Paul's Weapons Against the Debasing of Christianity
1. His Personal History
Well, first of all - and this is a very powerful weapon, as you will notice from this letter - he brings in the weapon of his own history and his own experience. There are few places in all his writings - perhaps only Second Corinthians - where he refers to himself more than he does in this letter. He brings his own history and his own experience right forward; it is one of his masterstrokes. And he was the man to do it! Just look at Saul of Tarsus [Paul]: look at his history - what he tells us about himself. Was there ever a man who had put this whole Jewish system more thoroughly to the test than he had? He had committed himself to the observances, to the performance of every part of the Jewish ritual, right up to the hilt; indeed, he tells us that he was far more zealous in this matter than many of his own age. "I advanced in the Jews' religion beyond many of mine own age ... being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (Galatians 1:14). This man had gone all the way with this system, with its ceremonies and rites, its types and figures, its symbols and forms, he had gone the whole way.
What did it do for him? Where did it land him? He had exhausted it most thoroughly, most conscientiously, most sincerely: because one thing that we have to say about Saul of Tarsus is that he was a man who did not believe in half measures - he was a man who meant business, and he was a man who was sincere in what he did. He tells us: "I verily thought ... that I ought to do" - "many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9). It was a matter of conscience with this brilliant young Pharisee, who had climbed so high on the ladder of Judaism. But, where did it land him? We have his own exclamation; he says: "This is where it landed me!" - "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24). You could not get very much lower than that, could you? That is the last word in anything. In his own experience, in his own history, the whole thing had failed. In effect, he says: "That is where it landed me; that is all it did for me. And it is not going to do anything better for anybody else, however devoted they may be to it."
2. The Meaning of the Cross
But then, having come to that end, to that ignominious end, crying for deliverance - 'O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me? Nothing and nobody, over all this long history, has proved a deliverer for me! - then he found the Lord Jesus; and the Lord Jesus did for him all that this tremendous sum of things had entirely failed to do. He found the Cross, and he said: "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20). You notice the change from the thought of 'death' to the thought of 'life.' He is a dead man made alive, come to life. He is a man who has known an altogether new beginning, a new history, a new experience, which has sprung out of the Cross of the Lord Jesus.
Moreover, he found the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit did for him what this vast system of Judaism, to which he had given himself so utterly, could never do. That is why he gives such a large place to the Holy Spirit in this letter. That is why the Cross and the Holy Spirit are here brought together as the ruling lines of this whole testimony. The Holy Spirit, on the ground of the Cross, has reversed the whole experience, changed the whole situation.
3. The Meaning of Christ
And then - here we could go through the letter with another ruling line - he discovered the real meaning of Christ. The name of Christ occurs forty-three times in this little letter, which can be read in ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. That itself is significant; indeed, it just shouts at us as to what it is all about. Paul is really seeking to show here what is the true meaning of Christ. What is the true meaning of Christ? Just this: that all that system has been - in law and all its ordinances has been fulfilled in and by Christ, in the Cross; all righteousness has been fulfilled. As He came to His baptism in the Jordan, typifying His death on the Cross, Jesus had said: "Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). That was the question at issue, and it was all fulfilled in the Cross of the Lord Jesus; Christ crucified has fulfilled it all. The Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ. That is what we have been saying about Isaiah; and what is true of Isaiah is true of all the Old Testament. We cannot attempt to show here how the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ, but that is what Paul is saying. 'I have been crucified with Christ: and so I am united with Him in that writing of, that fulfillment, of all the requirements of God; and, by the Spirit, I come into the good of all that Jesus is.'
(continued with # 4 - "The Meaning of Grace")