“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” (Galatians 2:20).
The verse actually ‘speaks’ of the union of the believer to Christ. When we believe in Christ, faith brings us into a person-to-person union and communion with Christ so that what is ours becomes His and what is His becomes ours. Christians are those who are ‘in Christ’. Believers are so united in Christ that all He is and has done for us becomes our possession too. When Christ died upon the cross, in some sense we died with Him, when He rose from the grace, we also rose with Him. Every spiritual blessing becomes ours in Christ. All the resources God deployed in His Son – in His death, resurrection, ascension, and heavenly reign – we now inherit.
So when Paul shared that he has been crucified with Christ, in a sense, he also came to share in Christ’s crucifixion. All the implications of His being crucified for Paul and for us become our possession. Thus in Christ, believers ‘died’ out of the family of Adam – the old persons we were in Adam were crucified with Christ – hence the old fallen order in Adam had no more claims on us. When Christ rose, all the implications of His resurrection became our possession too, even if they are not yet worked out completely.
When Paul wrote ‘Christ lives in me’, he was saying that he was someone in whom the Lord Jesus had come to dwell in. This is true for all true believers – Christ lives in us and we have been set free with a new identity in Christ – we possess a new irreversible citizenship – we are ‘in Christ’.
Christians died out of an entire world order – the Adamic order – and were thus delivered from a fallen and condemned race under sin’s reign, through union with the Christ who died to sin and was raised to new life. Christians are those who have been delivered from the dominion of sin and have been transferred into the kingdom of God. Yet, at the same time we remain in the same old world which is infected by Adam’s fall, as well as by the power of sin; we live in the present evil age but we are no longer under its dominion.
In the second half of the verse, Paul wrote: “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.” Believers today are unhealthily preoccupied with faith itself – that is, faith that is viewed man-centred as a state of commitment – diverting us from the object of faith who is the living Christ. Paul made it clear that life he lived was by faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave Himself for him. It was not confidence in faith itself but faith in the Son of God. Faith fosters fortitude – a combination of courage and endurance – and this was certainly seen in the life of Apostle Paul. His faith in Christ (who was One who truly loved him and sacrificed HImself for him) sustained him in the midst of pressure and suffering distress. He pressed on, persevered, always having the one thing in mind – the glory of God, the glory of the Son who manifested God to him and loved him so deeply.
It is this faith in the Son which allowed him to declare that he no longer lived for himself but for Him who died for him and rose again. It is the same faith in Christ which caused him to say, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain”. And this faith is always tied up with his full awareness and appreciation of the love, sacrifice, grace, and mercy of the Lord Jesus for him.
Paul described this new perspective and life of faith clearly in Philippians 3:7-11:-
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead”.
Looking at this passage, we realise why Paul ‘fought so hard’ to help the Galatian Christians to know and cling to the righteousness through faith in Christ and not to be sidetracked by seeking a righteousness that comes from the law (for Paul knew that this cannot save anyone and he had been through all of this as a Pharisee). In fact, Paul considered all the ‘gains’ in the past as loss and garbage when compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.
His new life lived out by faith in the Son of God is so tied up with the longing of knowing Christ more and more to the point that he was willing to participate in the Lord’s sufferings and to become like the Lord in His death. Paul considered it a great privilege to participate in the Lord’s sufferings.
Paul, and all believers hopefully, know with great clarity of mind that a close walk with the Father and the Son, leaning hard on them and drawing strength from them through the Holy Spirit, is both what they need and what they want. God’s faithfulness consists in His unwillingness that His children should lose any of the depths of fellowship with Himself, that He has in store for them. So He afflicts them to make them lean harder on Him, that HIs purpose of drawing us into closest fellowship with Himself may be fulfilled. Paul knew this intimately; hence he desired to participate in the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ so that he may know the power of His resurrection.
Ease and luxury, such as our affluence today, do not make for maturity in Christ; hardship and struggle however do, and believers like Paul knew that sufferings for Christ produced a virility of character, undaunted and unsinkable, rising above discouragement and fears. Spiritual warfare makes spiritual giants what they were; they accepted conflicts as their calling, seeing themselves as their Lord’s soldier, pilgrims, and not expecting to be able to advance a single step for God’s kingdom without opposition of one sort or another. Out of this constant furnace experience their maturity was wrought and their wisdom concerning discipleship was refined.
Lest we think that only Apostle Paul thought that way, read what Apostle Peter had to say in 1 Peter 4:12-14:-
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”