfectly, the law still cannot “impart life,” verse 21.

Nothing we do has the power to save us. Only Jesus has the power to impart eternal life. And that, to Paul, was the right gospel.


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