“For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God (Galatians 2:19).”
The Apostle Paul’s opponents were the Judaizers. They were professing Jewish Christians who believed that certain ceremonial OT practices were still binding upon the church. The epistle to the Galatians was written by Paul to refute the mischief caused by the Judaizers. For they had circulated among Paul’s converts in Galatia, seeking to impose ceremonial OT regulations, including circumcision.
The Judaizers argued that Paul was not an authentic apostle. Paul’s response to their charge is found in Galatians 1-2. In these chapters, Paul establishes his apostolic authority and substantiates the biblical gospel. The book of Galatians is an eloquent defense of the essential New Testament truth that a man is justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone. A man is not sanctified by legalistic works, but only by faith in God’s work on his behalf. The life of faith is lived out in the freedom of the Spirit which issues forth in obedience.
It was the rediscovery of the basic message of Galatians that brought about the Protestant Reformation. Galatians is often referred to as “Luther’s book” because Martin Luther relied so heavily on this epistle in his writings and in his arguments against the heresies of his day.
The historical setting of Galatians 2 involves an event which took place in the church in Antioch. Paul stood up in the congregation of Antioch and rebuked Peter for withdrawing from his Gentile brethren for fear of the Judaizers. By Peter’s act of separating himself, he was compelling the Gentiles to go back under law for full righteousness (2:11-21).
The grace purchased by Christ’s work had torn down the barrier between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:11-16). But Peter, by separating himself, was reinstalling the barrier that the cross of Christ had removed! (Peter’s error was grievous. By reinstituting regulations on eating and drinking, he was rebuilding a salvation structure by Law-works which was previously torn down.)
How important is justification by faith? Luther said that it was the article of faith upon which the church stands or falls. Where the doctrine is systematically neglected, churches are spiritually dead. In stressing the importance of justification, Luther said, “We must know it well, teach it to others, beat it into their heads continually.”
Why did the reformer emphasize constant reiteration of this doctrine? The reason is that Luther knew the heart of man. He understood that we carry a lower nature that is self-righteous to the core. One could accurately say that all men are born with a natural heart religion that imagines a man may be justified by what he does before God. There is a self-righteous legal spirit in all of us that hopes to achieve standing before God by means of law works.
When a person is born again, his “heart religion” is displaced by the glorious truth of justification. Theologian Berkouer says, “Justification touches man’s life at its heart; at the point of a man’s relationship with God, it defines the preaching of the church, the life of faith, the root of our security, and our perspective on the future.”
Justification is not grounded upon what we do, but in the work Christ did on Calvary. Therefore we do not rest in any of our merits, but solely on the work of Christ. It is the glorious doctrine of God’s own righteousness imputed.
The false apostles and Judaizers who had troubled the Galatian churches had said in effect, “unless you live according to the Law, you are dead to God. Live after the Law or be dead to God.” But Paul, God’s true apostle, proclaims that the redeemed man is dead to the law and now lives to God. Paul uses the law as it should be used – its design is to show us our sin, not give us life before God. The law is intended by God to show us our need of justification.
Paul warns the Galatians of the severe danger of attempting to contribute to one’s legal righteousness before God. The Apostle’s “formula” in Philippians 3:7-9 is to reckon as rubbish anything that competes with Christ as a source of right-standing before God. Paul reckons all personal accomplishments as refuse in order that he might gain Christ. (In so doing he steers clear of any personal attempt to accrue merit before God.)
It is impossible for the nature of man to accomplish the Law. If a person depends upon the religious duties of the Law for righteousness, he only proves that he is a transgressor of the Law and not a fulfiller of it (Gal 2:18). The Law has the power to condemn, but not to justify. A person who returns to the Law for right standing with God debars himself from justification through Christ.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the Law. The problem stems from man’s depravity. The Law is holy, righteous, spiritual and good says Paul (Romans 7:12, 14). In Romans 13:10, he states that love fulfills the Law. (The Law can “x-ray” the heart, showing its sinful condition, but the Law cannot give us a new heart.)
PROPOSITION: Our purpose is to understand the relationship that believers bear to the Law as a result of their justification. We seek to understand that relationship so that we might fully lean upon Christ’s sufficiency in our new life of grace under God.
In order to accomplish this purpose, we will look at three principles drawn from verse 19:
1.) The Law is the instrument of your death to itself.
2.) You have died a death to the Law.
3.) You are living a new life unto God.
I. The Law is the instrument of our death to itself.
The Law slays its disciples. It forces us to die to itself by threatening destruction. It leaves us with nothing but despair. When we try to be devoted to it, it inflicts a fatal wound and drives us away. The reason for this is that the Law accepts nothing short of perfection. To fail at its legal requirement of perfection is to be judged in one’s whole person (James 2:10).
Now the Apostle Paul gives us a number of graphic descriptions of the Law’s lethal power. Paul has the evangelical use of the Law in mind in these metaphors. His descriptions are from the vantage point of the new covenant in Christ’s blood.
Are you beginning to see now how the Law functions as an instrument of death? No man living is able to accomplish it. Yet God requires it. The Law therefore condemns.
The Law’s work in condemning and killing is an evangelical or gospel work. Its job is to thunder God’s wrath against sin from the heights of Sinai so that man will despair of any humanly devised approach to God.
Paul gives yet another metaphor of the Law in Romans 7. He describes it as an inflexible husband to whom we looked for life and right standing before God. Talk about spousal abuse! This husband beat us and ultimately killed us (Rom 7:9, 10). Instead of saving us, this husband dealt out death, not life. Herein lies the evangelical value of the Law. For the death and condemnation it exacted from me drove me to Christ my eternal Husband who gave me mercy, pardon and life.
Your experience with the Law (your “first husband”) was absolutely necessary. Here is the reason why. Until the Law as a covenant-husband is dead to you and you to it, you will never look for righteousness in Another (in the Lord Jesus Christ). Until the Law kills you and you are dead to it (expecting nothing from it), you will continue to look for justifying righteousness through legal working.
II. You have died a death to the Law.
What does it mean to be “killed” by the Law? How does the Law KILL us? The Law accomplishes your death first of all by accusing you, condemning you, and showing you your wretched state. It knocks you down and curses you. It incarcerates you to be slain by God’s wrath. Only by this “killing” will you be brought to expect nothing from the Law by way of merit before God.
The Holy Spirit is the Agent in this “killing” (Jn 16:8ff). He takes a man’s conscience into the court of God’s Law. There the conscience is arraigned, indicted, and convicted. The man is crushed in his spirit over his sins as he beholds the just sentence of God against him. “I deserve eternal death, hell, condemnation under God’s wrath.” “I deserve to be eternally miserable.”
The person who is convinced of his ill desert by this humbling work of the Holy Spirit despairs of all self-righteousness. His conscience no longer accepts “bribes.” He throws his religious deeds overboard. He is brought to the end of self. His mouth is closed as his desperate case is spread before him – he has no alibis (Rom 3:19).
It is at this point that the Holy Spirit illuminates the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ so that the person appeals to Christ alone for life. Our text reminds us that although God’s grace is free, He only bestows it upon the sinner who has been slain by the Law.
The Law prepares a man for the gospel by resounding blows that break up the flinty rock of self-righteousness resident in every man’s heart. The stony ground must be pulverized by the Law to allow the gospel to effectually enter. (No man will appeal to Christ alone until he is found guilty and condemned by Moses in the court of God’s Law. In our zeal to offer free grace, we are at times too quick to present Jesus as the answer before the “patient” has seen that his sin condition is terminal.)
Untold numbers of individuals have made a religious appeal to Christ’s gospel before they have been brought into God’s Law court. Luther described them as “double appealers,” for they lean on two supports. They presume to be saved by faith aimed at their own efforts and religious works as well as faith aimed at the grace of Christ.
If your appeal to Christ is a correct one, it must be a TOTAL APPEAL. He must have all of the honor in a man’s salvation. Only when a total appeal is made to Christ does the Law cease to be your judge, husband, and covenant of death.
Churches today are filled with religionists who have made a partial appeal. The problem of the religionist is that he has never been killed by the Law. He has never been arrested by it and found worthy of death in God’s sight. He has never been hopeless in himself. He has always maintained a self-righteous optimism that his religious deeds contribute to his safety. When the Law kills a man, it shows him that his self-righteous hopes are damnation.
The religionist has never been cross-examined by God’s Law and found to be a criminal in the sight of heaven. Those who have never been exasperated by the Law as tutor are reluctant to jettison the religious measures they clutch to their bosoms. Their self-righteous hopes have not been broken. In reality, their hope is no better than the hope of Cain the apostate whose religious efforts were rejected by God.
To pass through God’s law courts is come out poor in spirit, mourning over sin. It is to see that all religious hope outside of Christ has been keeping you from justification by faith in Christ. Lest we be guilty of self-deception, we must take Paul’s words to heart. It is only those killed by the Law who have their sentence of damnation fully carried by their Substitute.
To be dead to the Law is to be joined to Christ. For the Law has passed sentence upon Christ our Substitute. He bore our sin up to the cross. He vicarious death is the affirmation of the Law’s verdict (Gal 3:13). Christ became the Law’s curse for our sakes. Our death to the Law was accomplished through Christ’s death. “I am crucified with Christ” Paul says. My participation in Christ’s death has decisively severed us from the Law’s dominion. The Law ceases to exercise its condemning claims upon me (Rom 7:4, 6).
By reason of Christ’s death for me, I have died to the Law’s slavery. I have no more confidence in the Law. I am free from its mastery because it has prosecuted its penalty to the maximum degree upon my Substitute. It has done its worst to my Savior.
III. You are living a new life unto God.
Our freedom from the Law’s dominion is solely because of union with Christ. In Him, I have died to the false way of righteousness. In my Substitute, the document of condemnation was “nailed to the cross” (Col 2:14).
Once a person apprehends Christ by faith, he understands that he is dead to the Law, justified from sin, delivered from death, the devil, and hell. Out of this new relationship we live a new life of consecration to God (Rom 4:15). In this new life we live unto God, we do good works, love God, give thanks to Him, and do deeds of charity to neighbors. Our works of obedience do not add to the sufficiency of Christ. Our crucifixion with Christ is our entrance into a superior life in which we are dead to sin and alive to God (Rom 6:13ff.).
Natural reason cannot understand that the Law is not a path of life before God, for the Law says, “Do this and live.” It seems too wonderful that we should, through Christ, live unto God and be dead to the Law.
What comes natural to a man is to measure personal accomplishment. Every person longs for some kind of “scorecard” to record personal achievement. Therefore, every professor of the Christian faith ought to ask himself, “Was there ever a time in my life when the books of heaven were heavy with charges against me, when God had written dark things against me that I had no hope of erasing?”
Until God shows us we are captives and debtors, guilty and beyond self-help, we are not prepared for God’s remedy in Christ. God uses the tool of His Law to pierce the sinner’s darkness and ignorance with bolts that startle the sleeping conscience. The awakened man begins to fear God’s holy character.
Prior to the Spirit’s conviction, the man had been apathetic, now he shudders at the truth of God’s unbending justice and wrath against sin. With the full conviction of sin, comes the desire to be made new – to be delivered from sinful habits and affections.
The counsel of Scripture to sinners is to welcome conviction and stop running from it. Be willing to feel the weight of your guilt, to be brought low. Accept no remedy for this guilt but the blood of Christ.
Oh how a man needs to be slain by the Law, for nothing is more difficult than to take Christ alonefor righteousness. The natural religion of the heart is secretly opposed to the free grace of God. Only those killed by the Law will fall at the feet of Christ and gladly be beholden to Him forever.