I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. — Galatians 2:20
Major Daniel Webster Whittle (1840-1901) was an American evangelist, Bible teacher, and hymn writer. Frequently composing under the pseudonym El Nathan, he wrote the words for about two hundred hymns. In one of his most well-loved hymns, Whittle speaks of his own conversion — an event which was the origin of the wonderful assurance on which he based his song: “Once far from God and dead in sin, no light my heart could see. But in God’s Word the light I found. Now Christ liveth in me.”(1)
Whittle and his three brothers were raised in a home where their mother, a devout Christian, sought to instill godly principles in them. Although Whittle did not give his life to God in his youth, through that early training the Holy Spirit laid the foundation for an event that would transform his life.
During the Civil War, Whittle lost his right arm and ended up in a prisoner-of-war camp. It was there that he began to awaken to his spiritual needs. While in the hospital, he looked for something to read, and found a New Testament. Though its words challenged him, he was still not ready to yield to Christ. However, God knew how to draw this man.
He recounted, “I was awakened one midnight by the nurse, who said, ‘There is a boy in the other end of the ward, one of your men, who is dying. He has been begging me for the past hour to pray for him, or to get someone to pray for him, and I cannot stand it. I am a wicked man and can’t pray, so I have come to get you.’ ‘Why,’ said I, ‘I can’t pray. I never prayed in my life! I am just as wicked as you are.’ ‘Can’t pray?’ asked the nurse. ‘Why, I thought sure from seeing you read the Testament that you were a praying man. And you are the only man in the ward that I have not heard curse. What shall I do? There is no one else for me to go to. I can’t go back there alone. Won’t you get up and come and see him?’
“Moved by his appeal, I arose from my cot, and went with him to the far corner of the room. A fair-haired boy of seventeen or eighteen lay there dying. There was a look of intense agony upon his face as he fastened his eyes upon me and said, ‘Oh, pray for me! I am dying! I was a good boy at home in Maine. My mother and father are members of the church, and I went to Sunday school and tried to do right. But since I became a soldier, I have learned to be wicked. I drank, and swore, and gambled, and went with bad men. And now I am dying and I am not fit to die! Oh, ask God to forgive me! Pray for me! Ask Christ to save me!’
“As I stood there and heard those pleadings, God said to my soul by His Spirit, just as plainly as if He had spoken in audible tones, ‘You know the way of salvation. Get down on your knees and accept Christ, and pray for this boy.’
“I dropped upon my knees and held the boy’s hand in mine as, in a few broken words, I confessed my sins and asked God to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me, and that I was Christ’s child. I then prayed earnestly for the boy. He became quiet, and pressed my hand as I pleaded the promises. When I arose from my knees, he was dead. But a look of peace was upon his face, and I believe that God, who used him to bring me to my Savior, used me to get his attention fixed upon Christ and to lead him to trust in His precious Blood. I hope to meet him in Heaven.”(2)
From that day forward, Whittle’s testimony was, “Christ liveth in me. Oh! what a salvation this, that Christ liveth in me.” That key phrase of his hymn is taken from our focus verse. In Galatians 2:20, Paul was describing his position (and that of every saved and sanctified believer who lives in submission to the will of God). Paul had given Christ his old life — his try-in-my-own-strength-to-obey-the-Law life. That old life had died, and now he had a whole new way of life.
The principle Paul was expressing still holds true today. When an individual comes to Jesus Christ for forgiveness, he is justified through faith. When the sin nature is put to death, he dies to self and sin and the world, and becomes alive in Christ. From then on, he lives with Christ as his center and nucleus.
Is that your experience? Have you given yourself fully to Christ, recognizing that He died as your sacrifice to take away your sin and its penalty of death? Have you made Him the pattern, motive, and reward of all you do? If so, then you can say with Major Whittle and the Apostle Paul, “Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
In chapter 2, Paul continued to defend his apostleship, relating two key events in his spiritual history. In verses 1-10, he reviewed his meeting with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, noting their recognition of his call to minister to the Gentiles and his equal standing with them in terms of authority. Then, in verses 11-14, Paul described a confrontation which took place in Antioch between himself and Peter regarding the acceptance of converted Gentiles. Verses 15-21 are an initial presentation of Paul’s proof that justification is by faith, without reliance on the Mosaic Law.
In verse 1, Paul’s statement that he went to Jerusalem “fourteen years after” does not identify what event “after” refers to. If he meant after his conversion, the visit would be the one recorded in Acts 11:30. If he meant after his previous visit, that record is found in Acts 15:2. Bible scholars hold differing views as to the chronology referenced here, but the critical nature of Paul’s message is not affected by either date. The purpose of Paul’s visit was to place before the leaders of the church the Gospel he was preaching among the Gentiles. He wanted their unified understanding and backing of the direction of his ministry, and it was also important that they recognize Paul’s right to speak for God along with the other apostolic delegates.
Paul traveled to Jerusalem with Barnabas, a Levite of Cyprus who had the confidence of the church, and Titus, a Gentile believer. According to verse 2, he went “by revelation,” or in response to God’s revealed will.
Paul’s statement in verse 3 that Titus had not been compelled to be circumcised is the first mention in this letter to the specific question facing the church: whether Gentile converts were required to obey the Mosaic Law. Verses 4-5 are a parenthetical insert describing some who had come with the secret purpose of observing the Gentile believers, with the intent of forcing observance of the Law upon them. However, Paul recognized that if the leaders in Jerusalem insisted on circumcision and other rites of the Law for the Gentile converts, his entire labor among the Gentiles would have been in vain. He had no doubts or misgivings about the message he had already preached for fourteen years.
Paul’s assertion in verse 6 that those who were in conference “added nothing to me” did not mean that he had no respect for the church leaders, but rather that they made no addition, correction, or deletion to Paul’s message. Rather, according to verses 7-9, they heartily approved of him and his message to the Gentiles.
The actions of Cephas (Peter), who was named with James and John as a church leader in verse 9, were challenged by Paul in the second portion of this chapter. While visiting Antioch, Peter had eaten with the Gentile converts, thus demonstrating his acceptance of them as fellow believers and his understanding that justification did not come through adherence to the Law. However, when others arrived from Jerusalem, he withdrew from that practice, “fearing them which were of the circumcision” (verse 12). As a result, some were confused as to the standing and acceptance of Gentile believers, including Barnabas. Thus, it was necessary for Paul to confront Peter publicly regarding his actions (verse 14).
In verse 16, Paul stated the critical point that he would continue to argue in chapters 3 and 4: that a person is not justified by the works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul’s statement in verse 20 that he had been “crucified with Christ” introduces one of the Apostle’s most significant theological concepts. He taught that when a believer allows the sin nature to be put to death, that individual enters into Christ’s death. Dying to self, the believer becomes relationally one with Christ, as long as he remains in Christ.
II. Paul’s Gospel defended
B. Recognized by the Jerusalem council (2:1-10)
1. Presentation of his Gospel (2:1-2)
2. Legalistic interference (2:3-5)
3. Approval from the leaders (2:6-10)
C. Revealed by Paul’s rebuke of Peter (2:11-21)
1. Peter’s practice (2:11-13)
2. Paul’s pronouncement (2:14-21)
a. The Law for Jews (2:14-15)
b. The grace-through-faith principle (2:16)
c. The Law brought condemnation (2:17-20)
d. Christ liberates from the Law (2:21)
The great message of Paul’s Gospel is that salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and not through any efforts of our own.
1 El Nathan, Christ Liveth In Me, Public Domain.
2 Hy Pickering, Twice-Born Men: True Conversion Records of 100 Well-Known Men in All Ranks of Life, London: Pickering & Inglis, p.193-194.