COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 20
Gal 2:19 “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. 20 I 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. 21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Gal 2:19-21)
I AM DEAD, YET ALIVE – A WORK OF GRACE #5
Aspects of the nature of spiritual life, or life in Christ Jesus, can be detected in Paul’s words to Peter. Such life is personal, but it is not private. It pertains to the individual, but it is not confined to him. The public facet of newness of life has to do with how fellow believers see what the saved are doing – how it relates to the doctrine they have espoused. That doctrine can either be adorned (Tit 2:10), or contradicted (Rom 16:17) because of the outward manners of those identified with it. God can either be glorified (Matt 5:16) or blasphemed (Rom 2:24) because of how a person lives. The “works” that God has ordained for His people are all “good,” and none of them cast a bad reflection upon the One who has enacted them (Eph 2:10). Among other things, this confirms that the forgiveness of sins is critical, yet is not the ultimate objective of salvation. God has determined to have a people who are “zealous of good works,” and has never saved an individual or group of individuals without an acute awareness of that aim (Tit 2:14). When salvation is preached purely from the personal point of view, without having due regard for what God intends to do in salvation, an unavoidable laxity in life takes place. This partially accounts for all lukewarmness, backsliding, and generally living beneath the privileges of the children of God. Those religious merchants who preach as though people were the main thing have obscured these realities. By shining the spotlight upon men, and majoring on the correction of human behavior, they have thrust God and His purpose into the background. All of this is integral to the text before us. It is precisely for these reasons that Paul “withstood” Peter “to his face” – not for something he said, but for something he did. Further, others joined him in the action, including “even Barnabas,” thereby leaving a very large impression that would lead to a very erroneous conclusion among both Jews and Gen tiles. Now Paul will associate their conduct with the very heart of the Gospel of Christ.
THROUGH THE LAW, I AM DEAD TO THE LAW
Gal 2:19 “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.”
The subject with which Paul is now dealing is justification, or being “justified” (2:16,17). Later he will deal even more extensively with this subject (3:11,24; 5:4). This is at the very heart of redemption (Rom 3:24. It is at the core of eternal purpose (Rom 8:30). In salvation, it is the fundamental consideration of God Himself (Rom 3:26). Justification is accomplished by Christ (Gal 2:L17). It is the root cause of having “peace with God” (Rom 5:1). Now, in further development of the seriousness of what Peter has done, Paul will show the spiritually illogical nature of the deed that is being exposed and rebuked.
THROUGH THE LAW. Paul brings up the Law, because it was the Jews’ understanding of, and devotion to, the Law that moved them to entertain an improper view of their Gentile brethren. The Law does have a role to play – but it is not one by which men are justified, or made acceptable to God. “Through the Law” addresses what the Law DOES, not what it does NOT do. Allowed to minister as it should, this [death to it] is what the Law will accomplish.
AM DEAD TO THE LAW. Other versions read, “died to the law,” NKJV and “have become dead to the Law,” BBE This does not refer to an ongoing process, but to something that was brought to its conclusion – death. The Law produced death, not life – and it was a holy, good, and just Law! As regards its covenantal aspect, the Law is appropriately termed, “the ministration of death” (2 Cor 3:7) – i.e., it administrated death, actually severing people from the living God. Testifying of this ordained work Paul said, “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death” (Rom 7:9-10).
While this involved a separation from God, the focus here is that believers have become “dead to the Law” – i.e., they are no longer its subjects, and its work had to do with “condemnation,” not justification (2 Cor 3:9). While we are not free to live in contradiction of the Law, it is not the basis of our acceptance by God. Acceptance is in Christ, not in keeping the Law (Eph 1:6). The Law does not contain the details of what is involved in “newness of life,” nor does it require faith in God (Gal 3:12). If you consider having a new heart, the Law demands that you make one for yourself (Ezek 18:31). If you consider the circumcision of the heart, the Law demands that you do it yourself (Deut 10:16). Both of these requirements are a kind of summation of being saved by works. You are not only required to precisely do what you were commanded to do, but to also make yourself capable of doing so in a consistent manner.
A conscientious effort to thoroughly and consistently do what the Law demands causes the death of the human spirit: i.e.“I through the Law am dead to the Law.” In fact, living with an intent to perfectly please God according to the Law actually widens the distance between the individual and God, causing death in trespasses and sins to finally consume the individual. When it comes to being alive toward God, that is how utterly powerless the Law is! It can do nothing – absolutely nothing – to exonerate the guilty, or to cause them to be acceptable to God. It was not ordained to do such a work, and no person, regardless of their imagined gifts and abilities, can cause it to enable, empower, or equip the person dominated by sin. How, then, can adherence to the Law have anything to do with being justified?
Being “dead to the Law” is to be freed from its dominion, which dominion had exclusively to do with convicting of sin. As long as any person is controlled by law, sin will dominate. The propensity to sin cannot be controlled by law, or outward regulation. Those who claim their routines, and the habits they promote, empower the individual, have lied.
IN ORDER THAT I MIGHT LIVE UNTO GOD. The purpose for being freed from condemning Law is that one “might live unto God” – which life Law would not allow. This freedom is not merely in order to avoid condemnation, or to be a better person, but to “live for God,” NIV “live in direct relationship with God,” CJB “be alive to God,” NJB and “ [henceforth] live to and for God.” AMPLIFIED
When certain Jews had come from James, Peter had removed himself from the Gentiles, doing so because he was “fearing them which were of the circumcision” (2:12). In that action, he was not living “unto God,” but unto those who were “of the circumcision” – the Jews. He shaped his conduct because of them, not because of God. In a moment of surface thought and undue honor for the Jews themselves, he lived because of them, and not because of God. In so doing, he was, in his action, contradicting the reason for being free from condemning Law and forgiven of “all trespasses” (Col 2:13). His manner contradicted the doctrine. It also would lead the Gentiles to have an improper assessment of the Law itself and of those who are in Christ Jesus. It would inevitably lead them to believe that in Christ God honored Jews more than Gentiles, even though there is no such thing as a “Jew” in Christ Jesus – or any other fleshly distinction (Gal 3:28). No decision of life can be made without it being primarily to please and honor God Himself. Every other consideration must perfectly align with that aim.
CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST, YET I LIVE
2:20 “I 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.”
Again, we must not forget the deed that has prompted these fundamental observations – leaving the Gentiles to eat with the Jews. It confirms that no believer can step out of his identity with the Lord to do anything – and that includes even eating and drinking (1 Cor 10:31).
I AM CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST. Other versions read, “have been crucified.” NKJV/NASB/NIV From one perspective, this crucifixion has already taken place (Gal 5:24). From another point of view – which is the view of this text – that crucifixion is still taking place. That is, the “old man” is still pinioned on the cross. When we were baptized into Christ’s death, the “old man” was crucified with Him (Rom 6:6). That is where he is to remain – in a state of restriction, where he is not allowed to express himself in words and deeds.
Here, the expression “I am crucified” refers to the underside of the statement, “live unto God.” Living unto God is in direct proportion to being “crucified with Christ.” If a person does not keep under their body and bring it into subjection, living for God is simply not possible, and the person who imagines that it is has been deluded. As to whether or not this is possible, all doubts are dissolved by the truthful confession that this is what Paul was doing: “I AM crucified with Christ.” In regards to the event of reference, this was proved when Paul did not join in the dissimilation.
NEVERTHELESS I LIVE. Other versions read, “still I am living,” BBE “but I live,” GENEVA “and yet I am alive,” NJB “nevertheless I live,” PNT “I live verily,” TNT “and I live,” LITV This phrase is omitted in modern versions. (NKJV/NASB/NIV/NRSV)
Here there is a transition of thought from death (“crucified with Christ”) to life (“the life which I now live”). These two conditions are separated by the clause, “nevertheless I live.” Technically, from the standpoint of language itself, men dispute concerning the accuracy of this statement. However, doctrinally, there is perfect consistency in the expression. Paul will now explain that his death to the Law, or crucifixion with Christ, was followed by newness of life that was lived out upon the basis of another principle. Spiritual life not only consists of abandoning one way of living, but continuing to live for another reason – a higher reason.
CHRIST LIVETH IN ME. By saying “Christ lives in me,” NKJV Paul is accounting for his words and deeds. Being “dead with Christ” postulates that we also “live with Him” (Rom 6:8). In this manner “the life also of Jesus . . . is made manifest in our body,” or “mortal flesh” (1 Cor 4:10,11). This is a depiction of Christ dwelling in our hearts “by faith” (Eph 3:17). He is not sitting in a rocking chair, for that is not the way He dwells, or inhabits. This kind of life is also set forth as Jesus supping, or dining, with us (Rev 3:20), as he did with the two with whom, He conversed on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:30-31). The individual in whom Jesus is not expressing Himself is, to that precise degree, not living. This means that what Peter did in getting up and sitting with the Jews was actually an expression of deadness, not life.
I LIVE BY FAITH. It is written, “the just [justified ones] shall live by faith” (Rom 1:7; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38), or “the righteous man shall live by faith” (Rom 1:17 NASB). Living by faith is not merely believing your sins are forgiven. It preeminently involves living with an acute awareness of the presence, power, and will of the Lord Jesus Christ. As soon as men shape their conduct to please their peers, that have stepped aside from living by the faith Jesus gives. The objective of the saints is not ultimately to please men (Gal 1:10). It is no wonder that Satan makes hearty and consistent efforts to convince men they ought to live to primarily impress and please men. Such a life does not require faith, and to so live causes faith to grow weak. That is because pleasing men does not remove enmity from them, cause the angels to rejoice, or bring pleasure to God. Living by faith is living within the range of an acute awareness of the Lord. It is shaping one’s life in view of what Jesus has done, the inheritance that is reserved for us in heaven, and the looming day of judgment. This is “the newness of life” to which Romans 6:4 refers.
HE LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME. This is the statement of a personal perception. It is not a doctrinal statement that is intended to be repeated as though it was Gospel. Actually, no person can really say this unless Christ is living in them. While it is true that Christ “died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6), and that He took away “the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the benefits that accrue from His death are only realized by those in whom Jesus takes up residence and expresses Himself, for they are the only ones who can really see this.
Concerning this matter, we have no need to speculate why Jesus “loved me and gave Himself for me.” This is a matter of revelation: “And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5:15). Thus we have the two-sided coin of redemption: not living for self, but rather living for Christ. Those whose lives are shaped by self-will cannot truthfully make the confession of this verse, for they have departed from the appointed objective – even if it was to do a single thing, like Peter did.
GRACE CAN BE FRUSTRATED
2:21 "I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain."
Is the grace of God like a blanket that covers what is offensive to Him? Or, is grace a worker (Rom 5:15), enabler (1 Cor 15:10), teacher (Tit 2:11-12), and helper (Heb 4:16)? Does grace simply allow God to overlook what men really are? Many leave us with the impression that this is a fair representation of the grace of God. But, let us not be deluded, it is not.
I DO NOT. The human will is sanctified in Christ Jesus. There is as aspect of grace that empowers those receiving it NOT to do certain things. It is one thing to determine not to do something. It is quite another to carry that determination to its fulfillment. Here is something Paul did not do. He does not say “I will not,” but rather “I DO NOT!” This is a truthful assessment of his life, not a statement of an unfulfilled determination. It is the way Paul lived.
FRUSTRATING THE GRACE OF GOD. Other versions read, “set aside,” NKJV “nullify,” NASB “void,” ASV “make . . . of no effect,” BBE “reject,” CJB “cast away,” DOUAY “abrogate,” GENEVA “spurn,” MRD “treat . . . as meaningless,” NLT and “I do not treat God’s gracious gift as something of minor importance and defeat its very purpose; I do not set aside and invalidate and frustrate and nullify the grace.” AMPLIFIED
It is apparent that this is an unusually strong statement, providing a perspective of grace that is scarcely known in our time. Although grace is a great accomplisher, it is nowhere depicted as covering neglect, rejection, spurning, or living as though it did not exist. Frustrating the grace of God effects the one in whom it is not allowed to teach and work. Grace does not work where it is neglected. If, when the hand of grace is extended with all of its benefits, that hand is rejected, it is withdrawn, having been “frustrated.”
In the English language, “frustrate” means: “1 to balk or defeat in an endeavor; 2 to induce feelings of insecurity, discouragement, or dissatisfaction in: 3 to bring to nothing.” WEBSTER-MERRIAM On a practical note, this means that a person yields to the flesh rather than to the grace of God that teaches what to accept and what to reject (Tit 2:11-12). When neglected, grace sits down, and sometimes leaves the individual altogether. When a professing Christian falls into sin, it is only because he frustrated the grace of God, preferring to listen to the flesh instead of to the Spirit (Gal 5:17,25).
By implication, Paul is saying this is what Peter did when he visibly preferred the Jews to the Gentiles – that is, the believing Jews to the believing Gentiles. The preference of sinners over saints is never the result of yielding to the grace of God – never! This is because neither God nor Jesus prefers the ungodly to the godly. Thus Paul is addressing in-house matters, so to speak.
RIGHTEOUSNESS BY THE LAW. Other versions read, “through the Law,” NKJV gained through the Law,” NIV “attains . . . through the Law,” CJB “by the Law,” DARBY “by obeying laws,’ GWN “keeping the Law could make us right with God,” NLT and “through [observing the ritual of] the law,” AMPLIFIED
This is teaching that a person cannot become “right” by observing some outward, or external, rule or law – any law. Character is not transformed by doing. Sins are not taken away by following a prescribed pattern – no matter what it is. There is no law or principle that can form a bond between the individual and Christ, or make them acceptable to God. If such things were true, then righteousness could come by means law – that is, by obeying the requirements of a law.
Every recovery system is based upon following a set of rules, laws, or principles. Such systems place great stress upon habits, or thoughtless routines, saying that once they are established, the nature and status of the person actually are altered. Books, cards, and workshops are offered to keep people apprised of the rules which, if followed, will produce good character. But it is all a sham, and there is nothing to it. It is the work of the devil himself that produces such vain illusions. Exactly what procedure could have been put in place to undo the sin of Adam and Eve? And if no such thing could exonerate them, who imagines there is something like that capable of changing any sinner, causing their lives to be right. Were such a thing remotely possible for a single transgression, then Adam and Eve could have stayed in the garden!
THEN CHRIST IS DEAD IN VAIN. Other versions read, “Christ died in vain,” NKJV “died needlessly,” NASB “for nothing,” NIV “to no purpose,” RSV “without a cause,” GENEVA and “there was no need for Christ to die,” NLT “died groundlessly and to no purpose and in vain. [His death was then wholly superfluous.] AMPLIFIED There is no wiggle-room here! If men can be made better by following a law, routine, or procedure, then the need for Christ, and particularly His death, has been abrogated! There can be no compromise on this point – not even to the smallest degree.
APPLYING THIS REASONING TO PETER’S ACT. If there was any possible way in which Peter was made better, more considerate, more kind, or more right before God by leaving to sit with the Jews, then Christ’s death was pointless! If, by that deed, it was remotely possible that his move was a truly considerate one, or that he was the more conformed to the image of Christ, or Jesus became more free to work in the people, then Christ’s death was to no purpose, and the cause that drove it was foolish. Now, every person must know how to apply this truth to their own life.