I’ve been pondering the meaning of the Christian life in three biblical passages—I thought I’d share something about these with you in hope it will be encouraging! The first one is taken from Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Paul writes:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
What does this mean, “I am crucified with Christ?” We may begin by saying that “to be crucified with Christ” means to be killed in some way, along with Christ, who was killed on that cross. But unlike us in the death Paul alludes to—guilty sinners all—Christ died as an innocent substitute bleeding on that cross. But while the death Paul speaks of is different, Paul’s death and ours, as Paul describes here, are linked to the Lord’s death. Here’s the link: Jesus Christ died as a substitutionary atonement—he died in my place and your place to pay for our sins. But we may ask, why was this necessary? Because God, our Maker, is just. He gave us rules to live by, that we might know and love him and others, but in breaking of God’s rules, His perfect justice demands that those guilty of these things suffer separation from him, a separation that ultimately means death. Yet God in his love for us doesn’t want us to be separated from him. Thus Jesus’ death was substitutionary—the only innocent man who ever lived put himself in my place and your place and took the penalty for us. This is a penalty we each have earned because we each have gone our own way, loving ourselves to the exclusion of God and others.
At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away…
To be “crucified with Christ” is something that those who believe in him seek to do by identifying with his dying. Believers are to understand Jesus did this dying for them and they know this to be the “Good News.” Because of Jesus’ death on the cross they know they are saved from the just penalty their sins deserve from a just God. They recognize that there’s something in them which loves to go its own way—something that rebels against the goodness and love of God. It’s a fundamental selfishness and wrong-heartedness—and they’ve realized, by God’s gracious help, that this is what is making them miserable. They know, too, that when they believed in Jesus Christ, then the loving Spirit of God came in and gave them a new nature—they have been “born again,” as the Bible explains, so that they’re “new creatures in Christ” (see John 3:1-16 and II Corinthians 5:17).
But at the same time that old nature, that rebellious person they’ve always been, that nature that seeks first its own and is a trap of selfishness, must be frustrated—must be “killed”—so that this new nature which they now have in and through Christ can be more fully manifested. But how does this happen? By means of identifying with Jesus Christ’s death, which means that that old nature must be denied, “put down,” which is to say it must be crucified. The old nature is still with each of us until we leave this world in physical death, even as and while our new birth in Christ has given us a whole new disposition—one which will live with God and Christ forever at the resurrection. But in the meantime in this old world it’s necessary for the old nature to “die daily,” as Paul puts it (I Corinthians 15:31) if we are to live as fully for Christ as we are meant to live. And so this is why the Apostle Paul could write in our first passage for today “I am crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20 ).
Jesus, who was tempted in every way just as we are, and yet never went his own way, never sinned—went to the cross in order to take the penalty he never deserved – to take it for you and me and anyone who is and was willing to accept that his dying there was for them. So the “I” that is found in this verse, the “I” that is crucified with Christ, is that old, self-centered nature which left to itself only exhibits and breeds more rebellion and selfishness—the very things Christ suffered and died to pay for.
But in the next phrase: “nevertheless I live” we encounter an entirely different “I.” When Paul wrote, “I am crucified with Christ, and yet I still live,” he was referring to two different “I’s.” The second “I” is a new “I,” it’s the “I” born of the spirit of the risen Christ which has come into all who believe in what Jesus did for them on the cross. It’s the “new man,” the new person inside who loves God and doesn’t want to rebel from him or hurt him, but rather wants to follow Jesus and know him and love him. As the biblical writer—Paul the Apostle in this case—puts it, regarding this new “I”: “yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” This “I” is the marvelous and mysterious and wonderful new life that is formed in each believer. It’s the life that the risen Christ sends in by his spirit into all those who come to trust in him, all those who identify with Christ’s dying for them to pay for their sins. This is what happens when we’re born again, or “born anew from above.”
Now let’s look at the last part of the passage (emphasis added):
and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Here Paul is saying that his old, selfish nature—which is still very much with him and must daily be denied and be “crucified” as we’ve been showing—in its being “put down,” leaves space for the new life to live in him—this new “I”—and this realization goes as well for each and every one who believes. This new life has been given to us not because we have earned it, for we have learned we cannot achieve goodness by virtue of our old, selfish, rebellious nature. We haven’t come to this new life by means of our own goodness at all, but by faith in Jesus Christ—faith in what he, Jesus, has done for us on the cross, setting us free from the guilt and the misery of our failures and sins. God has done all this because he loves us—so much, indeed, that he gave Jesus, his only begotten Son, to die for us on the cross! This is unfathomable love and it makes us willing and able, by his spirit, to live the new life of faith in Christ and walk and talk and be a Christian. And it’s at the cross that we begin to see just how great the love of God is for us. An old hymn by Isaac Watts composed in 1707 puts it this way:
At the cross, at the cross
Where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day.
At the cross God shows us that we may identify with Jesus in a mysteriously blessed way so that Christ may all the more live in us! You can hear this hymn powerfully sung here by a great Black Gospel choir. May hearing it encourage you!
Our second of three passages comes just one chapter later in the same Epistle to the Galatians:
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24).
The Law, whose requirements are too high for us to meet on our own, nevertheless lead us to Christ that we may be made good not by our works under the law, but by faith in His mercy and grace.
This second passage is very much tied into the first one we’ve looked at because it explains what brings us to the place where we realize we need to die to our selfish old nature. It explains what drives men and women to Christ. Simply trying to live by God’s rules turns out to be hopelessly frustrating as we find that living up to the requirements of God’s law is too hard for us—for we’re told by Jesus that it’s not just physically killing someone that’s murder, but angrily hating someone without a cause is, too (Matthew 5:21-26). We are told also that adultery isn’t just committing the act, but it’s even in thinking it (Matthew 5:27-28). Our efforts to live by God’s law of goodness, purity and truth—if we’re honest with ourselves—show us what miserable failures we are. But Paul says here in Galatians 3:24 that it’s the law’s purpose to bring us to this conclusion, so that we realize we cannot save ourselves by good works. No, for when we try to live by God’s law by our own best efforts, we learn we can never be good enough to satisfy the standard that was created to make us holy; it’s just beyond us to fulfill. And yet this law does succeed in bringing us to a place of desperation as we find we can do nothing to make ourselves good and so must at last cry out to God and turn to God’s answer—to the loving Person of Jesus Christ, whom God the Father sent into the world for the very purpose of saving us. If we take the law’s demands as seriously as God means us to, these show us our desperate neediness so that at last we’re ready to turn to Christ, and it is by belief in him and what he did for us on the cross, that we find we can be accepted by God. This we may say with Paul that it’s God’s holy, perfect law that then leads us to this wonderful realization!
Our third passage is from the Old Testament, from Psalm 28, a Psalm of David:
Blessed be the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.
-- Psalm 28:6-7
Here we have a picture of the person who has found grace and mercy not in his or her own works or sense of being good or righteous, but in the Lord’s mercy. The things we’ve been talking about in the preceding two passages to do with the life of walking with God and trusting in him, are too hard for us without God’s blessing. We can only please our Maker when we let God be our strength and find in him our shield and help. David in this Psalm declares what is in Paul’s Epistles, too—that God listens to us, cares for us and loves us, and that we can trust in him. This is why David says, “therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth.” David even wants to sing praises to him, so glad is he to know he’s freed from the penalty of sin so that he can walk with God! The Lord wants us to realize with Paul and with David, that he does love us—that he cares about us, that he listens to us, so that we may know his love and share it with others. That’s what is behind his making the universe and this world and us—it’s all because God loves us and wants us to know him and love others forever! “Blessed be the Lord,” as David says, indeed!
May these three passages on the life of following Christ and of the truth of his salvation encourage you this week! God bless you!