Confirmation from the Jerusalem Apostles, 1-10

2:1 Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas, taking Titus along too. 2:2 I went there because of a revelation and presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did so only in a private meeting with the influential people, to make sure that I was not running—or had not run—in vain. 2:3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek. 2:4 Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves. 2:5 But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.

Fourteen years later – that is, after his conversion.

I went up again to Jerusalem – Possibly the visit mentioned in Acts 11:27-30; 12:25, on the grounds that Paul says in Gal 2:2 that he went in response to a revelation – maybe a reference to the prophecy of Agabusor that mentioned in Acts 15:1-4.

Not even Titus…was compelled to be circumcised – How do we square this with Paul’s circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16:1-3)?  The answer lies in Paul’s use of the word ‘compelled’ here: ‘if anyone is suggesting that Gentiles must be circumcised if they are to accept the Jewish Messiah and belong to the messianic community, Paul will vehemently refuse, for such a stance jeopardizes the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus Christ. By contrast, where no one is making that assertion, and being circumcised removes barriers and opens the door to synagogues for the sake of evangelism, Paul is eager to comply—and this is entirely in line with Paul’s own flexibility when evangelism is at stake (1 Cor. 9:19–23).’ (D.A. Carson, Collected Writings on Scripture).

The truth of the gospel – This expression is repeated in v14.  Taking the two verses together it refers to belief and behaviour which conforms to and is consistent with the message of salvation.  It represents, therefore, that theology which we would claim is ‘evangelical’.

2:6 But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favoritism between people)—those influential leaders added nothing to my message. 2:7 On the contrary, when they saw that I was entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised just as Peter was to the circumcised 2:8 (for he who empowered Peter for his apostleship to the circumcised also empowered me for my apostleship to the Gentiles) 2:9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who had a reputation as pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we would go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 2:10 They requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.

‘Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles,” (Rom 11:13 Gal 2:8) who announces himself as an apostle in the opening words of most of his letters, insisted that, because he had seen Christ on the Damascus road and been commissioned by him, (Ac 26:16-18) he was as truly a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (which an apostle was to be, Acts 1:21-22 10:41-42) as were the others. James, Peter, and John accepted Paul into apostolic partnership, (Gal 2:9) and God confirmed his status by the signs of an apostle (miracles and manifestations, 2Co 12:12 Heb 2:3-4) and by the fruitfulness of his ministry.’ (1 Cor 9:2) (Packer, Concise Theology)

Paul Rebukes Peter, 11-14

2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong. 2:12 Until certain people came from James, he had been eating with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he stopped doing this and separated himself because he was afraid of those who were pro-circumcision. 2:13 And the rest of the Jews also joined with him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray with them by their hypocrisy. 2:14 But when I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “If you, although you are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you try to force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

What a dramatic meeting this must have been! ‘For the truth’s sake, Paul withstood and blamed Peter, though a brother. Where was the use of unity when pure doctrine was gone? And who shall dare to say he was wrong?’ J. C. Ryle

The circumcision group – we need to ask, Why was circumcision so important (think of all those centuries when it had been the covenant sign of God’s people)? Ask also, Why did Peter hang on to circumcision? This was not the first time that Peter had showed a lack of courage – remember the betrayal.

Note, hypocrisy is contagious, so that even Barnabas was led astray.

v14 For N.T. Wright, this verse defines what Paul meant by ‘the works of the law’ by which no person could be justified.  ‘They are the ‘living like a Jew’ of Galatians 2:14, the separation from ‘Gentile sinners’ of Galatians 2:15. They are not, in other words, the moral ‘good works’ which the Reformation tradition loves to hate. They are the things that divide Jew from Gentile.’ (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, pp. 116–117)

The problem which Galatians addresses, then, is not salvation but fellowship.  Not the ground of our acceptance with God but the badge that indicates it.  The Jewish Christians at Galatia thought that their Gentile brethren could be recognised as members of God’s family only if they bore the marks of Jewishness – circumcision, food laws and Sabbath observance.  ‘Hence, according to Wright, Paul wrote to the Galatians so they would understand that Christ had done away with the “works of the law” and that Gentiles could be Christians without these Jewish identity markers. Jesus had lowered the flag of the works of the law and raised a new one in its place—faith in Him—to identify the people of God.’

Part of the problem with Wright’s view is that he ‘takes matters that are in the background of Paul’s letter and moves them to the foreground (as Doug Moo put it). In other words, Wright takes Paul’s message about salvation and how one is declared righteous in God’s sight and places it on the back burner. He then takes a secondary matter, that of table fellowship, and moves it to the front burner almost to the point that he eclipses the message about sin and salvation.’

It is difficult to see why Paul was so very concerned about the Galatians embracing a false gospel (Gal 1:8f) if the only matters at stake were circumcision, food laws and Sabbath observance.  There are clear indications within the letter itself that he had in mind the law in its entirety (Gal 3:10).  Furthermore, when he illustrates what reliance on the works of the law means Paul takes a case from prior to the giving of the law (Gal 3:16; 4:21-31).  And, finally, was not faith itself (and not external observance of circumcision and so on) the marker of true faith in the OT too?  The teaching of Galatians in the matter of law and grace is, then, essentially the same at that of Ephesians (Eph 2:8f).  (The preceding closely follows J.V. Fesko, Tabletalk, Feb 2010)

Jews and Gentiles are Justified by Faith, 15-21

2:15 We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 2:16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. 2:17 But if while seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners, is Christ then one who encourages sin? Absolutely not! 2:18 But if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law. 2:19 For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God.

v16 deSilva says that this verse is ‘perhaps the most dense and most debated in all of Pauline literature.’

According to Dunn, in his 1982 lecture in which he coined the term ‘The New Perspective on Paul’, ‘this is the most obvious place to start any attempt to take a fresh look at Paul from our new perspective,’ adding that, ‘it is probably the first time in the letters of Paul that his major theme of justification by faith is sounded. ‘

Justified – This is the first occurence of this word in Galatians (and probably, therefore, in Paul’s extant writings).  ‘Nobody has understood Christianity who does not understand this word.’ (Stott)

Stott quotes Luther on justification: ‘This is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.’ In other places he refers to it as the ‘chief’, the ‘chiefest’ and ‘the most principal and special article of Christian doctrine’, for it is this doctrine ‘which maketh true Christians indeed’. He adds: ‘if the article of justification be once lost, then is all true Christian doctrine lost.’

Stott also quotes Cranmer: ‘This faith the holy Scripture teacheth: this is the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion: this doctrine all old and ancient authors of Christ’s Church do approve: this doctrine advanceth and setteth forth the true glory of Christ, and beateth down the vain glory of man: this whosoever denieth is not to be counted for a true Christian man, nor for a setter forth of Christ’s glory, but for an adversary of Christ and His gospel, and for a setter forth of men’s vain glory.’

Observing the law – lit. ‘works of law’.  Some think, because the definite article is lacking, that ‘law’ is meant in its most general sense.  ‘But to the Jewish mind there was only one law, and that was the law which God had given them through his servant Moses.’ (Wilson)

‘”‘Works of law’, ‘works of the law’ are nowhere understood here, either by his Jewish interlocutors or by Paul himself, as works which earn God’s favor, as merit-amassing observances. They are rather seen as badges: they are simply what membership of the covenant people involves, what mark out the Jews as God’s people;…in other words, Paul has in view precisely what Sanders calls ‘covenantal nomism.’ And what he denies is that God’s justification depends on ‘covenantal nomism,’ that God’s grace extends only to those who wear the badge of the covenant.” (Dunn)

‘He understandeth by the law, not the whole doctrine delivered by Moses upon Mount Sinai; for the law, being so taken, was a covenant of grace, as appeareth from the preface and promises of the decalogue, and from the ceremonial law, which shadowed forth Christ and remission of sins through him, Heb 10:4,8,9; so that believers under the Old Testament may be said to have been justified, and to have had righteousness by the law in this sense: for it implieth no further than that they were justified according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, is it was wrapped up in that ancient legal dispensation.  The apostle therefore takes the law more strictly, and in the sense of his adversaries, for the mere precepts and threatenings of the law, as it requires perfect obedience, and curseth those who have it not, abstracting from Christ and grace, which were held forth (though but obscurely) in it; for in that sense his adversaries maintained justification by the law; and therefore the apostle, while he refuteth justification by the law, must be understood to speak of the law in the same sense also, which sometimes he clearly expresseth, while he explaineth his meaning by denying we are justified by the works of the law, v16 and Gal 3:5, 10.’ (Ferguson)

Faith in Jesus Christ…faith in Christ

'pistis': 'faith' or 'faithfulness'?

The issue

Scholars (e.g. Leon Morris, Dictionary of Paul and his Letters) tell us that the Greek word ‘pistis‘ usually means ‘faith’, but can occasionally signify ‘faithfulness’.  The distinction is an important one, not least because it has a bearing on how relevant texts are interpreted in relation to the ‘New Perspectives on Paul’.

An example of a text in which ‘pistis‘ probably carries the meaning of ‘faithfulness’ is Gal 5:22 – ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is…faithfulness’.  Rom 3:3 clearly refers to “the faithfulness of God,” not “faith in God”, and Rom 4:12 equally clearly refers to “the faith of Abraham,” not “faith in Abraham.”

In passages such as Rom. 3:22, 26; Gal. 2:16; 3:22; Phil. 3:9, where English translations consistently have ‘faith in Christ’ (or equivalent), N.T. Wright consistently reads, ‘the faithfulness of Christ’ (or equivalent).

We can agree with Wright that the theme of Christ’s faithfulness to the Father is prominent in the NT (Carson mentions John and Hebrews, together with Phil 2:5-11 and the Gethsemane narrative in the Synoptics).   We might add Rom 5:19.  However, it is less clear that this is the meaning of the ‘faith/faithfulness of Christ’ passages.  For Wright, the Bible tells the story of ‘God’s “righteousness” (more-or-less God’s “covenant faithfulness”) in sending Jesus to function as the faithful Israelite who goes to the cross and is vindicated by His Father, such that all who are in union with Jesus, Jews and Gentiles alike, are constituted God’s covenant people’ (Carson’s summary).

It is not that anyone is saying that Wright is completely mistaken.  He denies neither the substitutionary atonement of Christ nor the necessity of faith on the part of the believer.  The problem, as succinctly stated by Moo, is that Wright’s scheme foregrounds the Bible’s background, and backgrounds the Bible’s foreground.

Romans 3:22

Romans 3:3 is an interesting one:- ‘What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?’  Of the three mentions of ‘pistis’ in this verse, the first two are translated ‘faith’ in the NIV, and the third is (correctly) translated ‘faithfulness’.

More difficult are passages such as Romans 3:22:- ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.’

(a) Some think this means ‘through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who believe’.  This view has been championed by Richard Hays and others.

This option reminds us that Christ certainly was faithful to the Father, and that believers are called and enabled to be faithful too (see Gal 5:22 again).

This rendering, ‘through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’ would be consistent with, say, Rom 5:18f, which speaks of Christ’s act of righteous obedience.  This alternative view, it is claimed, rescues the present verse from a tautology – ‘faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’.  But this is not necessarily the case: what we have here may not be a redundancy at all, but a case of repetition for the sake of emphasis: ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ—to all who have faith in him’.  So Carson.

Wright reads this verse as follows: “God’s covenant justice comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah for the benefit of all who have faith.”  ‘This,’ he writes, ‘answers exactly to the sequence of thought in 3: 1– 5. Israel’s privilege was to be entrusted with the divine oracles; that is a way of summing up the vocation spelled out in 2: 19– 20. But Israel had been “faithless” to that commission, putting in question the divine “faithfulness” (3: 3) and the divine “truthfulness” (3: 4); but God will be seen to be dikaios, true to his covenant justice, despite it all (3: 4b– 5).’ (The Day the Revolution Began)

(b) The traditional view is that the correct reading is ‘through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.’

I am not competent to evaluate the linguistic arguments, but the flow of Paul’s thought in these chapters in Romans seems decisive in favour of this view.  ‘As Dunn has noted, it is telling that if Paul wished to draw attention to the faithfulness of Christ, he missed some opportunities. In Romans 4, for instance, it is the faith of Abraham that is the model, not Christ’s faithfulness’ (Morris)

It is true that pistis can occasionally mean ‘faithfulness’, Rom 3:3; Gal 5:22. In Rom 3:22,26; Gal 2:16,20; 3:22; Php 3:9 it is possible to read ‘the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’ rather than ‘faith in Jesus Christ’. However, Dunn notes that if Paul wished to draw attention to the faithfulness of Christ, why did he not do so in Rom 4, where in fact the model is Abraham, not Christ. (See art. ‘Faith’ in DPL)

In favour of the NIV translation, Kruse remarks that v22 can be regarded as an expansion of v21, where Paul says that the righteousness of God has been revealed ‘apart from the law’, with the implication that this righteousness comes by faith in Jesus Christ.

Douglas Moo (New Bible Commentary) says that although the first option is a possibility, ‘the idea of Christ’s faithfulness’ (expressed with the word pistis) is not clearly attested elsewhere in Paul, while this whole section of Romans focuses again and again on the centrality of human faith in Christ for justification (see especially v 26 at the end of this paragraph). Paul, then, repeats the notion of human faith in v 22 because he wants to say both that God’s righteousness comes only by faith in Christ and that it comes to everybody who has such faith. V 23 is a succinct summary of 1:18-3:20.

The traditional translation is supported by a number of factors, including the exposition of Abraham’s faith in ch. 4. ‘Paul introduces Abraham because he is a paradigm for the Roman Christians, and he is pragmatic because he obtained righteousness by faith. It seems quite unlikely that Paul would emphasize in such detail that Abraham was righteous “by faith” in Ro. 4, whereas in Ro. 3 he would say that we are righteous by “Jesus’ faithfulness.” Just as he emphasizes that Abraham was right with God by faith in Ro. 4, so too in Ro. 3 he stresses that Christians are justified by faith.’ (Thomas Schreiner, JETS, Dec 1998)

Galatians 2:16

This verse is also important in the discussion:-

We…know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

Some scholars think that this should be understood as a subjective genitive (‘the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’) rather than an objective genitive (‘faith in Jesus Christ’).  Both are grammatically possible.

Martyn: ‘Recent decades have seen extensive discussion of the matter, sometimes even heated debate; and the debate has demonstrated that the two readings do in fact lead to two very different pictures of the theology of the entire letter. Is the faith that God has chosen as the means of setting things right that of Christ himself or that of human beings?’

Many earlier translations, from Tyndale onwards (and including the AV), translated, ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’.  But this may simply be a question of usage, the expression being an archaism for ‘faith in Jesus Christ’.

Among recent EVV and commentators, the subjective genitive is supported by NET, ISV, Longenecker, Martyn, Wright, Garlington (who refers to a ‘growing consensus’ on this view)

NET: ‘we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.’

Wright: ‘we know that a person is not declared ‘righteous’ by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. That is why we too believed in the Messiah, Jesus: so that we might be declared ‘righteous’ on the basis of the Messiah’s faithfulness, and not on the basis of works of the Jewish law. On that basis, you see, no creature will be declared ‘righteous’.’

Advocates of the New Perspective on Paul tend to understand pistis Christou (faith of Christ) to mean Christ’s faithfulness to the divine plan for Israel, not faith in the Messiah. See note on Rom 3:22.

deSilva (who does not support this view) suggests that there are three main arguments in favour of it:

  1. It maintains the supposed parallelism between ‘the faith of Jesus’ (Gal 2:16) and ‘the faith of Abraham’ (Gal 3:6-9).  But the parallelism is not between Abraham and Christ, but between Abraham and the believer.
  2. It avoids the apparent redundancy in the traditional interpretation, according to which the believer’s faith is mentioned three times in a single verse.  But this verse is replete with repetition anyway: if there can be three mentions of justification apart from the works of the law, there can just as easily be a matching trio of references to a believer’s faith.
  3. It is in keeping with Paul’s unambiguous use of the subjective genitive in Rom 3:3; 4:12, 16.  But, in the case of ambiguous grammatical constructions, context is key, and the contexts differ between the two passages.

Schreiner, in his commentary on that Epistle, outlines why some accept the subjective genitive (‘the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’).  These include:-

  1. In Rom 3:3 “the faith of God” (τὴν πίστιν τοῦ θεοῦ) clearly means “the faithfulness of God.”
  2. In Rom 4:12 the phrase in context refers to “the faith of our father, Abraham” (πίστεως τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν Ἀβραάμ).
  3. If one takes the genitive as objective, “faith in Christ” is superfluous since in the key texts (e.g., Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16; Phil 3:9) Paul already mentions the need to trust in Christ.
  4. The “faithfulness of Jesus” is another way of referring to Jesus’ obedience, which was necessary to achieve our salvation (Rom 5:19; Phil 2:8).
  5. The coming of “faith” refers to redemptive history (Gal 3:23, 25), designating the faithfulness of Christ at the key point in salvation history.
  6. The focus in Paul’s theology is the work of God in Christ, not the human response of faith.

The objective genitive is supported by NIV, TNIV, ESV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NLT, NKJV, Good News, deSilva, Schreiner, George, Cranfield (on Romans), Garlington, and Dunn.

Garlington, in a commentary expressly written ‘from the New Perspective’, points to a ‘growing consensus’ in favour of the ‘subjective genitive’ view.  ‘This reading is attractive in many ways; and it is undoubtedly true that the NT does represent Jesus as the man of faith, especially in the Gospel temptation narratives and the Letter to the Hebrews (see the first section note to v. 16). Nevertheless, it is doubtful that this single phrase in Paul could bear that much semantic freight.’

Garlington explains: ‘With the advent of Jesus the Messiah, the only legitimate faith is that which finds its repose in him, the one who is “the end of the law” (Rom 10:4). At one time, faith assumed a nationalistic bias and was meaningless apart from the devotion of the believing Israelite to the Torah, the expression of God’s covenant will for his people. But now that the “dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:15) has come down in Christ, faith latches specifically onto this one who has accepted all the nations without distinction (Rom 1:1–7; 15:7; Eph 2:17; Acts 2:39). This reading that Christ both defines faith and is the object of faith is confirmed by the second clause of v. 16: “Even we have believed in Christ Jesus” (the first two clauses of the verse could be looked upon as a kind of synonymous parallelism), and v. 20b: Paul lives by “faith in the Son of God” (tou huiou tou theou is clearly objective genitive).’

‘While the faithfulness of Jesus Christ is a prominent theme in Paul’s theology (cf. the kenotic hymn of Phil 2:5–11), what is being contrasted in Galatians is not divine fidelity versus human fickleness but rather God’s free initiative in grace versus human efforts toward self-salvation. Thus when Paul spoke of faith as essential for justification, he was thinking of the necessary human response to what God has objectively accomplished in the cross of Christ.’ (Timothy George)

Preferring the objective genitive (‘faith in Christ”) Schreiner adduces the following reasons:-

  1. The genitive object with “faith” is clear in some instances (Mark 11:22; Jas 2:1).
  2. A genitive object with other verbal nouns shows that an objective genitive with the verbal noun “faith” is normal grammatically: e.g., “knowledge of Christ Jesus” (τῆς γνώσεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, Phil 3:8). Therefore those who claim that the genitive must be subjective fail to convince.
  3. The texts that use the verb “believe” in a verbal construction and the noun “faith” with the genitive are not superfluous but emphatic, stressing the importance of faith to be right with God. Readers hearing the letter read would hear the emphasis on faith in Christ, and thus this interpretation is to be preferred as the simpler of the two options.58
  4. Paul often contrasts works and human faith in his theology. Therefore, seeing a polarity between works of law and faith in Christ—both human activities—fits with what Paul does elsewhere.
  5. Nowhere does Paul in speaking of Jesus Christ use the word “faith” (πίστις) to describe his “obedience.”
  6. The salvation-historical argument fails to persuade as well. Certainly, Gal 3:23, 25 refer to the coming of faith at a certain time in redemptive history. But such an observation hardly excludes faith in Christ, for faith in Christ becomes a reality when he arrives and fulfills God’s saving promises. We should not pit redemptive history against anthropology.
  7. Nor is the emphasis on faith in Christ somehow Pelagian, as if it somehow detracts from God’s work in salvation. A human response of faith does not undercut the truth that God saves, particularly if God grants faith to his own (Eph 2:8–9).

Fee (in his commentary on Galatians), also favours the objective genitive.  In support of this, he cites Mark 11.22, where exete pistin theou, would have clearly meant ‘have faith in God’, not ‘have the faith of God’.

In addition to the works cited, see also this article by D.A. Carson.


‘In his letter to the Galatian churches, Paul pointed out the deficiencies of the Law: the Law cannot justify the lost sinner, (Gal 2:16) give a sinner righteousness, (Gal 2:21) give the Holy Spirit, (Gal 3:2) give an inheritance, (Gal 3:18) give life, (Gal 3:21) or give freedom.’ (Gal 4:8-10) (Warren Wiersbe)

‘When Paul refers to the works of the law as having no saving efficacy, Wright argues that he is referring only to what we might call the ceremonial aspects of the law (circumcision, diet, washings, etc.). Justification, according to the New Perspective, has far more to do with the identity of the church than with the standing of the individual before God. That is why Wright regards it as a second-order doctrine, and constantly expresses surprise that people get so worked up over his interpretation!’ (Jonathan Stephen)

Wright says, ‘Many Christians, both in the Reformation and in the counter-Reformation traditions, have done themselves and the church a great disservice by treating the “doctrine of justification” as central to their debates, and by supposing that it described the system by which people attained salvation. They have turned the doctrine into its opposite. Justification declares that all who believe in Jesus Christ belong at the same table, no matter what their cultural or racial differences…Because what matters is believing in Jesus, detailed agreement on justification itself, properly conceived, isn’t the thing which should determine eucharistic fellowship. If Christians could only get this right, they would find that not only would they be believing the gospel, they would be practising it, and that is the best basis for proclaiming it.’ (What St Paul Really Said, 158f)

Faith – ‘Faith has no constructive energy.  It is complete reliance on another.  It is Christ-directed, not self-directed, and Christ-reliant, not self-reliant.  It involves the abandoning, not the congratulating, of self.  Faith draws everything from Christ and contributes nothing to Him.  Faith is simply a shorthand description of abandoning oneself trustingly to Christ, whom God has made our righteousness.’ – Sinclair Ferguson

Paul’s opponents no doubt accused him of antinomianism.  Stott explains his response: ‘Their charge that justification by faith encouraged a continuance in sin was ludicrous. They grossly misunderstood the gospel of justification. Justification is not a legal fiction, in which a man’s status is changed, while his character is left untouched. Verse 17: We are ‘justified in Christ’. 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.’

If I rebuild – He is probably being polite, for it is Peter he has in mind, and not himself.

Wiersbe helpfully clarifies the argument here: ‘”Peter, you and I did not find salvation through the Law; we found it through faith in Christ. But now, after being saved, you go back into the Law! This means that Christ alone did not save you; otherwise you would not have needed the Law. So, Christ actually made you a sinner!

‘”Furthermore, you have preached the Gospel of God’s grace to Jews and Gentiles, and have told them they are saved by faith and not by keeping the Law. By going back into legalism, you are building up what you tore down! This means that you sinned by tearing it down to begin with!”

‘In other words, Paul is arguing from Peter’s own experience of the grace of God. To go back to Moses is to deny everything that God had done for him and through him.’

Through the law – It is possible that Paul is anticipating the argument of Gal 3:19–25 here. ‘By its ministry of restriction and condemnation, the law leads us to faith in Christ, who in turn releases us from the curse and power of the law.’ (NBC)

I died to the law – He had previously been in thrall to the law.  It has been a heavy ‘yoke’ (Acts 15:10; cf. Gal 5:1).  But now it has done its work by bringing Paul to Christ.  Christ has fulfilled the law’s demands.  It has no further hold on Paul, for he has been crucified along with Christ (v20); he cannot return to it.

2:20 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.

v20 What is the main point here? – Basically, the main point of the whole letter: that having begun with Christ, he continues with Christ. Not:-

Begin with Christ, continue with the Mosaic law
Begin with Christ, continue with the Spirit
Begin with Christ, continue with the church

Paul says, ‘As I began, so I continue’.  No turning back.

I have been crucified with Christ – George sees the thought of v20 completing that of v19, so that the sense would be: ‘I have died to the law in order that I might live for God having been crucified together with Christ.’

George adds: ‘The new life Paul had received flowed from his identification with the passion and death of Christ. Elsewhere Paul could speak of being buried and raised with Christ, an identification portrayed liturgically in the ordinance of baptism (Rom 6:1–6). ‘

John Stott (The Cross of Christ, 341f) remarks that ‘if we were not already familiar with verse 20, it would strike us as quite extraordinary.  That Jesus Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate is an established historical fact; but what could Paul possibly mean by writing that he had been crucified with Christ?  As a physical fact it was manifestly not true, and as a spiritual fact is was hard to understand.’

Of course, in certain important respects Christ’s death was absolutely unique: ‘In one sense this is presumptuous language because the mystery of atonement requires that the death of Christ be unique, unrepeatable, and isolated. The two thieves who were literally crucified with Christ did not bear the sins of the world in their agonizing deaths. On the cross Christ suffered alone forsaken by his friends, his followers, and finally even his Father, dying, as J. Moltmann puts it, “a God-forsaken death for God-forsaken people.” With reference to his substitutionary suffering and vicarious death, only Jesus, and he alone, can be the Substitute and Vicar.’ (George)

And yet (George adds) we know nothing of the Christ’s saving benefits unless we are identified with his death and resurrection.

‘As long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, he is called “our Head” [Eph. 4:15], and “the first-born among many brethren” [Rom. 8:29]. We also, in turn, are said to be “engrafted into him” [Rom. 11:17], and to “put on Christ” [Gal. 3:27]; for, as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him.’ (Calvin, Institutes, 3:1.1)

Cole stresses that this verse is not so much a call to personal sanctification, or an account of some mystical experience as a powerful argument for the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ.  There is a complete break with the old way of thinking, the new has replaced it entirely.  Just as the death of Christ marked a complete change of life for him, so it has done so for Paul.  Christ, who perfectly fulfilled the law, has left the law behind; and we, who have broken the law, have also left it behind.  The law has no further claims either on Christ or on those who are in Christ.

‘What made him so strong to labour? What made him so willing to work? What made him so unwearied in endeavouring to save some? What made him so persevering and patient? I will tell you the secret of it all. He was always feeding by faith on Christ’s body and Christ’s blood. Jesus crucified was the meat and drink of his soul.’ (J.C.Ryle)

There are three marks of one who is crucified. One, he is facing in only one direction. Two, he can never turn back. And three, he no longer has any plans of his own. (A. W. Tozer)

The passage as a whole (vv15-21) is about justification, how a righteous God can declare to unrighteous to be righteous.  Paul repeatedly states that sinners are not justified by keeping the law (for the function of the law is to condemn sin and to pronounce judgement), but by God’s grace through faith.  In order for me to be justified, the law’s just requirement must be met.  God has provided a way for Christ to bear the penalty, and for me to share in the benefit of this through being united with him.  In union with Christ ‘I died to the law’, v19, and ‘I have been crucified with Christ’, v20.  But if so, I am not left free to break the law and live as I please.  This is impossible, for my old sinful nature has been crucified, and Christ the Righteous One lives in me.

It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me – The expression does not imply the obliteration of the individual personality, nor does it point towards either mysticism or perfectionism.  We still live our lives ‘in the flesh’.

‘For Paul the power of the Christian life resides not in intellectual assent to truth, nor in personal rigor, nor even in the simple power of confidence in God, but in recognizing that one has become incorporated into Christ. The Christian life is one of conformity with Christ.’ (Jervis)

Paul speaks of the believer being ‘in Christ’ more often than Christ being ‘in’ the believer.  See Gal 1:22; 2:4; 3:14, 26, 28; 5:6, 10.

Christian mysticism

‘The expression ἐν ἐμοί (“in me”), together with its converse ἐν Χριστῷ (“in Christ,” cf. 1:22; 2:4; 3:14, 26, 28; 5:6, 10), suggests what may be called “Christian mysticism.” Mysticism, of course, frequently conjures up ideas about the negation of personality, withdrawal from objective reality, ascetic contemplation, a searching out of pathways to perfection, and absorption into the divine—all of which is true for Eastern and Grecian forms of mysticism. The mysticism of the Bible, however, affirms the true personhood of people and all that God has created in the natural world, never calling for negation or withdrawal except where God’s creation has been contaminated by sin. Furthermore, the mysticism of biblical religion is not some esoteric searching for a path to be followed that will result in union with the divine, but is always of the nature of a response to God’s grace wherein people who have been mercifully touched by God enter into communion with him without ever losing their own identities. It is, as H. A. A. Kennedy once called it, “that contact between the human and the Divine which forms the core of the deepest religious experience, but which can only be felt as an immediate intuition of the highest reality and cannot be described in the language of psychology” (The Theology of the Epistles, 122).’ (Longenecker)

The faithfulness of the Son of God… – Once again the debate concerning subjective genitive (so NET) and objective genitive (so NIV) rears its head.

‘Just as in Rom 5:15 the life-giving grace is specified as the grace “of Jesus Christ,” so here the life-giving faith of which Paul speaks is specified as the faith of the Son of God.’ (Martyn)

…who loved me and gave himself for me – Jervis notes to juxtaposition of the historical (‘loved’, ‘gave himself’) with the personal (‘me’, ‘for me’).

2:21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!

This statement ‘reveals Paul’s true motivation: if our actions indicate that justification can be reached by the observance of the Law, then Christ’s death must have been unnecessary and the doctrine of grace is subverted.’ (EDBT)

The great error of the Galatians lay in their mixing the works of the law with the righteousness of Christ, in this great matter of a sinner’s justification before God. They had not renounced Christ, or denied justification by faith in him; but they thought that the works of the law must be added to their faith in Christ, in order to be justified.

In this verse, two arguments against this error are advanced, in addition to those which have gone before, vv15-20. These both refer to absurdities which necessarily flow from the error: (a) setting aside the grace of God; (b) making the death of Christ to be for nothing.

Note here that Paul speaks from personal experience: it is one thing to argue and discourse about the doctrine of salvation; it is quite another to come to God as a poor sinner: for then the matter will sooner be resolved.

The grace of God = the gospel, Tit 2:11.