Paul turns to the theme that is at the heart of Galatians: We are justified by faith alone, not by works of the law. Justification refers to how we are made right with a holy God. Does this occur when we follow the law or when we place our faith in Jesus? Paul says justification is by faith in Jesus alone. His critics have probably argued that his insistence on justification by faith alone makes him a law-breaker and sinner. To the Jews, anyone living outside of the law is a sinner; hence, Gentiles are deemed as such. And Paul's teaching is leading others to sin, according to his critics.
Paul knows he can trust Jesus to justify him before God and to help him live for God because Jesus has demonstrated His love for him by dying for him.
Here is a possible dramatic dialogue that sums up the argument between Paul and his critics:
″Look,″ Paul says. ″We Jews are a people born and raised under the law, yet we know by experience that justification can't be achieved by keeping it. Why? Because no one can keep it perfectly and therefore, condemnation, not justification, awaits all who try to keep it. That's why we need to look to Christ″ (see Galatians 2:15-16).
″Wait a minute,″ retort the Judaizers. ″You are teaching us to abandon the law? Wouldn't that make us lawless sinners (Gentiles), and Christ, the source of your gospel, a promoter of sin?″ (see v. 17).
″Absolutely not,″ Paul shoots back, ″for that would contradict everything Christ stands for. However, we would really turn into sinners if we return to the law and fall under its judgment again″ (see v. 18).
Paul's point is: If we Jews can't keep the law, why are we demanding that people with no ancestral affiliation keep it?
But how does Paul escape the law's condemnation? He simply dies to it. This will not only free us from having to satisfy its demands, but it will also lead us to live for God (v. 19).
How does Paul die to the law? He puts ″I″ to death-the old nature that relies on the strict observance of the law for salvation. Bible commentator Eugene A. Nida writes: ″To depend on the Law is to put emphasis on one's own powers to do what it requires″.2 Paul crucifies ″I″ with Christ. Henceforth, he is no longer under its control but under Christ who lives in him (v. 20). Paul knows he can trust Jesus to justify him before God and to help him live for God because Jesus has demonstrated His love for him by dying for him.
In answer to his critics' charge that abandoning the law is sinning against God, Paul says that far from being condemned, faith in Christ alone results in God's justification. So, why return and submit to the law? That would nullify God's act of grace. If justification by the law is possible, then Christ's death would be pointless (v. 21). No doubt the law is given by God, but Paul has shown that it cannot bring about justification.
Today, we need to ask the same question. What do we depend on for our salvation? Christ or some rule or regulation?