This study is based upon the New City Catechism.
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. (Galatians 2:16)
A builder gathers materials and tools for construction. He acquires lumber, nails, putty, stone, and other such items, to manipulate and operate upon them in order to erect some type of structure. Salvation is sometimes referred to in such constructive language. Paul wrote:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.Ephesians 2:19-21
There is a building, but there is also a Builder. “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (v.22). We are passive in the grand work of salvation. God is the One Who builds this temple. He drew the blueprints, He laid the foundation, He stacks the bricks, and He seals the door. Salvation “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16).
First, consider the folly of depending on your own works for salvation. Paul wrote that “a person is not justified by works of the law… by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). It is God’s law, but they are your works. By those works, you cannot be justified. Therefore, your works are utterly insufficient for making peace with God. There is no bribe or compensation you can make to redeem yourself. Salvation is not grown in our gardens or fed from our dinner tables. “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2-3).
Second, consider the folly of depending on something else for salvation. Other men have no upper hand in this endeavor – even saints: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There are also diverse schemes of atonement. Though our works disgust the holy God, might our suffering provide penance? Might an offering of a costly treasure we possess? Surely not, for “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). In the numerous attempts fallen men have made to traverse the desert of divine condemnation, there is only a perpetual reminder of sins (v.3).
Third, consider the surety of dependence upon Christ. There is no justification in our works, or through any fallen means, but there is justification in Christ. “We also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law” (Galatians 2:16). God is rightly jealous for all boasting and glory, and so He excludes our causes for selfishness by demonstrating the weakness of our race in Adam (Romans 5:12-21) and making a covenant of grace by faith apart from works of the law (3:28). As the earth pulls water from the sky to nourish the ground and beget life, so too does Christ’s righteousness pull the favor of God from heaven to our lowly, parched souls.
Everything necessary for salvation is found in Christ. For this reason, Paul, in Ephesians 1, accompanies “every spiritual blessing” with the qualification, “in Christ” (v.3). God chose us and prepared our redemption in Christ (v.4). God predestined us for adoption in Christ (vv.5-6). God redeems us, including all forgiveness and gracious purposes, in Christ (vv.7-10). God has promised an eternal inheritance in Christ (vv.11-12). Therefore, it is only appropriate that we would have believed in him (v.13), the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Our river dried-up long ago in Eden, and our withered tongues have no use of arid country. Therefore, let us turn to a foreign stream, a tributary of righteousness that bids us bring nothing but a cupped hand.
Question: Should those who have faith in Christ seek their salvation through their own works, or anywhere else?
Answer: No, everything necessary to salvation is found in Christ.