Crucified with Christ
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).
Galatians 2:20 provides a succinct statement of the very heart of the Christian’s new condition. The believer has died so far as the law is concerned because he has been crucified with Christ. Crucified with is used figuratively, describing the identification of the believer with Christ in the theological aspects of His crucifixion. The tense of the verb is perfect, which looks at an action that occurred in the past, but which produced effects that continue. When the Lord Jesus was crucified, God identified every believer with Him, therefore believers were crucified with Him; they died to the law when Christ died on the cross. The penalty demanded by God’s broken law was satisfied by the crucifixion and its effects have never changed. Because the believer was and still is crucified with Christ—as the tense of the verb implies—the accusing finger of the law cannot point with condemnation against the believer, for the full penalty has already been paid. Martin Luther says, “Christ is Lord over the law because he has been crucified and is dead to the law; I also am lord over the law, for I likewise have been crucified and am dead to the law, forasmuch as I have been crucified and have died with Christ. How? By grace and faith. Through this faith, because I have now been crucified and am dead to the law, the law loses all the power that it had over me, just as it has lost all the power that it had over Christ. Therefore, just as Christ himself was crucified to the law, sin, death, and the devil, so that they have no further power over him, so also now that I through faith have been crucified with Christ in spirit, I have been crucified and am dead to the law, sin, death, and the devil, so that they have no further power over me but are now crucified and dead to me.”1
Scripture that the debt of our sin was nailed to the cross. Paul writes in Colossians: …[God] having forgiven all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross (Col. 2:13c-14). The record of debt was the law of God, which condemns us by listing all our sins and which God canceled by nailing it to the cross.
If you are a Christian, then you were nailed to the cross too. The crucifixion is not just a fact about the life of Christ and an important event in human history but is also part of every Christian’s personal life story. William Perkins said, “We are in mind and meditation to consider Christ crucified: and first, we are to believe that he was crucified for us. This being done, we must go yet further, and as it were spread ourselves on the cross of Christ, believing and with all beholding ourselves crucified with him.”2
Christ died once for all. He alone—as the God-man—could atone for sin by offering Himself in our place. Yet Paul clearly teaches that believers have been crucified with Christ. This is not a subjective experience in the life of the believer, but an objective reality that is based on the believer’s relationship to Christ. The truth that the Christian has been crucified in Christ rests on his or her union with Christ, which John Murray called “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”3
How do we become united to Christ? By faith. Paul said this in verse 16: even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus. We are in Christ the moment we place our faith in Him. Our union with Christ becomes a spiritual reality.
Once we are in Christ by faith, everything Christ has ever done becomes something we have done. It is as if we had lived His perfect life and died his painful death; as if we were buried in His tomb and then raised up with Him, as Paul teaches in Romans 6: Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life.For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5). God attaches us to the events of Christ’s life so that they become part of our lives. His story—the story of the cross and the empty tomb—becomes our story.
The only way to get what Christ has to offer is to be united to Him by faith. John Calvin said, “We must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.”4 But once we are in Christ, God considers us as righteous as his own Son, not because we are righteous, but because we are in Christ.
As far as God is concerned, we were nailed to the cross with Christ. It was on the cross that the law carried out its death penalty against us. Therefore, as far as the law is concerned, we are now dead. There is nothing the law can do to improve our standing before God. We can live for Christ because we are dead to the law.
The truth presented in Galatians 2:20 is quite contradictory to contemporary culture. I think Shirley MacLaine says it as well as anybody could: “The most pleasurable journey you take is through yourself…. The only sustaining love involvement is with yourself…. When you look back on your life and try to figure out where you’ve been and where you are going, when you look at your work, your love affairs, your marriages, your children, your pain, your happiness—when you examine all that closely, what you really find out is that the only person you really go to bed with is yourself. The only person you really dress is yourself. The only thing you have is working to the consummation of your own identity.”5
Our culture is obsessed with self, with anything that begins with self. In these self-absorbed times, the Bible announces the death of the self. As Christians, we are no longer living our lives, but have surrendered to the very author of life, who now lives His life in and through us. As believers, the life we have is the life that Christ lives in us.
The only self we have is the one that is united to Christ by faith. Our life is the life that Christ lives in me, the life we live by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20b).
Becoming a Christian is the only way to discover our identity. We will never find our true selves until we find ourselves in Christ because our identity is established by our union with Christ. We have no self, except the self that we have in Him. To have a healthy self-image, then, is to see ourselves as we are in Christ.
1 Martin Luther, Galatians (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), p. 104.
2 William Perkins, A Commentary on Galatians, (New York, NY: Pilgrim, 1989), p. 124.
3 John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955), p. 161.
4 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960, 1:537 (3.1.1).
5 Shirley MacLaine, quoted in Henry Fairlie, The Seven Deadly Sins Today (Washington: New Republic, 1978), pp. 31-32.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.
Copyright © 2006–2021 by Miguel J. Gonzalez Th.D.
Dr. Miguel J. Gonzalez is the Founder and President of Reasons for Faith International Ministries. He served as a pastor for ten years in Charlotte, NC and has taught in churches and conferences throughout the United States. He currently hosts the Time in the Word and Truth To Live By podcasts and writes at KnowingChristianity.blogspot.com.