Perfected Forever! An Practical Exposition of Hebrews 10:14

 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Hebrews 10:14


Nothing else needs to be done for our salvation! That truth is here stated in a brief and emphatic manner so that we can easily remember it; it is a precious gem of heavenly truth. It is similar to Paul’s statement that we are complete in Christ. As we look this verse, we find that almost every word is pregnant with meaning. It will do us well to unpack this little but significant verse.
Before we so, it is always best to see were this verse fits into the overall argument that the writer is making in this section. As someone has said, “Context is king” in biblical interpretation. The writer has been arguing that Christ was never again to return to this world to suffer as a sacrifice. Unlike the priests of the OT, who “standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins,” Christ, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” So there is a difference between the repeated offerings of the OT priests and our High Priest, who offered one sacrifice.
Now, we are in the position to understand the writer. The word “for” here in our verse is suggestive, normally giving us a reason. How are we to take it here? The writer is introducing to us the ground or reason for what he just said. The reason why Christ does not continually make an offering for sin is because His one sacrifice accomplished what the OT priests with their sacrifices never could. He perfected forever those who sanctified by His offering.

Having seen this in the overall argument, let us now turn our attention to the particulars.

Let us begin by considering,


Christ has said to have perfected us forever by an offering. The word “offering” speaks of something that is presented to God. The OT Priests offered up the blood of bulls and goats, but we are told that our Lord offered His body (v. 10), or Himself (9:26), to God. And it is repeatedly described in this section as “one” offering. The truth has already been stated several times (chap. (9:12, 14, 28, 10:10, 12).
Now, this idea of an “offering” is very important to underscore in the light of Church history. We should be careful to note that our passage does not state “by one sacrifice,” but “by one offering.” Romanism teaches that the Mass is a real sacrifice; they assert that the Victim is the same, the sacrifice is the same, but the manner of offering alone is different. They assert that the Mass does not repeat, but only continues our Lord’s sacrifice. But the passage says that Christ only needed to offer it once for our perfection. Upon the offering up the sacrifice, Christ sat down, having perfected forever by that one offering. And while Rome attaches the blessing of sanctification to the repeating of the offering, our passage attaches the blessing of sanctification to the ‘one offering,’ as we will see.
Now, there is a real problem here. If we look for more offering up of Christ than that one, once offered before his ascension, then we are denying the truth that by His once offering Christ has perfected forever them that are sanctified, which this passage expressly asserts.
Having taken note of the basis of our perfection, let us consider,


Now, as we consider this perfect state that this one offering has brought us into, we have to ask what the writer means by this. Does he mean that we now have reached a sinless perfection? This cannot be the meaning. We know that because of our conscience, but we also know that this is not the writer’s meaning because the writers also speaks of sanctification. Let me expand on this.
At this point, we must get a bit technical. The word “perfection” is a perfect tense. This means that it describes some work as having been completely finished by Christ, but as maintaining its efficacy to the present moment. But the word “are sanctified” is in the present tense, which indicates that we are being sanctified; it speaks of “those who are in the way of sanctification.” I point this out because something has happened to us once for all, but we are still being sanctified. That something, which is has happened to us, is here called “perfected.” Those who are perfected are being make perfect; those who are holy are being made holy.
Well, if this perfection does not speak of sinless perfection, then what does it mean? We do not have to guess about this. The following verses explain the meaning. “Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (Heb. 10:15-18).

Now from these words, we see that the perfection that is being spoken of is the perfection of having our sins remitted. It speaks of the complete forgiveness of sins so that they are no longer put to our account; they are remembered no more! In other words, the word “perfected” is used, not in a moral sense, but in the sacrificial sense of purging from guilt. Christ’s one offering has perfectly expiated the sins of all who may at any time be touched with His blood, and so dedicated to God.
Now, that perfection has taken place in the past. It has been accomplished by that one sacrifice. But we enjoy the implications of that even now. And it is not merely something with present force, precious though that is, but it is something that cannot and will not be altered. Our perfect standing before the Lord is forever. Let me make a few points of application from this.
Firstly, it would seem to be clear from this passage that Christ did not merely purchase the possibility of our salvation, but he has perfected us by purchasing all that they need to have, even to our full perfection. Our entire salvation rests upon this one offering.
Secondly, Christ did not merely purchase the remission of some sins, and left the satisfaction to be paid by us for other some means; but He perfected us, perfectly satisfied for our sins, and perfectly cleansed us from all our sins. It was not only our sins before conversion, but after conversion, that that Christ pardoned. It is not merely a present pardon, but it is an eternal, forever pardon.
Thirdly, Christ did not purchase of some graces for us only for a certain time, so as He will let us be taken out of His hand afterwards and perish, but He has perfected us forever. Every necessary grace, every virtue that is required, He has purchased so that we may be with Him forever. From His fullness, we have received grace upon grace. William Romaine, the great English preacher of the Great Awakening, said:

Consider your state. You are a pardoned sinner, not under the law but under grace, freely, fully saved from the guilt of all your sins. There is none to condemn, God having justified you. He sees you in His Son, washed you in His blood, clothed you in His righteousness, and He embraces Him and you, the head and the members, with the same affection.

Having considered the basis as well as the meaning of our perfect state, let us also consider,


The words “them that are sanctified” are important. They describe those who are the perfected forever. The persons that are perfected by Christ are here said to be in the process of being sanctified. The primary meaning of this word “sanctified” is to set apart to a sacred use or end, but it is also used for making a thing holy. Let us consider these two possible readings for a moment in the light of this passage.
If we are to take this to mean that they are being set apart, Christ perfected such as are set apart by his Father, even those who are set apart by God’s eternal decree to be ordained to life. These are they that are given to Christ by his Father, John 6:37. Eight times Christ makes this the ground of that which he did; namely, that such and such were given unto him of God, John 17: 2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 24. Clearly is this manifested by the apostle’s golden chain, the first link whereof is predestination, Rom. 8:80. In this, this speaks of those who were and are continuing to be set aside by God; this speaks of ‘as many as were ordained to eternal life believed’ (Acts 13:48).
If this is the meaning of the word, as it is the normal meaning of the word in this book of Hebrews, then we may safely say this has two immediate implications. Firstly, this clearly exhibits the freeness of God’s grace towards them that are perfected by Christ. This continuing state of being set apart took place in eternity on the basis of pure grace: “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth” (Rom. 9:11).
Secondly, such a fact is an argument against the universality of redemption. It incites those who are perfected to give the glory to God that He has not only chosen them, but that He has sent His Son to purchase their redemption and apply that to them! It is He who has made the difference between us and others. “Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom 11:35, 36).
But, if we are to take the word ‘sanctified’ to mean, as it often does, to make morally holy, then this being sanctified means that it is the evidence of our perfection in Christ. The act of Christ in making us perfect manifests its self in our sanctification. They who are made perfect are such as are made holy. Not that sanctification, as distinguished from justification, is perfect in this world; but that it springs forth from and is ever connected with justification. Indeed, men are perfectly justified here in this world; but the perfection of their sanctification is reserved to the world to come. There, ‘spirits of just men are made perfect” (Heb. 12:28). By reason of that cleansing power that accompanies the merit of Christ’s blood (Heb. 9:14), those who are pardoned are being purified. In other words, they who are made perfect are also made holy.
Two implications arise from this. Firstly, this is a good test to see if we are partakers of the pardoning work of Christ. Or, in our being made holy, we may gain evidence of Christ’s mighty work on earth in perfecting us. To put even more direct, this means that you can know that you stand perfect in the eyes of your heavenly Father if you are moving away from your present imperfection toward more and more holiness by faith. I like how John Piper put it:

Let me say that again, because it is full of encouragement for imperfect sinners like us, and full of motivation for holiness. This verse means that you can have assurance that you stand perfected and completed in the eyes of your heavenly Father not because you are perfect now, but precisely because you are not perfect now but are “being sanctified”, “being made holy”, that, by faith in God’s promises, you are moving away from your lingering imperfection toward more and more holiness.

Secondly, this is a strong motive to labor after sanctification. If we have been predestinated in Chris to be holy, then let us pursue our destined end. “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4). If Christ has redeemed us, it is also that we might be holy people. “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). And if He redeemed us in such a way that all gifts to make us holy are included, then let us take courage that we may truly make progress through Christ: “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3).
I am trying to put this matter in an encouraging light. If we look at our meager advancements in holiness, we may be very tempted to become discouraged, but if we look to the inherent promise of this verse, that we have been perfected for all time by a single offering, we will see that we are doing it for other than legalistic reasons. We are doing it because we have already been forgiven. We do it out of gratitude; we do it out of hope, faith and love. The joy of the Lord becomes our strength. We pursue victory over sin from the victory of Christ over our sin.
Someone one might ask, “Which of these meanings shall we take?” We do not have to choose. Both are simultaneously true. The first meaning always brings with it the latter. Our position as those set apart will morally cause us to be set free from sin and progress in godliness. As Barnes states, “Wherever this divine remedy is used, it will effectually save. By one offering Christ hath forever justified such as are purged or cleansed by it. This could not be said of those sanctified or purged by the legal sacrifices.” Mr. Scott gives the sacrificial sense of the word, but combines with it the sense of sanctifying morally, in the following excellent paraphrase.

By his one oblation he hath provided effectually for the perfect justification unto eternal life, of all those who should ever receive his atonement, by faith springing from regeneration, and evidenced ‘by the sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience,’ and who were thus set apart and consecrated to the service of God.


As we come to a conclusion on this, let me point us to two important truths. Firstly, let us rest in the perfecting sacrifice of Christ. God has not appointed any offering for us to be made by any other after Christ; but Christ has made one offering, Himself, for us which satisfies forever, so as the Father desires no more offering for our sins forever. “For God hath set forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (Rom. 3:25). That is, God makes it clear in His gospel that He is pacified in Christ towards them that believe in Christ’s blood, that believe in Him crucified. It becomes us to give proof of our accounting Christ’s sacrifice to be perfect, by resting wholly and only on it. So will Christ be the more honored, and we the more comforted.

Secondly, this passage calls us to ask a very important question. We have already noted it, but it must be underscored. Does your faith in Christ make you eager to forsake sin and make progress in holiness? Does the forever perfection procured by Christ’s offering motivate you to hate your sin with the hope that you will truly make progress in holiness? Unless we can give a positive answer to those questions, then we cannot take the first part to ourselves; we cannot say that we are completely justified forever, if we cannot also say that we are consecrated to God positionally and practically. Possibly, we can pray the words of August Toplady’s hymn:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Seven Things to Do in Dark Days

1. Let us remember that God is ruling. All is going as planned. He “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). Because of this, we may know that His truth is marking on. It may be that Satan and his minions have front stage, but God is on the scaffold, working in the shadows to bring all things to their determined end.

2. Let us remember that our Lord is still building His church. Thousands upon thousands across the world are being brought into the kingdom. The strong man is being bound by the One who is stronger. God is commanding His light to shine into the hearts of men and women whom the god of this world once blinded! Chains are falling off, and the prisoners are being set free!  Let us, therefore, be about our Father’s business, while it is day, for night comes when no man works.  The harvest is white; let us cast our sickles in!

3. Let us remember that trials are our lot, not considering trials as something strange to Christians. Not only has it been granted for us to believe, but it has been granted that we suffer.  And these trials are to purify the church inwardly by both removing the hypocrites and developing Christlikeness in His people. All things are working for our good, and we must remember that our heavenly Father will not do anything that is no necessary for His children’s welfare, seeing that we are the apple of His eye.

4. Let us remember that our light is more meaningful than ever. Even the smallest of lights is important when darkness fills the house. This means that our actions are important. Let us, therefore, live soberly and righteous. Let us see these days as they are –significant. They are the most exciting of days, and we are privileged to live in them.  Let us not fear the face of men, but fear God and obey Him. In doing so, we will be salt and light.

5. Let us renew our commitment to prayer. Confidence in the princes of this world is vain, and trust in the methods of man is foolish. It is like putting Saul’s armour on; it simply does not fit God’s people. We must place our confidence in God and His Word. This means, therefore, that we make personal and public prayer a priority.  “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word” (Acts 4:29).

6. Let us see ourselves as pilgrims and strangers. We have long had our pegs too deep into the ground. We have forgotten that we are not residents of this world. We have no permanent home here, but we are looking for a city which has God as its builder and maker. This means, therefore, that we are to live as exiles. This world is simply not our home.

7. Let us make the church our family. Other Christians are our brothers and sisters, fellow pilgrims and travellers in the caravan to heaven. Disagreements over secondary issues will seem less and less important in these days; when we see true Christians we should embrace them as much as conscience permits. And let us not forsake the assembling together, seeing that we need each other more than ever!

Let Freedom Ring

Like many other families, my family originally came to these shores for religious freedom. They left all the comforts and security of the old world for it. In the 1600s it was a risky thing to do, but their hunger for worshipping God according to their conscience was worth any hazard.

Our family was one of the first in the Welsh Tract of PA. Writing in a 1789 letter to these very people, Washington wrote: “The liberty enjoyed by the people of these States, of worshipping Almighty God agreeably to their conscience, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights. While men perform their social duties faithfully, they do all that society or the state can with propriety demand or expect; and remain responsible to their Maker for the religion or modes of faith which they may prefer or express.”

Today, what my family came here to enjoy has been eroded by many forces over time. It is my prayer that, as we celebrate the time that our country declared its independence, we will remind ourselves that liberty and religion have forever been wed. The entire premise of liberty is rooted in religion and depends upon religion, wherein people fear God, restraining evil on this basis, and loving their neighbors. As John Adams wrote, “[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.” Again,he said, “[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

If we are to let freedom ring, we must allow religion to ring unhindered by government’s intrusion.


Originally posted on The Protestant Pulpit:



“The come now to one of the brightest pages of  Calvinistic history, that which records the political influence of the Calvinists in the formation of the American nation. I need not dwell on Calvinism in the colonies prior to the struggle with the mother-country for independence. It is enough to bear in mind that the Puritans, who formed the great, bulk of the settlers of New England, were rigid Calvinists, who had brought with them all their high principles of civil liberty, and all their aversion to the ceremonies and government of the Anglican Church, and all their devotion to the doctrines of the great Reformers. Let us come at once to the great Revolutionary conflict by which the colonies became a free and independent nation. My proposition is this — a proposition which the history clearly demonstrates: That this great American nation, which stretches her vast and varied…

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John Donne on the Word “Selah”

The word signifies a vehement, a pathetic, a hyperbolical asseveration, and attestation, and ratification of something said before. Such, in a proportion, as our Saviour’s “Amen, amen” is, “Verily, verily I say unto you”; such as St. Paul’s “fidelis sermo,” with which he seals so many truths, is, “This is a faithful saying”; such as that apostle’s “Coram domino” is, with which he ratifies many things, “Before the Lord I speak it”; and such as Moses, “As I live, saith the Lord,” and “As the Lord liveth.” And therefore, though God be in all His words, Yea, and Amen, no word of His can perish in itself, nor should perish in us, that is, pass without observation, yet, in setting this seal of “Selah” to this doctrine, He hath testified His will that He would have all these things the better understood, and the deeper imprinted, that “if a man conceal and smother his sins, “Selah,” assuredly, God will open that man’s mouth, and it shall not show forth His praise, but God will bring him to fearful exclamations out of the sense of the affliction, if not of the sin; “Selah,” assuredly, God will shiver his bones, shake his best actions, and discover their impurity; “Selah,” assuredly, God will suffer to be dried up all his moisture, all possibility of repentant tears, and all interest in the blood of Christ Jesus.

A Question Bound To Be Raised and a Gracious Answer by Kevin DeYoung

I am not always on the same page that DeYoung is on, and I am not a person who likes the associations to which he belongs, but I believe that his answer here is a correct and appropriate response.

I would add that, while we do not want to come across unloving to them, we have a higher allegiance in our love — our love to our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. To condone what Christ died for is to undermine the cross; to celebrate that which seeks to dethrone God is to erode His kingship. I love Jesus more than my and your sin!

Lord, help us to be faithful unto death. And Lord help us to be those who “in meekness,” go about “instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25).

A Brief Theology of the Book of Galatians

Looking back over the entire Letter to the Galatians, we can say some vitally important things about (a) the cross of Christ, (b) the Holy Spirit, (3) faith, (4) the law, and (5) Christian living

The Cross of Christ:

Salvation and the cross are inextricably intertwined. The Galatians’ temptation to undergo circumcision demonstrated a shocking misunderstanding of the role of the cross. Paul wonders if the Galatians had been bewitched or had a spell cast over them so that they no longer grasped the significance of Christ crucified (3:1). We must not make the mistake of thinking the cross is central only where Paul uses the term “cross,” as if a word study approach will suffice. The theology of the cross in Galatians is present wherever Paul speaks of the death of Christ, and the cross is introduced in a variety of ways in the letter.
From the inception of the letter, the theme of Christ’s death is introduced. The opening of the Pauline letters is typically brief, but Galatians is one of the letters that stands apart. In addition, the opening is distinctive in that Paul explicates the significance of Christ’s death (1:4), for in no other opening does Paul even mention the death of Christ. Therefore, we rightly conclude that it is fundamental for interpreting the letter. Paul explains that Christ gave himself for believers to “deliver” them “from the present evil age” (1:4). The eschatological significance of Christ’s death is underlined, in that it inducts one into the age of promise. What worries Paul is that the Galatians were falling backward in salvation history, for they were entranced with the demand that they should be circumcised and observe the law. Paul reminds them that the purpose of Christ’s death is to free them from the old order, and that includes the regulations of the Sinai covenant.
The cross plays a bookends role in the letter, for just as Paul begins the letter by featuring the freedom won in the cross, so too he closes the letter by underlining the significance of the cross. Paul’s only boast is in Christ’s cross, by which he is crucified to the world and the world is crucified to him (6:14). Once again the cross and eschatology are inseparable. Just as the cross liberated believers from the present evil age (1:4), so too it crucifies attachment to this world (6:14). The opponents boasted in circumcising converts and took pleasure in external accomplishments because they lived to win the applause of others (6:12–13). They lived for comfort in order to avoid persecution. The cross severs a love affair with the world and grants a person (by grace!) a desire to boast only in the cross. A new reality—a new age—has begun through the cross, and Paul summons the Galatians and all believers to find their joy only in the cross and to renounce any boasting in human accomplishments.
Those who rely on obedience to the law in order to be right with God nullify the cross (2:21), for if righteousness can be attained through human performance and obedience, there was no need for Christ to die. Christ’s death does not function primarily as an example of devotion to God, nor does it fundamentally summon human beings to imitate the narrative of Jesus’ life, as if the purpose of the cross were to call us to imitate Christ. Such a theme is not absent in Paul (6:2) and the remainder of the NT. Still, if such a theme becomes predominant, the fundamental purpose of the cross is obscured, and the evil of human beings is slighted.
The only solution to sin and death is the death of the Son of God. Death and sin can only be conquered by Christ’s taking the curse of the law upon himself (3:13)—the curse that human beings deserve because of their sin (3:10). In other words, human beings are enslaved to sin (4:3) since they are under a curse (3:10), under the power of sin (3:22), under a pedagogue (3:23, 25), and under the law (4:21; 5:18). The wonder of the cross is that Christ acts as our representative and substitute, taking on himself the punishment we deserve. As one who was born under the law (4:4) and who always kept the law, he freed those who lived under the law (4:5). The cross of Christ shouts “No!” to human ability and performance; it does not promote self-esteem but God-esteem. It renounces human righteousness (5:11) and salutes God’s righteousness. The cross, as noted above, is fundamental to justification.
Paul could have argued that circumcision no longer applies since it is replaced by baptism. Remarkably he never makes that argument. His rejection of circumcision lies at a deeper and more fundamental level. The replacement for circumcision is the cross of Christ. Those who receive circumcision for salvation no longer profit from Christ (5:2), for in embracing circumcision they deny Christ and his benefits.

The Holy Spirit:

Certainly the Holy Spirit plays a central role in Galatians, though Cosgrove mistakenly assigns 3:1–5 and the Holy Spirit as the main theme in the letter.1 Instead, the Spirit constitutes the evidence that believers are right with God (3:1–5) and that they are truly sons of God (4:6). The Spirit functions as the unmistakable evidence that the new age has arrived and that the era of promise has begun. The Judaizers demanded that the Galatians receive circumcision to be inducted into the people of God. But Paul instructs the Galatians that they must chase away any doubts about whether they belong to God and repudiate the demand for circumcision. The Spirit’s presence was dramatically and charismatically evident in the Galatians’ lives (3:1–5), and hence there can be no doubt that they belonged to the people of God (cf. Acts 15:7–11).
The Galatians did not receive the Spirit by doing what the law commands but by placing their trust in the gospel of Christ crucified. In other words, Paul emphasizes that the Spirit is a consequence of believing in the gospel, assuring the Galatians that they were part of God’s true Israel (6:16). The opponents disputed whether the Galatians were part of Abraham’s family since they were not circumcised as Abraham was. Paul strikes back by stressing that the Galatians enjoyed the blessing of Abraham because they had received the Holy Spirit (3:14). And those who enjoy the blessing of Abraham most certainly belong to his family.
Justification and the Spirit are correlative realities as well; hence, separating them too rigidly is misleading. Both justification and the Spirit are gifts of the new age. And if the gift of the Spirit, on the one hand, is a fruit of justification and a consequence of belief, it is also the case, on the other hand, that those who believe are born of the Spirit (4:29). New life cannot be generated by human beings, for they are “flesh” and belong to the old Adam, which is under the dominion of sin and death. The only hope for life, then, is the regenerating work of the Spirit. The Spirit both produces new life and is received as a gift of that same life.
The Spirit also plays a vital ethical role in Galatians, for the Galatians are exhorted to walk by the Spirit (5:16), be led by the Spirit (5:18), march in step with the Spirit (5:25), and sow to the Spirit (6:8). Thereby they can produce the fruit of the Spirit (5:22–23) and conquer the flesh in its contest with the Spirit (5:17). A life that is pleasing to God cannot be accounted for on the basis of human potential or effort. Such a life is supernatural and the fruit of the Spirit’s work. Persevering in faith does not depend on human beings working their hardest but is the result of faith that the Spirit provides (3:3; 5:5).
Paul does not limit the Spirit’s work to the inception of one’s new life. Rather, the Spirit empowers believers so that they are enabled to please God in the warp and woof of everyday life. The power of the new life is supernatural, and yet believers are exhorted to yield to the Spirit, to sow to the Spirit, to march in step with the Spirit, and to walk in the Spirit. Life in the Spirit cannot be conceived of as a kind of spiritual floating in the air, where believers are caught up in spiritual ecstasy and passively let the Spirit move them. Instead, believers are summoned to give themselves daily to the Spirit so that he can work powerfully in them.


One of the central themes in Galatians is that justification is by faith alone. In former days Protestants were well acquainted with this theme, but now it seems to have lost its luster, and some are even wondering if the Reformation might be over. The new perspective on Paul and our postmodern times have sowed doubts in the minds of many. Is justification truly a central element in the Pauline gospel? Is it really important enough to warrant division in the Christian community?
If the biblical text is to continue to function as our authority, we need to hear afresh the truth of justification by faith alone, and we need to recapture Luther’s confidence that the Holy Spirit speaks clearly with assertions so that we are spared from skepticism. Postmodernism, when it denies a clear word from God, functions as a kind of hermeneutical atheism in which the truths of Scripture can never be mediated to human beings who live in a certain cultural and historical location. I will not defend at length the theological judgments enunciated here since they are argued for in the commentary.
Justification does not play a minor role in the letter. The Judaizers apparently were orthodox in their Christology and believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. Still, Paul charges them with propounding another gospel and threatens them with final judgment for their deficient soteriology (1:6–9). In the same way, some in Jerusalem tried to force Titus to be circumcised, saying it was required in order to belong to the people of God (2:3–5). Again, we have no indication that they were off-base theologically in any other area, and yet Paul identifies them as false brothers (2:4). Surely many Christians today would demure from such a strong judgment. But if we distance ourselves from Paul when he writes soteriologically, then it seems that his writings are bereft of all authority, and human judgments rather than the Scriptures become supreme.
As Paul reminds Peter, every true Christian knows, even if they were nurtured in the Torah from childhood on, that justification does not come from works of law but through faith in Jesus Christ (2:15–16). I argued in the commentary that there are good reasons to conclude that the verb “justify” and the noun “righteousness” are both forensic. They refer to the verdict of God as the Divine Judge that those who trust in God stand in the right before God, that they are acquitted rather than guilty. This righteousness belongs to believers because they are united with Christ in his death and resurrection (cf. 1:4; 2:16–20; 3:13, 26–28; 4:4–5; 5:24; 6:14).
If right standing with God may be obtained through obeying the law, then Christ died for nothing (2:21). Justification by grace alone through faith alone is the heart of the gospel (3:6, 8, 11, 24). If righteousness is obtained by human performance, then salvation is a human work (3:12), and the free and powerful grace of God is compromised. Indeed, if works secure right standing with God, then human beings should receive adulation and praise for what they have accomplished. Paul insists, on the contrary, that justification is entirely God’s work, and hence all the praise and honor go to God alone for our salvation. Faith receives the gift that God has given through Jesus Christ and his work on the cross, whereas works obtain righteousness on the basis of human achievement.
Another truth relative to justification is that justification is fundamentally eschatological (2:17; 5:5). Justification is God’s end-time pronouncement that those who trust in Christ rather than in themselves are declared to be not guilty. Still, the eschatological verdict has been declared ahead of time, so that those who trust in Christ crucified and risen are now free from God’s condemnation. This verdict is grasped by faith and is not observable. Believers can fall into doubts and trials and can question whether they are truly right with God, and so they must grasp by faith each day the Christ in whom is their righteousness. On the Day of Judgment, however, God’s verdict for the justified will be declared to the entire world, and what believers grasp now by faith will be sealed and secured in a way that will remove all doubts.

The Law:

The word “law” is used thirty-two times in Galatians. Virtually all commentators agree that the vast majority of these uses (at the very least twenty-nine of the thirty-two) refer to the Mosaic Law. The exceptions are the reference to law as Scripture in the second use in 4:21, the reference to “the law of Christ” in 6:2, and perhaps the reference to law in 5:23.
Paul uses the term “works of law” six times in Galatians (three times in 2:16 and also in 3:2, 5, 10). In every instance he argues that righteousness or the reception of the Spirit is not by works of law. Indeed, he contrasts works of law and faith in every instance. I argued in the commentary that the phrase “works of law” does not refer fundamentally to boundary markers, nor does it designate legalism. It refers to all the actions commanded in the law. In other words, “works of law” refers to the law as a whole and does not, contrary to the new perspective, focus on the sociological features of the law that separate Jews from Gentiles. Human sin makes it impossible for righteousness and the Spirit to be given via works of law, for no one does what the law commands (2:16; 3:10; 5:3; 6:13). God demands perfect obedience, and human beings are under a curse because they fail to do what God commands.
The law, then, is opposed to faith (2:16; 3:2, 5, 10, 11, 12; 18; 5:2–6). The law focuses on what God demands and calls for human performance. Faith, however, looks away from the human subject and finds its righteousness in Christ crucified and risen. The law, if it could be kept, would exalt human beings and their virtue, but faith exalts Christ as the one who liberates human beings from their bondage. Therefore, the only solution to the problem of the law is death. When human beings belong to Christ, they share in his death and resurrection (2:19–20; 3:26–28; 5:24; 6:14–15). They belong to the new creation, which is inaugurated with Christ’s resurrection (1:1, 4).
The focus on the new creation, Christ’s resurrection, and the overlapping of the ages (1:4) helps us see that the law must be understood as part of the old creation, the old covenant—the past age that is no longer normative. Paul’s argument is not only anthropological (human beings don’t obey), but also salvation-historical (the time period in which the law was in force has passed away). Paul uses the phrase “under law” (3:23; 4:4–5, 21; 5:18; cf. Rom 6:14–15; 1 Cor 9:20) in a salvation-historical sense. It refers to the old age in which the Mosaic covenant was in force, but now that era has passed away with the coming of Christ.
Another way of putting this is to say that the law is part of the Mosaic covenant. As Paul explains in 3:15–18, the law and the Mosaic covenant were always intended to be an interim arrangement. The law was given 430 years after the covenant with Abraham, and the law and its covenant could not nullify the provisions of the Abrahamic covenant. Paul does not argue that the covenants are the same. He detects great significance in the temporal gap between the covenants, and he also argues that the covenants are different in nature (3:18); that is, the Abrahamic covenant focuses on promise, while the Mosaic covenant stresses human obedience.
Why was the law given if the covenant with Moses is distinct from the covenant with Abraham (3:19)? Paul argues that God ordained that the law increase transgressions (see the commentary). Those who are “under law” (see above) are also “under sin” (3:22) and “under a curse” (3:10) and “enslaved under the elements of the world” (4:3). The allegory of Sarah and Hagar indicates that those who live under the law are in bondage (4:21–5:1). So Paul does not argue that the law restrains sin in Galatians (that was the position of the Judaizers!), nor is his point that the law segregated Jews from Gentiles (even though that point is true). The law defines sin, but it does more than this. It enclosed and imprisoned Israel under sin (3:22–23). Such a statement incidentally is borne out by Israel’s history. Both the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah, were sent into exile because of their inability to keep the Mosaic law. The law did not diminish sin but maximized it.
Paul argues, however, that believers are no longer under the law now that Christ has come. Christ lived under the law (obeying God in contrast to Israel) and freed those under the law from the dominion of the law (4:4–5). Christ is the promised seed predicted in the covenant with Abraham (3:16), and the law and the Mosaic covenant were in force only until the seed (Christ) arrived (3:19). The law and the Mosaic covenant functioned as the custodian and babysitter until Christ came, but now that he has come, the era of the law has passed away (3:24–25). The age of infancy and being a minor has ended, and the era of being sons and daughters of God has arrived (4:1–7).
I am not suggesting, incidentally, that the Mosaic covenant was legalistic. The Lord by his grace liberated Israel from Egyptian bondage. He carried them on eagles’ wings and brought them to himself (Exod 19:4; 20:1). Even though God graciously liberated Israel from Egyptian bondage, it seems from reading the story of the exodus and NT commentary on it (1 Cor 10:1–12; Heb 3:12–4:11) that most of Israel was unregenerate, and hence they were unable to keep God’s law. God did not plant the law in their hearts; that was the gift of the new covenant (Jer 31:31–34; cf. Ezek 11:18–19; 36:26–27). This is not to deny that there was a remnant that pleased God, but still the majority of the nation was not truly saved.

God intended the Mosaic Law and covenant, then, to be in force for a limited time in the history of salvation. Paul argues in Galatians that the function of the law, in contrast to the promise, is to reveal sin. Now that Christ has come, believers are no longer under the law. Its time period has ended. Those who put themselves under the law have to keep it perfectly, because the forgiveness provided by OT sacrifices is no longer valid. Only the sacrifice of Christ removes the curse that comes from disobeying the law (3:13). But those who live under the old covenant are repudiating Christ’s sacrifice and hence are cutting themselves off from the forgiveness he grants (cf. 5:2–4). Thus, the only way they can be right before God is if they keep the law perfectly, but such perfection is impossible. As a result, all those who rely on the law for salvation are under a curse (2:16; 3:10; 5:3: 6:13).

Christian living:

The life of the Christian is that of freedom in Christ to obey. Galatians particularly emphasizes the freedom of believers from the Mosaic law. As noted above, believers are no longer under the law. The Mosaic covenant has passed away since it was intended to be in force only until the coming of Jesus Christ. Hence, believers are not subject to what is codified in the Mosaic law, whether it commands circumcision, Sabbath keeping, tithing, food laws, and the like.
And yet are not believers still required to love one another (Lev 19:18) and to observe many of the Ten Commandments, so that murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting are still wrong for believers? Paul himself lists many of these commands in describing what love is in Rom 13:8–10. Furthermore, in Eph 6:2 Paul commends the command to honor one’s parents. How do we account for this? Some have said that Paul simply contradicts himself, but this is hardly convincing. When Paul speaks of fulfilling the law (5:14), he could scarcely have forgotten that he said a few verses earlier that we are free from the law (5:1). Nor does Paul carve out a nice and simple distinction between the civil, ceremonial, and moral law. He clearly teaches that the entire law has passed away.
If the law is abolished, how do we explain Paul’s appealing to parts of the law for the moral life? The question is difficult, and hence there have been various explanations throughout history, including the idea that Paul distinguishes between the moral and ceremonial law. Perhaps a better solution is to say that the law of Christ is authoritative for believers (6:2). This law is fundamentally the law of love (5:14), so that believers live for the benefit of their neighbors. Part of what it means to show love is to refrain from adultery, murder, stealing, and so on. These moral norms are not authoritative because they are part of the Mosaic law; rather, they are authoritative because they are part of Christ’s law, since they are universal moral norms.
Paul emphasizes in Galatians that the curse falls on all people because of their inability to observe the law (3:10; 5:3). God demands perfect obedience, and all human beings fall short of his requirements and hence stand under God’s judgment. Unbelievers are enslaved to sin (4:3, 21–31) and are not freed from such slavery via the law. In Second Temple Judaism the law was thought to lead to life, but Paul argues that the law actually increases transgressions (3:19). Instead of being the answer, the law has become part of the problem. The only solution to sin is the cross of Christ, as was argued above, and now believers are no longer under the law.
Paul’s emphasis on the temporary character of the Mosaic covenant and the weakness of the law might lead us to think that Paul is unconcerned about the moral life. But such a judgment is premature. Human beings cannot obtain righteousness on the basis of their good works, and yet those who walk by the Spirit (5:16), are led by the Spirit (5:18), march in step with the Spirit (5:25), and sow to the Spirit (6:8) manifest the fruit of the Spirit (5:22–23). They still battle the flesh and struggle with sin daily (5:17), and yet a new kind of life is lived, not on the basis of one’s autonomous resources, but by virtue of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, this new way of living is not optional. Those who practice the works of the flesh (5:19–21) and sow to the flesh (6:8) will not enter God’s kingdom on the last day. Does this contradict Paul’s emphasis on grace and the free salvation granted through the gospel? The new obedience of believers cannot be understood as the basis of their end-time reward, for perfection is required on this score, and all fall short. Even the new obedience of believers, animated by the Spirit, is partial and fragmentary, and it hence cannot stand as the basis of a relationship with the Lord. Therefore, it seems best to conclude that the obedience of believers functions as necessary evidence that they belong to the Lord, that it is the fruit and expression of the new life. What Paul says on this score is captured in 5:6, where he refers to “faith working through love.” True faith leads to a life of love, and that life of faith and love is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Galatians features the freedom of the gospel and liberation from the bondage of the law through the cross of Jesus Christ. Yet Paul threatens the Galatians with eschatological judgment if they deny the gospel and receive circumcision (1:8–9; 5:2–4). If they turn from the gospel and commit apostasy, they will be damned. Is this threat a new legalism that contradicts the freedom of the Pauline gospel? Are Paul’s threats the reintroduction of a law that is even stricter than the law he rejects as a basis for salvation? In order to understand Galatians, we must understand the nature of apostasy in the letter.
The apostasy about which Paul warns the Galatians is a return to the law for righteousness and salvation. Hence, those who turn from the gospel cease trusting in Christ and his cross and rely on their own righteousness and obedience to gain the final inheritance. Apostasy in Galatians, in other words, constitutes self-righteousness instead of relying on God and Christ for righteousness. The Galatians would commit apostasy if they denied the efficacy of the cross and relied on their own observance of the law. It follows, then, that apostasy does not represent a new kind of legalism. Apostasy consists in a refusal to trust in Christ and a turn to self-righteousness. In other words, this is the essence of apostasy! Clinging to Christ and the gospel, by the power of the Spirit, is the only antidote.