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2. The Cross And The Exchanged Life (Gal. 2:20)

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“Judaizers” is the term we use to describe Jewish teachers who were trying to convince the Gentile Christians that, in order to be saved, they needed to trust Christ and observe certain Jewish religious customs, one of which was that males must be circumcised. They were the legalists of their day, the people who demanded faith plus works for salvation. In effect, the Judaizers in Galatia wanted the Gentile believers to “live like Jews” (2:14). They wanted the “old” life under the law added to the “new” life in Christ. They were insisting that faith in Christ alone was not enough, that, in addition, Jewish rituals and works were necessary for salvation, that they had to live according to the law, at least as far as circumcision was concerned. But Paul withstands them. He says: “It isn’t what we do that has merit before God, it’s what Christ has done. It isn’t life in the flesh that counts, but life in Christ by faith.”

There is a battle between the “old” and the “new” self. The “old self” knows nothing but self-justification and sin; the “new self” knows nothing but justification in Christ. Certainly you cannot be justified by the works of the law, as the Judaizers were teaching, for “by works of the law no one will be justified” (2:16), Paul says. The law was not given to save; it was given to condemn. “Whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Rom.3:19).

On the basis of the law, we deserved death because we are lawbreakers by nature and by practice. That was God’s decree: The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20). God also said that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). He also said that “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22-23). So how can we possibly be declared righteous by God, since we are all sinners?

The answer is because that was then and this is now: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” (Rom. 3:21). Thank God for the “buts” of Scripture: “But now” in this present day of God’s grace; “now” in contrast to the past era of the law. “But now” God has revealed and demonstrated his righteousness in the gospel, entirely separate and apart from the requirements of the law. God’s righteousness cannot be earned on the basis of human effort or merit. It has nothing to do with keeping the law. It is solely an act of God through Christ, independent of the law. The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ mark the beginning of a new age in which “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” By faith in Christ this is a new day, a new relationship with God has been opened up through what God has done for us in Christ.

Though every human being is guilty before God, though “both Jews and Greeks are under sin” (Rom. 3:9), though “none is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God (Rom. 3:10-11), though “all have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12), nevertheless, God’s righteousness is “now” revealed. It’s not that God has chosen to ignore or set aside the law. In fact, quite the opposite, for both “the Law and the Prophets bear witness” (Rom. 3:21) to God’ righteousness. It’s not that the law is of no value or that it is benign. Rather, it is that “by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes the knowledge / consciousness of sin (Rom. 3:20).

Now, God’s righteousness is revealed on a brand new basis, namely, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). Now it is possible for us to be declared righteous by God because Christ bore the penalty of our sins, our lawlessness. Paul explains that all those who have sinned (i.e. everybody) “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:24-26). Similarly, Peter puts it this way: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).

This is the doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Christ’s death on the cross satisfied the demands of the law, and, because I am united with him by faith, the benefit of what he has done is mine. I have died to the law by dying with Christ. He took my place on the cross, dying the death that I deserved so that, by faith in him, I am declared righteous by God. We are declared righteous by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. Thus, God sovereignly declares the sinner who believes in Jesus to be righteous through the merit of Christ. “A person is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16).

The consequence is an exchanged life. When God declares us righteous a radical transformation takes place. We cannot stay the way we were - an exchange takes place. We exchange the old life under the law for the new life in Christ. We exchange the old life of sin and self for the new life of faith in Christ. We exchange self-control for God's control of our lives. Galatians 2:20 is Paul’s frank avowal of the secret of the exchange in his own life. It is Paul’s “confession of the power of the cross in his own life. It stood between him and the past” (F. B. Meyer, Devotional Commentary, 542).

The central thought in our verse is the complete break with the old ways of thought and life, a break that severs the connection with the old life and a break that demands an unqualified committal to Christ. For Paul, there can be no return to the past. This is a once-for-all thing. A return to the law as a means of getting right with God is an utter impossibility for him: death had broken his relationship with the law.

The subject of this study is “Justification: How an unrighteous person can be declared righteous by God.” And the central theological principle we learn is that the justified life initiates a radical exchange:

I. It exchanges the old life for the new – “No longer I…but Christ.” Life under the law is renounced; life in Christ is adopted.

II. It exchanges life in the flesh for life by faith – not physical life but spiritual. The temporal life is brought under the power of faith.

I. The Exchange Of The Old Life For The New: “No Longer I…But Christ”

1. My old life of sin is dead: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live” (2:20a). To be “crucified” for Paul is often meant metaphorically. It indicates a total separation and freedom from whatever dominated him before. It is a metaphor for a complete severing of relationships. It is a radical departure from a previous way of life to which he will never return. On the one hand, he has died to his previous existence and way of life. On the other hand, he is released to a new life.

So, to be crucified with Christ means to break the domination of the old nature. The old self with its sinful lusts is dead and the new self lives: 9 You have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9-10). The old, sinful self has been done away with, rendered powerless, inoperative: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6).

To be crucified with Christ frees me from my past: “For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom. 6:7). The death sentence of the law has been paid; it has no further claim against me. If a man is put to death for a capital crime, the law has no more claim over him. So it is with the believer who is crucified with Christ. Now we are no longer under the law but under grace and, consequently, the power of sin is broken: “For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). The law no longer holds me in its grip – I am no longer in bondage to it. God has “forgiven us all our trespasses by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14). Thus, the requirements of the law that were against us have been wiped out. I am free from the despair and guilt of my past.

“I have been crucified with Christ” is a past event. It took place at the cross through our spiritual union with him there. When Christ died, we died with him because, by faith, we are united with him such that his death becomes our death. And thus, the means of our justification before God was accomplished at the cross.

“I have been crucified with Christ” is also a present experience. The verb here is in the perfect tense, indicating a past event with present, ongoing effects. We are being crucified as a present experience when we identify with his cross, when we unite with him in his death, when we take up his cross daily and follow him (Lk. 9:23). This is what Paul is referring to when he expresses the desire that “I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10). This is our present experience in the life of faith – “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:10).

Notice that the verb here is not only in the perfect tense but also in the passive voice – i.e. the action of the verb has taken place in the subject. What we could not do for ourselves, God has done for us. Notice, it does not say: “I have crucified myself,” but “I have been crucified.” Each day you are to “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). That’s what it means to be crucified with Christ as a present experience.

“I have been crucified with Christ” secures our future glorification. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5). And again, “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Rom. 6:8). Thus, Christ’s death on the cross becomes our death by faith in him, and likewise his resurrection from the dead assures us of our resurrection at our glorification when Christ returns.

2. My new life in Christ is alive: “It is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (2:20b). As a consequence of dying with Christ, the old sinful “I” lives no longer. Instead, now “Christ lives in me.” Christ is the motivating principle in my life. He characterizes my life. I am like Him. I live for Him. I desire Him. As the law had once dominated Paul’s life, so Christ now does. The old rebellious, guilty “I” no longer lives. Rather, the new justified, freed-from-condemnation “I” lives.

Augustine knew what Paul was talking about. According to history, early in his Christian life one of Augustine’s former sinful companions, a prostitute, encountered him on the street one day and, with a smile, said: “Augustine, it is I.” He looked at her and replied, “But it is not I,” and turned away. Augustine acted on the fact that he was dead to his sinful flesh. Consequently, he would not “let sin reign in (his) mortal body, nor yield his members as “instruments for unrighteousness” (Rom. 6:12-13). We too must practically place our sinful nature in the place of death. As the Scriptures instruct us: “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). And again: “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). Have we given him control of our life – our thoughts, words, deeds? Only when we do, can we gain mastery over sin.

Just as we have been crucified with Christ, so too we are “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” so that “we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Now I relinquish myself and present myself to God “as those who have been brought from death to life” (Rom. 6:13). This new resurrection life is an entirely different kind of life. Even though we have been crucified with Christ, we are plainly still alive, so we can say that the life we now live is entirely different. The difference is that we abide in Christ and he in us. He lives within us; we are his home, his permanent residence. Christ becomes the indwelling guest in my heart, as Paul reminds us - “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:17). He dwells in our hearts by faith and as a result we enjoy rest and hope - “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

God has condemned, crucified, and buried our sinful flesh so that Christ can be a living reality in us. I still retain my personhood, but now I reflect the Lord Jesus Christ, so that when others see me, they see Christ; when they hear me, they hear him. So now, Paul says, “for me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). This sums up the whole Christian experience – living is Christ, “Christ…is your life” (Col. 3:4). Christ is the sum and substance of our life. The true Christian life is not so much a believer living for Christ as Christ living in and through the believer. It is a life according to the Spirit not the flesh. It is a life for God not for self (Rom. 8:5). It is not life for pleasing the flesh but life for pleasing God: “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom. 8:10).

The first exchange, then, in the justified life is “The Exchange Of The Old Life For The New,” a life in which the old “I” no longer exists and the new “I” has taken over. The second exchange is…

II. An Exchange Of Life In The Flesh For Life By Faith: Not Physical Life But Spiritual Life

1. We live now by faith: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (2:20c). I live in the flesh physically on the outside, but I live by faith spiritually in my inner being. The Christian life is a physical life on the earth (i.e. “in the flesh”), but that life in the flesh is marked, controlled, and directed by “faith in the Son of God.”

Through faith in Christ we have a new standing before God, not based on the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19) but based on “faith in the Son of God.” The life in the flesh is poor, limited, distressed, dreary, but within that life is a life of faith in the Son of God, a life of triumph and hope.

We live by faith in Christ because of who He is. He is “the Son of God.” Who more than he deserves our trust? For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10).

We live by faith in Christ because of what He has done. He has died for us and risen again. He has given us new life. He indwells us. We have “received him” (Jn. 1:12) and yielded to him. He has control because our wills are submitted to his. To live by faith in the Son of God is to receive him, yield to him, rest in him.

2. Faith is rooted in Christ’s love: “…the Son of God, who loved me” (2:20d). Faith rests upon the love of God that is displayed in Christ. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 Jn. 4:9).

Faith responds to love that is unsolicited. While we were still alienated from God and hostile toward him through our evil deeds (Col. 1:21), God loved us. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).

It is the unsolicited love of God that has won our hearts and to which we respond. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13), but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Faith delights in love that is personal. Paul says: “He loved me” – the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). The truth that Christ died for the sins of the whole world is no good unless we appropriate it for ourselves – “he loved me” not merely the mass of humanity but “me.”

3. Christ’s love is demonstrated in His gift: “…the Son of God who… gave himself for me” (2:20e).

His gift was personal – he “gave himself.” Other Scriptures point to his death as the surrender, the giving up of the Father, such as He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all…” (Rom. 8:32). Octavius Winslow summed it up like this: “Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas for money; not Pilate for fear; not the Jews for envy; but the Father for love” (from “No condemnation in Christ Jesus”).

But here it is the Son who “gave himself” up. This is the balancing truth to the Father sending the Son. The Son freely came and bound himself to the cross with cords of love. Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2). His death was a voluntary self-surrender motivated by his love. He “handed himself over” (παραδιδωμι) to be put to death by others. Just as the Father handed over his Son to die, so the Son handed over himself. Isaiah echoes this thought: “He poured out his soul to death” (Isa. 53:12).

His going to the cross has both a human and divine perspective. It is true to say: “I did it – my sins sent him there.” It is also true to say: “He did it – his love took him there. He “gave himself.”

His gift was also individual – “for me.” His death was instead of me, in my place, as my substitute. He “gave himself for our sins” (Gal. 1:4). Our sins took him there. He died as a sacrifice for individual human beings. His death was not for some abstract cause. No, he died for individuals, as the song says: “When he was on the cross, I was on his mind.” By faith I grasp the personal benefits of the death of Christ. The death of Christ is for me, as though I were the only person in the universe.

The cross, then, makes possible an entirely different kind of life, an exchanged life.

Final Remarks

1. The exchanged life is a life of contrasts. Notice these three…

(a) I am crucified…but I live. We live because we die. We die to our sin nature and we live to God.

(b) Not I…but Christ. “I” is no longer the motivating force of my life - Christ is. He is the One whose life shines out of us so that others can see him.

(c) I live in the flesh…but I live by faith. The Christian life moves in two spheres at once. Externally, we live “in the flesh”; spiritually, we live “in faith.” The Christian life does not belong to the material realm, nor is it dependent upon the physical body in which it is housed. The Christian life operates now in the spiritual sphere governed by faith.

2. The exchanged life is a life of union with Christ in his death and resurrection. He died and we have died with him. Regarding death to the old life, Paul says: “I died (Rom. 7:9) … I have been crucified with Christ … It is no longer live I who live” (Gal. 2:20). Christ lives and we live in him. Regarding the resurrection to new life, Paul says: “Christ lives in me…I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20).

3. The exchanged life is a trade of the “old” for the “new”. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Christ died for me and I died with him. That’s the old - it’s gone; the law’s demands have been met and sin’s guilty penalty has been paid. Christ rose again and I live through him. That’s the new - it has come; now I share in his resurrection life and power.

What a glorious truth is contained in this text. 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.” By God’s grace may we live in the reality of this truth. The Christ who loved me and died for me is the Christ who lives in me. And now I live by faith in him.

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)

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