Galatians 2:15-21; 3:10-14 - The Gospel Reveals Two Kinds of People - July 7, 2019

“There are only two kinds of people in the world…” We’ve all heard that opening line, and know that there are seemingly infinite ways to finish it. Some are an attempt at humor: “There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who are Greek…and those who want to be Greek.” (from My Big Fat Greek Wedding) “There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who think the Three Stooges are hilarious…and women.” Others are attempts at bumper sticker philosophy: “There are only two kinds of people in the world: people who accomplish things…and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.” (Mark Twain) “There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who work hard…and those who let them.” Finally, there is C.S. Lewis’ great summation of mankind: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “[Your] will be done,”…and those to whom God says, in the end, “[Your] will be done.” (The Great Divorce) In our text, the Apostle Paul chips in his own version. [1]


It’s almost impossible not to divide the world into two different camps, isn’t it? There seems to be something inherent in our nature that seeks to divide and distinguish people: there are Packers’ fans…and we won’t even mention those other teams, there are Republicans and Democrats, there are “my kind of people” and “everyone else.” And this isn’t just a 21st century phenomenon. According to Paul, in the 1st century, there were people like him, Jews by birth, and then there were ‘Gentile sinners.’ How did Paul come up with this division? From Bible History. In the Old Testament, there was Israel – the children of Abraham and God’s chosen people; and then there were the nations – and what separated them was not only genealogy but the great big wall of civil, ceremonial, and moral laws God had given Israel on Sinai. Jews believed that because they had the Law, they were righteous – and that Gentiles, because they didn’t, were sinners in God’s eyes. And this “two kinds” concept is not just a relic from the Old Testament. Think of Jesus’ description of Judgment Day in Matthew 25: there are the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In Revelation, there are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to…go through the gates into the city…and outside are the dogs (and those are Jesus’ words!) (Revelation 22:14-15) Apparently there is something to this “two kinds of people” thing. But in Galatians 2 and 3, Paul wants us to see beyond just the ethnic and religious distinctions between Jew and Gentile.


Paul goes on: we who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing 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 observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. He’s saying that even the Jews who have the Law of God know that it cannot justify them, earn them a not-guilty verdict, from God. You might say that Paul has shifted his perspective; there are still two kinds of people, but the division isn’t between Jew and Gentile but between those who try to justify themselves and those who stand justified by faith in Christ. And that’s where we will end up today. But there’s an important middle step that we can’t afford to skip over.


The all-important middle step is that, in the most fundamental way there is only one kind of person in this world: sinners, people who have disobeyed God’s holy will, stepped across his forbidden line, fallen short of his demands, and earned his wrath and punishment. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12). And this was true long before Abraham, long before there was any distinction between Jew and Gentile. This became true the moment Adam fell into sin – and, like it or not, we are all related to Adam.


How did Paul come to this realization? How did he arrive at such a dramatic shift in perspective? This was not the result of Paul’s research or experience or philosophical ponderings. It was the result of a divine encounter with the living Lord Jesus (Acts 9). Jesus destroyed Paul’s comfortable distinction between Jew and Gentile. In fact, Jesus destroys any and all distinctions we may fabricate. And we all do it, right? Here’s how it works: we find and then fixate on people who have so screwed up their lives that we look good by comparison. The law-based standard by which we judge ourselves becomes: I may not be perfect, but I’m sure better than that guy. That’s called self-justification. And, in our heads at least, in may seem to work. You may speed a little – but that guy must be going 15 over. You may let a lustful thought linger for a bit – but at least you haven’t had an affair. You may really hate some people – but at least you don’t act on it. You may slack off at work when the boss isn’t looking, but at least you get more done than Joe down the hall. You may not have family devotions or teach your children to pray or answer “here am I” when the call goes out for volunteers – but at least you come to church – unlike some people you know. Those are all just variations on the standard: “I may not be perfect, but I’m better than most.” But self-justification dies when it is confronted with Jesus. Because Jesus wasn’t just good, he wasn’t just moral, he wasn’t just better than some people, he didn’t just obey some of the Law some of the time, he was holy, sinless, pure, unblemished. He was exactly what God created Adam and Eve to be and exactly what God demands us to be. If you want to compare yourself to someone – it must be Jesus. If you want to know the kind of life God demands from you – Jesus is it. And who measures up to him? No one! Compared to Jesus we are all filthy, disgusting sinners – regardless of our good works and good intentions. No one measures up, so Paul makes the corporate confession for us all: by observing the law no one will be justified.


And so, if there are really two kinds of people in the world, then it actually breaks down this way: there is Jesus Christ, the Son of God who lived a perfect, flawless, obedient life before God and men. And then there’s the rest of us: sinners. That realization hit Paul like a ton of bricks. Proud, moral, self-righteous Paul became a man who called himself the worst of sinners in a letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:15).


And what’s true of Paul is true of every one of us. That’s why, in a strange and terrifying way, those who believe themselves to be the most pious, the most righteous, the most moral are in the most spiritual danger. They are in the position of Paul before he met Jesus, who trusted his own works to satisfy God, to earn a verdict of “not-guilty” in his courtroom (Philippians 3:3-11). They are King David – who imagine that as long as they keep their sin out of the public eye that God will be fooled. They are the Pharisees who felt they deserved to eat with Jesus and were appalled that Jesus would acknowledge, much less forgive, a known sinful woman (Luke 7:36-39). Today, they may be those who feel self-justified because of their strict adherence to the laws of tolerance and diversity, because they stand up for all the “right” causes, because they join the social media mob in heaping hatred and scorn on anyone who dares to cross the line of political correctness. Or, “they” may be people like us: who are so sickened by the moral depravity in society around us that we believe that just because we are pro-life or pro-marriage or pro-religious freedom, or because we read the Bible and go to church that we stand righteous before God. Don’t get the wrong idea; it’s not that those things are inherently evil – it’s that they cannot justify us before God. Why? Because all who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law. We cannot justify ourselves before God because we have not kept God’s Law perfectly. (Just consider the 8th commandment. Try going one day without telling a lie – even a little white one. Have you even succeeded so far today?) Self-justification in all of its forms ends in death – eternal death – because trust in works leaves no room trust in Christ.


Wait a minute. I thought Jesus was just the Holy One whose perfect life sets the example that puts us all to shame. Well, yes that’s true. If you look at Jesus through the lens of the Law, that’s all he is: a good example. But he’s also the one whose perfect obedience climaxed when he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8)! Or, as Paul put it: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.


So Paul points us away from ourselves and our failed obedience and instead points us to Christ and his perfect obedience and says that justification and life can only be found in him. Listen again: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. So here are the options Paul is laying out for the Galatians (and us) to consider: 1) you can stand before God’s judgement seat dressed in the tattered robes of your own righteousness, your own obedience and hope to justify yourself; or 2) you can confess with Isaiah that all [your] righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), tear them off in repentance, and rejoice that God has credited Jesus’ perfect life to your account. Here’s how the Law and Gospel function properly in my life: The Law shows me that in here, in myself, there is nothing good (Romans 7:18), just sin, condemnation and death. The Law kills me by showing that there’s no hope in me or my life – it must come from outside of me. And Christ and his cross and his promise are certainly outside of myself – and that’s the Gospel.


The Gospel, the good news, is that God has given us the righteousness he demands of us in Christ. The Gospel is not advice. It’s not directions on how to be better. It’s not new rules to help us fix our lives – because, as anyone who has tried to change a bad habit knows, we cannot fix ourselves. Only in Christ and the good news of what he has done for us do we find life. To put it another way, justification is not something we earn, it is a gift; a gift that we can only receive by faith. It’s the gift God gave us in Baptism, where we received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), where we were baptized into his death and his resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). It’s the gift we receive week after week in the Absolution where Jesus continues to stand behind the promise he made to his first disciples in John 20: If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven (John 20:23). That gift is given in an unforgettable way in the Lord’s Supper, where Christ not only joins his own body and blood with the bread and the wine, but he gives himself to us so that we can all say as we walk away from this table: I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Do you sense how personal Christ’s crucifixion was for Paul? Yes, Jesus died for the world – but Paul couldn’t get over the fact that he died for him! Make Paul’s truth your truth. Jesus didn’t just die for the world, he died for you. And his death and resurrection is what justifies you (Romans 4:25), makes you right with God, and gives you life now and forever.


Martin Luther summarized all of this in just two sentences: “Now the true meaning of Christianity is this: that a man first acknowledge, through the Law, that he is a sinner, for whom it is impossible to perform any good work… The second step is this: If you want to be saved, your salvation does not come by works; but God has sent his only Son into the world that we might live through him.” [2] So the comedians and arm-chair philosophers are right: there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are those who remain dead before God because they try and fail to justify themselves and there are those who are alive, justified through faith in Christ. To put it very simply: do you want God to judge you based on your life or Christ’s? God help us to look away from ourselves to Christ for our justification and salvation. Amen.

[1] Based on the outline of a sermon written by Rev. Larry M. Vogel (Concordia Pulpit Resources)

[2] AE 26:126