Believing Versus Doing

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them’” (vv. 11–12).

- Galatians 3:10–14

Faith that invests itself wholly and completely in God and His promises alone is the only faith that pleases the Lord. When, in the seventh century BC, Habakkuk could not understand how God could use the evil Babylonians to chastise His people, when it seemed from a human perspective that the Lord’s purposes for Israel had failed and that His faithful servants would not be vindicated, God responded that those He regards as righteous live by faith (Hab. 2:4). That is, those who are righteous in His sight continue trusting Him and do not rely on what they can see from a human perspective or what they can do to vindicate their own righteousness. Dr. R.C. Sproul explains: “Anybody can believe in God. What it means to be a Christian is to trust him when he speaks, which does not require a leap of faith or a crucifixion of the intellect. It requires a crucifixion of pride, because no one is more trustworthy than God” (Romans, p. 35).

Note Dr. Sproul’s key point that God-pleasing faith means crucifying our pride. This is another way of saying, as Paul does in today’s passage, that we give up trying to attain our own righteousness before the Lord. The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is ours by faith alone, for it is God’s gift to His people, the result of His saving acts that fulfill His promises to redeem His elect (Rom. 1:16–17; 3:21–26; 4:1–5; 5:12–21). To say that the righteous live by faith does not mean only that God’s people believe Him but also that those whom the Lord declares to be righteous trust in Him alone. The essence of such faith is believing God in contrast to doing works of obedience. Galatians 3:10–14 contrasts these ways of establishing our relationship with the Father. No one can be declared righteous before God by obeying His law, for the law demands perfect obedience for our justification—our right standing before Him—and no sinner can obey God perfectly. Hoping even a little in our good works of obedience puts us under the Lord’s curse (vv. 10, 12). Our only hope is to trust Christ alone. In so doing, we are redeemed by His death from God’s curse for breaking His law, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to our account, making our standing before the Lord all of grace (vv. 11, 13–14).

Attempting to earn our right standing before God is the stance of pride, the arrogant assertion that our sin-tainted good works can meet His perfect standard. It is not the stance of faith, which rests wholly in Christ alone for His righteousness.

Coram Deo

We can say with certainty that the one temptation that all people have in common is the temptation to believe we can make ourselves right with God, that our efforts, even when done with His help, are good enough to meet His standards. But the Lord does not ask us to be good enough; rather, we are to be perfect (Matt. 5:48). That means that only Christ’s perfect righteousness can suffice to put us in a right relationship with the Father. We must trust in Him and in Him alone.

Passages for Further Study

2 Timothy 1:8–9
James 1:18

We Recommend

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343