When Paul wrote the letter to the Galatian churches, there was no beating around the bush. In his opening remarks he moves straight to the point that they were being lured toward a false gospel. Of course, Paul is concerned that there is no salvation in a false gospel. When we read the letter of Galatians, we might think that Paul is only ever talking about matters of justification (being declared righteous by God through faith in Christ). It is certainly true that the great emphases and warnings of the letter are centered in the idea of justification, but Paul also shows how the one true gospel makes a difference in the way we live our life. The gospel is not just for justification, but also for sanctification.
Sometimes Paul’s statements about the sanctifying power of the gospel are explicit. Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Paul talks about beginning by the Spirit and being perfected by the Spirit (as opposed to the flesh). Paul does not want the Galatians to put their faith in their own works or the law to transform their lives. The law has no salvific or transformational power. That power belongs to the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Christ.
In other places Paul implies that the gospel will impact the way we live when we respond to the message of the cross in faith. In Galatians 5:5, Paul says, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” This statement implies that when we come to Christ in faith, our lives are impacted by a hope that eagerly awaits for righteousness. This must surely mean that in this life we have our eyes set on standing before God and being declared righteous. Our prize is the righteousness of Christ for all eternity. It is something we have now because Christ has given his righteousness to us through faith, but we also wait for the day of final declaration and perfection in glory for all eternity.
This has to say something about what is important in the message of the gospel. It is a message that focuses on our need for righteousness. This is the good news. The good news is that, in Christ, we are able to stand before God and be declared righteous when we have only unrighteousness in ourselves to give. The gospel is a message that helps us to understand that our greatest problem is our unrighteousness and our greatest need is a righteousness that needs to be given to us. It is an acknowledgement that we have some true comprehension of the sinfulness of our sin before the holy all-powerful God who we have sinned against. Through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, we have our debt paid and forgiven and we are clothed in his perfect righteousness in place of our sin. We live now in eager anticipation for the day when God will declare it in all finality.
How does a message like this impact your life? When the righteousness of Christ is your great need and treasure, we live now in anticipation of that final reward. Our heart says, “sin separates me from God, but Christ’s righteousness is my adoption paper into his family.” If I yearn for that righteousness as my great salvific need, I am going to live according to it, especially when the Holy Spirit is given to me as a guarantee of my eternal inheritance.
Unfortunately, the sinfulness of sin is often overlooked in gospel presentations. Many people present the benefit of the gospel as a ticket to heaven, or an insurance policy to stay out of hell. In both of these instances, if you believe you have your spot, who cares how you live? Why should that message impact your life now and give you any type of hope that has you eagerly awaiting righteousness? It is only the message of the sinfulness of our sin in the light of our awesome holy God that can humble us to the degree that we must exchange our unrighteousness for Christ’s righteousness. We never want to go back to pursuing unrighteousness again. We eagerly await the hope of righteousness and we live accordingly in anticipation of that day because of the greatest possible gift we have been given in our Savior.
The bottom line is, Paul’s statements such as “hope of righteousness,” are intentional. We need to think through them and ask what it means and why it’s so important. Where does it come from, and how does it impact my life? This is a gospel that affects your life!