“For through the law, I died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:19-21)

Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia is written to a primarily Gentile audience (Galatians 4:8) who have turned to “a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). The (primarily Gentile) churches of Galatia are forsaking “the freedom [they] have in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 2:4) by turning back to “slavery” under the law, most especially the practice of circumcision (Galatians 4:9; 5:2-6). The intensity of his language indicates the level of Paul’s concern. This is no mere matter of ignorance, in Paul’s view this is a crisis of faith (Galatians 5:2-6).

Halfway through the letter, the apostle asks the incisive question: “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3). Instead of entrusting their transformation to the Son of God who gave Himself “for [their] sins to deliver [them] from the present evil age,” the Galatians turn to a different gospel which trusts in their ability to adhere to the law.

It may be hard for us to see ourselves in the Galatians’ crisis. There aren’t “false brothers” among us working to convince us of the necessity of circumcision or adherence to the Mosaic law. Yet, like the Galatians, I too try to “secure” transformation on my own often with the gifts of God (e.g., turning knowledge of Scripture, church attendance, or evangelism into a display of my own “merit”). I use the gifts of God to try to produce His benefits in my life rather than entrusting myself to Him. I try to complete the work of the Spirit by “perfecting” myself by trusting my abilities; in effect, I too turn to a “different gospel.”

To us and the Galatians, Paul says “no!” The life of the Christian is not characterized by a different pattern than their salvation, but both can only be found in Christ alone. The believer is not using their resources to live by faith but rather has been “crucified with Christ.” The Christian no longer lives, but instead, it is Christ who lives in them. The life the believer lives in the world, then, is only by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 3:20). This new creation is the gift of God which makes transformation possible. Before Christ, the believer was enslaved to “the weak and worthless” things of the world, condemned by the responsibility of their salvation and transformation. But in Christ, the believer lives in freedom, knowing the One who gave Himself for them will accomplish His purposes in both their justification as well as their sanctification.

Paul calls the Christians in Galatia to remember the gospel proclaimed to them: the Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). He urges them to reject anything alongside or instead of the self-giving of Jesus upon the cross. Anything else is a “not-gospel” which does not have the power to transform but rather ends in bondage.

For the Christian, transformation, and growth is always the work of God in us. Just as we have been saved by grace through faith, so too are we being made new by grace through faith. It is striking that when Paul lays out the difference between flesh and Spirit in Galatians 5, he describes the “works of the flesh” in contrast with the “fruits of the Spirit.” What the Spirit has begun, the Spirit will perfect, and we are freed to love God and our neighbor without having to secure our growth or transformation in doing so. In His abundant mercy, Christ lives in us, so that we now live only by faith in Him, entrusting our past, present, and future to His faithful hand.