“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” (Galatians 2:20).
Who are you? From one vantage, the gospel is a great re-memory project. To be lost and dead in our sins is to have forgotten who we are and what we are for, and this makes us afraid. But the gospel of the cross of Jesus is God’s perfect mirror showing us our sin, showing us our Savior, showing us who we really are in Him so that we will not be afraid.
Overview of the Text
Paul is in the middle of an argument here seeking to call the Galatians back to the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:6-7). And the central point of contention is between the freedom of finding your identity in Christ and the bondage of seeking the approval of man (Gal. 1:10). Paul told his own story of being saved in order to demonstrate that his gospel was not from man but directly from Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-16). Paul relates how he was received by the other apostles as a fellow apostle in his ministry to the gentiles, leading to a confrontation with Peter in Antioch who withdrew from eating with Gentiles when some Judaizers showed up (Gal. 2:1-13).
Our text is part of Paul’s confrontation of Peter or at least his continued meditation on that topic. He explains that Jews and Gentiles are alike justified by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law, not the least because nobody can actually be justified by works of the law (Gal. 2:16). Paul’s next thought seems to be a sort of reductio on Peter’s conduct, pointing out that if a Jew eating with a Gentile is wrong, then wouldn’t that make Christ’s ministry through Peter sinful? Isn’t Peter contaminated? God forbid (Gal. 2:17). Besides, why would we try to rebuild exactly what we already broke with our sin (Gal. 2:18)? The law literally curses all lawbreakers and requires their cursed death, which the law specifies as crucifixion on a tree (Dt. 27:26, Gal. 3:10-13). Therefore, in terms of justification, the law’s job is to slay us so that being dead in our sins, we can live by being identified with the One who died for our sins (Gal. 2:19-20). This is where Jesus always meets us. Beginning with Mary Magdalene, Jesus has always met His people in graveyards. Or as Paul says here, Jesus meets us in the cross, at the cross. He saves sinners who are crucified with Him.
Crucified with Christ
Paul is here speaking of what it means to be a Christian. He doesn’t necessarily mean literally dying or being killed on a cross. He means being so identified with Christ by faith, that you reckon yourself, you think of yourself and your life as virtually crucified with Christ. Paul speaks this way with regard to baptism and sin: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? … reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:3, 11). He also speaks this way in terms of repentance and mortification of sin: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God… Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection…” (Col. 3:3, 5). So on the one hand, reckoning yourself crucified with Christ, dead with Christ, means that you reckon all of your sin crucified in Christ. Part of this is in seeing what our sin deserves, and part of this is wanting to be truly free of it. But elsewhere Paul also speaks this way about his human achievements: “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of Hebrews… But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:4-5, 7-8). So on the other hand, reckoning yourself crucified with Christ means reckoning any good thing as nothing compared to Christ; you count it as essentially lost for the sake of Christ’s work. It is not lost as in good for nothing, but lost as in laid completely at the disposal of Christ who is reconciling all things to Himself (Col. 1:20). Finding your identity in Christ means reckoning all that you are, good and evil, as crucified with Christ. This drives away all fear.
The Life We Live
Paul considers this embracing of Christ’s death the way of Christian life and not just one time at the beginning of your Christian life. Christian life is an ongoing identification with Christ crucified. Paul says that he no longer lives, but Christ lives in him (Gal. 2:20). But this life he now lives is actually by the “faith of Jesus Christ.” This is a highly debated phrase since it can rightly be translated as “faith of Jesus Christ” or “faith in Jesus Christ.” The Bible does teach that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ, and that faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). But the Bible also teaches that our salvation rests on top of Christ’s finished work, His faithfulness. In other words, our imperfect faith in Jesus saves because His faith was perfect. Romans 1:17 says that the righteousness of God is revealed “from faith to faith.” Jesus is the Righteous One who lived by faith and so became our Righteousness by faith. Elsewhere, Paul seems to have both in view: “And being found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). The Christian life in this sense is the faithful and perfect sacrifice of Jesus living inside you.
Who Loved Us
It is entirely possible to talk about all of this as though it were a possibility for some people out there somewhere in principle, in the abstract, as though it were something that just happens to befall some people. Maybe some people get identified with Christ like some people get the chicken pox. But Paul grounds this reality of identifying with the crucifixion of Christ with the love of Christ in personal terms: “who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Christ did not go to the cross with a vague or ambiguous or general goal in mind. He went to the cross with you in mind. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). So this too is what it means to find your identity in Christ. It means knowing that Christ laid His life down for you in particular, by name. Those welcomed into heaven are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:27).
Who are you? Learn to say, I am not my own but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Learn to say, I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I live I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. You are not defined by your sin or by your successes, but by the perfect finished work of Jesus on the cross. This perfect love casts out all fear.