But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (2:17–21)
By their behavior, Peter and the other Jewish Christians at Antioch had given approval to the Judaizers’ idea that it was necessary for a Gentile to keep the Jewish rituals before he could become a Christian. Paul’s defense of justification by faith in verses 17–21 continues his contradiction of this Judaistic legalism to which Peter and the others had succumbed.
It is crucial to understand that, as in the previous two verses, we refers to Jewish Christians. But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves, as Jewish Christians, have also been found sinners, Paul asks rhetorically, is Christ then a minister of sin?
His first point was to show that, if the Judaizers were correct in their doctrine that believers are saved in part by keeping the ceremonial law of Moses and continue to be bound by that law to maintain their salvation, then, even before the Judaizers arrived in Antioch, Peter, Barnabas, and all the other Jewish believers, including Paul, had fallen back into the category of sinners by having freely eaten and fellowshiped with Gentile Christians.
Paul’s second point was even more devastating. “If you became sinners because of fellowshiping with your Gentile brothers,” he implies, “then Christ Himself became a minister of sin, did he not?” How? Jesus had clearly taught that no food can spiritually contaminate a person, because food cannot affect the heart (Mark 7:19). Through the vision of the unclean animals and the dramatic conversion and anointing of Cornelius, the Lord had given Peter direct evidence that Gentile believers are in every way equal to Jewish believers (Acts 10). On many other occasions and in many other ways Jesus had taught that all those who belong to Him are one with Him and therefore one with each other. Shortly before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus earnestly and repeatedly prayed to His Father that those who believed in Him “may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us … that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity” (John 17:21–23).
But if the Judaizers were right, Paul pointed out, Jesus was wrong; if they taught the truth, He had taught falsehood and was thereby a minister of sin! Such an accusation must have shaken Peter to his bones. To be called a hypocrite stung enough, but to be called a sinner was unthinkable, and to be accused of making Jesus a minister of sin was shocking and repulsive. Yet the logic of Paul’s argument was inescapable. By his actions, Peter had in effect condemned Jesus Christ. He therefore had to forsake his Judaistic sympathies or continue to make His Lord a liar.
To his own question Paul immediately responded, May it never be! It must have been painful to Paul to suggest even hypothetically that Christ could participate in, much less promote, sin. But the drastic danger of Judaistic legalism demanded such drastic logic. He knew of no other way to bring Peter and the others to their senses.
By using the term we in the previous verses, Paul had graciously identified himself with the compromisers to a certain extent. Now he even more graciously and lovingly softens the blow to his friends by using himself as a hypothetical example. For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, he said, I prove myself to be a transgressor. In other words, if anyone, including myself, tries to rebuild a system of legalism after he has once destroyed it by believing and preaching the gospel of God’s powerful grace and man’s sinful helplessness, he proves himself, not Christ, to be a transgressor. He proves himself to be a hypocrite and a sinner by abandoning grace for law.
“I could never do such a thing,” Paul asserts, “for through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. The idea of legalism clashes with God’s clearest truth and my own deepest convictions. Now that I have accepted grace and died to the Law, I could never go back to its system of rituals and ordinances. Otherwise I could not live to God.” The law is not the believer’s master; God is. It is not his relation to the law that saves him, but his relation to God.
“Do you not know, brethren,” Paul asked the believers at Rome, “that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.… Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead that we might bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:1–2, 4).
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:1–14)
In both Romans and Galatians, Paul is referring to the fact that when a person exercises faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is placed in transcendent spiritual union with Christ in the historical event of His death and resurrection, in which the penalty of sin was paid in full.
If a man is convicted of a capital crime and is put to death, the law obviously has no more claim on him. He has paid his debt to society. Therefore, even if he were to rise from the dead, he would still be guiltless before the law, which would have no claim on his new life. So it is with the believer who dies in Christ to rise in new life. He is free forever from any claim of the law on him. He paid the law’s demand when he died in Christ. His physical death is no punishment, only a release to glory provided in his union with Christ.
Legalism’s most destructive effect is that it cancels the effect of the cross. I have been crucified with Christ, Paul testifies, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. To go back under the law would be to cancel one’s union with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and therefore to go back under sin.
I died to the Law, Paul explains, because I was crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live. The old man, the old self, is dead, crucified with Christ, and the new man lives (cf. Col. 3:9–10). Now I … live to God, because Christ lives in me (cf. Rom. 8:9). The life I received by faith I now also live by faith. The Greek verb behind live is in the perfect tense, indicating a past completed action that has continuing results. When a believer trusts in Christ for salvation he spiritually participates with the Lord in His crucifixion and in His victory over sin and death.
That is why, the apostle continues, the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. The true Christian life is not so much a believer’s living for Christ as Christ’s living through the believer. Because in Christ “all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9), the fulness of God also dwells in every believer, as “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).
I do not have such a divine life and the magnanimous privilege of being indwelt with the living, powerful Son of God because of anything I have done or merited, but only because He loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.
The surpassing motive, therefore, for all spiritual devotion and obedience is gratitude to the sovereign, gracious Lord. The statement who loved me refers to the motive behind God’s saving grace. The New Testament is replete with teaching on this great truth (see, e.g., John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:5). The gift of love was not taken from Christ, but He delivered Himself up for me, says the apostle. This is reminiscent of our Lord’s words in John 10:17–18, “I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down of My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”
All of this saving work is the gift of God’s sovereign grace. Consequently, Paul concludes, I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. In effect he was saying to Peter, “By withdrawing from fellowship with your Gentile brothers you take your stand with the Judaizers and against Christ. You nullify the grace of God by denying the need for Christ’s death, just as you did when you rebuked the Lord for declaring it was necessary for Him to suffer, be killed, and raised on the third day (see Matt. 16:21–22).
The two pillars of the gospel are the grace of God and the death of Christ, and those are the two pillars that, by its very nature, legalism destroys. The person who insists that he can earn salvation by his own efforts undermines the very foundation of Christianity and nullifies the precious death of Christ on his behalf.
Dying to Live
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. (Gal. 2:19–20)
What Paul said in Galatians 2:16 bears repeating: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” This is the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. As John Calvin (1509–1564) said, “we are justified in no other way than by faith, or, which comes to the same thing, … that we are justified by faith alone.”
“Justification” is a legal term that refers to a person’s standing before the bar of God’s justice. In order to be declared right with God, I must be righteous. But I am not righteous; I am a sinner. How, then, can I justify myself to God? This is the question that the doctrine of justification answers.
Righteous by Faith
It would be hard to think of a more important issue than how to be accepted by God. Certainly it was important during the Reformation, when Protestants defended the doctrine of justification by faith alone over against the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by faith plus works. Martin Luther claimed that “if the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost.”
Justification remains a vital doctrine to this day, even if many evangelical Christians are not sure what it means or if it matters. The situation is reminiscent of the man who when asked to explain the difference between ignorance and apathy said, “I don’t know and I don’t care!” “Precisely!” came the reply. And ignorance and apathy are precisely the words to describe the church’s present attitude. Christians do not know and do not care to know the doctrine of justification by faith. Yet there is no true Christianity without it. J. I. Packer once wrote, “The doctrine of justification by faith is like Atlas: it bears a world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of saving grace.” Packer went on to say what happens “when Protestants let the thought of justification drop out of their minds: the true knowledge of salvation drops out with it, and cannot be restored till the truth of justification is back in its proper place. When Atlas falls, everything that rested on his shoulders comes crashing down too.”
As crucial as justification is to Christianity, it is even more crucial to the Christian. It is of paramount personal importance to get into a right relationship with God. How can a righteous God accept an unrighteous individual like me?
Part of the answer is contained in the last phrase of Galatians 2:16: “By works of the law no one will be justified.” In the previous chapter we noted that this phrase is a quotation from the Old Testament. It is important to realize that the New Testament writers did not simply quote a verse here and a verse there. Rather, they quoted verses in their original biblical contexts. Often, a single phrase is intended to call to mind an entire passage from the Old Testament.
This is what Paul does in Galatians 2. The psalm from which he quotes begins with a problem. David is pursued by enemies and tormented by guilt. He asks God to deliver him even though he knows that what he really deserves is divine judgment:
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me,
in your righteousness.
Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you. (Ps. 143:1–2)
David did not want to be brought before the bar of God’s justice, where no living person can be acquitted, least of all himself. Yet David still appealed to God for his salvation, and the basis for his appeal was God’s own righteousness. David asked God to come to his relief, not because he was righteous, but because God was righteous. He makes the same appeal at the end of the psalm: “For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble” (Ps. 143:11). David asked to be saved by a righteousness that comes from God.
Psalm 143 is a psalm for the justified sinner, for an unrighteous man saved by the gift of God’s righteousness. By quoting from this psalm, Paul showed that God’s ultimate answer to David’s prayer came through Jesus Christ. No one can be made right with God by obeying the law, for no one is righteous. But Jesus Christ the Righteous One makes us right with God.
It happens like this. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, God treats us as if we were as righteous as Jesus is. God credits us with his righteousness. To use the proper term for this, God “imputes” Christ’s righteousness to us, so that what Jesus did through the cross and the empty tomb counts for us. Justification is the judicial act in which God pardons sinners, considering them righteous because of the righteousness of Christ. When he justifies a sinner, God declares that as far as he is concerned, that sinner is as righteous as his own Son.
This doctrine of imputed righteousness is so important that it is worth taking the time to define. Martin Luther explained it like this: “ ‘Because you believe in me,’ God says, ‘and your faith takes hold of Christ, whom I have given to you as your Justifier and Savior, therefore be righteous.’ Thus God accepts you or reputes you righteous solely on account of Christ, in whom you believe.” Calvin wrote: “It is entirely by the intervention of Christ’s righteousness that we obtain justification before God. This is equivalent to saying that man is not just in himself, but that the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation, while he is strictly deserving of punishment.”5 Similarly, the Westminster Shorter Catechism defines justification as “an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (Answer 33). An even fuller explanation comes from the Heidelberg Catechism, which asks, “How art thou righteous before God?” The answer is:
Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me that I have grossly transgressed all the commands of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin; yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ hath accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart. (A. 60)
Objection: The Problem of Sin
The doctrine of justification by faith alone raises an obvious problem. If by his free grace God has already declared us righteous, then why bother to become a better person? What incentive do we have to live for God? The doctrine of justification seems irresponsible. It sounds, in fact, like winning the spiritual lottery. If God gives righteousness away for free, who will ever work for him again?
Paul anticipates this objection by making it part of his argument. “But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin?” (Gal. 2:17). This is a fair question, and from the way he poses it, Paul seems to have something specific in mind. The clue is the word “sinners,” which Paul used back in verse 15 to indicate the Jewish attitude toward Gentiles. The Gentiles were “sinners,” not so much because they were immoral, but because they lived outside the boundaries of the law. According to the Judaizers, this was precisely the problem with Peter and Paul: they had become outlaws. In their personal habits, they were living like Gentile sinners rather than like Jews. They used to keep the law in all its detail. Now they were doing things like eating unholy food with uncircumcised Gentiles.
Hence the accusation that they were making Jesus a servant of sin, almost as if he were doing promotional work for the devil. Peter and Paul had sought to be justified by faith in Christ. This included giving up on the law as a way to get right with God. Whereas before they had always been law-abiding Jews, they were sinking to the level of pagans. When the Judaizers discovered that Peter and Paul were living like “Gentile sinners,” they reached the obvious conclusion: being justified by faith causes people to sin in the name of Christ. And if Peter and Paul were guilty of this charge, then so were the Gentiles. They had come to faith in Christ, but they were still living like so-called sinners. Someone needed to hold them to a higher moral standard, and the Judaizers were just the men to do it!
What is the best way to answer this line of thinking? It must be admitted that Christians do not always make good advertisements for Christianity. When this is the case, it helps to remember that by definition, all Christians are sinners. Martin Luther said, “A Christian is not someone who has no sin or feels no sin; he is someone to whom, because of his faith in Christ, God does not impute his sin.” This is the crucial difference. Christians are sinners too, but their sins do not count against them. Therefore, with the possible exception of the prison system, the church is the only institution in the world for bad people.
This does not mean, however, that God himself is in the business of sin. “Certainly not!” Paul says (Gal. 2:17). God forbid! Or to put it in the vernacular, “No way!” Perish the thought that Christ is a “servant of sin,” as if his grace is somehow to be blamed for my guilt. When God justifies sinners by faith, he is not aiding and abetting their sin. The very suggestion is blasphemous. God cannot sin (James 1:13), nor can he be held responsible for my sin. If I am still a sinner after I become a Christian, it is no one’s fault but my own.
The doctrine that really does promote sin is justification by the law rather than by faith. Paul shows this by using his opponents’ argument against them: “For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor” (Gal. 2:18). As we shall see, when Paul spoke of rebuilding what he tore down, he was referring to the Old Testament law that he had torn down by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. So what would happen if someone tried to rebuild the law? This was exactly what Peter was trying to do in Antioch. At first, he had destroyed the law by welcoming Gentiles into the church as full-fledged Christians. But then he allowed himself to be pressured into separating himself from them. In effect, Peter was rebuilding with one hand what he had destroyed with the other. First he told the Gentiles that they were saved by faith, not by works, but then he made the works of the law a test of Christian fellowship.
Not only is this what Peter did, but it is also what the Galatians were tempted to do. Some Jews had come to urge them to rebuild the law in place of the gospel. If the Galatians did that, they would become lawbreakers all over again. The law’s purpose is to show that we are sinners, so the more of it that gets rebuilt, the more sinful we become! In the words of F. F. Bruce, “Any one who, having received justification through faith in Christ, thereafter reinstates law in place of Christ makes himself a sinner all over again.” To rebuild the law is actually to transgress it, because we cannot keep the law in its perfection.
Dead to the Law
In Christ the law has been destroyed as a way of getting right with God. And now that it has been knocked down, it has to stay down. This has profound personal implications. “For through the law I died to the law,” wrote Paul, “so that I might live to God” (Gal. 2:19).
The first question to ask about this verse is, What does it mean to “die to the law”? Notice that the law is not what does the dying. Rather, Paul is the one who dies with respect to the law. This is a remarkable thing for a former Pharisee to say. When Paul was a Pharisee he lived for the law, but now that he is a Christian he is dead to it. That is to say, he is no longer under its power. Calvin said, “To die to the law is to renounce it and to be freed from its dominion, so that we have no confidence in it and it does not hold us captive under the yoke of slavery.”
But then another question arises: How can someone die to the law through the law? It would seem to make more sense for Paul to say something like this: “Through the gospel I died to the law so that I might live for God.” Instead he says that it was the law itself that persuaded him to abandon the law.
There are several ways to understand this. Perhaps Paul was saying that the law “did him in” by showing him that he was a sinner. This is certainly a point he makes elsewhere (Rom. 7:9–11). The law cannot save. All it can do is condemn us by proving that we cannot keep it. In the words of the old Scottish commentator John Brown (1784–1858), the Christian must therefore cease “to expect justification and salvation by obedience to its requisitions.” The law cannot promise life; it can only threaten death. Thus it is through the law that one dies to the law.
There is another possibility, however, which is based on the law’s penalty. Remember that the law came with a deadly curse. Anyone who failed to keep everything God’s law required (and note that in Galatians 2:19 Paul is referring to the whole law of God, not just the ceremonial law, as the New Perspective on Paul and the law would have it) was condemned to die. So the worst the law could do to a man was kill him. However, once the law had exacted its death penalty, there was nothing else it could do. A man can be executed only once, and once he has been executed, the law has no further claim on him. Perhaps this is why Paul considered himself dead to the law: because the law had already put him to death.
Now as far as the Christian is concerned, the penalty of the law has already been carried out. The law’s demand of death was satisfied in the death of Christ. It was the law that put Christ to death on the cross. When Christ died, Paul died too, at least as far as the law was concerned. He died to the law in the death of his substitute. Hence his triumphant statement: “Through the law I died to the law” (Gal. 2:19).
Alive in Christ
Having written his own obituary, Paul proceeds to explain the circumstances of his demise: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:19–20). Here the apostle indicates when he died to the law: he died to the law when Christ died on the cross.
This text reveals something very surprising about the cross. It shows that at least four things were nailed to the cross of Calvary. The most obvious, of course, was Jesus himself, through his hands and feet. As the records plainly show, he was put to death by being nailed to the cross. Also fastened to the cross with a hammer and a nail was the public announcement that read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). The third thing that was nailed to the cross was the debt of our sin. Paul explained this to the Colossians: God forgave “all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13–14). The record of debt was the law of God, which condemns us by listing all our sins and which God canceled by nailing it to the cross.
But here is the surprise: if you are a follower of Christ, then you were nailed to the cross too! The crucifixion is not just a fact about the life of Christ and a momentous event in human history, but is also part of every Christian’s personal life story. The Cambridge Puritan William Perkins (1558–1602) said, “We are in mind and meditation to consider Christ crucified: and first, we are to believe that he was crucified for us. This being done, we must go yet further, and as it were spread ourselves on the cross of Christ, believing and withall beholding ourselves crucified with him.”
Do not misunderstand this. Jesus Christ died once for all. He alone was the God-man, so he alone could atone for the sins of the world by offering his life in our place. Yet the Scripture also says that the Christian has been crucified with Christ. It uses the perfect tense to show that this is something that really and truly happened, as if we were nailed to the very tree of Calvary. This is not a subjective experience in the life of the believer, but an objective reality that is based on the believer’s relationship to Christ. Mark Seifrid writes, “Paul does not have merely his inward life in view, but his whole person and history, which has now been manifestly taken up in the cross and resurrection of Christ.”
The surprising truth that the Christian has been crucified in Christ rests on the most magnificent of all doctrines: union with Christ, which the Scottish theologian John Murray (1898–1975) called “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” We encounter it everywhere in the New Testament. Again and again, the Scripture teaches that the Christian is in Christ. To use the proper theological category, the Christian is united to Christ.
The way anyone becomes united to Christ is by faith. Paul said this in verse 16: “we also have believed in Christ Jesus.” Once we put our faith in Christ, then we are in Christ. Our union with Christ becomes a spiritual reality. Martin Luther said, “By [faith] you are so cemented to Christ that He and you are as one person, which cannot be separated but remains attached to Him forever.”
The reason union with Christ is such a magnificent doctrine is that once we get into Christ by faith, then everything Christ has ever done becomes something we have done. It is as if we had lived his perfect life and died his painful death. It is as if we were buried in his tomb and then raised up to his glorious heaven (Rom. 6:3–5). God attaches us to the events of Christ’s life so that they become part of our lives. His story—the story of the cross and the empty tomb—becomes our story.
The only way to get what Christ has to offer is to be united to him by faith. Calvin said, “We must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.” But once we get into Christ, then we get everything he has to offer, especially his righteousness. When we are in Christ, God considers us as righteous as his own Son, not because we are righteous, but because we are in Christ.
The doctrine of union with Christ explains why the Christian is dead to the law. We were united to Christ in his crucifixion. As far as God is concerned, we were really and truly nailed to the cross with Christ. It was on the cross that the law carried out its death penalty against us. Therefore, as far as the law is concerned, we are now dead. There is nothing the law can do to improve our standing before God. We can live for Christ because we are dead to the law.
Not only are we dead to the law, it is almost as if we have stopped living altogether: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:19–20). Paul is saying something like this: “I no longer have a life of my own. The only life I have is the life that God puts into me through Jesus Christ.”
It would be hard to imagine a text more antithetical to our contemporary culture. Consider these words from the actress Shirley MacLaine:
The most pleasurable journey you take is through yourself.… The only sustaining love involvement is with yourself.… When you look back on your life and try to figure out where you’ve been and where you are going, when you look at your work, your love affairs, your marriages, your children, your pain, your happiness—when you examine all that closely, what you really find out is that the only person you really go to bed with is yourself. The only person you really dress is yourself. The only thing you have is working to the consummation of your own identity.
MacLaine’s words capture the spirit of this selfish age. Moderns and postmoderns alike are obsessed with themselves. Self-esteem, self-improvement, self-fulfillment, self-indulgence—whatever you want, as long as it begins with your “self.”
In these self-absorbed times, the Bible announces the death of the self: “It is no longer I who live” (Gal. 2:20). The world no longer revolves around me. I am no longer dominated by thoughts of my own pleasure and prestige. If I have a life at all, it is only the life that Christ lives in me.
This does not mean that becoming a Christian is a kind of suicide. We still have a normal physical existence, of course, what Paul calls “the life I now live in the flesh” (Gal. 2:20). Since it is the life I live, I even have a self. But the only self I have is the one that is united to Christ by faith. My life is the life that Christ “lives in me,” the life “I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20).
This is the mystery of Christ’s indwelling presence by the Holy Spirit. Theologians have tried to explain this mystery in various ways. Calvin said that the Christian “does not live by his own life but is animated by the secret power of Christ, so that Christ may be said to live and grow in him.” The Scottish theologian Henry Scougal (1650–1678) called it “the life of God in the soul of man.” One thing this means is that becoming a Christian is the best and only way to discover our identity. We will never find our true selves until we find ourselves in Christ. Our identity is established by our union with Christ. We have no self, except the self that we have in him. To have a “healthy self-image,” then, is to see ourselves as we are in Christ.
Christ Died for Someone
Union with Christ provides the answer to the question we posed earlier: If God justifies bad people, then why be good? Isn’t justification by faith alone a dangerous doctrine that encourages people to be immoral?
The answer is “Certainly not!” The reason the doctrine of justification by faith does not promote sin is that justifying faith is what gets us into Christ, and when we are in Christ we become new people. We are not simply justified by faith; we also live by faith. By faith we are in the crucified Christ. By the same faith Christ lives in us. Since we live in Christ, we no longer live in sin. We live in Christ, by Christ, and through Christ for the glory of God.
The Christian life is like life after death. We were crucified with Christ, dead both to the law and to ourselves. But we are still united to Christ by faith. Therefore, our story did not end at the cross, but went on to the empty tomb. Just as Jesus was brought back to life in his resurrection, so we also have been raised from the dead. God has given us a whole new life to live for him, a life of faith responding to love.
If this is not Christianity, then there is no such thing as Christianity, which is the point with which Paul concludes the first major part of his letter: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21). J. Gresham Machen identified this as
the key verse of the Epistle to the Galatians; it expresses the central thought of the Epistle. The Judaizers attempted to supplement the saving work of Christ by merit of their own obedience to the law. That, says Paul, is impossible; Christ will do everything or nothing: earn your salvation if your obedience to the law is perfect, or else trust wholly to Christ’s completed work; you cannot do both; you cannot combine merit and grace; if justification even in slightest measure is through human merit, then Christ died in vain.
For the sake of argument, assume that there is another way to be justified, apart from the work of Christ. Suppose that there is some other procedure for getting right with God. Imagine, for example, that what Paul’s opponents were saying was true, that God will accept us only if we keep the law of Moses, getting circumcised and all the rest of it. Now explain why Christ died on the cross. Obviously not to justify sinners, because this is something that sinners must do for themselves. The cross is necessary only if it has the power to bring sinners into a right relationship with God.
Paul’s point is that if it is possible to be justified by working the law, then there was no reason for Christ to be crucified. His death was pointless. His work was in vain. His cross was unnecessary. For if our own works can save us, then Christ’s death was superfluous. Or perhaps Christ’s death was insufficient, so that when he hung, dying on the cross, and said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), it wasn’t really finished after all. Either salvation comes through the finished work of Jesus Christ, or it comes through human effort, but not both. If we can be saved by our own works, then Jesus was a false Messiah who died a worthless death on a meaningless cross.
The notion that Christ died for nothing is scandalous, of course. Luther considered it “an intolerable and horrible blasphemy to think up some work by which you presume to placate God, when you see that He cannot be placated except by this immense, infinite price, the death and the blood of the Son of God, one drop of which is more precious than all creation.” In fact, anyone who tries to add works to faith is treating Jesus exactly the way his enemies treated him when he was dying on the cross. Timothy George writes that “if we add works of the law to the sacrifice of the cross, then indeed we make a mockery of Jesus’ death just as the soldiers who spat upon him, the thieves who hurled insults at him, and the rabble who shouted, ‘Come down from the cross!’ ”21This is exactly what the Judaizers were doing. They were adding works to faith as their basis for being justified before God. By doing this they were saying that Christ died for nothing. They were nullifying the grace of God. But the one thing the apostle Paul absolutely refused to do was to nullify the grace of God. He had come to Christ by faith, not by works. He understood that to go back now and argue that the law can save sinners would be to deny the saving power of the cross. All by itself the cross proves that justification comes by grace, through faith, and not by works. If the righteousness of the crucified Christ is not accepted, then the grace of God must be abrogated. For in order for salvation to be by grace alone, through faith alone, it must come from Christ alone. Otherwise, Christ died for nothing.
Christ did die for something, of course. Or to put it more accurately, Christ died for someone. He died for me. Notice the intensely personal terms that Paul uses to describe his relationship to Jesus Christ. Although Jesus is the very Son of God, he “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). The same God who loved the world loves me, specifically and individually. He not only loves me, but also gave himself for me when he died for my sins on the cross. Jesus freely and willingly volunteered to be my Savior. I, personally, was crucified with the Christ who died, personally, for me. Divine love is not some abstract concept. It is a passionate affection that has been expressed through sacrificial action.
When John Wesley (1703–1791) was coming to faith in Christ, this truth made a deep and lasting impression upon him. In his journal he describes what it was like to come to the end of the second chapter in Luther’s Commentary on Galatians:“I laboured, waited, and prayed to feel ‘who loved me and gave himself for me.’ ” Wesley found that these verses were well worth the effort. So does everyone who comes to Christ by faith, becoming united to him in his crucifixion, and thereby receiving the free grace of the loving God.
19–20 These verses contain four propositions: (1) “Through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God”; (2) “I have been crucified with Christ”; (3) “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”; and (4) “the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Determining the meaning of each of these statements will aid in understanding Paul’s intention in this section.
Stating “through the law I died to the law” further expounds the assertion Paul made at v. 18 that he is not a transgressor of the law. When Paul speaks of “dying to” something elsewhere, he means to say metaphorically that all relationship to that entity has been cut off (cf. “died to sin,” Ro 6:2, 10–11; “died to the law,” Ro 7:2–6). So here he contends that the believer cannot be a transgressor of the law because one who has trusted Jesus Christ has been cut off from any (intended redemptive) relationship to the law. Paul does not indicate that the believer is cut off from the law in any and every sense—the context of this statement is the propositio, in which he sets forth his thesis statement regarding justification and observance of the law—but in both the “legalistic” connotation and in the sense of the law functioning as the nomistic guideline for life (as argued by Paul’s opponents), the believer is “dead” to the law and thus no longer in relationship to it (cf. Burton, 132–33; Bruce, 142). This death to the law came about “through the law,” i. e., the believer’s death to the law is through the law because he died in Christ’s death (Ro 7:4). Paul will further expand on this statement in the probatio section of 3:19–4:7, particularly at 3:19–25.
“I have been crucified with Christ” speaks to the believer’s incorporation into the work of Christ. This is the basis of Paul’s earlier statements regarding the believer’s death to the law and living for God. This is a “Spirit-ual” identification with Christ (i. e., “of the Spirit,” “sourced” in the person of God’s Holy Spirit) in his death. It indicates that union with Christ by faith includes one’s being united with him in his experience of death to the old order, to the law.
The statement “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” extends this incorporation into Christ beyond death to the law to life in Christ. The Christian’s life is “hidden with Christ” (Col 3:3). The believer is transferred by virtue of incorporation with the crucified Christ to the sphere of resurrection life in him (cf. Matera, 103; Bruce, 144). The believer’s life is now lived out under the ethic and guidance of Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. Just as sin was the operative power of the former life, exercised through the law and the self, now Christ lives both in and through the believer.
Paul goes on to explain, “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The present life in the mortal body is, for the believer, a life that is lived “in Christ.” This is life lived in union with Christ, through faith in him who is the “Son of God.” This is a life of commitment to him who “loved me and gave himself for me.” The title “Son of God” both defines Jesus’ identity as God’s Servant and describes the close bond between him and the Father. It also emphasizes the greatness of Jesus’ sacrifice, as he gave himself up to be crucified in order to provide redemption for lost humanity. This sacrificial activity made the way clear for the faith life of union with Christ Paul describes here.
In these verses Paul has expressed the crux of his theology of the Christian life: the believer has died to the law by virtue of incorporation into Christ, with whom the believer has been co-crucified. Life is now lived in union with him in a daily existence of faith “outworked” (cf. 5:13–6:10). The law has no dominion over the believer, who lives now in the ethical sphere of Christ’s life by his Spirit, whose power it is that energizes and empowers one by faith in Christ’s person and work.
Paul’s Continuing Defense of His Gospel in the Face of Peter’s Hypocrisy (Gal. 2:18–21)
2:18–21 / Paul continues to argue with Peter by pointing out that adding the law to the gospel would be to go backward, to rebuild what has already been destroyed and so to admit that one was mistaken all along. If Paul were now to adopt the law it would effectively prove that he was a lawbreaker when he believed in Christ as the means of justification. Paul reasons that rather than becoming a “lawbreaker” he has become one able to live for God. He has not broken the law but rather died to the law, and through the law itself Paul was able to die to the law. He explains this new condition by saying that he has been crucified with Christ.
Paul’s shift to the first person may be for rhetorical purposes, in order to bring home the force of his argument by encouraging his readers to identify personally with the consequences of their view. The shift may also indicate that Paul is responding to the charge that he had advocated the law at one point but has now changed his mind. Note that the words what I destroyed may be read in parallelism to those in verse 19, “for through the law I died to the law.” At other places in the letter Paul seems to be defending himself against such an allegation (e.g., 1:10; 5:11). In each place Paul denies this charge.
In the context of verse 18, in which Paul appears to be responding to the accusation that he is rebuilding the Judaism that he once tore down, the law refers to the whole Jewish way of life. Paul died to the Jewish way of life through two aspects of Jewish law. First, Paul’s zeal for the traditions of his fathers (1:14) was in some way a preparation for God’s choice of him (1:15). So by means of devotion to the law he came to die to the law. And second, Christ’s death, in which Paul shares and which is now the key to righteousness, was through the law. Later in the letter Paul directly connects Christ’s death with the demands of the law (3:13). By being crucified with Christ Paul shares in the circumstances and consequences of Christ’s death, which are through the law dying to the law.
Being “crucified with Christ” is a central feature of Paul’s understanding of the meaning of the Christian life. The believer becomes conformed to Christ and Christ’s death. Paul makes his meaning especially plain in verse 20, where he juxtaposes “I” with “Christ.” In the first clause he states that he no longer lives and in the second that it is Christ who now lives in him.
For Paul the power of the Christian life resides not in intellectual assent to truth, nor in personal rigor, nor even in the simple power of confidence in God, but in recognizing that one has become incorporated into Christ. The Christian life is one of conformity with Christ. Paul uses the Greek aorist (past) tense when he says that he died to the law and the Greek perfect tense (which indicates that an event in the past has continuing results in the present) when he says he has been crucified with Christ. This suggests that Paul thought of his death to the law as having happened in the past, but he defines his life in the present as one of being crucified with Christ. This is why Paul can say 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. At the start of his letter Paul connects Christ’s self-sacrifice with overcoming sin and rescuing believers from the present evil age (1:4). Now Paul connects the sacrifice of Christ with the believers’ conformity with Christ, which involves sharing in Christ’s crucifixion.
The idea of sharing in Christ’s death is a central one that Paul uses to describe the type of religious life he has experienced and seeks to convey. For Paul, belief in Jesus Christ entails identifying with Christ’s death and resurrection. As noted in the Introduction, when Paul refers to the faith of Christ he is speaking of the type of human life Jesus lived and in which believers too may partake. Believers do not dedicate themselves to an example but are incorporated into the archetypal human being. Paul speaks most often of the believer in Christ participating in Christ’s death and resurrection. In Romans and Galatians, in particular, Paul speaks of believers conforming to Jesus’ death (see esp. Rom. 6; 8). For Paul the Christian life is one of conformity to Christ, of being “in Christ,” of “dying with Christ” and so being raised with Christ.
Paul’s connection in verse 20 of the idea of Christ’s death with the idea of being “in Christ” is consonant with his statements elsewhere (e.g., Rom. 3:24–25; 8:1–4). Scholars have often thought of Paul’s “in Christ” language as mystical and seen this as a separate and sometimes antithetical theological approach from his juridical interpretation of the meaning of Christ’s death, in which Christ’s death is thought to atone for humanity’s sin and allow believers to be righteous in God’s sight. Yet here as elsewhere, Paul combines the idea of Christ living in the believer with reference to Christ’s death. This suggests that Paul’s understanding of the meaning of Christ’s death was both a juridical and a mystical one. Paul could write about righteousness, the word that has typically been associated with a juridical understanding of Christ’s death, and in the same breath he could refer to being in Christ. So Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In Galatians 2:16, when Paul speaks of Christ’s death he refers to what has been called its “mystical” result instead of its juridical consequences.
Paul’s understanding of the consequences of Christ’s death cannot then be easily compartmentalized. Even to characterize part of his understanding as mystical requires qualification. Unlike ancient mystical understandings, which regarded the body as a grave for the soul and so looked forward to the separation of body and soul in order that the soul might achieve union with the incorporeal God, Paul speaks of the whole being of believers, including their “body,” as being vitally affected by faith in Christ’s death and resurrection (cf. Rom. 8:11).
Paul maintains a dialectic between the historical fact of the death of Christ, “who loved me and gave himself for me,” and the personal appropriation of that fact (“who loved me and gave himself for me”; also “I have been crucified with Christ”).
Paul typically speaks of the idea of conformity with Christ by speaking of being “in Christ” (e.g., 1:22; 2:4; 3:14, 26, 28; 5:6, 10). It is unusual for him to speak of Christ being “in him.” But in verse 20 he may be saying what he said in 2:16—that faith in Christ results in justification through sharing the faith of Christ (see Introduction). That is, justification is being as Christ is, having the same faith that Christ has, which occurs because Christ lives in the believer.
“By faith” (en pistei) reads literally in Greek “in faith.” This phrase resonates with “in Christ” and also with Paul’s statement in 1:16 that God “revealed his Son in me.” If a subjective genitive reading of 2:16 be accepted, thereby giving the sense of Christ’s faith as that in which believers participate through their faith (see Introduction), then in 2:20 Paul would be saying that his life in the flesh is life lived in the faith of the Son of God. The quality of Paul’s life of faith is that of Jesus Christ—it is Christ’s faith in which Paul lives. The demonstration of that faith is that Christ loved Paul and gave himself for him. These actions are the actions of faith. And in them Paul now lives.
Righteousness translates the same Greek word as “justification” (dikaiosynē). Paul asserts that through the death of Christ God’s righteousness is now available for those who believe, and he will go on to claim that since Christ’s death the law’s role of guiding toward righteousness has ceased. Therefore, the problem is not that Paul is setting aside the grace of God by disregarding the law as a means to righteousness. Rather, the problem is that the rival evangelists do not understand that the grace of God is now manifested in the death of Christ. Faith in Christ allows one to be joined to Christ, to live in Christ, and to have Christ live in oneself—to be as Christ and so to live out of the same faithfulness as Christ. This is righteousness.
The role of Christ’s death is to deal with sin. The role of faith in Christ is to be able to share in Christ’s death and resurrection and furthermore to live with a faith that is similar to Christ’s. It may be significant that in 2:20, when speaking of identification with Christ through faith, Paul refers to Christ as “the Son of God,” exactly the phrase that Paul later uses to describe the identity of those who have believed in Christ Jesus. At 3:26 he writes, “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
The switch Paul made to the first person at verse 18 continues until the end of chapter 2. In the verses in which Paul is most personal (2:18–21) he vividly describes identification with Christ: his co-crucifixion with Christ, and the fact that Christ, not Paul, is living in Paul’s body. The use of the first person makes explicit Paul’s own faith convictions and highlights that for Paul, individual believers become incorporated into Christ. This results in a unity of believers in Christ and so is diametrically opposed to the rival evangelists’ contention that there should be a division between circumcised and uncircumcised. Paul’s adversaries would probably respond that the division need not be there if all believers in Christ were to follow the law. Paul’s vision, however, is of a single community of Gentiles and Jews in which Gentiles can remain as Gentiles. For Paul, law observance for Gentiles is a denial of the efficacy of Christ’s death (2:21). For Paul, the only way for circumcised and uncircumcised believers to live is with the understanding that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value” (5:6). Paul’s attitude to unity in Christ requires not that all Jews become Greeks or all Greeks become Jews but only that, whether Jew or Greek, all live in Christ.
Paul’s record of his confrontation with Peter at Antioch speaks directly to the Galatian situation. Paul lets the Galatians know that in front of eminent Jewish Jerusalem Christians, he called even Peter to account. Paul now turns his attention to the Galatians’ own experience of the power of the gospel.
Argument (verses 17–21)
Plain and pungent as Paul’s exposition is, it was challenged in his day, and it is still being challenged today. So in these verses he turns from exposition to argument. He tells us both the argument which his critics used to try to overthrow his doctrine, and the argument which he used to overthrow their doctrine and to establish his. We hear them arguing with one another, as it were.
- The critics’ argument against Paul (verses 17–20)
Verses 17, 18: But if, in our endeavour to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor. These verses are not easy, and have been differently understood. Of the two main interpretations, I have chosen that which seems the more consistent with Paul’s writing elsewhere, and in particular with the parallel teaching in the Epistle to the Romans.
Paul’s critics argued like this: ‘Your doctrine of justification through faith in Christ only, apart from the works of the law, is a highly dangerous doctrine. It fatally weakens a man’s sense of moral responsibility. If he can be accepted through trusting in Christ, without any necessity to do good works, you are actually encouraging him to break the law, which is the vile heresy of “antinomianism”.’ People still argue like this today: ‘If God justifies bad people, what is the point of being good? Can’t we do as we like and live as we please?’
Paul’s first response to his critics is to deny their suggestion with hot indignation: ‘God forbid’ he says (verse 17, av). He specially denies the added allegation that he was guilty of making Christ the agent or author of men’s sins. On the contrary, he goes on, ‘I make myself a transgressor’ (verse 18, av). In other words, ‘if after my justification I am still a sinner, it is my fault and not Christ’s. I have only myself to blame; no-one can blame Christ.’
Paul now proceeds to refute his critics’ argument. Their charge that justification by faith encouraged a continuance in sin was ludicrous. They grossly misunderstood the gospel of justification. Justification is not a legal fiction, in which a man’s status is changed, while his character is left untouched. Verse 17: We are ‘justified in Christ’. That is, our justification takes place when we are united to Christ by faith. And someone who is united to Christ is never the same person again. Instead, he is changed. It is not just his standing before God which has changed; it is he himself—radically, permanently changed. To talk of his going back to the old life, and even sinning as he pleases, is frankly impossible. He has become a new creation and begun a new life.
This amazing change, which comes over somebody who is justified in Christ, Paul now unfolds. He describes it in terms of a death and a resurrection. Twice in verses 19 and 20 he speaks of this dying and this rising to life again. Both take place through union with Christ. It is Christ’s death and resurrection in which we share. Verse 19: For I through the law died to the law (the law’s demand of death was satisfied in the death of Christ), that I might live to God. Verse 20: I have been crucified with Christ (that is, being united to Christ in His sin-bearing death, my sinful past has been blotted out); 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.
Perhaps now it is becoming clearer why a Christian who is ‘justified in Christ’ is not free to sin. In Christ ‘old things are passed away’ and ‘all things are become new’ (2 Cor. 5:17, av). This is because the death and resurrection of Christ are not only historical events (He ‘gave himself’ and now ‘lives’), but events in which through faith-union with Him His people have come to share (‘I have been crucified with Christ’ and now ‘I live’). Once we have been united to Christ in His death, our old life is finished; it is ridiculous to suggest that we could ever go back to it. Besides, we have risen to a new life. In one sense, we live this new life through faith in Christ. In another sense, it is not we who live it at all, but Christ who lives it in us. And, living in us, He gives us new desires for holiness, for God, for heaven. It is not that we cannot sin again; we can. But we do not want to. The whole tenor of our life has changed. Everything is different now, because we ourselves are different. See how daringly personal Paul makes it: Christ ‘gave himself for me’. ‘Christ … lives in me.’ No Christian who has grasped these truths could ever seriously contemplate reverting to the old life.
- Paul’s argument against his critics (verse 21)
We have seen how Paul counters his critics’ attempt to overthrow his doctrine; we must now consider how he sets about overthrowing theirs. Verse 21: I do not (neb ‘will not’) nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose. We must try to feel the force of this argument. The two foundation planks of the Christian religion are the grace of God and the death of Christ. The Christian gospel is the gospel of the grace of God. The Christian faith is the faith of Christ crucified. So if anybody insists that justification is by works, and that he can earn his salvation by his own efforts, he is undermining the foundations of the Christian religion. He is nullifying the grace of God (because if salvation is by works, it is not by grace) and he is making Christ’s death superfluous (because if salvation is our own work, then Christ’s work was unnecessary).
Yet there are large numbers of people who, like the Judaizers, are making these very mistakes. They are seeking to commend themselves to God by their own works. They think it noble to try to win their way to God and to heaven. But it is not noble; it is dreadfully ignoble. For, in effect, it is to deny both the nature of God and the mission of Christ. It is to refuse to let God be gracious. It is to tell Christ that He need not have bothered to die. For both the grace of God and the death of Christ become redundant, if we are masters of our own destiny and can save ourselves.
Four Christian truths seem to stand out from this paragraph.
First, man’s greatest need is justification, or acceptance with God. In comparison with this, all other human needs pale into insignificance. How can we be put right with God, so that we spend time and eternity in His favour and service?
Secondly, justification is not by works of the law, but through faith in Christ. Luther expresses it succinctly: ‘I must hearken to the Gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do (for that is the proper office of the Law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that he suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death.’
Thirdly, not to trust in Jesus Christ, because of self-trust, is an insult both to the grace of God and to the cross of Christ, for it declares both to be unnecessary.
Fourthly, to trust in Jesus Christ, and thus to become united to Him, is to begin an altogether new life. If we are ‘in Christ’, we are more than justified; we find that we have actually died and risen with Him. So we are able to say with Paul: 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 (verse 20).
2:20. Now Paul expands upon verse 19. He died to the law (v. 19) by being crucified with Christ. He lives for God (v. 19) because Christ lives in him. Believers are in union with Christ. We are united with him in his death, burial, and resurrection. Thus, we died with him to the law (see Rom. 6).
Again, we are uncertain as to what Paul meant by I have been crucified with Christ. It certainly did not mean that he was physically crucified. Dead people don’t write letters. In what sense was he crucified? He may have used the sentence as a figure of speech, referring to the effects of Christ’s death which every believer experiences. It might be reworded, “I have been as good as crucified, since the results of Christ’s crucifixion count for me.” Or he may have referred to a sense in which every believer is required to endure a similar experience of spiritual crucifixion to the desires of self. We put to death our own plans to follow Jesus. It might be reworded, “I have crucified my right to self-control in life, in the same way that Christ was crucified physically. He gave up his right to physical life; I gave up my right to self-life.”
Or he may have referred to some sense in which the believer, because he is “in Christ” is seen by God as having actually died. He may have been referring to the union between the believer and Jesus, when the believer in Jesus experiences, spiritually, everything Jesus experienced. More will be said of these options in the “Deeper Discoveries” section of this chapter.
Whatever Paul meant about having died in Christ, the point is that his death severed him from the requirements of the law. Therefore, for Peter and the Judaizers to go back to the law is to visit the graveyard. Paul goes on to say that he can live for God because Christ lives in him. Finally, Paul says that faith is the principle that unlocks the life of Christ in the believer. The more we exercise faith in Christ the more he is free to live through us. The more we are obedient to the Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit, the more our life approximates what Jesus would do if he were in our shoes. In that sense, the life he lives, he lives by faith in the Son of God.
2:19–21. Christians are no longer obligated to the commands of OT law because, through their union with Christ in His death (crucified with; cf. the comments on Rm 6:3; Col 3:3) they have died to the Law (death implies separation—in this case, separation from the law; cf. the comments on Rm 6:10; 7:1–4). Paul’s death with Christ was through the Law since its curse demanded death (3:10–13). Jesus took this penalty demanded by (through) law; since we died with Him our death happens through law as well.
Paradoxically this death produces real life (live to God; cf. the comments on Rm 7:1–6), for under the new covenant what lives in the believer is not law but Christ. We live a human life (in the flesh) but it is lived by faith. As in Jn 3:16, the Son loved and gave; Paul took this love personally (me), as should every believer (Eph 3:14–19). Verse 21 implies that Peter’s actions (shunning fellowship with Gentiles) have nullified grace, because they communicated that righteousness (what is needed for one to be right before God; cf. Rm 3:21–22; 1Co 1:30) comes through obedience to the Law.
2:19–20. Paul then distinguished himself from Peter, contrasting what he did with the Law with what Peter did with the Law. Paul described the transformation in a person who has come to God by faith in Christ in terms of a death and a resurrection. The concept is repeated in both verses and the reference in both cases is to a believer’s union with Christ in His death and resurrection. First, Paul stated that through the Law he died to the Law. The Law demanded death for those who broke it, but Christ paid that death penalty for all sinners. Thus the Law killed Him and those joined to Him by faith, freeing them to be joined to another, to live for God (cf. Rom. 7:4).
In Galatians 2:20 Paul enlarged on the meaning of verse 19. He “died to the Law” because he was crucified with Christ; he was able “to live for God” because Christ lived in him. Basic to an understanding of this verse is the meaning of union with Christ. This doctrine is based on such passages as Romans 6:1–6 and 1 Corinthians 12:13, which explain that believers have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into Christ and into the church, the body of all true believers. Having been thus united to Christ, believers share in His death, burial, and resurrection. Paul could therefore write, I have been “crucified with Christ” (lit., “I have been and am now crucified with Christ”). This brought death to the Law. It also brought a change in regard to one’s self: and I no longer live. The self-righteous, self-centered Saul died. Further, death with Christ ended Paul’s enthronement of self; he yielded the throne of his life to Another, to Christ. But it was not in his own strength that Paul was able to live the Christian life; the living Christ Himself took up His abode in Paul’s heart: Christ lives in me. Yet Christ does not operate automatically in a believer’s life; it is a matter of living the new life by faith in the Son of God. It is then faith and not works or legal obedience that releases divine power to live a Christian life. This faith, stated Paul, builds on the sacrifice of Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us. In essence Paul affirmed, “If He loved me enough to give Himself for me, then He loves me enough to live out His life in me.”
2:20 The believer is identified with Christ in His death. Not only was He crucified on Calvary, I was crucified there as well—in Him. This means the end of me as a sinner in God’s sight. It means the end of me as a person seeking to merit or earn salvation by my own efforts. It means the end of me as a child of Adam, as a man under the condemnation of the law, as my old, unregenerate self. The old, evil “I” has been crucified; it has no more claims on my daily life. This is true as to my standing before God; it should be true as to my behavior.
The believer does not cease to live as a personality or as an individual. But the one who is seen by God as having died is not the same one who lives. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The Savior did not die for me in order that I might go on living my life as I choose. He died for me so that from now on He might be able to live His life in me. The life which I now live in this human body, I live by faith in the Son of God. Faith means reliance or dependence. The Christian lives by continual dependence on Christ, by yielding to Him, by allowing Christ to live His life in him.
Thus the believer’s rule of life is Christ and not the law. It is not a matter of striving, but of trusting. He lives a holy life, not out of fear of punishment, but out of love to the Son of God, who loved him and gave Himself for him.
Have you ever turned your life over to the Lord Jesus with the prayer that His life might be manifest in your body?
2:20 — I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith .…
The secret to the Christian life is to allow Jesus Christ to live in and through you, by faith. When you invite and allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life, you become a vital representative of Christ.
|Why do I still have the impulse to sin?|
|One day the gospel made sense to you and you placed your faith in Jesus Christ to forgive you of all your sins. You felt thrilled with this new life and marveled that many of the ungodly things you once did had lost their attraction. Perhaps you even thought you had conquered every sinful impulse.||And then you stumbled … badly. A new temptation or a new set of trials brought to light some area of your life that you thought you had whipped. You felt confused, ashamed, maybe even alarmed. Perhaps you wondered, How could this happen? I thought I was supposed to be free from sin!||The truth is, Jesus has set us free from sin—but it is a kind of freedom that sets us free from ourselves. When Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ,” he means that God had broken his selfish individuality and united his spirit with his Lord. He truly became one with Jesus, and therefore he had many of the same resources available to him that Jesus enjoyed on this earth.
If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, then you are one with Him. His likeness and holiness are present within your life. The very power that enabled Jesus to resist all temptation dwells within you.
Still, there remains within your mortal body an impulse to sin, a “sinful nature” that must be surrendered to God. So Paul writes, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells” (Rom. 7:18). Yet we are not stranded in this barren place, for Paul also says, “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Through faith we access God’s power to overcome our sinful impulses. A little later in Galatians, the apostle explains it in slightly different terms: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
We receive Jesus’ gift of freedom only by exercising faith in God. We must believe that He can remove ungodly strongholds within our hearts and that He continuously works to make us free from all sin and bondage. Our responsibility is to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God as we trust Him to provide the all-encompassing liberty that our souls crave.
See the Life Principles Index for further study:
9. Trusting God means looking beyond what we can see to what God sees.
24. To live the Christian life is to allow Jesus to live His life in and through us.
 Rapa, R. K. (2008). Galatians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 586–587). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1880). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Ga 2:20). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.