Identity Sermon Series
Discovering Who and Why You Are
“I Identify With Christ”
In Galatians 2 Paul is referencing and earlier gathering of Christians at Antioch where Cephas (Peter), Barnabas, Paul, and different groups are present. But the Gentile Christians are being made to feel like second class Christians because they were not keeping ceremonial Jewish food laws. Cephas/Peter’s withdrawal and his sitting apart from the Gentiles “was sending a clear message about what counts: reliance upon the law and its works to secure favor with God, rather than trust in God’s provision in Christ alone.”
Cephas “seems to have started to ‘live like a Gentile’ (Gal. 2:14), probably in the sense that he had ceased to observe Jewish dietary restrictions.” In response to a heavenly vision (Acts 10:9-16; 11:4-10), he had tossed out an important Jewish identity marker, which many Jews went to great trouble to keep, and for which they sometimes endured deprivation, and even death.”
This was a common teaching for the Jews to, “separate yourselves from the Gentiles and do not eat with them, and do not perform deeds like theirs. And do not become associates of theirs. Because their deeds are defiled, and all their ways are contaminated, and despicable, and abominable.”
But when certain people were around, Cephas would change back. “The pressure was strong enough that all the Christian Jews in Antioch except Paul succumbed to it. There is a level of disappointment and personal pain behind Paul’s phrase “even Barnabas.” Paul’s talk of hypocrisy assumes that all of them – even Barnabas – knew it was wrong to buckle to this pressure.”
But what is at stake is the genuineness and purity of the gospel.
Can the gospel mean whatever you want it mean,
or can different groups have their own version of it?
The gospel tears down boundaries, our falsely identifying with the wrong things puts those barriers back in place all over again. These are barriers between believers, and it pollutes the gospel.
Didn’t Paul say, 1 Corinthians 9:20-23 “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” Is Paul being hypocritical to tell Cephas to not change while he is around the “circumcision party,” but Paul is changing around other people in order to share the gospel?
“Paul could have opted out of any participation with the Jewish religious system. He was free from all of it. Instead, he chose to remain involved, without ever compromising the message of Jesus, in hopes of winning some Jewish law followers to faith in Christ. In order to put as few barriers as possible between others and Christ, Paul was willing to sacrifice his own “rights” and freedoms.”
How Do You Identify? (vv. 15-16)
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
(v. 15) It was a normal for Jews to presume upon God’s grace because they possess God’s Law (Romans 2:17-24). The Jews would say, which Paul may be quoting directly, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners.” But this is common for all of humanity. We deceive ourselves into thinking everything’s ok with who they are. “I think what I am doing is okay, therefore God must also be ok with it.”
Matthew 3:7 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’” They were not turning from their sin and bearing fruit of a godly and holy life, they didn’t even think they were sinners.
For the Jewish follower, there is no need for transformation or change from their sin, because they are from a lineage of Abraham. There are also people who identify with the Christian religion who also presume upon God’s grace. Maybe they have gone to a certain church for a number of years, or have been baptized – but we can’t speak of how they have impacted the world for Christ, or people they have led to the Lord, or how they have been a disciple maker – but when they were seven they were baptized. The Jews were doing this with circumcision. There was no heart felt seeking after God, desiring to live for him – just empty self-righteous rule following.
The temptation of Peter and all the other believers there (except for Paul), is to answer the question, “what is their identity?” this same way. Are they Jewish and followers of the law (and that’s how they want to be known), or are they Christians which require breaking from the law and to live by faith. But you can’t hold an identity of the two things at the same time.
Paul is showing that the Jewish people should know that no one is capable of keeping the law in its entirety and at some point has to rely upon God’s grace and mercy. Psalm 143:2, The psalmist is asking God, “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” The law’s intended purpose was to show humanity that you cannot live a life that pleases God, no one is perfect. Jesus says in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
(v. 16) This is a question of how is a person made right before God? Paul uses the word, “justified,” (dikaioo) – “to make or declare righteous.” “The group of Judaizers who contended that the Gentiles had to become Jews to be saved.” This included circumcision and following dietary laws. The law plus Paul says, “because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
“. . . but through faith in Jesus Christ” – “Faith is trust. It begins with knowledge, so it is not blind. It builds on facts, so it is not speculation. It stakes its life on the outcome, so it is not impractical. Faith is trusting Christ and proving his promises.”
Identifying With Christ (vv. 17-21)
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
(v. 17) “we too were found to be sinners,” When Paul compares himself to the teachings and life of Jesus, he realizes that as high as he had climbed in the Jewish world, and as passionate as he had been to the law (even killing and imprisoning Christians), he was still the “chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).”
(v. 18) “For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.” – “When he [Peter] lived like a Gentile, he tore down the ceremonial law. When he lived like a Jew, he tore down salvation by grace.”
“From Paul’s own testimony, we know that Paul continued to be not only accused of being in violation of the Law but punished because of it. Thus, when he would visit synagogues, he’d be brought up on charges and then flogged with a whip or a stick.” “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned (2 Corinthians 11:24-25).”
(v. 19) “For through the law I died to the law,” – To try and keep the law is a form of slavery. One is always striving to be good enough to please God, to be perfect, yet to fail time and time again. Then through Christ’s death and taking the curse of sin upon himself, he has freed us from the law. When we reach back down and put the shackle back on our legs, we enslave ourselves all over again.
(v. 20) “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” – It is the union of the vine and the branch (John 15:1-6). Paul is connected (abiding) to Jesus, and no longer to the world. When a person places their faith in Christ there is a part of them that dies, that part that focuses on ourselves. That part is crucified with Christ – then emerging is a new birth, a new life – that is Christ living in me. Our identity is Christ (period). For the Christian, it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you.
Our walk with Jesus will draw us into more and more the things that are important to Jesus. In our lives, we will begin to look more and more like Jesus, and less and less like our old selves (before Christ.) Christ’s life eventually led to the cross, and so our lives will reflect this selflessness and giving of ourselves for the sake of others.
Many Christians are good with healing with Christ, singing with Christ, praying with Christ, studying the Bible with Christ, but crucified with Christ is a whole other level. Jesus gave up everything for the sake of others, so Paul says, “It is no longer I who live.” Jesus says to those who desire to be his followers, “take up your cross and follow me.”
The way we begin our walk with Christ is how we continue in our walk in Christ. The way we start the race, is the same way we finish the race – radical trust in Jesus.
“Those [identifying here in this passage as Jewish Christians] are going back to a life in which Christ and his loving, self-giving death in not central.” In Romans 6:6 Paul uses this same imagery, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
Faith in Jesus Christ Is not just head knowledge of His existence. It involves the whole person. There are people who say they are Christians, but their definition of faith does not involve a life change. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” A saving faith in Christ results in a transformational change to conform to the image of Christ. “The Christian life is one of conformity with Christ.”
Therefore, the Christian is not lawless, but you have freedom in Christ. It is not an abandonment of the morality of the law (honor your parents, truth telling, putting God first, do not covet other people’s stuff, don’t committing adultery, etc). This is the fear of people who tend toward being self-righteous; if we don’t have rules and keep traditions, then the world will spin into chaos. So, they add to the gospel (Jesus plus the law). They believe that you have to appear different than the world (like the Jewish “circumcision group”) Then how will the world know that you are a Christian?
John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” They will know we are Christians by how we show the love of Christ in the world around us. It is much harder to show your heart (an inward change), than it is to follow a rule – because it requires a close relationship with Christ (to abide in Him.) Doing what Christ teaches is much harder than putting a sticker on your car (an outward show).
There should be no descriptors in front of the word Christian in our identity. Whenever we put a word describing ourselves before Christ, we are putting ourselves first. You either identify with the sin, or the person who frees us from sin, but you can’t identify with both – the gospel won’t allow it.
(v. 21) “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” – Paul is saying that if all we had to do was keep the law, then people should keep the law. Jesus would not have had to die, if all humans had to do was be good. When the Jewish Christians kept the law, they “nullify” God’s grace – as if to say that they did not need it. Also, if the law is added to the gospel, then that also means that Christ’s death was not adequate to cover all the sin of mankind – there is something else needed.
Two bank robbers in Sangus, Massachusetts, walked into a small delicatessen, pulled out their guns, and demanded all the money in the cash register. The owner stashed all the money in a brown bag and laid it on the counter, Nervously, they grabbed the bag a fled. Later, in a safe place they opened the bag to divide their haul only to be completely surprised. The bag contained two pastrami sandwiches and a slice of baklava. They couldn’t belive it. In their nervous haste they picked up the wrong bag. In today’s passage we looked at two very similar appearing approaches to life – but when you open them up what is inside to eternally different.
 Todd Wilson, Preaching the Word, Galatians (Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway Publishing, 2013) 76.
 Frank Thielman, Expository Commentary, Vol. X (Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway Publishing, 2020) 599.
 Thielman, 599.
 Thielman, 599.
 Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume IV, The Epistles of Paul (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1931) 289.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 10 (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 1976) 449.
 Robertson, 289.
 Which goes back to the pressure to follow the law (Gal. 2:1-14); did they fear suffering the same treatment as Paul had suffered?
 Wilson, 85.
 Thielman, 599.
 Jervis, 74.
 L. Ann Jervis, New International Biblical Commentary, Galatians (Peabody, Massachusetts; Hendrickson Publishers, 1999) 70.
 Max Anders, Holman New Testament Commentary, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians (Nashville, Tennessee; Holman Reference, 1999) 26.