A friend in the Southeast recently sent a private post expressing concern at a sermon he had heard in which the preacher quoted Galatians 2:20 and insisted that the work of salvation involves two crosses — Jesus on his, and us on ours.
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Those Scriptures are very important which speak of our participation in Christ’s cross, sufferings and death (Rom. 6:2ff; Gal. 2:20, Eph. 2:1ff; Phil. 3:10). However, we may be sure that the good apostle would be horrified to hear that any of us thought he was suggesting that we needed to supplement or complete what Jesus has done already, as the basis of our right standing with God.
Paul wrote Galatians specifically to teach and strengthen some churches which were being tempted to stop relying solely on what Jesus has done and to begin trying to bolster that by their own obedience and good works — in their case, by being circumcised and keeping the Law of Moses. This represented, to Paul’s mind, a frontal assault on “the truth of the gospel,” and he would “not yield … for even an hour.”
Later, Paul says, he faced down Peter, who compromised the integrity of the gospel by refusing table fellowship with believers in Jesus who were not circumcised. “We know we are justified by faith in Christ and not by works of law,” he told Peter, adding that nobody can be set right with God that second way.
This is the context of Galatians 2:20. Again in this verse, Paul refers back to what happened when Jesus died and rose — that is, he (and all other true believers) were crucified with Jesus, and rose with him. For Paul, we “live [have life and conduct life] by faith in the Son of God.” Some scholars translate that: “live by (the) faithfulness of the Son of God” (i.e., Christ’s perfect obedience in our stead), a point which is certainly true however we translate this verse.