A few of the most profound truths of being a Christian are found in what Paul writes to the Galatian Church:
“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.” (Galatians 2:20)
We could spend hours upon hours dissecting all that Paul writes in this verse about what it means to be a Christian, but for the sake of this article I will only briefly scratch the surface on what Paul’s getting at.
I have been crucified with Christ
Paul writes this provocative and intense statement only because it, in itself, is an intense reality. Paul knew that Christ was crucified physically on a Roman cross. In one sense, He was put to death under Roman law based on the accusations of the Jews against Him. In another sense (and the more profound sense), Christ was crucified according to the will of the Father. Christ’s crucifixion is the centre-point of God’s plan of providing salvation to His children. On that cross, Christ was our substitute, as He bore our sin on His blameless shoulders. Now being found the worst of sinners, the Father poured His wrath on Him according to the penalty due. Even though Jesus was One with God, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).
So, what does Paul mean by this statement? Paul is saying that in the same way Jesus humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, Paul also humbled himself by becoming obedient to God’s call to deny himself. One of the less-loved truths of being a Christian is that it’s marked by self-denial. Jesus Himself told His disciples and those around Him, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Self-denial is not denying your worth, value, or meaning. Self-denial is rather removing your past dreams, pleasures, and ambitions that are apart from God’s will. This, as you may have experienced or can imagine, is painful. In fact, Paul uses the word crucifixion to explain the weight of it! Even Jesus says “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24, Italics mine) Paul is saying that he has intentionally lost his old life and crucified it as a result of following Jesus.
Have you lost your old life and crucified it as a result of following Jesus?
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me
In crucifying his old life and losing it, Paul no longer lives. Makes sense, right? He’s lost his life! It’s gone! He no longer lives for the old dreams, pleasures, and ambitions that he used to. He now lives in and through Christ in him. What does this mean? It means that his new life is founded upon and powered by the Spirit of Christ. In the same way that the Holy Spirit raised Christ’s dead body, the Holy Spirit now enables us to live as Christ in this world.
Paul is making a strong statement that he’s stopped living for anything that’s not of Christ. Since he’s dead to his old life, he now lives solely by and for Christ. Every day he has to fight the temptation to “save his old life,” and reaffirm that he is no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:17-18).
Can you honestly say that you no longer live but Christ lives in you?
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
To bring clarity to his earlier statement, Paul now says that the literal life that he lives “in the flesh” is lived by faith in Christ. Though he’s crucified and lost his life, he still “lives” in a literal sense. He’s the one writing this letter, teaching the churches, and travelling all around. The difference is that his literal “fleshly” life isn’t lived for the purpose of fulfilling his old dreams, pleasures, and ambitions, but rather for God’s glory. Paul in his own strength cannot glorify God, but Christ can. Therefore, “by faith” Paul believes that Christ lives in and through Him, enabling him to glorify God.
Paul’s literal and physical life is lived to glorify God by faith in Christ’s work in him.
What work? Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul’s final words in this verse are incredibly profound. In short, Paul’s saying that Christ loved him and gave himself for him. Though we live in an individualistic culture and move against the grain by living selfless and “others-oriented” lives, we must never forget that Christ died for individuals. Paul clearly states that Christ loved him, and gave Himself for him. This should bring us indescribable joy to know that Christ loved us individually and died for us individually. Yes, Christ loved the world, but He also loves you. Christ bore the sins of the world, but he also bore your specific sins. Christ was raised from the dead to conquer sin and death for His own, but he also was raised from the dead and conquered sin and death for you – so that you may live in freedom.
It’s never not the right time to remember, remind others, and dwell on the simple (yet profound) truths of the gospel. Though you and I have heard about these truths and read Paul’s letter before (maybe many times), we still ought to go back and remember.
We are crucified with Christ – for the sake of Christ, we’ve lost our old ways of living.
We no longer live, but Christ lives in us – to fulfill God’s will for His children.
We live by faith in Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us – His gospel gives us the ability, and the Holy Spirit gives us the faith.