When my boys were young, an assortment of toy cars cluttered their rooms. For them to play successfully with any particular little vehicle, they needed to know what was under the hood.
Some cars were driven by a small battery needing all-too-frequent replacing. Others contained a coiled spring that would tighten when the vehicle was pulled back sharply against the floor. Still others had no engine at all. For those cars to move even an inch, the person had to be the engine.
For my boys to enjoy making any particular toy move, they needed to know what type of engine it possessed.
Interestingly enough, different Christians have had various notions about what “engine” creates and sustains being in a right relationship with God. Paul realized that misunderstanding the source and driving power behind justification with God would distort a Christian’s motivations and behavior.
Accordingly, Paul denounced the teaching that God’s children must comply with the works of the Law, such as circumcision, to enable them to be justified before God. Rather, he asserted that being made right with God was based upon the person of Christ, his faithfulness, and death.
To describe the engine enabling and driving the Christian’s relationship with God, Paul wrote:
“Knowing that no one is justified by the works of the law but through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no flesh will be justified” (Galatians 2:16-17).
God alone has the power to set things right; it is not within us to be the “engine” empowering our justification. Paul knew that by believing in Christ, we simply turn the key accessing the justification engine God had already provided through Christ.
Knowing what makes possible being declared just with God also informs us how to live. Alluding to his own faith response when he was united with Christ’s death in baptism, Paul continued:
“I have been crucified with Christ; and no longer is it I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. … if justification could come through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:19-21).
When it comes to being right with God, upon what are we depending under the hood of our car to take us that awesome distance? Paul depended upon Christ.