18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 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. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
When a believer comes to Christ, he comes to a death. The law that he once held in such high esteem and presented as a home in which to reside, is demolished and destroyed. It is destroyed in favor of freedom from it. As Paul has already asserted, the law cannot bring salvation. So, if you desire to be saved, you must trust in Jesus’ righteousness to cover you. It stands to reason, then, that a person who places restrictions upon themselves after having been freed from those restrictions is merely imposing upon themselves new shackles.
Shackles and walls are not designed to embrace freedom. Shackles are designed to restrict the individual from breaking the law. Walls are designed to protect the individual from other people’s freedom. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is antithetical to shackles and walls. When one trusts in Christ, they surrender their need to be protected from other people’s freedom in order to follow Christ, trusting in Him for deliverance and cover. In trusting Jesus, the Christian is set free from the bondage of the law and has submitted to the law of the Spirit voluntarily (Romans 8:2). A voluntary submission that he/she cannot deny. In this, the Christian has exchanged the restrictive walls that once demanded perfection and the subsequent shackles of unrighteousness for the gracious leading of the Spirit and His cleansing presence.
Paul is rightly confused as to why the Galatians would strive to subject themselves to a law again once having been freed. Paul explains the result of adding laws to the Gospel is condemnation. As one attempts to be righteous according to the law, the law serves to show that they are a “transgressor.” Thus Paul explains that those who have trusted in Christ have “died to the law.” The law no longer has anything to condemn because that life which was bound to the law has ended and a new life has begun. In Romans 7:1-6 Paul illustrates this point with the picture of a marriage in which one party is only freed from the contract upon their death. He further explains that the Christian is the one who died and that they are freed from the legal contract of marriage to the law because that former life no longer exists. Having died to the law, it is absurd that any man would rebuild the law in effort to embrace freedom.
When someone trusts in Jesus for salvation, they end the contractual obligation to the law by sharing in the death of Christ (c.f. Romans 6:1-11). In Jesus’ death, the old man has died. Christians are set free from sin and death and are raised to walk a new life. Therefore, submitting again to a law is incongruent with the freedom of Christ. To raise up a new law and insist that righteousness can only be achieved by Jesus AND the law is to nullify grace. Indeed, adding anything to trusting Jesus as a necessary requirement for salvation is nullifying that trust and is returning yet again to a yoke of slavery.
A necessary pause must be taken for a moment to consider the difference between submitting to a law and pursuing holiness. Christians ought to be marked by a pursuit of holiness. Yet, many modern Christians do not understand that holiness is a pursuit. Christians strive to be righteous because we can. We strive to be holy because joy is found in holiness. The things the law says to do are good and are a delight to the Christian. But, they are not a requirement for salvation. Christians do not follow the holiness of Christ because it will save them. They follow the holiness of Christ because He HAS saved them. Christians are free to participate in righteousness and they do out of a desire for joy!
Oh Christian, pursuing holiness is a joy! Striving to delight in the work and life of Christ is more powerful than you can imagine. Once set free from sin, we pursue becoming more like Christ and there we find our joy. Do not be deceived into thinking adding laws and regulations are the same as following Christ. When we add laws in an effort to secure salvation, we nullify grace. When we pursue holiness in delight, recognizing freedom, we empower grace.