“If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and 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. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:17-21
In the last lesson, we read of Paul’s clash with Peter and the other Jewish Christians, including Barnabas, over their return to the practices of the Law due to the influence of others. They were no longer treating Gentile Christians in the same manner as they had previous to the arrival of the men from James. Before their arrival, Peter and the others were sharing meals with Gentile Christians and foregoing the Law’s command of separation. They were enjoying table fellowship with one another as the body of Christ. But with the arrival of the men from James, the Jewish Christians returned to their Jewish practices.
The Mosaic Law couldn’t make a person good, couldn’t empower a person to do God’s will, and most importantly the Law couldn’t give life. The Law was only a tool to help people know God and what actions pleased him. Paul’s understanding and insight into the gospel of Jesus Christ was radical, particularly for a man who had been such a stringent proponent of the Law in the past. In today’s passage, Paul attempts to explain in his letter to the Galatians how the works of the Law don’t produce justification. “Paul’s basic concern … is to make clear that if justification could have come through the Law, Christ died for nothing. Thus for Paul, the objective means of justification is Christ’s death on the cross, not the Law, and the subjective means of appropriating justification of right standing with God is faith in the faithfulness of Christ, not works of the Law.”
Both Jew and Gentile Christians obtain right standing with God through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Initial justification or justifying grace takes place when we become believers in Jesus Christ. Paul writes to those in Galatia who have already become believers. They had already taken the initial steps and are justified in Christ. “The problem for them was how they should go on in their Christian life, whether or not they should add works of the Law to faith in Christ in order to gain the final approbation or acquittal of God in the future. Paul is concerned both with the social effects on the community of following the agitators’(or Peter’s) approach, and with the theological underpinning that supports such an approach. He is assuming that if carefully explained with proper acts of persuasion, fellow Christians would agree with Paul’s understanding of justification.” How should these young Christians live out their faith? The answer to this question was the focus of Paul’s words to them.
Paul offers his own life as proof of the changes wrought in his life by ‘dying’ to the Law through his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. His hope was that the Galatians would see how they could also live out their lives in light of his example. Paul “died not only to the Law but also to the traditions and customs he had previously served. It is the reversal of those prior commitments that the Galatians are to imitate, although their commitments may be of a quite different sort.” Paul believed that Jesus set his people free from the observance of the Law. In these passages, Paul pitches a metaphor out negatively about the reconstruction of a Law abiding lifestyle versus living free of the Law’s chains by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The word he used for lawbreaker doesn’t “just refer to a sinner, but to a transgressor, one who stands within a community bound by a particular form of Law, and violates that Law.” Paul often used legal terms to get his point across and this word is no exception. The use of these legal terms hints at Paul’s skill in rhetoric and rhetorical writing.
When we become believers, we become members of a new creation, the body of Christ. The Mosaic Law has no influence. We now operate under the Law of Christ which basically means we follow the example that Jesus set by his life. The verb tense Paul used for ‘crucified with’ is in the perfect tense and suggests “an action which began in the past and has continuing and ongoing effects in the present.” We also mustn’t slip quickly past the point that Paul makes regarding the fact that Jesus gave himself and that he did so out of love. Jesus loved us and faithfully, obediently, and lovingly gave himself over to death in order that we might be in right standing with God. This gracious act brought about the New Covenant. A covenant not based on works of the Law but on grace. In these first two chapters, Paul has deliberately attempted to persuade and argue for the unity of the body of Christ. He also wanted to persuade them (and us) toward the idea of freedom from the Law and that this freedom was found in Jesus Christ. Paul would say that everything that used to be in us is dead once we accept and believe in Jesus Christ. Then, everything that is alive in us is Christ.
“The just shall live by faith.”
Romans 1:17, quote originated from Habakkuk 2:4 KJV