Galatians 2:16, 19-20
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 17, 2016
“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”
The Apostle Paul thought that there was no better way to describe his life…and no better life to wish for us.
The best life is one where people have replaced themselves with Christ at the very center of their being and their doing.
“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” What exactly does that mean? Let us look at all Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said here about this.
“We know,” Paul said in verse 16, “that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” To be justified means to be made right with God and with the person God made us to be.
There was a lot right about Paul before he became a follower of Jesus. He knew God’s law inside and out; he understood and practiced the divine commandments. No one could match Paul’s success in keeping God’s law to a T.
Yet, in the end the main thing all that moral and religious achievement got for Paul was a keen sense of his own hopelessness and helplessness. Even though he accomplished much according to ethical and spiritual standards, and far outdistanced most people in virtue, his very devotion to those standards eventually made it obvious to him that he still had no just claim upon God for anything and still fell short of being the person he was meant to be. The righteous demands of justice, compassion and godliness brought him to despair.
Thus, Paul realized, he said, that “through the law” he had to “die to the law” so that he might “live to God”. That is, in order that he might connect to a gracious power beyond himself, he had to bury his old, supposedly self-sufficient self and grow dead to its pretentions of providing self-salvation and improvement. Paul had to make a decisive break with his dependence on his own capacity for ethical and spiritual excellence. For that dependence banked on the illusion that he could make it on his own, and it kept him from letting Christ take over and take him where he could never take himself.
As Paul “died to the law” and its ego-flattering delusion, he was freed to “live to God” – that is, to the reality that in Christ, the Son of God, there is a gratuitous and extravagant generosity from heaven, a sharing of God’s own self with us, a forgiveness and enablement that is more than anything we have any right to expect or have chance to earn or deserve.
So Paul turned away from looking to himself for liberation and improvement, and turned outward and beyond himself to look for empowerment to fulfill his destiny. Paul met Christ, who put him right with God and his best self, not as a reward but as an unmerited gift, not as the result of his own efforts but as the result of Christ’s efforts on his behalf.
To get right with God and to be right within himself, Paul had to repudiate self-reliance, and embrace Christ-reliance. As he gave himself over to Christ with unreserved abandon, Paul cast all his hope on Christ – and what He had done and would do for him.
Paul was glad to be done with the old, frustrating life. Thus, he exclaimed with joy, “I have been crucified with Christ!” The verb he used there is in the perfect tense, and is better translated: “I have been, and continue to be, crucified with Christ.” In other words, that past reality was ongoing in the present. As Paul viewed the person he once was as dead and gone, he let Christ fill the void created by the burial of that dead man, and allowed Christ to do in him and through him what Paul could never do by himself. As Paul lived by his ongoing crucifixion and resurrection through Christ, as he lived by Christ’s action of sheer grace, works of sheer grace arose out of Paul.
As Paul gave Christ the place once occupied by the man Paul used to be, Paul gained Christ’s goodness of will and power in action. Thus, he had to say, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”
Paul longed for everyone to experience the essential replacement that had so blessed him. When we let it happen, we experience something like this:
Imagine you and Jesus are running a marathon. When the gun goes off, Jesus sprints off with blazing speed, making Usain Bolt look like a turtle. He runs a perfect race. He never takes a bad stride. He never gets lost. In a new world record, He crosses the finish line in seven seconds. (Being beyond time, He could have finished in minus time; but He thought seven made for a nice number.)
About six hours later, you break the tape at the finish line. Though you somehow got stronger and quicker as the race went on, you never got anywhere near as fast as Jesus. Moreover, you several times lost your focus, tripped and fell into some bushes, from which it took you a while to untangle yourself. A few other times, you daydreamed and took a wrong turn that made the race a lot longer and harder than it had to be.
When at last you stumble across the finish line, you look up and see Jesus standing on the winner’s platform. With a gold medal hanging around his neck, He is basking in the adulation of a lot of fans. You, however, are overwhelmed with feelings of defeat and shame.
As you turn to slink away, you are shocked to hear Jesus call out your name and motion for you to come and join Him on the platform. Afraid to meet his eyes, you step up alongside of Him, feeling very much out of place.
But Jesus beams down upon you with a broad and warm smile, puts His arm around your shoulder and says, “Your race wasn’t pretty, was it? But did you notice you ran better with each passing mile? That was because I circled back for you and was running beside you, real but invisible, to help you each step of the way. I was there whispering encouragement into your ears, breathing energy into your lungs, and gentlly slapping your backside to suffuse your legs with my strength. I actually put my heart in you, so you wouldn’t lose heart and quit. I was the author and finisher of your race. Thanks for letting me be!’
Then over your head He slips a gold medal just like His, and invites the photographers to take pictures of you two as joint winners. Then, Jesus leans over and tells you, “And, as good as this is, you’re going to like the post-race party even more.”
The One who does everything for us, shares everything with us. He makes it so that it is no longer we who live and race, but it is He who lives and races in us. What a great way to go! Let us pray!