Galatians 2:19-21 KJV (NIV Link below)
19For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
21I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
Death for new Life
This section probably contains the second most quoted verse in Galatians. Paul is speaking about death and life in the here and now. While we have been talking about the Grace that was surprisingly present in the law (the Jewish Torah), there is nevertheless an inescapable conclusion to a life lived by the law. Ultimately, the law cannot grant life. The law leads to death. No matter how good you are, no matter how rigidly you try to keep to it, you will never be able to fulfill it perfectly. This was recognized even at the giving of the law: God instituted a means of atonement. Sacrifices offered on Passover cleansed the sins of the nation. An animal temporally took on the identity of the individual who had sinned, and then the animal was killed. The sinner died through the law vicariously by an animal. However, and this is important, we no longer require the intermediary of the law. We die by the law, but–Hallelujah!–death is not the end!
Because Christ was a sacrifice like none other, death need not be permanent. Unlike the previous animal sacrifices, which are slaughtered once never to live again, Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Paul asks us to look at that in the context of Jesus’ radical claim that he came to fulfill the law (and not upend it). If he is our Passover sacrifice, then our lot, our identity, is found with him at his death: “I am crucified with Christ.” If we keep our identity with Christ, and we die with him, we are also raised with him. His resurrection necessarily entails the resurrection of those who cast their lot, who throw their identity, upon him.
Paul reminds us elsewhere that this means an actual resurrection of ourselves after death, something that Jesus himself declares. Our own resurrection some day in the future, though, does not negate the effect Jesus’ resurrection has on us right now. We are already dead according to the law, but Jesus came to give us life abundant. We no longer live, but Christ lives in us. And Christ lives in us so that we, in him, might live for God. Therefore any life we have is ours by faith in Christ. We are only alive so long as we are alive in Christ. Those who are not alive in Christ are walking dead.
This is so, declares Paul, because righteousness could not be gained through the law. That was the fundamental mistake of the Judaizers. They had forgotten that the righteousness from the prior covenant was not one that they had gained. It had been given by grace. And since God widened the perspective of his grace by coming in person, eliminating the intermediary, the law was no longer the means of righteousness. If it were, then Christ came for no reason. If righteousness could be earned, then grace is unnecessary. Paul urges us not to set aside grace, but to die to ourselves and let Christ live through us.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts, comments and questions below. If you need help getting started, here are some reflection questions: What do you think it means that you no longer live, but Christ lives in you? Have you found it difficult to do this through your own effort? Death is not something that you do, but something that is done to you. It’s beyond your control. Do you find it hard to release control to God, especially when you know it leads to death? Paul counterbalances our loss of identity (“I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”) with God’s particular and specific love for us (“who loved me and gave himself for me”). Does knowing that your identity is found in God make it easier to release your identity? How does this impact your perspective of Christ’s death and resurrection?