The Old You Died!
The Christ life is a focused pursuit to be with God relationally, recognizing Jesus as your life, and trusting Him to live His life through you. Galatians 2:20-21 is ground zero for living the Christ-life. I cannot overemphasize the significance of this text.
Notice how many references you see to death and life. It really begins in verse 19. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God (death and life). Verse 20, I have been crucified with Christ (death); it is no longer I who live (life), but Christ lives in me (life); and the life which I now live in the flesh (life, life) I live by faith in the Son of God (life)…Verse 21, For if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (death)
We died to an old life, and we came alive in a new life. It’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. Hence—the Christ-life!
Knowing that Paul is completing his thoughts on justification from previous verses, our question has to be, “What should the justified person know about living the Christ life?”
BIG TRUTH: The old you died with Christ on the cross.
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live…”
Was the Apostle Paul physically crucified with Christ? Was the Apostle Paul physically dead when he wrote these words? Hopefully, you said “NO!” to both questions.
What does he mean when he said that he was crucified with Christ, and it is no longer he who lives? Who died? Who’s living in his body? Paul is talking about spiritual death and spiritual life—not physical death and physical life.
Understanding the Gospel enables us to understand this truth. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The question becomes, “What are the consequences for sinning against God?” Romans 6:23 answers that question. “For the wages of sin is death…” Wages are what we earn for what we’ve done. At your job, you are given wages for the work you’ve done. God says that the wages we earned for sin is death.
When the Bible speaks of death in reference to sin, its not talking about extinction—it’s referring to separation. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God forewarned them about the consequences. “On the day that you eat of that tree, you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). They did not die physically on that day; they died spiritually.
They were separated from God—relationally. They were kicked out of the garden. Sin came between them and God.
How does their sin impact us today? Here’s the best way I know to wrap my mind around this truth. If your dad died before you were conceived, you would not have had the opportunity of life. If your granddad died before your dad was conceived, you and your dad would not have had the opportunity of life. Keep tracing that thought back generation after generation. We understand that physical death prior to conception eliminates any future possibility of life.
The same is true spiritually. When our great, great, great, great grandfather (Adam) died spiritually, everyone born of the seed of man after him was born spiritually dead. His spiritual death cut off our chance for spiritual life. Romans 5:12 says, “Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, so death spread to all men, because all sinned…”
That’s why the virgin birth is an essential doctrine. Had Jesus been born of the seed of man like everyone else, He too would have been under the curse of sin. In order to break this death hold on humanity, God in his sovereignty chose to start a new “spiritual” bloodline through Christ.
According to the Bible, everyone is physically born into Adam. Adam is called the “federal head” of the human race. That means he is the father figure who represents the entire human family that was born after he was created.
When a person becomes a Christian, Jesus said in John 3, “They are born again.” At your first birth, you were born physically in Adam under the curse of sin; at your second birth, you are born spiritually in Christ under the covenant of grace. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
At the moment of salvation, the believing sinner transitions from being in Adam (with a sin nature) to being in Christ (with a new nature). They are justified. They have a new position before God.
So what does it mean when Paul said in verse 19, “For through the Law I died to the Law…? Romans 5:13-14, 20-21 helps us with that answer. It says, “For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses…The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Let’s pause. Here’s what Paul is saying. Prior to the law being given, there was still sin. It’s clearly seen in Adam, Cain, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. But when the Law was given, it showed the expanse of that sin and the specific ways people were rebelling against God. Before, it was sin through general knowledge; after the Law, it was sin through specific knowledge.
If you continue reading Paul’s explanation of the Law in Romans 7:7, he says, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.”
Think of the Law like disconnected warning lights on the dashboard of your car. If your car stalls out, sends up a plum of black smoke, and makes weird noises—you have the general knowledge that something is wrong. But when the dashboard lights are connected, you can see specific things that are wrong. Prior to the Law being given, it was like driving the car without the dashboard lights connected. You knew something was wrong, but you didn’t know the specifics or the extent. When the Law was written, the lights came on and people could see how far from God’s glory they fell. Also knowing the boundaries made us want to push them. When you tell a kid, “Don’t touch that”—what’s the first thing they want to do? Touch it!
Not only does the Law reveal the extent to which we have fallen short, but it also reveals the ongoing depth of our rebellion against God.
So when Paul says, “Through the Law I died to the Law”—he means that through the Law he recognized the extent of his sin, his rebellion came alive, he stood condemned before God, and he came to the end of himself.
That is exactly what the Law as designed to do. It was never intended to be obeyed as a path to justification (even the Old Testament saints were justified by faith—not works; read Hebrews 11). The Law was designed to show how holy God is, how sinful we are, so that we come to the end of self-effort, and we’re ready to trust Jesus. It’s intended to lead us to Christ—not be a replacement for Christ. Look over at Galatians 3:24. “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
Why is it important that Paul was crucified with Christ in verse 20? Romans 7:1,4 gives us the answer. “The law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives…therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead…”
If someone is convicted of a crime and put to death, the law has no more claim on him after his death. The debt is paid. Even if he were to rise from the dead, he would still be guiltless in his new life because the penalty was been paid in full. Did the Law convict Paul of crimes? Yes! What was the punishment? Death.
Was there any way for Paul to be justified (made right with God) through keeping the Law? No! Verse 16 tells us three times that no one is justified through the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ.
So when a person believes they are a sinner, and they believe that Jesus took their punishment upon Himself at the cross, and they believe that God raised him from the dead on the third day—they are born again under a new “federal head”—Jesus Christ.
The sin of Adam was imputed to us at our physical birth; the righteousness of Christ was imputed to us at our spiritual birth.
Our new life is found in Christ. He is our life (Col. 3:4). It’s in Him that we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). We are so identified with Christ that we were baptized into His death (Rom. 6:3), buried with Him (Rom. 6:4), united with Him (Rom. 6:5), crucified with Him (Rom. 6:6), died with Him (Rom. 6:8), so that we can live with Him (Rom. 6:8). All of that is possible because we are positioned in Christ.
To go back to the Mosaic Law after being raised in Christ is to return to the graveyard! We have been “raised to walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Why is it important for Christians to know that “the old you died with Christ on the cross?”
If we don’t believe this truth, we will spend the rest of our lives trying to polish up, clean up, justify, and sanctify the very thing that Christ put to death. God’s not trying to make a better you; He made a new you. He’s not polishing up your past; He gave you a brand new future.
But as long as we’re trying to polish up our dead sin nature—we will miss the joy of living according to our new nature in Christ.