“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.”
As the Apostle Paul writes this line in his letter to the Galatians, the meaning of his words is ripe for Christians. John Stott concludes his book The Cross of Christ with the seven affirmations from Galatians, seven affirmations that express a summary of what he has tried to write in his whole book about the centrality of the cross for Christian life.
Today we will focus on the meaning of Galatians 2: 19-21 [the second affirmation].
When Paul says he has died to the law why is that so important? What he probably means is he is dying to Judaic Law, the overwhelming number of binding rules and regulations that Jesus challenged in his life here on earth. Paul is talking about the grip the Pharisees had on everyday Jewish life by centering their political power on themselves as arbiters of the “rules.”
When Paul states he died to the law, he is making a bold statement that he is following Jesus and not Pharisaical law. When he dies to the many rules and regulations, he can live for God. Essentially Paul is telling us that “The Law” gets in the way of someone trying to live a righteous life.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Of course Paul was not actually put on a cross at Calvary with Jesus but when he says he has been crucified with Christ, he is using a metaphor that applies to all Christians. Metaphorically, all Christians “died” on that cross with Jesus. Our old lives died and our new life with Christ began. As He was resurrected, we are resurrected. The law condemns us all, but Jesus came to bear the brunt of our punishment so can we live a righteous life. Jesus came to provide a better way for us to connect to God. We no longer have to be perfect by following all the laws of Moses; Jesus knew we cannot meet that standard. He provides and better and more reasonable way to get close to the Father. Jesus knew what it felt like to be human and at the same time being God incarnate. That allowed Him to live a sinless life. He instructed us in his years on earth. He acted out what it was like to focus on the real intent of “the law.” Even though is it not Galatians, when Jesus responded to a Pharisee who was an expert on the law, he got to the heart of God’s laws. The expert asked Jesus “which is the great commandment in the Law?” What was intended as a trap for Jesus became an opportunity for Jesus to tell everyone that it is not about obeying 613 commandments and countless interpretations by the Pharisees; it is about getting right with God. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37–40). These words shed light on what Paul is saying when he writes that he has died to the law and is now living in Christ.
Paul is “all in” with Jesus when he writes “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Paul knows that Jesus has saved him from his own death on the cross. Paul knows he deserves to be punished [as we all do]. Stott writes of Paul “(the old, sinful, guilty I) live no longer. But Christ lives in me. Or since plainly I am still alive, I can say that the life I now live is an entirely different life. It is the old I (sinful, rebellious, guilty life) that lives no longer. It is the new “I” (justified and free from condemnation) who lives by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me [Stott, 332-33].
Paul is expressing one the most difficult concepts of Christian life: the grace of God. Why would God come to earth to live among us? Why would God take my punishment for my sinful life? Do I deserve this? What can I do to repay Him? I can’t live the sinless life of Jesus. What am I to do?
God loves us. He gives us all a chance for a better life in His actions. Take His sacrifice and use it. Try to tap into the Holy Spirit and live a better life. Believe. Accept Him into your life. Let the Holy Spirit guide you. Know that God understands you and He understands me, that we are human [with a sin nature] but He loves us anyway. We don’t have to live or die by the Judaic law, for Jesus has come to save us. His sacrifice supersedes The Law. If we attempt to attain righteousness through the law, we will surely fail. The law condemns. Justification by faith in God and His Son Jesus magnifies the grace of God, declaring that we are saved by His grace alone.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” [John 3: 16].
He gives us all a chance…