Freedom to Live
In this passage Paul is at the heart of his argument in Galatians. There are only two ways to relate to God: either on the basis of law and your good works or on the basis of faith and God’s grace. The key phrase in Reformed theology is, “Justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.”
Paul’s main point is that to relate to God on the basis of anything you have done is to nullify God’s grace and make Christ’s death needless.
The Problem of Sin
The doctrine of justification by faith alone raises an obvious problem. If by 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?
1) The accusation (v. 17). According to the Judaizers, the Gentiles were sinners not so much because of their immorality as their living outside the boundaries of the law. The Judaizers believed this is what Peter and Paul were doing: in their personal habits living like Gentiles rather than Jews. Instead, to prove that we are righteous, we have to keep certain standards.
2) The reality (VV. 18-19). God is not in the business of sin. The doctrine that promotes sin is justification by the law. Notice that in verse 19 the law does not do the dying. We die to the law according to Romans 7. John Calvin wrote: “To die to the law is to renounce it and try 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.” When Christ died, Paul (and we) died to the law in Christ’s death as our substitute.
The Answer to the Problem: Union with Christ
In verse 20 Paul explains his own death: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” “I have been crucified” is not just a subjective experience. It is an objective reality.
The doctrine of union with Christâ€•taught throughout scripture but most clearly in Romans 6â€•says that once we get into Christ by faith, then everything he has ever done becomes something we have done. It is as if we had lived his perfect life and died his painful death, were buried in his tomb and raised to his glorious heaven. His story becomes our story. His death separates us unto God. God does not set us free from dominion of sin by making the old self stronger, but by crucifying it. “I have been crucified with Christ.”
“I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” Paul says. There are two ways the New Testament talks about crucifixion related to holiness: death to sin through identification (union) with Christ, and death to self through imitation of Christ. On the one hand we have been crucified with Christ and on the other hand we crucify our sinful desires daily by taking up the cross.
“The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God.” Union with Christ provides the answer to the question, “If God justifies bad people, then why be good?” Isn’t this a dangerous doctrine that encourages people to be immoral? Paul says certainly not. It is justifying faith that gets us into Christ, and when we are in Christ we become new people. We live by faith, Paul says. Here’s a definition of faith: It is the disposition of the whole person by which God’s Word is believed and the reality bound up with that Word is appropriated.
When Paul says in Romans 8:29 that we are “being conformed to the image of his Son,” the implications are staggering:
• When Christ died, we died (Gal. 2:20).
• When he was buried, we were buried (Rom. 6:4).
• When he was made alive, we were made alive (Eph. 2:5).
• When he was raised, we were raised (Eph. 2:6).
• When he was seated (in the heavenly places), we were seated with him (Eph. 2:6).
Paul talks about being more than a conqueror. He is saying we should not be somehow “getting through” life, but we are to live triumphantly. It is a way of life. If this is not Christianity, then there is no such thing as Christianity. This 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.”
The Judaizers were adding works to salvation and therefore saying Christ died for nothing. Paul understood that to go back now and argue that the law saves sinners would be to deny the power of the cross. Christ died for something. He died for you and me. It is personal. Divine love is not an abstract concept. It is a passionate affection that expresses itself through sacrificial action. Not because I am a worthy recipient, but because God is faithful to his Word, his promise and most important, his glory.