Throughout the Bible, the Christian life is presented as a life of faith, a life of believing God’s promises and trusting him to bring them to fruition in Christ. In dealing with our justification, Paul tells us, via Habakuk, the Old Testament prophet, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Gal 3:11). Likewise, in the same passage, Paul reminds us that both the blessing of Abraham and the promised Spirit come through faith (Gal 3:14). The Christian life is so fundamentally a life of faith that Paul summed up his discussion on Christian freedom as it pertains to food, drink, and special days by saying, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23). Similar statements about the Christian life as a life of faith could be multiplied from every book of the Bible - Old and New Testaments alike. That the Christian life is one of faith could not be more clear. Nonetheless, we find ourselves struggling to live by faith.
Our struggle with the life of faith is highlighted by the fact that, upon hearing that the Christian life is a life of faith, we immediately turn that descriptive statement into a command, which we just as quickly turn into an entire set of rules. We tell ourselves, “If I am going to live by faith, then I must not do any of these vile things, and I must do all of these righteous things. Then I will be living by faith.” When we go this route, we are forgetting a fundamental biblical truth, “if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal 2:21).
The life of faith is all about looking to Christ alone to find that which has been promised through him alone. We have ceased living by faith when we take our eyes off Christ, and it doesn’t matter what else we may focus our eyes on. We recognize easily enough that if we start trying to find that which is promised only through Christ in worldly things, we are living a life of idolatry and not of faith in Christ. However, we too often overlook the fact that if we start trying to take hold of that which is promised only through Christ by our law-keeping - whether we mean the Mosaic Law or some diluted law we have contrived to make ourselves feel righteous - we are also living a life of idolatry. When we stop looking to Christ in faith, we are walking in sin. Anything (including our supposed law-keeping) that does not proceed from faith is sin.
Paul is making this exact point when he says, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God” (Gal 2:19). Isn’t that a funny way of putting it? “Dying to the law so that we might live to God.” How frequently do we, just like the Galatians, fall into the trap of thinking the Christian life, “living to God” to use Paul’s phrase, is all about keeping the law? That “living to God” is more about being good than faith in Christ? But here, Paul is contrasting living to the law and living to God. We must die to the former if we are to live to the latter. Why is that? Paul’s point has to do with how God is. If we are going to “live to God,” we must live to him as he actually is.
When we stop looking to Christ in faith, we are walking in sin. Anything (including our supposed law-keeping) that does not proceed from faith is sin.
In Exodus, we read, “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty’” (Exod 34:6). Throughout the Old Testament, wherein the law was formally given, Yahweh is repeatedly described as gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, compassionate, and ready to forgive. Of course, we find similar statements throughout the New Testament. Take 1 John 1:9 as but one example, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is how our God is.
Paul is reminding us in Galatians 2:19 that we can’t serve a God who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, ready to forgive iniquity and transgression and sin by acting like we don’t need God to be that way toward us. If we keep reading 1 John, we find that he is making the exact same point as Paul. John says it this way as he continues, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
When Paul says he “died to the law” so that he might “live to God,” he is admitting, for himself and us, that seeking to “live to the law” is really nothing more than a foolish attempt to present ourselves to God as one who does not need God to be merciful toward us, and one who does not need to be justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. When we live this way, we are not living to God because God is merciful, he is ready to forgive, and because Christ has paid the price in full, God is just to forgive us for all our sins. So we see, the Christian life really is a life of faith. It really is a life of believing God’s promises and trusting him to bring them to fruition in Christ rather than trying to bring those promises about by our obedience to the law. So we ask the Spirit to help us, just as he helped Paul, to die to the law that we too might live to God - that we might live by faith.