When It’s Your Turn to Be Crucified

In his letter to the church at Galatia, the apostle Paul challenges the idea that salvation can be attained through works or anything but faith in Jesus Christ. To be justified and saved, Christians must be “crucified with Christ” and raised to life in Him through His death and resurrection. But what does this process look like?

Where Does the Bible Talk about Being Crucified with Christ?

Paul uses the phrase “crucified with Christ” in the second chapter of the book of Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

This is a popular verse that many Christians have read, quoted, and memorized. But why is this single verse so important for Christians to understand?

Throughout Paul’s letters, we see the apostle was intentional, organized, and systematic in approaching the gospel’s essential truths and communicating what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. In many instances, Paul was forced to confront and even refute bad theology or false teaching that had come into the church, leading many of its members astray.

Unfortunately, distorting the gospel or following misconceptions of who Christ is (and what He accomplished on the cross) dramatically impact the believer’s mindset and the church’s health. As was often the case, bad teaching inspired bad thinking, and bad theology often led to bad living. This is why Paul wrote to the believers in Galatia, “if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

Any faith founded on any gospel other than the apostles preached must be swiftly rejected. It is a faith built on a false idea of who Christ is, what He did on the cross, and what role we play, if any, in our salvation.

Paul cared about the believers of Galatia enough not to let them continue living under bad teaching and a theology that focused their salvation on personal works, not the grace of Jesus Christ. It is a message and warning Christians today should also heed.

What Is the Context of Paul Talking about Being Crucified with Christ?

The apostle Paul wrote to many churches. Some of these churches he had helped found. Others he had yet to visit but hoped to encourage and minister to them in the future.

The subject matter of Paul’s letters (or epistles) varies. In some, Paul wrote to address specific behavioral issues causing tension within the church. In other instances, he needed to confront serious doctrinal errors that had corrupted the apostles’ teaching and led many believers away from the gospel’s truth.

The tone of his letters could be patient and encouraging at times, confrontational in others. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul’s message is urgent.

At the time, a prominent group of Jewish believers known as the Judaizers had insisted that the Gentile converts adhered strictly to the “works of the law.” Rather than embracing their freedom in Christ, these converts were burdened with keeping Jewish laws and customs as a requirement or prerequisite for salvation. Rather than accepting salvation which comes by faith alone, the Judaizers put the focus of justification before God on human works and adherence to the law, not the grace of Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul was having none of it. He recognized the severity of such a distorted view of the gospel and salvation.

Though the law God had given to the Jews in the Old Testament can reveal the severity of man’s sin, it cannot save or justify man from his sin. Only Christ, through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, has the power to do that. 

As Paul would write similarly in the book of Romans:

“It is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction,for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as apropitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in God’s merciful restraint He let the sins previously committed go unpunished; for the demonstration, that is, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22-26)

Paul needed to address the Galatian church’s serious error to return their focus to the grace of Jesus Christ. For if we believe that we can gain salvation through our efforts or works, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross will be seen as insufficient. As a result, the burden for our salvation is placed on our ability (or inability) to adhere to the law. No one is capable of keeping the law perfectly. Instead, Christ offers freedom from legalism, works, and the law through His grace.

Paul makes clear that “a person is not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law; since by works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

He continues, “for through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:19-21 emphasis added).

When Do We Get Crucified with Christ?

With this passage, Paul emphasizes that we are saved by grace, not works, and that we are justified before God because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, never our own.

We are not capable of saving ourselves from our sins. We cannot pay the penalty for the countless ways we have sinned against God.

Rather, on the cross, Christ took our sins and the penalty we pay for sin. By His wounds, we can be healed (1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5-6). “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21 emphasis added).

This death, Christ died once for all (Romans 6:10). He was raised to life so that we might be justified before God through Him (Romans 4:25). We, too, share in His flesh and blood so that, through His death and resurrection, we too conquer sin and death (Hebrews 2:14).

Returning to Galatians 2, Paul makes clear that through salvation, our sin and the life we once lived under sin were “crucified with Christ.” It is an instantaneous conversion. We, once dead in our sins, have been crucified and brought to life with Christ.

We are not literally crucified alongside Jesus. Physical crucifixion on a cross is not a requirement for salvation. However, we who were once hopelessly dead in sin have had our sins nailed to the cross and placed on the broken body of Jesus Christ. He took our place and paid the penalty. The person governed by sin, which the Bible calls the flesh, was crucified with Christ.

Some would argue that, in believing that Jesus Christ has died for our sins and receiving the free gift of His salvation, we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There is some truth to this. However, a proper understanding of salvation recognizes that, whether we accept Him or not, Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Furthermore, Christ ultimately justifies us when we place our faith and trust in Him. In being crucified with Christ, we are changed, transformed, and made new.

What Changes When We Are Crucified with Christ?

Jesus told His would-be followers that “if anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

What changes when we are crucified with Christ? The answer is everything.

Through salvation, Christ has put to death our old selves. In doing so, we must abandon our sinful ways and surrender fully to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ. It is radical language to say that we must be crucified with Christ. However, in putting to death our sin and sinful desires (Galatians 5:24), we exchange certain death for eternal life in Christ. This, too, is a radical departure from the self-centered, self-focused mentality that rules our world.

Having been crucified with Christ, we become “new creations” entirely (2 Corinthians 5:17). We recognize that we are not our own anymore since we were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). We have a new hope in the assurance of our salvation and our place alongside Christ in eternity (Hebrews 12:2). The love of Christ and the fruit of the spirit now reign in us (2 Corinthians 5:14; Galatians 5:22-23). We become slaves to righteousness rather than sin (Romans 6:15-23). Christ becomes our greatest desire (Colossians 3).

It is up to the redeemed Christian to decide if they will leave behind the sin that was once crucified with Christ on the cross or pick it back up again (Romans 8:13). For though we are justified once and for all, every Christian must die daily to their desires and put aside every form of sin that seeks to reign in Christ’s place.

Keeping our eyes fixed on the grace of Jesus Christ, the love and power of Christ increases in our lives. Not only that, but the importance we place on our own works and desires decreases (John 3:30). Christ alone becomes sufficient, and in His grace, we are freed from the burden of trying to win His approval or earn our salvation.

This was a message Paul had to make abundantly clear to the church in Galatia. It is a message Christians today must also take hold of.

Joel Ryan

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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