Crucified with Christ

March 16, 1997 / No. 2827

One of the most beautiful confessions of faith ever made was made by the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20. There that ardent, God-centered man, that passionate, zealous servant of Jesus Christ was led of the Holy Spirit to write: “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.”

Those words were written by God not simply for us to analyze, not even to gain an accurate understanding of what Paul meant, to take it apart and to marvel. But it was given by the Holy Spirit to be our own. Not simply something to admire, to store away in our minds somewhere, and go our way. But to be ours. To be written upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

For you children, if by grace you belong personally to Jesus Christ, these words are not merely letters upon a page. But they are the rejoicing of your heart: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

It was written for you, young people in Jesus Christ, married couples, middle aged couples. For us it is written to be our own confession.

Concerning the context, suffice it to say that the apostle Paul’s confession flows out of his defense of the gospel of the righteousness which is found only in Christ and not by works. Throughout the ages, and also in the apostle’s day, many brought the accusation that this makes Christ the minister, that is, the teacher, of sin. The objection is this: If men are justified solely by Christ and not by their own works done in harmony with the law, then they will be careless. A Christ who provides complete, indestructible righteousness with God is a Christ who teaches men then to live in sin. To which the apostle Paul, and we with him, respond: “God forbid! That is not so.”

Paul says, in verse 19 of Galatians 2, “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” That is, through the law I am shown how my best works are polluted in sin, so that I am dead to the law as a way of salvation, in order that I might be alive unto God. God’s Word teaches, then, that those who are made righteous by Jesus Christ must also be made alive unto God, that those who are forgiven in the blood are also renewed by the blood. Those who have been given a part in Christ, those who have been forgiven of God and made righteous in His work, must and do live by faith in Him, in a life of thankfulness to the One who has loved and saved them.

And Paul makes this most personal: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

Let us consider that wonderful confession: Crucified with Christ.

Literally, the apostle Paul writes, “With Christ I have been crucified.” Paul is declaring, in plain words, that as Christ was crucified, so was he. He is making the amazing assertion that he was with Christ when Christ was crucified and also underwent crucifixion.

Jesus Christ was crucified. He was fastened to a cross by spikes driven through His hands and feet. He was lifted up so that He hung upon that cross. In the year A.D. 33, outside of Jerusalem, on a hill called Golgotha, on a Roman cross, with nails hammered through His hands and feet, Christ was crucified. In itself that is amazing. For Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God’s Son in our flesh, sent of God.

Now, adding to that amazement, Paul says, “With Christ I have been crucified.” And not something exclusive to himself, but the apostle Paul assumes that this same is true for all those who have received faith in Jesus Christ.

Now what does that mean? Is that to be taken literally, and in a physical sense, that Paul in some previous moment had been nailed on a cross? No, he is not saying that he, personally, underwent crucifixion. Is it to be taken then emotionally, that the story of Christ’s death so affected him that he began to associate with Christ, and as he contemplated the death of Christ for sinners, he tearfully arrived at the point of identifying himself with Christ? (Just like a little boy reading an adventure book – some hero in history gives his life, and this boy begins to identify himself with that hero and become a martyr for that cause?) No, that is not what the apostle Paul meant. It was not some emotional experience. But that I am crucified with Christ means that I belong to Jesus Christ and that on Calvary’s cross He took my place and died in my stead and in my behalf.

Paul explains it: “And gave himself for me.” The Son of God gave Himself for me, in my behalf, as my substitute. To be crucified with Christ means that when Christ actually hung on that cross, on that Friday afternoon, I hung there in that Christ knew me, in that Christ was assuming my place before God’s judgment seat. That is what Jesus said in John 10:11, “I laid down My life for My sheep.” Isaiah 53:4-6, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities.” Paul was referring to the wonderful truth of substitution. To be crucified with Christ means that, by grace, you were one in whose place and for whose sin Jesus died. You were with Him in the sense that God gave Him to bear you in His arms, to represent you, to take upon Himself your sins, to confess that He had come to receive the punishment that was due to you. That is what he meant: “I with Christ have been crucified. Christ knew me, He knew me by name. Christ loved me. He died with the names of all those given to Him of the Father written upon His heart.”

As the high priest, Aaron wore a breastplate, and the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were on that breastplate when he performed the duties of the high priest on the Day of Atonement. So also the names of all those whom the Father gave to Christ were upon Christ’s heart, and He represented them, when He hung upon the cross. Not only were those names known to Christ, but Christ knew and loved them. He knew me for what I was as a sinner. Behind this wonder is the truth of the absolute foreknowledge of God, the predestining love of God, the election of God. I was with Him, crucified with Him, not because I attached myself to Him. But because He loved me. Not because of anything in myself, but because the cords of God’s predetermined love tied me to Jesus Christ in bonds which could not be broken. Can you appreciate that in your soul? Can you understand?

Those who are saved by Christ on the cross – that issue was not determined after He died. Christ already knew for whom He died when He laid down His life. He died, He obtained a gift, for them. We were with Him, we were known to Him, we were loved by Him, we were given to Him by God’s election. And for us and in the place of us He was crucified.

That is the gospel. That is the truth. The cross, which every man must confront, does not set before us something which simply joins itself in the list of notable events in human history. But that cross proclaims that a church was saved, that all those whom God gave to Christ were saved. Because they were in Christ. And Christ died in their place.

The apostle Paul goes on to say, “Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” I live no more. Christ lives in me. That is proclaiming another wonder, is it not? Christ not only died for me, says Paul, but as a consequence of His dying for my sins He now lives in me. To be crucified, one dies. That is exactly what I did, says Paul. I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. Something died with Christ. Christ not only died to pay for my sins, but He died to deliver me from the bondage of those sins. “Knowing this, that our old man (of sin) is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:6).

Christ’s death for you was not only in terms of payment, of bearing God’s wrath, and obtaining forgiveness for sins, but it was also in terms of deliverance and ransom. I live no more, says Paul. I was, of myself, enslaved and in bondage to sin, to Satan, and to lust. I served that willingly according to my flesh, and I served that with relish! I was a willing servant of sin. Christ died to destroy that bondage so that now I live, a new life, Christ in me. He died so that I might no longer, with this fallen world, live out of the principle of a willing service to sin. But that now I might live unto Him, my Savior, a wonderful change has taken place. By the power of His crucifixion, says Paul, I am no longer sin’s willing servant, drooling over sin. But now I, Christ in me, I love Him who loved me. Now I experience repentance and sorrow and a striving against sin and a joy in God.

The life that I now live, says Paul, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me. I live by faith now, faith which is a union to Jesus Christ, an unbreakable spiritual union to Christ uniting me to Him. As a result of being crucified with Christ, I live. All my life (not parts of my life) is now lived out of Him, all is directed to Him, to the Son of God who has so amazingly loved me.

Is that not wonderful? That is the personal confession of everyone who is in Jesus Christ.

Would you note with me that this is very personal. If you would, count (in Galatians 2:20) the I’s and the me’s; five times the apostle Paul uses “I” and three times, “me.” In other words, the inside of the heart for whom Christ died and in whom Christ lives is pulled inside out. He loved me, He gave Himself for me, in Him I live, in Him I die. The cross means nothing but judgment to you if this personal element is lacking. The confession is personal. I cannot make it for you and you cannot make it for me. The Holy Spirit has to write it on our heart.

You see, faith is the work of God giving us to know something. Faith is not simply a shiver and a shake and goose bumps over our bodies. No, faith gives me to know something in the depth of my heart. It gives me to know something, first of all, about myself, something that I would never in a thousand years admit or own up to. What it gives me to know is not just sin, that I messed up and make mistakes. But it gives me to know this: I am a proud and wretched person. My sin deserves eternal punishment from God. I cannot make payment. There is nothing that I can do. I am undone. Do you know that about yourself? That is the work of the Holy Spirit.

But faith also gives me to know something about Christ. He loved and He gave Himself for me. God’s gift of faith opens our minds to know and convicts our hearts concerning Him. Those two go together. He loved me, a wretched sinner, and gave Himself for me. Ephesians 5:2, “Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us.” So, He loved us. He loved us first, and now He causes us to love Him.

But that is very personal. Not simply do I know that Christ loved the church. Not only do I know that Jesus Christ loved all those whom the Father gave to Him. Not only do I know that Jesus Christ loved the apostle Paul, that He loved the thief upon the cross, that He loved all of the elect. Oh, yes, that is all true. But He loved me. Not only do I know that He gave Himself up for sinners, that He gave Himself up for Peter who wretchedly denied Him three times. Not only do I know that He gave Himself up to the infinite amount of the wrath of God against the sins of all His church, but I know that He gave Himself up for me, for all my sins, for all that my sins deserve. He gave Himself for me, says Paul.

That must be our personal confession. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Is there anything more for you to know than that? You can know it, if you are crucified with Christ. And you can know whether He lives in you. Yes, you can. You can certainly know.

How? Under the preaching of the Word of God right now. It comes by the power of the Holy Spirit, the most wonderful thing that you could ever hear: Christ loved me and gave Himself for me. It comes by the knowledge, personally, of your own sins and that Christ alone can satisfy for those sins.

If that is true, then the wonder will be that you, now, live unto Him. You will live unto Him with all your heart, with all your soul. You will say that the most glorious treasure on earth is for you to say, “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” And with heart and mind and soul and strength you will strive to do His will. You will pour contempt upon all your pride. And you will boast in this only: He loved me and He gave Himself for me.

Let us pray.

Our Father in heaven, we do thank Thee for Thy Word, and we pray that that personal confession of being united to Christ and that Christ bore my sins, that that confession might be written upon our hearts. Bring forth Thy Word in our hearts in all of its boldness and give us to cherish Thy Word above all else. In Jesus’ name, Amen.