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Galatians 2:16-21: Just as if I’d Never Sinned

Everything we have learned so far in the book of Galatians has been leading up to this verse, which is pivotal in understanding the entire book of Galatians. It is the backbone of Paul’s exposition of the gospel. The great doctrine of justification by faith alone is introduced here. Martin Luther said, “If the article of justification be once lost, then all Christian doctrine is lost.”

“This is the heart of Galatians. This is the heart of Paul's gospel. This is the heart of the New Testament, as well as the key to the particular rebuke of Paul against Peter as Peter attacked the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.”–MacArthur

For Paul this was a non-negotiable, and it also ought to be for us. He had a sanctified stubbornness when it came to the Gospel being by grace, through faith.

What was the problem in the Galatian church? This problem was so great that Paul writes this entire letter to correct it. The problem was that they were in bondage to the law. He writes, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). To surrender to the “Judaizers” (Those who adopted Jewish religious practices or sought to influence others to do so) was to negate the cross of Christ and to make the death of Christ of no effect.

Paul never moves, even for a moment from his position of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone. This is what Jude means “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Paul says he absolutely did not yield to assaults on the integrity of the gospel message that one is to believe in in order to be saved. Writing to Titus, who was about to face false teachers, Paul instructs him to appoint elders who would, “…have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT)

Is it any different today?

We live in the most theologically confused generation in the history of the church. In America alone there are over 240 denominations and all are claiming that their group has the truth. Some of these groups disagree as to the method or way of salvation in the Christian religion.

Spurgeon said, “We have not only ‘another gospel,’ but we have fifty other gospels now preached.”

If there ever were a time in history when we need to “earnestly contend for the faith,” it is today!

Verse 16: “…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

Titus 3:5-7, “…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Justification is a legal term signifying acquittal, not guilty. the declaring of a person to be just or righteous. In short, justification means “just as if I’d never sinned!”

“Justification can be defined as that act of God whereby He declares absolutely righteous any and all who take shelter in the blood of Christ as their only hope for salvation. Justification is a legal term which changes the believing sinner’s standing before God, declaring him acquitted and accepted by God, with the guilt and penalty of his sins put away forever.” –

“What is the doctrine of justification? It is the good news that sinful men, and sinful women can be brought into the acceptance of God, not because of their works, but simply through faith in Jesus Christ… The word comes in many forms: dikaios, dikaioō, verb, dikaiosunē, but it's the same thing. It's translated in the Bible justification, just, right, righteous, righteousness, justify, justified. All those terms translate the same word for the most part.” –ibid

Martin Luther beautifully called this the “blessed exchange,” where Christ trades our sin for His righteousness: “Faith unites the soul with Christ as a spouse with her husband. Everything which Christ has becomes the property of the believing soul; everything which the soul has becomes the property of the Christ. Christ possesses all blessings and eternal life: they are thenceforward the property of the soul. The soul has all the iniquities and sins: they become thenceforward the property of Christ. It is then a blessed exchange commences.”

Charles Spurgeon described the beautiful exchange this way: “There, poor sinner, take my garment, and put it on; you shall stand before God as if you were Christ, and I will stand before God as if I had been the sinner; I will suffer in the sinner’s stead, and you shall be rewarded for works that you did not do, but which I did for you.”

“That is, our justification takes place when we are united to Christ by faith. And someone who is united to Christ is never the same person again. Instead, he is changed. It is not just his standing before God which has changed; it is he himself—radically, permanently changed. To talk of his going back to the old life, and even sinning as he pleases, is frankly impossible. He has become a new creation and begun a new life. This amazing change, which comes over somebody who is justified in Christ, Paul now unfolds. He describes it in terms of a death and a resurrection. Twice in Gal 2:19 and Gal 2:20 he speaks of this dying and this rising to life again. Both take place through union with Christ. It is Christ’s death and resurrection in which we share.” –John Stott

Verse 17,18: “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! “For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor…”

Verses 17,18, MSG: “Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.”

If we claim to be saved by faith in Christ, yet there is no change in our lives, and we only continue in sin, does that mean that Jesus promotes a sinful life? Absolutely not!”

“Paul refuted the charge of the Judaizers that justification by faith led to lawless behavior. He said this made ‘Christ, in effect, a promoter (minister) of sin.’ This could never be. If a Christian puts himself or herself back under the Law, the Law will show him or her to be a sinner, since no one can keep the Law perfectly. These verses are a strong testimony that Christians are free from the requirements of the Mosaic Law.” –Dr. Thomas L. Constable

Verse 19: “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.”

Paul is saying, “Why would I ever want to go back to the law?” Actually he can’t go back because he died to the law and to sin. “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:10-11). “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead” (Romans 7:4). John MacArthur writes, “That old marriage is over and I’ve married a new partner. I'm not going to go back to the old one. Paul is saying here, ‘man, I'm in grace. What would I want to do going back to the law? All the law did was cause me to die. I died, that deal's over with.’”

Verse 20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ 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 for me.”

When they crucified Christ on the cross, God also crucified Paul. This does not mean that Paul actually died physically on the cross.

“In verse 19, Paul states that in Christ he had died to the Law, insensible to it in the same way that physical death makes a person insensible to all surrounding objects and influences. Paul says that he became insensible to the Law as a means of justification. It lost its power over him and ceased to influence him. Paul was also dead to the world, to ambition and the love of money, to the pride of life, and to the dominion of evil and hateful passions. They lost their power over him; they ceased to influence him. They, too, were crucified with Christ.” –

“Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection” (Romans 6:6 MSG).

I was dead in trespasses and sin, now I am have been crucified with Christ, I am dead in Him and alive in him! “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1).

There are four elements in physical death:

1. There is an element of completeness. One of the most powerful aspects of physical death is its finality. Once someone dies, they can’t be brought back to life again All of the hopes, aspirations, goals and dreams for this life go to the grave with them. This person will never again experience the joys and sorrows of life, he is dead! Now those of us who are Christians believe that there is life after death, but that does not take away from the finality of death. My mother is in heaven, but she is not here! I’m happy she’s with the Lord, but I would rather she be with me!

2. There is an element of costliness: “There are no trailer hitches on hearses.” When they told comedian Jack Benny, who was a famous miser, “You can’t take it with you,” he said, “Then I’m not going!” But he went, and he didn’t take it with him! It costs to die. King Solomon tells us, “What’s the point of working your fingers to the bone if you hand over what you worked for to someone who never lifted a finger for it?” (Ecclesiastes 2:21 MSG). Death costs you your fame, fortune, friends and family. Jesus said “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

3. There is an element of change: look at this person in the casket, he/she’s different. All of the temptations of life are gone. All of the difficulties of life are gone. All of the anxieties of life are gone. He’s different! I remember when my mom died, I looked in her casket and said, “that’s not my mom, she would have been talking to me. She would have been checking my ears for dirt .” (When I was young, mu mom had an uncanny ability to detect soiled ears). When a person dies, everything changes!

4. There is an element of calm: Look at him/her, they’re worried about the house payment or car payment. They’re not stressed over things at work, or problems with the family. They are calm as can be! All the difficulties of life are behind them. They’re not worried about a thing.

There are four elements in when we are crucified with Christ:

1. There is an element of completeness. “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). God’s forgiveness is not a disguise to hide our sins, it is complete. He takes away our sin, condemnation and guilt.

Psalm 103:12 MSG, “And as far as sunrise is from sunset, He has separated us from our sins.”

Isaiah 38:17, “You have cast all my sins behind Your back.”

Isaiah 43:25 NLT, “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.”

Micah 7:19, “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” In Revelation 21:1, the Bible says, Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.” God is going to throw my sins into the sea, then He’s going to do away with the sea!

Hebrews 10:17, God says, “I will never again remember their our) sins and lawless deeds.”

2. There is an element of costliness: What does it cost to be a Christian?

It will cost those who are closest to you: Jesus said, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple” (Luke 14:26 MSG).

It will cost fame and fortune and the world’s adulation. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18,19).

It will cost you your will. “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that” (James 4:14,15).

It will cost you comfort. Jesus said, “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world” (Matthew 16:33). “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12 NLT).

3. There is an element of change: As Christians, we become new creatures created for good works. (Ephesians 2:10). In the past we served ourselves, but now we are serving God and others. “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16 NLT).

“But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests,[a] a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT).

I know that Christians and non-Christians are not different physically. We general dress the same, live in similar houses and drive similar cars, but are we different? If you're the life you live is indistinguishable from what any non-Christian lives, then it may be time to ask yourself the question, “Am I really a Christian?”

4. There is an element of calm: Jesus frees His people from anxieties and fears. He exalts His power and authority by working to take away what troubles us. Does this mean that Christians should never worry, never be anxious? It is impossible, as long as we live in these fragile human bodies to avoid struggles with anxiety and worry, but as believers we do not allow these disorders to control our lives.

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” (Philippians 4:6,7 MSG).

Jesus says this about worries, doubts and fears: “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?…Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:25-34).

As believers God will always reign sovereign over the chaos of our lives and of the crazy world in which we live. Anxiety comes from a lack of faith in the ability of God to take care of us as unbelief gets the upper hand in our hearts. Much anxiety, Jesus says, comes from little faith.

Verse 21: “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

This is the conclusion. If we follow Peter’s example we put ourselves on a course that will slowly but surely set aside the grace of God, however, Paul maintained the grace of God just as he also upheld the demands of the law.

To attempt to earn by merit what God freely gives in mercy is to set aside (frustrate) the grace of God, so far as our experience of it is concerned. God only two ways of dealing with men, under law or under grace. These are absolute opposites. Law sets up a certain standard of conduct and imposes a penalty for its infringement. Grace finds a way of setting aside the demands and penalties of law. Grace gives, and keeps on giving.

“In effect he was saying to Peter, ‘’By withdrawing from fellowship with your Gentile brothers you take your stand with the Judaizers and against Christ. You nullify the grace of God by denying the need for Christ’s death, just as you did when you rebuked the Lord for declaring it was necessary for Him to suffer, be killed, and raised on the third day’ (see Matthew 16:21–22).” –ibid

“I am crucified with Christ.” I am “in Christ.” I am justified! I participated in His death! When Christ was arrested I was arrested. When He was beaten, I was beaten. When He was dragged through the streets. I was dragged through the streets. When He was crucified, I was crucified with Him, because in every way He became my substitute! He took my place! “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us…” (Galatians 3:13). “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6 NLT). “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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