We’ve skipped some of my favorite parts of Romans, but covered quite a lot of the book, all in search of the answer to: If we’re saved by faith, why bother to obey?
We now turn to Paul’s direct answer to that question in Galatians 2, but with a deeper, richer understanding of Paul’s theology to help us understand.
(Gal 2:17 ESV) 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!
Yes, Jesus saves sinners — who remain sinners. We don’t stop sinning just because we’re saved. Does that mean Jesus serves sin? Does he condone or encourage sin? “Certainly not!”
But does Paul’s theology lead to that interpretation for those with a shallow or weak understanding? Of course. Obviously. But remember from Romans 3 that he calls those who make that accusation slanderers and justly condemned. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be in that number! I want to understand why Paul is right, not challenge him.
(Gal 2:18 ESV) 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
First defense: If a supposed Christian rebuilds his fleshly mind and worldly worldview, if he rejects the work of the Spirit and refuses to be conformed to the image of Jesus, he proves himself to be a transgressor — that is, he is damned (Compare Heb. 6:4-6).
Paul uses “transgressor” in —
(Rom 2:25-27 ESV) 25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.
— to make the same point. Being a transgressor leads to damnation. And that’s a pretty good reason to follow the Spirit and become a living sacrifice.
But, of course, there’s a whole lot of gray between between becoming a living sacrifice and becoming a transgressor! And there are Christians all along a continuous line between the two. Why not inch really close to the transgressor line and not cross over? Why bother to really commit when a lukewarm commitment just might work?
(Gal 2:19 ESV) 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.
This is one dense verse! But let’s start at the end. He is clearly referring to his choice to become a Christian, which he made to “live to God.” In other words, he chose Christianity for a reason — to live for God. Therefore, why would he not still want to live for God now that God has accepted him?
But for many modern evangelicals — and members of the Churches of Christ — well, we didn’t really have this experience. We were baptized but we did so, not to live for God, but to escape hell. We were taught an incomplete, deficient gospel — so that our motivation was self-serving, not to serve Jesus. And that’s a serious problem.
Of course, it’s still true that a Christian who becomes a transgressor can become damned — can fall away — but obviously the real motivation that should matter is a desire to be a servant — even a son! — of God.
Why say that through the law he died to the law? In light of chapter 3, which is all about Abraham, I have to figure that “through the law” means “by means of the Abrahamic covenant found in the Torah” (remember: “law” = Torah, which may refer to the Law of Moses or may refer to Genesis – Deuteronomy. Abraham is part of Torah.)
“Died to the law” surely refers to dying in Jesus to be freed from the requirements of the law.
(Gal 2:20 NET) I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
But this death Christians experience at baptism is more than dying to the requirements of the Law of Moses! It’s being crucified with Christ to be resurrected with Christ living within us!
Now, we know from Romans (and Paul explains in Galatians 5) that “Christ lives in me” via the Spirit. It’s not just that I read the Bible and obey it. It’s God transforming my heart by the Spirit.
Therefore, I now live a life steeped in gratitude for the faithfulness of Jesus, for his love, and for his sacrifice for me. But this is not mere human gratitude, it’s gratitude empowered by the Spirit.
(Gal 2:21 ESV) I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Paul says that if he were to live a sinful live, he would “nullify the grace of God.” That is, God’s very purpose in giving him grace is so that he’ll live a transformed life as a bearer of the very image of Christ. Indeed, that’s why Jesus died!
Jesus died not merely to save us but also to change us so that Christ would live in us, that is, so that we’d live as Jesus lived, empowered by the Spirit.
Thus, to refuse to obey — to sin in reliance on grace — is to stand opposed to God’s cosmic purposes, to defeat the very death of Jesus! Oh … wow … !!