by Russell Young
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20 NIV) A person’s understanding of this verse makes all the difference in his appreciation of the gospel.
Recently a well known television preacher stated that “having been crucified with Christ” means that in the mind of God our crucifixion has taken place. That is, as far as God is concerned we are dead. Accordingly, we can no longer sin and will not be held accountable for any sin. Does this make Biblical sense and why would God entertain this perception? He would have to accept something that has no basis in fact. It is impossible to find any scriptural foundation for such thinking.
What does Paul mean? The crucified person is dead! He has no life! The result of crucifixion is end of physical life. Paul’s teaching is that as far as he is concerned he has made the determination, by choice, to consider his physical body to be dead. Such a death does not refer to a physical reality since Paul was still alive. He had made the commitment to not allow his body to be his master, to not submit to its interests. The death to which he is referring is a matter of his will. After having reflected on the sin-producing power of the body, he had agonized, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from the body of death [that brings about death]? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 7:24 NIV) It was Christ who would rescue him.
The old life in the body or flesh is the cause of a person’s sinning. He or she is constantly tempted to satisfy its demands. Unlawful appeasement of the flesh is sin and every person who walks this earth, starting with the family of God, will be accountable for the things done while in the body at judgment day. “For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one might receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10)
Paul’s teaching is that believers must consider or reckon themselves to have been crucified, or to have died to the body. His statement was that he no longer lived, that he could no longer entertain the interests of the body, but that he was endeavouring to let Christ live in him. Christ did not sin and if Christ is living in him, he will be victorious over sin. To the Colossians Paul revealed that it is Christ in us who is our hope of glory. (Col 1:27) He also related that it is necessary to defeat the sinful nature which brings about death. “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom 8:13 NIV)
Paul also said that he now lived by faith in the Son of God. To live by faith means that he had been persuaded of the life and ministry of Christ. Since he has been so persuaded, he has abandoned his own life and has allowed Christ to live in and through him.
In another place Paul considered the issue of death and baptism. “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or, don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:1-4 NIV) The new life about which he wrote is the life of righteousness experienced as Christ lives in us.
The baptism about which Paul spoke is symbolic of the believer’s death and resurrection. This symbolism, representing a pledge to maintain a clean conscience (1 Peter 3:21) leading to the hope of resurrection with Christ needs to be more fully appreciated. The person being baptized must know that he has considered and has acknowledged death to sin and self, and is making a pledge to that end.
If it was perceived by God that the confessor’s death had happened, as the preacher claimed, there would be no need for judgment and a sureness of the confessor’s resurrection would exist; however, even Paul attested to the fact that he wanted to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings so that “somehow” he might attain to the resurrection. (Phil 3:10-11) In spite of theological teaching to the contrary, Paul was not certain of his own eternal state. His physical life had not been completed so opportunity to entertain the interests of his natural spirit still existed.
In Romans Paul wrote of the need for the believer to share in Christ’s sufferings if he or she is to share in his glory and to become heirs with him. (Rom 8:17) The suffering to which he is referring has been revealed as the struggle to overcome temptation. “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18 NIV) We are heirs with Christ as long as we suffer in the pursuit of victory over temptations- “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12 NIV)
Christ admonished his listeners of the need to carry their cross. He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”(Mk 8:34 NIV) The cross is an instrument of death and the disciples’ death must be to self interest of all sorts, for victory over sin and for service for the kingdom. If the cross is being carried, it is readily available to crucify the body in one’s mind once more when it starts to resume its own life. If, “in God’s mind” he considers a person’s body to be dead, there would be no reason for the believer to carry his cross.
The implications of a person’s understanding of his or her crucifixion are serious and have eternal consequences. Like Paul each of us is to consider that his body has been crucified if he or she is to avoid sin and by faith -persuasion- is to allow Christ to live through him or her.