This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. If you have any questions or comments for Rev. McGeown, please post them in the comment section on the blog.
Dead to the Law
Paul begins Galatians 2:19 with this assertion, “I am dead,” or (better) I died.” The difference between “I am dead” and “I died” is the difference between a state of being (dead) and a completed action in the past (died). You might express it thus: “I died,” with the result that “I am dead.”
The truth that Paul died presupposes that before he died, he had lived—or he had been alive. Such is the case. With respect to what was Paul once alive? And with respect to what did Paul die, so that he is now dead? The answer to the question is “the law.” “I am dead to the law” or “I died to the law.”
There was a time in the past, says Paul, when I was alive to the law. But that has changed. I am now dead to the law, for I died to the law. Paul was alive to the law; he lived for the law; he was devoted to the law; and he sought his salvation in the law.
There was a time in the past, says Paul, when I tried to keep the law. The law said, “Do this and live.” Paul thought that by “doing” the law he would live. Therefore, Paul made every effort to keep the law. He lived very strictly.
Then something happened. Paul died to the law, so that now he is dead to the law.
The law was not able to do for Paul what he imagined. The law cannot give salvation. The law cannot give life. The law cannot give peace. The law was never designed for such things. The law says, “Do this, and live,” but we cannot do this. Therefore, the law threatens; the law curses; and the law damns. The law says, “Since you have not done this, you may not live; you must die.” The law thunders against the sinner, “You are cursed because you have broken me.”
Therefore, Paul’s relationship to the law had to change—and it did.
But how did Paul’s relationship to the law change? Did the law change? Did the law change its demands? Did the law say to Paul, “Do your best, and I will cut you some slack”? Did the law say to Paul, “Do not worry—God grades on a curve”? Did the law say to Paul, “You are better than others and God appreciates your sincere efforts to keep me”? No, the law does not change and it cannot change. The law is the unchanging standard of God’s righteousness. There is nothing wrong with the law, but there was everything wrong with Paul; there is everything wrong with us.
Did the law die, then? Was the law abolished or abrogated? Did God say, “I see that you cannot keep my commandments; therefore, I will no longer require it”? Did God cancel his requirements and then accept something less than perfect obedience instead? The answer is no! The law is still in force and all sinners who are under the law must perish, therefore.
The answer is that Paul changed. The law did not die, but Paul died. “I am dead to the law” or “I died to the law” (v. 19). Paul’s relationship to the law changed because he died; when Paul died, the law lost its power over Paul. The law, says Paul, cannot condemn me; it cannot curse me; it cannot damn me; and it cannot hold me captive.
The law’s threats no longer concern me, says Paul, for I am dead to the law. When the law says to Paul, “You have broken the commandments of God, you deserve to die, and you must die,” Paul responds, “I am dead to you—you cannot condemn me!” Paul says to the law, “I am dead to you. I am free from you, O law. I have a new Master, O law. I serve him; I no longer serve you.”
But how did Paul’s death occur? It was not a physical death. It was the death of a relationship.
Paul’s explanation is surprising: “For through the law I am dead to the law” or “through the law I died to the law.”
The law itself was instrumental in ending its relationship to Paul.
First, the law killed Paul by revealing to him his sins. For a while Paul lived in foolish ignorance, for he thought that he could keep the law. But then Paul realized something: he realized it because the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. Paul relates this in Romans 7:7: “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, ‘Thou shalt not covet.’” And in verse Romans 7:9 he explains, “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”
When Paul’s eyes were opened through the power of the Holy Spirit to the reality of the law and to the reality of his relationship to the law, Paul’s life changed. The law now terrified him. The law in which he had trusted for eternal life revealed to him that he could not keep the law. The law threatened him with eternal damnation.
Have you come to that realization? You must come to that realization. If you do not come to that realization, you will continue to seek salvation in the law. And if you continue to seek salvation in your works, you will perish in your works, which are sins.
Second, Paul died to the law through the satisfaction of the law. The law does not easily let a person go. The law has dominion and jurisdiction over every person. The law says to every person: “Thou shalt,” and when someone refuses to do what the law demands, the law condemns, curses, and damns that person. The law says to every person: “Thou shalt not,” and when someone does what the law forbids, the law condemns, curses, and damns that person.
Therefore, the law must be satisfied. The law must receive its due. The law says, “Pay me what you owe!” The debt to the law must be paid in full. The curse of the law must be removed. The wrath of the offended law must be turned away.
But how did that happen? The law is not satisfied if we offer to it imperfect obedience. The law is only satisfied if it receives two things: perfect, lifelong obedience, and punishment for the transgressor.
Paul did not satisfy the law. We did not satisfy the law.
Christ satisfied the law for Paul, and Christ satisfied the law for us.
That is the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ.
Christ satisfied that law, first, by obeying the commandments of God perfectly in his life: he rendered to God perfect obedience; he never broke any of God’s commandments; he loved God with his whole heart, soul, mind, and strength; and he loved his neighbor as himself.
Christ satisfied that law, secondly, by enduring the penalty of the law. When Christ died on the cross, he made a payment. That payment satisfied the law by giving the law “enough.” God’s just demands were satisfied. The curse was removed. The debt was paid in full.
Therefore, the law has no power over Paul, for Christ has satisfied the law for Paul, in Paul’s place. The law has no power over us, for Christ has satisfied the law for us, in our place. The law cannot condemn, curse, damn or even threaten us.
Does that mean, then, that we can now live free from the law in sin? That is not Paul’s conclusion. Paul reacts to such a conclusion with horror: instead Paul writes, “For through the law I am dead [I died] to the law [so] that I might live unto God” (Gal. 2:19).
Paul is now alive to God, he is now devoted to God, and he seeks fellowship with God. Paul’s life is now transformed: no longer is he the slave to sin under the law; now he is the servant of God. And a servant of God lives gladly and thankfully in obedience to God for his great salvation in Jesus Christ.
But what precisely did Christ do to satisfy the law? The answer is that he was crucified. In verse 20, Paul’s confession, “I am crucified with Christ,” presupposes that Christ was crucified.
This is important for two reasons. First, this form of death—on a cross—enabled Christ actively and consciously to give his life; he was not quickly killed; he died slowly and deliberately. In verse 20 Paul explains: “He loved me and gave himself for me.” Second, this form of death was the means by which he endured the curse. All lawbreakers, says Paul, are under the curse (Gal. 3:10). Jesus “hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written: Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).
But Paul does not simply say, “Christ was crucified for me.” That would not explain his startling statement, “I am dead” or “I died.” Instead, Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ” or “I have been crucified with Christ.” The statement in verse 20 explains verse 19.
While it is true that Christ died for Paul, it does not go far enough. Paul must also be crucified with Christ. Paul expresses this as a word of triumph. He exclaims it for the whole world to hear: “I am—I have been—crucified with Christ.”
Two things are noteworthy in that phrase “I am crucified with.” First, Paul uses the preposition “with,” which indicates association and even union: “crucified with Christ.” Many men have been crucified in the history of mankind, and most of them perished. But Paul has been crucified “with Christ,” which makes the difference. Paul has been crucified in the closest connection or union with Christ; when Christ was crucified, so was Paul. When Christ died, so did Paul; when Christ was buried, so was Paul.
And that is true for all believers—I am, we are, you are (if you are a believer) crucified with Christ. That is possible only because Christ is the representative of others: when Christ died, he represented others; when he died, he took responsibility for others.
The only way in which anyone can know that he or she was crucified with Christ—and that, therefore, Christ represented him or her on the cross—is through faith. By believing a person comes to know this beautiful truth, but without faith a person perishes. Believe, therefore, in Christ. Trust in him alone. And you shall be saved and you shall be able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ.”
The second noteworthy aspect of that phrase, “I am crucified with,” is the tense: it is the perfect tense, which indicates completed action in the past with lasting effects into the present. I have been crucified. That crucifixion happened in the past with the result that I have died. That crucifixion happened in the past with the result that my sins have been removed.
And it has a permanent effect upon Paul and upon the believer.
I have been crucified with Christ, and I died to the law. The law has no power to condemn, curse, damn or enslave me; and I am now free to serve God.
Let others serve the law, says Paul, but I, even I, am crucified with Christ!
TO BE CONTINUED...