Why it matters: If a man is justified by the works of the Law, then why did Jesus the Messiah die? His death, burial, and resurrection are the key truths of the good news of Jesus. We are saved by faith in the Messiah (He died for us), and we live by faith in the Messiah (He lives in us).
We are so identified with Jesus by the Spirit that we died with Him. This means that we are dead to the Law. To go back to Moses is to return to the graveyard! We have been “raised to walk in newness of life”; and since we live by His resurrection power, we do not need the “help” of the Law.
“I have been crucified with the Messiah; and it is no longer I who live, but the Messiah lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Galatians 2:20 (NASB)
Paul puts the reason we are united in Jesus crucifixion in highly autobiographical and therefore movingly personal terms. It’s that from God’s standpoint (and it’s his standpoint that counts) Paul was crucified when Jesus was crucified, because Paul’s believing in the Messiah made the Messiah the Spiritual habitat of Paul.
The Messiah’s crucifixion is unrepeatable, so that Paul’s having been crucified with the Messiah (again from God’s standpoint) is equally unrepeatable. In the sense of unrepeatability Paul “remains” crucified with the Messiah. Since in his crucifixion the Messiah suffered vicariously the Law’s penalty for Paul’s and others’ sins, crucifixion with the Messiah severed Paul’s relation to the Law; for the Law exhausts itself on a person in the exacting of capital punishment. A dead person is under no obligation to the Law, because he can’t obey it—hence Paul’s statement that “through the Law [that is, through the Law’s exacting the death penalty on me in my crucifixion with the Messiah] I died in relation to the Law.… and I’m no longer living [under its jurisdiction].”
But just as Paul was crucified with the Messiah because by faith he came to be in the Messiah, so by virtue of resurrection (plus the gift of the Holy Spirit). The Messiah is living in Paul. Though no longer living in relation to the Law, then, through the resurrected the Messiah’s living in him Paul is living in relation to God while living in flesh, that is, in a body destined either to die and be resurrected or to stay alive till the second coming and be immortalized (as guaranteed by the Messiah’s resurrection.
The master plan: Thus “living in flesh” means “living by faith in God’s Son” outside the Law’s jurisdiction and therefore where transgressing the Law—that is, the Mosaic law as such—is impossible. The switch from “the Messiah” to “God’s Son” makes the relationship to God of a person in the Messiah by faith, as Paul is, one of sonship too. “Who loved me and gave himself over [to crucifixion] on my behalf” injects into Paul’s theological reasoning a soulful observation on the soulful reason for the Messiah’s crucifixion.
The bottom line: In view of the theological and soulful reasons that Paul has spelled out, he refuses to “set aside the grace of God” by—and for the sake of—rebuilding “works of the Law.” Why? Because if righteousness (in the sense of God’s treating people as righteous) comes through the Law (in the sense of obeying its precepts), “then the Messiah died gratuitously” (in the sense of needlessly).
- Romans 6:6 — knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;
- Mark 8:34 — 34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
- Matthew 10:38 — 38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
- Luke 14:27 — 27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
- Galatians 5:24 — 24 Now those who belong to the Messiah Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
- Galatians 6:14 — 14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Master Jesus the Messiah, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
- Galatians 2:20 (NASB) — “I have been crucified with the Messiah; and it is no longer I who live, but the Messiah lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.