As a Christian, Paul had given up all hope of achieving a state of righteousness through observing the Law. But although he was no longer under the Law’s authority, he was not lawless; rather, he now had a relationship with God that went much deeper than law. For when we commit ourselves to following Christ, we identify with Him to such an extent that we become personally involved in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3,4). So these are no longer purely historical events; they become part of our present experience. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (verse 20) My old, sinful life is over; it was put to death on Jesus’ cross. I now belong to Him, the life that I live from now on is not my life but His, and both the motivation and the power to please and honour Him come not from me but from His Holy Spirit.
We can therefore see that legalism is totally foreign to the spirit of Christianity. Faith in Christ cannot be synonymous with rule-keeping; they are mutually exclusive. If we were capable of making ourselves righteous, there would have been no need for Christ to die, and all His sufferings would have been pointless (verse 21). Any so-called ‘gospel’ that includes an element of self-justification is therefore an insult to God (because we are rejecting and despising His costly gift) and undermines the very foundations of Christianity (Romans 11:6).