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Galatians 2:20-21

March 28, 1999

Remember what we concluded last Lord’s Day evening. In v. 19 Paul speaks of “dying to the law” and we took him to mean that he died to the law as a means of his justification before God, of his acceptance with God. He had once imagined that he could please God with his own efforts to live a good life, but he had come to learn that his self-righteousness was smoke and mirrors. The law, far from being the means of his peace with God, when rightly understood, demonstrated to him the hopelessness of every effort to earn God’s favor. The law taught him instead his need for a righteousness that only the Son of God could provide him.

This is what he is talking about as we come to v. 20 and, clearly, what he is still talking about in v. 21.

It is not, however, entirely clear whether we ought to take Paul, when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ” to mean, what he means in Romans 6 — where he speaks of our union with Christ in his crucifixion, death, and resurrection (that is, those things being done for us and on our behalf, we can be said to have done them ourselves) — or, whether, as the flow of thought would seem to suggest, he means simply that the old self-righteous Paul, who based his hope on obedience to the law, was executed and is dead; as a direct result of Christ’s crucifixion, that Paul was crucified himself. The old Paul, the old man was crucified (as Paul puts it in Romans 6:6); the new Paul, the new man, lives to God.

They are not, of course, unrelated thoughts. We die to our selves, our own self-righteousness, our thoughts of self-salvation, precisely when we learn of Christ’s death for us and realize that his death can give us peace with God in a way our effort never could.

As Luther puts it [LW 26, 168]:

            “Paul has a peculiar phraseology — not human, but divine and heavenly. The evangelists and others do not use it, except for John, who speaks this way from time to time. If Paul had not used this way of speaking first and prescribed it for us in explicit terms, no one even among the saints would have dared use it. It is unprecedented and insolent to say: “I live, I do not live; I am dead, I am not dead; I am a sinner, I am not a sinner; I have the Law, I do not have the Law.” But this phraseology is true in Christ and through Christ. When it comes to justification, therefore, if you divide Christ’s Person from your own, you are in the Law; you remain in it and live in yourself, which means that you are dead in the sight of God and damned by the Law.”

Whatever the particular nuance, and it is a small point, Paul goes on to make clear his general meaning. Having died with Christ to the law and all thoughts of justification by keeping the law of God, Paul now lives according to new realities — not the old self-effort, but by the strength that comes from a present Christ living in and with him. “I no longer live”, must mean the same thing as, in v. 19, “I died to the law”. That is, the self-righteous Paul, the “works of the law” Paul has died, and now Paul lives to God a new life by a new power and principle.

But what does Paul mean by “Christ lives in me?” Well, he means the same thing as what he elsewhere describes as the Holy Spirit living and working in the believer. In Paul’s general usage it makes no difference whether he speaks of Christ living in them or the Spirit living in them — for the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9-10: Having the Spirit in you, or being controlled by the Spirit = having Christ in you). Here in Galatians we will find both ways of speaking: Christ in us here in 2:20; the Spirit in us in 4:6; 5:16-26. Living by faith in Christ is the same thing as living by the Spirit or being controlled by the Spirit. We’ll have occasion to consider this in much greater detail when we get to chapter 5.

In fact Paul goes on to say what he means by “Christ living in me.” It is the same thing as my living “by faith in the Son of God.”

This is not some kind of full-fledged mysticism that Paul is teaching here — the merger of two personalities, Christ’s and mine, until finally only one personality can be said truly to exist, Christ’s — so that Christ is actually living his own life in and through me, with me as merely his vessel. This verse has been put to such uses in Christian history.

But, Paul does not mean that. He still has his own earthly existence (“the life I live in the body — that is, the flesh [in the non-theological sense]”) and he must live it himself by faith in Christ. But faith makes possible a real personal union with Christ, Christ’s presence with him by the Holy Spirit, his power made real in Paul’s life, Paul’s own life and living. Notice how many times the personal pronoun appears in vv. 19-20: eight times in two verses [“I” and “me”]. This is definitely no quietist doctrine of the Christian life — as if Paul means to teach us to let Christ live through us by getting ourselves and our own wills out of the way, to become entirely passive so as not to interfere with Christ’s activity within us — let go and let God, as some have recommended. No. Christ’s activity within us by his Spirit is precisely to activate our wills, to set us to holy thinking and acting, which we can do because he is present to help us.

He admits with “the life I live in the flesh” that many things have not changed. Human life appears in many ways the same before one is in Christ and after. It is the same body, the same mortal life after all. A man looks the same, sounds the same, may well dress in the same clothes; he looks out on the world with the same eyes, may well have the same tastes in food and music. But there is this greatest conceivable difference. Whereas before his tongue spoke blasphemies against Jesus Christ, now it is full of thanksgiving, praise, and faith which comes from the influence of the Holy Spirit within him. [LW 26, 171]

And all of this is confirmed and powerfully emphasized in the last words of that sentence: “…I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

As Luther says, “These words, ‘the Son of God,’ ‘He loved me,’ and ‘He gave himself for me,’ are sheer thunder and heavenly fire against the righteousness of the Law and the doctrine of works.”

“It is as though he were saying: ‘He did not find a good will or a correct intellect in me, but He Himself took pity on me. He saw that I was ungodly, erring, turned away from God, drawing back and fighting against God; and that I had been captured, directed, and steered by the devil. By a mercy that proceeded my reason, will, and intellect He loved me, and loved me so much that He gave Himself for me, that I might be delivered from the Law, sin, the devil, and death.” [LW 26, 175]

And, then, finally, in v. 21, Paul says, in effect, “if that were the purchase price of my peace with God, the death of the Son of God, then clearly it is not also or partly my own effort and my own acts of righteousness. Accept that Christ, the Son of God, died for love and for sinners and all thought of self-righteousness and merit must disappear.

Luther didn’t put it in terms of the circumcision and food law debate in Galatia, he put it in terms of the debate in his own day, but he makes Paul’s point with characteristic vigor:

            “Indeed, what is the Law of Moses and the works of the Law? What are all the works of all men and the sufferings of the martyrs? What is all the obedience of the holy angels compared with the Son of God ‘given,’ and given in the most shameful way, into death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8), so that all His most precious blood was shed — and for your sins? If you looked at this price, you would take all your cowls, tonsures, vows, works, merits of congruity, and merits of condignity, and you would curse, defile, spit upon, and damn them and consign them to hell! Therefore it is an intolerable and horrible blasphemy to think up some work by which you presume to placate God, when you see that He cannot be placated except by this immense, infinite price, the death and the blood of the Son of God, one drop of which is more precious than all creation.” [LW 26, 175-176]

So far the argument of these two great verses.

It is here that Luther makes his famous argument about the “pronouns.” “Now these words, ‘who loved me,’ are filled with faith. Anyone who can speak this brief pronoun ‘me’ in faith and apply it to himself as Paul did, will, like Paul, be the best of debaters with the Law. For he did not give a sheep or an ox or gold or silver for me. But He who was completely God gave everything He was, gave Himself for me — for me, I say, a miserable and accursed sinner. I am revived by this ‘giving of the Son of God into death, and I apply it to myself. This applying is the true power of faith. One who performs works does not say: ‘Christ loved me, etc.'” [177]

Now, I want you to think for just a few moments with me about that; about applying that “me” to yourself. It is one of the glories of Calvinism that you can do so with consistency. Other Christians do it as well — of course — instinctively, with their new hearts. They think of God’s love for them in these intensely personal terms. They know that lying beneath their own salvation, their peace with God, their adoption into the family of God, lies a personal and particular love for them on God’s part and Christ’s part. It is what their hearts know and what, after all, the Bible says. And, they know this too, that, as Paul so clearly intends here, Christ’s death for us is not part of our salvation, part of what was required for our peace with God — it is our salvation, it is our peace with God. When the Son of God gave himself for us — while we were still his enemies — the die was cast for ever; our salvation, our inheritance in heaven was secure, certain.

But, when they stand to their feet to debate theology, they must take all of that back. And to protect a universal grace and a universal atonement, they must hold that Christ loved them in no other way than he loved others who are not saved, in no other way, indeed, than he loved those who are already in hell. They cannot bear the thought that God and Christ did not love everyone as they loved them. It seems to them unworthy of God, unfair somehow. But, let it be clear to all — difficulties and questions notwithstanding — what is at stake here. In the Arminian scheme, in any scheme where Christ’s love is generalized and no longer seen to be particular, “for me,” Christ’s love for us must simply be his love for mankind in general. Such is the loss Arminian theology must suffer for its doctrine of universal grace. If Christ loves everyone, even those who are not saved, than his love for us is not what Christians instinctively think his love to be — that powerful affection and commitment that once set upon a sinner will bring that sinner out of death and hell and sit him in the heavenly places with Christ. It is not that passion for our lives that sent him to the cross precisely because by that suffering and death he would secure our salvation, our happiness, and our fellowship with him forever.  No, in the Arminian scheme, the love of God becomes a vague goodwill to mankind in general, it is pitched on no one in particular, and it accomplishes nothing precisely except that it makes it possible for people to be saved if only they will do something else. In this scheme it is not the love of God that makes the difference, as it is everywhere in the Bible and as we know it is in our hearts.

Calvinism’s doctrine of “limited atonement” — a horrible term — or particular redemption (somewhat better) is really nothing more than this: the assertion that the Bible teaches that Christ laid down his life for the love he had for his people, one by one; that Christ didn’t die for a generalized mankind, but for those he loved. Greater love has no one than that he lay down his life for his friend.

That is the love of Christ the Bible teaches. That is the love of Christ that Paul teaches, here and everywhere else. If God did not spare his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things. Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. All that the Father gives me, shall come to me, and I will raise them up at the last day. I give my life for the sheep; my sheep hear my voice and follow me. It is an invincible and personal and individual love that Christ has for sinners. It has never failed and shall never fail to save those upon whom that love has been pitched. Whom God “foreknew” (which in the Bible is the same thing as saying, ‘whom God loved ahead of time’) he predestined to be conformed to the image of his son; and whom he predestined, he called; and whom he called, he justified, and whom he justified, he glorified.

Or, in the language of Galatians, this “I” and “me” in 2:20, is the same “I” and “me” that we have already read in 1:11-16, where we read Paul saying that when he was in open rebellion against God, God, who had set me apart from birth, and called me by is grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me… And all of that came true, Paul now says, because, while I was his enemy, Christ loved me and gave himself for me.

This is what is at stake in Calvinism, a salvation that is founded on real love, God’s love. For us “real” love is always particular love. The mother’s love for her children is not an affection for children in general, but for these particular sons and daughters. A husband’s love for his wife is not a love for women in general, but for this particular woman. And so God’s love for us is not a love for mankind, for human beings as a general idea — but is a passion for particular human beings, a love combined with almighty power, that never fails to achieve its object — that those particular persons should be drawn to him, come to love him, and then to be with him forever. That is what true love is for us — though we haven’t the power or the goodness always to secure the object of our love or to carry it into the next world — but that is what our love craves and aspires to because we learned love from God. We know very well that someone who claims to love everyone but doesn’t love anyone in particular does not know anything about love.

Calvinism is often represented — sometimes, alas, by Calvinists — as if it were a harder, sterner form of Christianity, a Christianity without the tenderness, the fairness. But Calvinism, in fact, is simply the Bible’s own view that salvation arises out of God’s almighty love for his people, individual by individual. He loved you as he loved Abraham and David and John the Baptist before you. He loves you as he has not loved others.  And, loving you, he saved you.

That means, of course, is that if you are a Christian this evening, then that love, that individual, personal affection in the heart of Almighty God and his Son Jesus Christ, was set on you. He loved you; he sent Christ into the world for you; Christ died on the cross, for you. Not for everyone, not for mankind as a generality, but for you. For your own life and future Christ gave up himself to death. You were on his heart and on the heart of God who sent him into the world for you.

As Luther put it:

            “And who is this me? It is I, Martin Luther, a wretched and a condemned sinner.”

You put your own name there. And who is this me? It is I, _________ ______________. And there is something for you to ponder, to mull over tonight as you lie in your bed and tomorrow as you rise up out of it. God loved me; and Christ gave himself for me! He had me and my life and my salvation particularly in mind when salvation was undertaken. And if Christ really did die for me, what does that mean?

What does it tell me about my value to God and his interest in my life?

What does it tell me about the certainty of my salvation?

What does it tell me about my obligations to him? And how much all of those obligations are the obligations of love? I love him because he first loved me.

You sit here tonight because Christ loved you and gave himself for you. You are going to heaven because Christ loved you — why he did no one knows or can explain — but he did. And he loved you so much that, though there was nothing lovable about you, and though he knew full well how little you would do with his love and how little you would think of it and treasure it and respond to it, he gave himself to the cruelest death to save you from the punishment your sins deserved.

Everything finally reduces to this — God’s love and Christ’s great love for you. The highest conceivable mystery, but the explanation of everything. And you must remember it, because you are always forgetting how personal, how particular God’s love is. We are always reducing this mighty love to a principle, a program. But it is not. It is as personal as this: Christ loved me and gave himself for me!

Last word to Charles Spurgeon.

            “We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, ‘Certainly not.’ We ask them the next question — Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer ‘No.’ They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, ‘No. Christ has died that any man may be saved if’ — and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as infallibly to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, ‘No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.’ We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.” [In Packer, Owen’s Death of Death, 14]

We know what Christ did: he loved me and gave himself for me!