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.
For Paul, to “live by faith” is not some moralistic platitude to be a better person. In other words, Galatians 2:20 does not say “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faithfulness.” Instead, Paul looks outward to the faithfulness of Christ “who loved me and gave himself for me.” Faith is extrospective in its very nature. To live by faith is to rest day-after-day in the finished work of Christ and to trust Him for the whole of our spiritual life. Let us consider five reasons why living by faith is far greater than living by faithfulness.
(1) Apostolic Example
Before Paul gets to the Christian’s obedience to the Law and faithfulness in Romans 12-16, he first shows us in Romans 1:18-3:20 that nobody has obeyed the Law or been faithful enough to attain eternal life on their own. However, in Romans 3:21-11:36 Paul provides hope for the sinner. He speaks of the exhaustion of God’s wrath on the cross by Christ for sinners like us, the free justification of the ungodly through faith alone in Christ alone, the objective peace with God that sinners have through Christ, the sanctification of believers by Christ, the announcement for those who struggle with sin that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, the faithfulness of God to save His people through Christ, the unconditional election of sinners unto eternal life by the will of God, and the inclusion of Gentiles into the covenant community of believers in Christ.
Whether it’s our standing with God, assurance of salvation, sanctification, struggle with sin, the various trials of life, understanding the sovereignty of God, etc., Paul urges us to look to Christ. He doesn’t begin with the imperatives of Romans 12-16 right after Romans 3. Instead, he encourages understanding of what justification is. He knows that we first need to know the assurance of salvation. We need to be familiar with the mercy and grace of God because it is “by the mercies of God” that Paul appeals to the Romans to present their bodies as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). There is no true Christian obedience or spirituality without faith in the finished work of Christ and all the other mercies of God that are woven into it.
(2) The Nature of the Covenant of Grace
Romans 5:12-21 tells us that all of redemptive history can be distinguished into two people. You’re either in Adam or you’re in Christ. In Adam, there is the imputation of sin, the curse of death, the condemnation of God, and wrath. But in Christ, there is the imputation of righteousness, eternal life, justification, and peace with God. The only way we become united with Christ is through faith in Him, but even after we believe in Christ, we can’t move on from what He did for us. Again, apart from Christ, we have no hope. We must be in constant remembrance of what Jesus Christ, the Sinless Adam, did for us.
To be united with Adam is to be under the Covenant of Works. The condition to attain eternal life in this covenant is perfect, personal, perpetual obedience to God. Since Adam was unfaithful to that covenant, we receive the imputation of his sin and become condemned in God’s eyes because he was our representative. To be united with Christ is to be a part of the Covenant of Grace. The only condition to attain eternal life is faith in Christ (Galatians 3:11). Since Christ kept the Covenant of Works, we receive the imputation of His righteousness through faith, become justified in God’s eyes, and receive the gift of eternal life because He is our representative in His life, death, resurrection. R. Scott Clark writes, “While the Law says, ‘do,’ the Gospel says, ‘done!’ While the Covenant of Works says, ‘work,’ the Covenant of Grace says, ‘rest!’”
(3) We Are by Nature Legalists
Paul makes it clear in Romans 2:15 that everyone, regardless of their religious background, has the Law of God written on their hearts. We have an inherent sense of right and wrong. We even know that “it is the doers of the Law” that will be justified (Romans 2:13). The Law and its demands are natural to us, but our sin corrupts us into thinking we can actually perform what it commands. The Gospel, on the other hand, is unnatural to us. We can’t know what Christ did for sinners apart from special revelation. Even with special revelation, it takes an act of God’s grace for someone to come to Christ (John 6:44). Even after we become Christians, we still struggle with legalism. 17th century Puritan Walter Marshall writes, “By nature, you are completely addicted to a legal method of salvation. Even after you become a Christian, your heart is still addicted to salvation by works… You find it hard to believe that you should get any blessings before you work for it.”
That’s why we need our pastors especially, as well as the Christians around us, to be faithful in preaching the Gospel clearly to us. We need constantly to hear the good news of Christ’s righteous life, substitutionary death, world-changing resurrection, and glorious ascension. We need to constantly hear that “to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). If we live by faith in Christ, we can be sure that, no matter who we are or what we’ve done or are doing, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). It’s only through Christ that we can get over our addiction to the Law and allergy to the Gospel.
(4) Sanctification Is by Faith Alone
All Christians know that we are justified by faith alone. But it seems as though many do not think of the grace of God and faith in Christ when they think of sanctification. Marshall observed this too and wrote, “People think that even though they have been justified by a righteousness produced totally by Christ, they must be sanctified by a holiness produced totally by themselves.” What is Paul’s solution to lawless living in Romans 6:1-2? Does he jump to Romans 12-16? Does he tell us we just need to try really hard to be a good Christian? No. The solution to lawless living is not the Law but the Gospel.
Paul tells us that we have died to sin and have been raised to new life. How? By being united with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5). We did not free ourselves from the slavery of sin; Christ did. We did not make ourselves slaves of righteousness; Christ did. The identity of “slave of righteousness” in Romans 6:18 is not something we have to strive to attain, but something we already have by faith in Christ. John Fonville writes, “In salvation, we don’t receive a half-Christ. We don’t receive a half-Christ that saves us from the guilt of sin, but leaves us to save ourselves from the power of sin. In salvation, we receive a whole Christ who saves us from both the guilt and power of sin.” Since Christ is the One who justifies and sanctifies us, Paul commands us in Romans 6:11, “So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Before we make any effort to obey the Law found in Romans 12-16, we must live by faith in Christ who has “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24) and raised us as a new creation to walk in newness of life.
(5) Christ Is Our Only Hope in Suffering
Even in suffering, we are to live by faith in Christ. Paul writes in Romans 8,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
In the context of the letter to the Romans, the church there was soon to be persecuted. In 64 A.D., Nero blamed Christians for the fire that burned down three quarters of the city of Rome and tortured and executed them. As American Christians, we don’t face persecution to the same degree as the Roman Christians did, but we still “meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Trouble with relationships, depression, familial strife, the injustices we see in American society, financial hardship, etc. all point to the “bondage” of creation. As Paul says, “… we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).
But, as Christians, we live by faith in Christ because he promises a new heaven and new earth where Christ will “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
This life isn’t all we have. Therefore, we shouldn’t find our hope and identity in this world, because we are bound to be driven to despair. Our trust is in the sovereign God who “works all things together for good” (Romans 8:28). If we’re tempted to despair of life itself, we must look upward in faith to our gracious Father who gave us Christ. Paul asks, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). If God demonstrated His love in sending His Son and putting Him to death on our behalf, His love for us is never going to end. He will bring His people home. It’s those who live by faith who are “more than conquerors” because the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, conquered sin and death by His glorious resurrection for His people (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Therefore, Paul tells us, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).