The closing verses of Galatians chapter 2 that we just read a moment ago are often described as the thesis statement of Paul’s letter. This is Paul speaking to the core issue as clearly, and as precisely as he can. Cutting to very heart of the matter. The situation in Galatia, of course, is that some troublemaking teachers have snuck into the church and have begun undermining the pure gospel that Paul first preached. These false brothers are telling the Galatians that faith in Christ is not enough to be justified—to be declared righteous before God. “You must also keep the law of Moses,” they tell them. “You must be circumcised like us,” they claim. “You must add works to complete your faith.”
And so here, Paul demonstrates how those who claim that works of the law must be added to faith understand neither the true nature of law nor the true result of faith. The law can never justify sinners, it can only condemn them. The law is a measuring line that can only tell you how short you have fallen, but can’t actually help you make up the difference. Kind of like a bathroom scale—it can tell you how overweight you are but it can’t actually do anything to help you shed the extra pounds. That’s not its function. No matter how many times a day you step on it, it will never lift a finger to help you—it will only judge you. That’s the law. It’s the perfect reflection of God’s holiness. It can only judge. It can never save.
But faith has done for us what the law could never do. By faith, Paul says, we have been “crucified with Christ.” We have been made participants in his death and have been made beneficiaries of what his death accomplished. When Christ was crucified for us, he placed his perfect righteousness in between us and the demands of the law. He absorbed the full condemnation that the law was directing at us. And, in doing so, he forever destroyed the law’s claim on us. I love the way Luther describes it in his Galatians commentary as a “joyous duel” between Christ and the powers of darkness. Christ takes on your sin to make war against sin, Christ dies your death to conquer death, and Christ “destroys hell so that you might have the kingdom of heaven.”
And because Christ has done this for us. Because we have been crucified with Christ in this war against sin, death, and the devil, then Christ’s victory also becomes ours. The war is over. There is no longer any battle to fight. No works of the law to satisfy. Because of Christ’s victory, you have been declared the victor. That’s what justification by faith alone means. Why would you want to try to add anything to that? And that’s Paul’s point. Those who insist on adding works of the law to faith understand neither the true nature of the law nor the true benefits that are given to us by faith in Christ.
The law says “do this” and it is never done. But the gospel says “believe in this One” and everything is already done. Thanks be to God.