Dying to the Law in Christ

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

- Galatians 2:20

Conversion, when we are made new creatures in Christ, is a decisive break with sin (2 Cor. 5:17). Sin’s power is broken when we trust Jesus, though sin’s presence remains. Still, true conversion has consequences for our struggle against remaining sin. Having died decisively to sin, we continue to repent as we grow in Christ. Such repentance is true sorrow for violating God’s law and offending Him and others, not sorrow merely for sin’s consequences (7:10). By repentance and the cultivation of spiritual fruit, we crucify the old man who keeps trying to reassert himself (Rom. 8:12–13; Gal. 5:24).

Moreover, the consequences of conversion include a “rising-to-life of the new self” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 90). We were definitely raised with Jesus when we first trusted in Him. By His Spirit, He continues to raise us when we step down into sin after conversion. This resurrection, as Galatians 2:20 reveals, involves Christ living in us.

The context for this verse is the Galatian Judaizers’ attempt to find eternal life by keeping the commandments. Such an approach to God’s law is fundamentally wrong, as Paul tells us throughout Galatians. If we start down the road of obedience to the law as the means of securing the righteousness that merits eternal life, we cannot veer off course. We must keep every commandment of God perfectly, for that is the only way to merit life in His presence forever (3:12; 5:2–3; see Lev. 18:5). Sinners cannot do this. Somewhat paradoxically, God’s law leads to life only if we first embrace the law’s condemnation. We must die to the law through the law (Gal. 2:19)—we must be united to Christ by faith alone so that His satisfaction of the law’s penalty becomes our satisfaction. God’s law no longer condemns us to eternal death because that sentence was executed fully in Christ. If we are in Him, the law’s sentence has been fulfilled for us, and condemnation no longer hangs over our heads (Rom. 8:1–4).

We died in Christ, but we were also raised to new life in Him—the abundant life of joyfully serving God that He exemplified and now works in us (John 10:10; 15:9–11). This new life is not lawlessness but life lived in Christ, which entails submission to Christ, who dwells in us by His Spirit to direct us in righteousness. This life acknowledges that we are great sinners but Jesus is a greater Savior. Working in us, He leads us to repent when we fall and gives us the desire to serve God joyfully (Gal. 2:20; 1 John 1:8–9).

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage: “The doctrine of the gospel, instead of weakening the bond of duty, did but the more strengthen and confirm it; and therefore, though he was dead to the law, yet it was only in order for him to live a new and better life for God.” Only in dying to the law in Christ can we fulfill the law. Yet we can die to the law only through conversion and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 119:129–136
Matthew 5:17–20
Galatians 6:1–2
James 2:8

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