Crucified And Alive

Adapted from the Licensing Trial Sermon preached by Pastor Linus Chua on 8 June 2012


“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” (Gal. 2:20)

Crucified and alive? How can that be? That sounds so strange, so paradoxical, you might say! And indeed it is. In the Apostles’ Creed, we read the familiar words, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried…”

Crucifixion is normally associated with death, not life. The people of Paul’s day would know that much better than we today. I don’t think any of us here have seen an actual crucifixion. Perhaps on the television or in movies but not in real life. 

But in those days, it was a common thing. Crucifixions were often carried out publicly and in the open so as to terrify the people and dissuade them from committing those especially heinous crimes like murder and treason.

Crucifixion had this effect because it was a very slow and humiliating and especially painful and excruciating death.

Isn’t it interesting that the English word excruciating actually comes from the word crucifixion? “Ex” means “out of” and excruciating literally means “out of crucifying.” 

So when Paul wrote about being crucified, his first readers understood exactly what it meant, namely, a gruesome and sure death. 

But here in our text, the Apostle beautifully unites these two concepts in the life of the believer. He tells us that the believer is both crucified and alive at the same time.

The Lord helping us, we’ll like to consider what he means by that and what that means for our lives as believers. But first, let’s consider something of the context and background to this passage.


Context

The book of Galatians was the first or earliest of all the inspired letters of the Apostle Paul.

He wrote it sometime in AD 48 to the Christians at Galatia because of the troubles that had arisen in their midst.

False teachings had infiltrated the Galatian church. False teachers had come amongst them and were teaching them, most of whom were Gentiles, that faith in Jesus Christ, while good, was not enough for salvation, and that in addition to faith, they needed to submit to Old Testament rites and rituals and ceremonies.

In theological terms, they were trying to base their justification on their sanctification. They were seeking to exchange the gospel of God’s free grace with a performance-based kind of Christianity.

And in order to do that, these false teachers had to discredit Paul and his teachings by accusing him of various things. And so the book of Galatians is really Paul’s defense of his apostleship and his gospel.

The first two chapters focus mainly on the charge that Paul was not a true apostle. In chapter 2 from verses 11-21, Paul writes about his opposition to the Apostle Peter at Antioch when Peter temporarily lapsed into the errors of the Judaizers by withdrawing himself from the Gentiles and refusing any longer to eat with them.

Paul rebuked him publicly for his error and then turning to the entire audience, taught them that no one is justified by the works of the law but only by faith in Christ.

He argued that if the Judaizers were right, then Christ would in fact be a minister of sin since He was the One who revealed to Paul the gospel of free grace.

If Paul’s gospel encouraged sin, as the Judaizers were claiming, then Christ would be the minister of sin. Paul responds, as any true believer would, with an emphatic denial, “God forbid!” or “May it never be!”

No, the gospel of free grace is not a license to sin. In fact, as Paul demonstrates, it is the doctrine of salvation by works that promotes sin. The law was never given or designed by God for the purpose of salvation. To use the law in that way is in fact to be a transgressor of the law.

That is what Paul means in verse 18 when he says, “For if I build again the things which I destroyed (referring to works-salvation), I make myself a transgressor.”

What then was the purpose of the law? In verse 19, Paul mentions one of the uses of the law, namely, to convict us of sin and to show us our need of Christ.

So having established that justification is not by works but by grace through faith, the apostle goes on to show that the gospel does actually produce holiness in the life of a believer.

He connects the doctrine of justification with the doctrine of sanctification by introducing the important truth of our union with Christ.

This brings us to our text in verse 20. I would like us to consider it in three simple points.

First, as believers, we are crucified with Christ. Second, as believers, we are alive in Christ. And third, as believers, we are loved by Christ. Crucified with Christ, alive in Christ, and loved by Christ.

So first then, as believers, we are crucified with Christ.


Crucified with Christ

In Greek, the first part of verse 20 literally reads, “With Christ I have been crucified, and I no longer live…”

The verb crucified is in the perfect tense, indicating a past completed action that has continuing results. In other words, this crucifixion is something that took place in the past but has continuing effects in the present.

At which point in the past did this crucifixion of Paul and all other believers take place? Quite clearly, it took place when Christ our Lord was nailed to the cross at Calvary.

Now in the Bible, we are told of at least three things that were nailed to the cross that day. First, and most obviously, Jesus Himself was crucified. His hands and His feet were affixed by the nails to the horizontal and vertical beams respectively.

The second thing that was nailed to the cross was the public notice or inscription or title that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (John 19:19). In those days, it was a custom to affix a label to the cross, giving a statement of the person’s crime for which he was being crucified.

John tells us that the notice on Jesus’ cross was written in three languages – Hebrew, Greek and Latin so that all the people whether Jewish or Greek or Roman could read and understand that the crime for which Jesus was supposedly put to death, namely, insurrection or political rebellion, was a serious one.

The third thing that was nailed to the cross was the debt of our sins. Paul tells us in Colossians 2:13-14, “having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;”

This handwriting of ordinances refers to the law of God, which we have broken and thus incurred the wrath and curse of God.

But God has fully cancelled the debt of our sin by nailing it to the cross of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. Christ died for all our sins and transgressions of God’s law.

So three things were nailed to the cross of Christ. But here in Galatians 2:20, Paul adds a fourth thing, namely, us.

Yes, that’s right, if you are a believer, then you were nailed to the cross too that day. Amazing thought, isn’t it?

The cross is not just a historical event in the life of Jesus Christ. The cross is also part of every believer’s personal life story. We were nailed to the cross just as surely as Christ was and we can say:

“I am” or a better translation would be “I have been crucified with Christ…” What a startling assertion!

Now we must be careful here. We are not saying that we had a part to play in the atonement of our sins. Christ, the God-man, alone atoned for our sins by offering up Himself as the perfect sacrifice to satisfy divine justice.

The atoning and substitutionary death of Christ is an utterly unique and unrepeatable event.

Nevertheless, because of the wonderful reality of our union with Christ, we may truly be said to have been crucified with Him. In other words, being crucified with Christ is an objective reality based on the believer’s union with Christ.

What happened to Christ also happened to His people. So closely are we united to Him that His experience now becomes ours. One writer wrote, “Union with Christ is nothing if it is not union with Christ in His death.”

Now what exactly does union with Christ in His death or crucifixion mean? At least three things.

First, it means that we are dead to the curse and condemnation of the law. On the cross, the law carried out its death penalty against us. When we died in Christ, the penalty of the law was over and done with.

It is like a man, who was found guilty of say armed robbery, and was sentenced by the Judge to several years in prison and several strokes of the cane. Having received the strokes and served the prison term, the man is set free.

His punishment is over. The law can make no further demands or claims on him with regard to that crime he had committed.

The same is true for us. The penalty or payment for our sins has been fully made by our Substitute. The law requires nothing more of us by way of punishment, and it can do no more to us. We are dead to the condemnation and penalty of the law.  

But second, to be crucified with Christ means that we are dead to the law of God as the means of justification or obtaining a righteous standing before God.

Remember the apostle Paul – how prior to his conversion, he was a very self-righteous Pharisee. He thought he had what it took to merit a righteous standing before God.

He claimed to be blameless as touching the righteousness of the law. He had a righteousness of his own that comes from keeping the law.

But when he was converted to Christ, that old self-righteous Pharisee in him died.

He tells us in his letter to the Philippians chapter 3, “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, And be 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:”

So too the person who has been crucified with Christ. He no longer seeks to keep the law in order to earn favour with God or merit eternal life. That kind of legalistic life is over. He is dead to the law as a way of salvation.

But third, to be crucified with Christ means that the person is no longer under the power of sin. The power of sin is broken. The reign and dominion of sin over a believer’s life is over. Christ now reigns. Sin has lost its deadly grip and stranglehold.

In Romans 6, the Apostle Paul puts it this way:

“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.”

Not that the believer is absolutely free from sin. He still sins due to remaining and indwelling corruption of the old man. But sin does not have the mastery over him any more.

Professor John Murray puts it this way in his excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, “There is a total difference between surviving sin and reigning sin, the regenerate in conflict with sin and the unregenerate complacent to sin. It is one thing for sin to live in us: it is another for us to live in sin. It is one thing for the enemy to occupy the capital; it is another for his defeated hosts to harass the garrisons of the kingdom.”

I love his analogy of capital and garrison. Indeed although sin wages a constant war against us and harasses us all around, nevertheless, it no longer occupies the capital city, that is, the very core and centre of our lives.

And so because I have been crucified with Christ, I no longer live. I am dead to the condemnation and curse of the law. I am dead to the law as a means of justification and acceptance with God. And I am dead to the dominion and rule of sin.

I am truly dead. Nevertheless I am truly alive.

This brings us then to the second point this evening, Alive in Christ. We move from the negative side of our redemption to the positive side of it.


Alive in Christ

Paul writes, “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…”

What does Paul mean here? Well, let’s be very clear what he does not mean.

He does not mean, as some mystics teach based on this verse, that we have somehow lost our own personalities or that our personalities have become so mixed up with or merged into the person of Christ that it is suppressed or absorbed or unrecognizable.

No, the believer still retains his own individuality and personal traits and characteristics after conversion. The apostle Paul still had a personality of his own.

It was still Paul, the individual, who thought and wrote and bore witness and exhorted and rejoiced and so on. We see his personality even in all of the books and letters, which the Holy Spirit inspired him to write.

But what the Apostle is saying is that Christ has now become the dominant force and the energizing influence in his life. As we said earlier, the power of sin has been broken and lost in his crucifixion with Christ.

Now Christ rules and reigns. He controls the citadel of our hearts. The life that we now live is closely bound up with the life of Christ. We are no longer our own. 

In fact, we could say that we no longer have a life of our own and that the only life we now have is the life that God has put into us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

The true Christian life is not so much we living for Christ as Christ living through us. This is a tremendous thought. We are not our own. We belong to Him. He now lives in us and through us.

The phrase “the life which I now live in the flesh…” speaks of the fact that this life we have in Christ is not something that is future or reserved for heaven. Right now, right here on earth in this earthly mortal body, we who are believers, have this life.

This reminds us that we must not view our bodies or the physical part of us as unimportant for the life which we now live in the flesh, we live by the faith of the Son of God.

In Romans 12:1, Paul urges the brethren to present their bodies as a sacrifice to God, living, holy and acceptable.

And again in 1 Corinthians 6, he tells us that the body is not for fornication but for the Lord, and that we are to glorify God both in our body and spirit, because both have been bought with a price and we belong to God in the totality of our person – body and soul.

Now this amazing union between Christ and the believer is brought about by faith. Faith unites us or if you like, faith cements us to Him. Once a person puts his faith in Christ, he is united to Him, and this union with the Son of God becomes a spiritual reality.

The benefits and blessings of Christ become ours to enjoy the moment we believe. Like a water pipe, faith serves to connect us to Him and Him to us, and through the pipe of faith, flow all the benefits of redemption to us.

The words of Martin Luther on this verse are worth quoting, “Faith therefore must be purely taught: namely, that you are so entirely joined to Christ, that He and you are made as it were one person; so that you may boldly say, I am now one with Christ, that is to say, Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are mine. Again, Christ may say, I am that sinner, that is, his sins and his death are Mine, because he is united and joined to Me, and I to him. For by faith we are so joined together that we are become “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.”

The believer’s union with Christ not only brings justification or a righteous standing before God, but it also brings sanctification. Actual righteousness and holiness is being produced in the heart and life of a believer.

More and more we die unto sin, as our Catechism puts it, and more and more we live unto righteousness.

Just as Christ loved God above all and His neighbour as Himself, so we who have the life of Christ begin to do the same. 

The old ‘I’ or the old “self” is dead. The new ‘I’ – the one that is found in Christ – now lives. This means that there is a decisive shift in the center of my life and focus from self to Christ.

No longer do I live for my own selfish and sinful desires. No longer do I pursue my own ungodly goals and dreams.

Now Christ, who lives in me, directs and guides all that I do. His kingdom and His glory is now my priority.

I now live for something much bigger and greater than just my own wants and concerns. I live for Him and for His glory.

Furthermore, the desire and the strength to live a Christ-centered life come from Christ Himself. Moment by moment, day by day, He energizes and drives and motivates and empowers me. Apart from Him, I can do nothing.

So then, crucified with Christ and alive in Christ. But thirdly, we must consider this – that we are loved by Christ.


Loved by Christ

All that we have said thus far about being crucified with Christ and about being alive in Him would not have come about apart from the love of Christ for me.

It is entirely because of what the Son of God has done for me and in me that I have been crucified and I now live.

And the Son of God did what He did not out of compulsion or mere obligation, but He did it out of love. Not for His own sake but for mine, He went to the cross and he rose again. Yes, even his rising again was for our sakes.

Indeed, the love of Christ is the source and the fountain out of which His sacrifice flows. Without it, nothing good or beneficial would come to us.

And as a proof and demonstration of His love, He gave Himself up for me. This speaks of the fact that He willingly and freely offered Himself up.

Reminds us of what our Lord Himself said in John10:17-18, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”

The words “for me” indicate that Christ did not go to the cross for everyone in general, but He went as a substitute for each and every one of His people. He died specifically in their place. He had His people in mind when He went to the cross.

What took place on the cross was not an impersonal or mechanical transaction. Let me give an illustration of a mechanical transaction.

You go to the ATM machine to draw money. You put in your card, key in the amount you want, say fifty dollars, and you wait for the machine to dispense a fifty dollar note.

Now we know that when the authorities print the banknotes, each one has a unique serial number. But when we draw the money from the ATM, we don’t care which particular fifty dollar note comes out.

As long as it comes out and we can use it, who cares whether its serial number is 2BU642594 or OEM126399?

It’s all the same to us. We draw it, use it and that’s it. We have no love or attachment to any particular note.

But not so when Christ went to the cross. He went to the cross with specific names and people in mind, and to make payment for the specific sins of theirs.  

So the cross was not a mechanical transaction but a personal expression of His love for His people as individuals.

And this is the reason why we cannot simply go up to anyone in the street and say to him or her – Christ loved you and gave Himself up for you.

We do not know that, especially when that person is not living by faith in the Son of God.

Only those who are living that kind of life of faith in Christ can say, “the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me.”

It is not that our faith earns His love or merits His atoning sacrifice. But rather, our faith in Christ is the result of and indeed the demonstration that Christ loved us and gave Himself for us.

Crucified with Christ, alive in Christ and loved by Christ. What does all this mean for me?


What this Means for Me?

As we draw to a close, let me draw your attention to the personal pronouns of our text: did you notice that in this one verse, the personal pronoun ‘I’ or ‘me’ is used no less than eight times?

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 tell us? Well, it tells us first of all that the religion of the apostle Paul or the Christian religion is an intensely personal one. Yes, Christianity involves more than just the individual but it is not less than that.

Here in Galatians 2:20 the apostle Paul reveals the individualistic character of the kind of faith that leads to salvation.

Christianity is a very personal faith first as to its subject.

Each person must make his own decision. Each must embrace the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for himself. Each must experience his own fellowship with the living God. Each must rely upon Him with all the confidence of his own heart.  

It will not do for you merely to be a member of a covenant family surrounded by godly parents and siblings and family members.

And it will not do for you merely to be a member of a local church and be immersed in a Christian community and hidden amongst a Christian crowd.

You, each one of us, we all need to have a personal faith and relationship with the LORD. You need to be able to say, “I am crucified with Christ…and Christ lives in me…and the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Elsewhere in Romans 10:9-10, Paul writes, “That if thou (singular) shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”   

Apart from personal faith in Christ, one cannot be saved. This was true in the Old Covenant economy and this is still true today. If we do not personally believe in the person and work of Christ, we will be cut off from the vine and the olive tree.

But Christianity is also very personal as to its object. The object of a Christian’s faith is not merely some abstract concept or principle or ideal. It is not even just something about or pertaining to Christ.

No, the object of our faith is no less than the person of Jesus Christ. He loved me. He died for me. He lives in me. He is the object of my faith and my love. He and I.

Dear brethren and friends, I ask you this evening, what is the state of your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it a real, living, vital, and personal relationship? Or is it just something that is vague, abstract, historical and impersonal?

We all need to examine ourselves as to the reality of our faith in Christ and the vitality of our union with Him. O let us settle for nothing less than true, genuine and authentic Christianity. 

But the second thing that we can learn from this repeated use of the personal pronoun in this verse is that our identity is found in Christ and Christ alone – our identity is found in Christ and Christ alone.

The Apostle Paul was not being self-centered and neither was he trying to promote himself when he repeatedly used the first person ‘I’ or ‘me.’ But rather, He is teaching us the right way we ought to view ourselves and live our lives as believers in Christ.

If I were to ask you this evening – what is your identity? How would you answer?

Would you say I am a human being who is working hard in this world to make a living and to support my family? Or would you say I am a person who is seeking happiness and contentment in wealth and fame and pleasure? Let’s be honest here.

Or if you’re a young person, would you say I am a youth with many years ahead of me and I’m preparing for a bright future by excelling in my studies?

Or if you’re struggling with problems in the home, would you say, I am a husband or a wife struggling to make my marriage work and to keep it from falling apart.

Or I am a father or mother who is trying real hard to bring up my less-than-cooperative children in the way that they should go?

Or if you’re unmarried, would you say I am single and lonely and waiting for the right person to come along?

Or if you’re an aged person, would you say I am so old and weak, and I’m just waiting for the end to come?  

Or if you have a very difficult job or you’ve just lost your job or you’re depressed or you’re suffering from some chronic physical or mental affliction or you’re a single parent or you’ve just lost a loved one or you’re battling long standing problems or and so on and on.

What would you say to the question of your identity? Who are you?

If you’re a believer, then regardless of your inward and outward circumstances, your successes and failures, your strengths and weaknesses, your character and personality, your past and present, remember that your identity is found in Christ.   

I am crucified with Christ and Christ lives in me. That’s who I am first of all and most importantly. My identity is bound up in the One who loved me and gave Himself for me, even Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.

Yes, our circumstances in life may change from day to day, our fortunes (as it were) may rise and fall, but because our identity is found in Christ, we have a firm foundation that never shifts, a solid rock that never moves.

I am crucified with Christ. I am a sinner who has been cleansed and washed by the precious blood of Christ. I have a righteous standing before God and I have been set free from the power and dominion of sin.

Christ lives in me. He rules and reigns over my life. He is daily sanctifying me and empowering me against sin and temptation. I no longer live for myself but for Him. His glory, His kingdom, and His will are my chief concerns and goals and priorities in life.  

I am loved by Christ. He loved me so much that He was willing to give Himself up for me on the cross. He exchanged His life for mine. He took my sins and He gave me His righteousness. If He has given me the best gift of all, will He withhold anything that is truly good for me? Surely not!

Dear Brethren in Christ, remember who you truly are. You are not first a husband, a wife, a parent, a doctor, a businessman, a pastor, a student or whatever calling you may have. 

You are first and foremost a Christian – one who has been crucified with Christ, one in whom Christ lives, and one whom Christ loves immensely.

You are a Christian husband, a Christian wife, a Christian parent and so on. You are not defined by your calling or vocation but by who you are in Christ.

And neither are you defined by a past event or a present struggle. Say not I am an alcoholic or I am a person who grew up in a dysfunctional family or I am an angry person or I am depressed…so on.

While we should never minimise these past problems or current struggles, these things do not displace our more basic and fundamental identity of being in Christ.

Say rather, I am a Christian who struggles with alcohol or addiction or anger or depression or fatigue or pain and so on. Who I am in Christ supersedes whatever struggle I am going through right now.    

You are defined by Christ. And because of that, you can have real help and real hope in everything that you face for you do not face them alone or in your own strength. 

The world is obsessed with things like self-esteem, self-improvement, self-fulfillment, self-indulgence, and self-image. These are self-absorbed times that we are living in.

The antidote to all this is to see ourselves as being in Christ for as Christians, the only self that we have is the one that is united to Christ.

The author Philip Ryken wrote, “We will never find our true selves until we find ourselves in Christ. 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.”

“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.” Amen. W