By Christopher VanDusen
In Galatians 2:20, the apostle Paul records himself as saying this:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ 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.” (ESV)
In the context, Paul is reasoning with someone who has compromised the gospel by pretending to agree with those who teach salvation by works. The good news of salvation is at stake, and most of all, the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ is at stake. So Paul climaxes his arguments by getting personal, and explaining what the crucifixion of Christ means for him, and for all who trust in the risen Lord Jesus Christ and His death for God’s forgiveness of their sins.
Paul declares five truths about all who are trusting in Christ:
- They were crucified with Christ.
- They are controlled by Christ.
- They are counting on the Son of God.
- They were cared for by the Son of God.
- They cost the Son of God Himself.
First, Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ”. What does this mean? Was Paul actually hanging on a cross alongside Christ? Of course not. Paul has laid the foundation for understanding what this means in verse 17, where he says:
“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ . . .” (ESV)
What does Paul mean by being “justified in Christ”? Well, the word “justified” means “declared righteous”, and, in the context, Paul means the declaration of righteousness that God makes for those who trust in Christ for salvation. In so doing, God treats believers as if they are sinless and righteous like Christ, making them His friends and servants, and using them to bear the image of Christ. But why does Paul say that they were justified in Christ? This common term in Paul’s letters means that the believer is spiritually one with Christ, and is thus treated as Christ, in His humanity, deserves to be treated by God. It is the basis of the believer’s justification by God — because Christ is a perfectly righteous man, all who are in Him are treated by God as if they are perfectly righteous people.
Now, in our verse, Paul adds another implication to the fact that all believers are in Christ — they were crucified with Christ. In other words, because Christ was crucified, they were crucified. Now, what exactly does Paul mean by this? Well, we need to understand why Christ was crucified. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:3, where he says:
“. . . Christ died for our sins . . .”
Another way of translating the Greek here would be “Christ died because of our sins”. To put it another way, Christ died in order to bear the punishment that we deserve from God for our sins against Him.
So, if Christ was crucified for our sins, then what does it mean that believers have been crucified with Christ? It means, in the context of the passage, that the old, sinful, and damned, self that believers once were has died with Christ. When Christ was on the cross, He was dying in the place of all who would ever trust in Him, and since they are in Him, they, in their condemnation and sins, died with Him. That old part of them is dead. Hence, they are no longer condemned, enslaved to sin, and destined for hell.
The second thing that Paul says about himself is that he was controlled by Christ:
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Having just said that he has been hung on a cross to die with Christ, the logical conclusion is that he is no longer alive. And that’s exactly what the reality was for Paul. He couldn’t live without Christ — now his identity wasn’t found in himself, but in Christ.
But, the question might be asked, if he’s not the one living his life, then who is? He answers: “Christ who lives in me.” Now, did Christ actually live in Paul? Absolutely! In fact, part of the good news of the New Testament is that Christ lives in believers through the presence of His Spirit, as Paul implies in Colossians 1:27:
“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (ESV)
The Spirit who manifests Christ’s divine presence in all believers is here said to be the hope of glory, or the reason for the confident expectation that all believers have that they will be glorified with Christ.
So, because Christ lived in Paul, He was the One who was living Paul’s life through him.
However, someone might ask, “so if Paul isn’t living his own life, then how was Paul clearly living his life just like everybody else”? Paul’s answer is that he was living it only by counting on Christ:
“And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God . . .”
Paul has just said that his life comes from Christ, and not himself, but he recognizes that he’s living an earthly existence like everyone else on earth. That’s why he calls the life he lives one that is lived “in the flesh”. By using the term, “the flesh”, he’s calling attention to the fact that he’s living in a weak, imperfect, and sinful human body that is subject to decay, pain, and death.
So, how does he live this life? He lives it “by faith in the Son of God”. What does he mean by this? Empowered and enabled by Christ who lives inside of him, and having died to himself and to distrust in Christ, he now lives his earthly existence by trusting in the Son of God daily. Why does he call Christ “the Son of God” here? Because He’s the eternal Person whom God the Father sent into the world to die for his sins, to rise from the dead, and to become the King of the universe. He’s God Himself, and hence, is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, and perfect, holy, righteous, good, and loving. Therefore, He is perfectly trustworthy, and is the only One who can be trusted to help the believer live in his evil, decaying, and dying, flesh.
Paul’s fourth truth about himself as a believer is that the Son of God was the One who “loved me”, or cared for him. Why does Paul add this to his description of the One in whom he’s trusting to live in the flesh? Because that’s part of how he knows that Jesus is trustworthy — that He loved him.
And how did He love him? By giving Himself for him. What does this mean? It means that Christ voluntarily and willingly allowed Himself to be nailed and hung on a cross in order to be forsaken, condemned, cursed, and damned by God in His suffering and dying, all as punishment for our sins against Him. Christ did that in Paul’s place, and in the place of every believer — He took their punishment.
On top of that, this required God the Son to eternally add humanity to Himself, so that He’s not only God, but also a human being. Then, He lived a life of suffering and temptation, when He was tempted in every way possible, and He never gave in. Finally, He was rejected by His own people, as well as by the whole world, and even His best friends, and gave Himself ultimately on the cross, by giving Himself up to God’s wrath and hatred for us in our sins. This is the ultimate proof that Paul could trust the Son of God to help him live his life.
So, have you been crucified with Christ? Is your old, sinful, and God-hating self dead? If you are trusting only in the risen Christ and His death for our sins as the only grounds of God’s forgiveness, then you have been crucified with Christ.
Are you the one ultimately living your life, or is Christ living through you? If you are trusting in Christ, then you aren’t ultimately living your life, but Christ is the One living your life, and is making you live like He did.
Are you living your daily life by faith in the Son of God? If you are trusting Him for God’s forgiveness, then you are now living daily life by trusting in the Son of God, and not by what you can experience with your senses.
Do you know that the Son of God loved you? If you are trusting in Christ, then you know that the Son of God loved you when He died on the cross.
Do you know that the Son of God gave Himself up for you? If you’re trusting in Him, then you know this too, because it’s because He gave Himself up for you that God has forgiven your sins, adopted you into His family, made you one of His children, given you the Holy Spirit, and given you eternal life.
If your old self hasn’t died, you are still the source and center of your life, and you aren’t living your daily life by faith in the Son of God, believing that He loved you and gave Himself up for you, then you are still dead in your trespasses and sins, and are under the wrath of God for your rebellion against Him. Christ was crucified for our sins and raised from the dead, so that God could forgive our sins, and give us eternal life. He’s now commanding you, through me, to change your mind, and to trust in Christ, His death for our sins, and His resurrection, as the only grounds of His forgiveness because He’s sending the Lord Jesus Christ to earth to judge people like you, and to cast them into eternal hell for their sins against Him. He promises to forgive all of your sins if you will change your mind and trust in Christ as the One who died for your sins and rose from the dead. If you have, then find someone who has done so as well to baptize you by submersion to show them that you believe you have died, been buried, and been raised from the dead with Christ.
All Scripture quotations taken from:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.