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Christ in Us

A Study of Galatians 2:20

Crucified with Christ

by Dennis Pollock

Just as John 3:16 serves as a beautiful and concise summary of God’s plan and desire for sinful men and women to believe on Jesus Christ and receive eternal life, there is a verse in the second chapter of Galatians which beautifully expresses God’s prescribed means by which those who are Christians are to live. But while almost everybody who professes Christ knows John 3:16 by heart, many Christians are woefully ignorant of this verse, and probably very few could quote it from start to finish. This is a shame, since it so perfectly describes the successful and fruitful Christian life.

Once, when I was very young in Christ (in fact I was very young, period – perhaps twenty-three years old), I was sitting in a Bible class in which the teacher was going through the book of Galatians, verse by verse. When we approached this verse I was expecting him to strongly emphasize it, and hopefully shed more light on it than I had previously known. While new in the faith I instinctively recognized that this verse was a powerful declaration of the way our life in Christ was to be lived. But I was disappointed. The teacher barely brushed over the verse and quickly went on to other things. At that time, I wasn’t sure about all that he should have said, but I knew he should have said far more than he did. He didn’t seem to realize that he was jumping over one of the most important declarations to be found in the Scriptures pertaining to the Christian life.

By now I’m sure you are eagerly waiting for me to quote the Scripture, although some of you have perhaps guessed it. I am speaking of Galatians 2:20, which says:

I have been crucified with Christ; 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 for me.

In some ways, teaching about this beautiful and profound declaration of the apostle Paul is intimidating to me. I know I can never truly do it justice. Still, this statement needs to be taught and proclaimed and preached and memorized throughout the body of Christ, and I would be remiss if I did not do my part. So let’s jump into it.

The Context

When studying particular verses of the Bible, it is always wise to begin by noticing the context in which the statement was written. Paul’s epistles are not a series of unrelated thoughts. He writes logically and presents his thoughts in a sequential manner. His “I am crucified with Christ” statement did not spring up out of nowhere. It comes as a direct consequence of his previous line of thought. In the verses preceding this, Paul is writing about the erroneous notion that, due to the grace of Jesus, Christians no longer need to live lives of obedience to God. In verse 17 he asks the question: “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin?” This is essentially the same thing he writes in his epistle to the Romans, when he asks, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). Here in Galatians he is declaring that if all that Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished was to provide us a ticket to heaven while we live on in our same old sinful, selfish, greedy, lustful, covetous ways, then Jesus must surely be a “minister of sin.” But he answers his own question with the same answer he gives to the Romans, which is a resounding “Certainly not!” According to Paul, Jesus Christ is most surely not a “minister of sin.”

Paul goes on to say, “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.” This seems a bit odd. Within the context of speaking of how we must not be found “sinners” he brings up the law, and declares that he, and presumably every Christian, has died to the law. The holy and exceedingly strict laws and commandments of God, which condemn every man, woman, and child who have ever taken a breath on planet earth, are in some way no longer binding upon those who have been born again through faith in Jesus. We have “died to the law.” But this sounds like it is supporting the very thought that Paul is refuting – that in Christ we cannot go on in our sinful lifestyles, and therefore make Jesus a “minister of sin.” If the law of God is no longer relevant for the Christian, if we have truly died to the law, then are we not free to live as we please, and follow every wicked impulse and desire that arises in our hearts?

Put to Death

It is in this context that Paul declares his opening thought of the amazing verse which we are studying: “I am crucified with Christ.” Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul is telling every Christian of every age and in every nation that in some mysterious fashion, the death of Jesus means the death of us all. To receive Jesus is to die – to die to the demands of the law, but also to die to self and sin and human ambition and pride. Just as no man or woman can enter heaven without first dying physically, so no man or woman can enter the kingdom of God without first dying in this spiritual sense.

In Romans, which is in many ways a very close parallel to Galatians, we find a similar thought:

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3, 4)

To enter the new and beautiful life which Jesus has for us, we must pass through the valley of death. Old habits, ways, ideas, philosophies, values, and preferences must die. Jesus has a brand new life for us, and it comes complete with an entirely new perspective. The Holy Spirit works within us bringing about the necessary cessation of the old life, in order that we may receive new life in Jesus.

Christ lives in me

Paul is not finished with this declaration of the Christian life – indeed the best is yet to come. He goes on to declare: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” Ah, here is the great mystery, here is where Christianity departs from every other religion. In some amazing way, in some incredible fashion, by some inexplicable means Jesus Christ lives inside His people. It is no longer Dennis, or Bob, and Jim, or Mary, or Nicole, or Sheila who live – it is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Son of God, who lives in us.

This sounds outlandish, impractical, and unbelievable, and we may be tempted to put it down to a rhetorical flourish without any basis in fact. After all, we know that we are all a far cry from the life and pristine perfection of the Jesus we read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In what way does Jesus live in us?

And yet the Bible makes it clear that whether we understand it or not, whether we can explain it or don’t have a clue, whether we accomplish big things or tiny things in our Christian service, whether we impress lots of people or no people, whether our lives are touching thousands or touching one or two, in some way and in some fashion it must surely be true that Jesus Christ, the king of glory, lives in us. In Colossians, Paul writes, “God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). To the Corinthians he writes: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Faith Makes “Christ in Us” Operational

It is in the third part of this amazing declaration of the essence of the Christian life that Paul explains how it all works. He writes: “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 for me.” Notice that he speaks of “the life that I now live…” This clearly distinct from the life that he previously lived. Before receiving Christ, Paul (and all the rest of us) lived for self, by self, and of self. But now the life he lives is a life energized, empowered, and continually revived by Jesus Christ, and it is by faith that this life is made operational. This “Christ in us” life is released, not as a result of our determination or our desire to turn over a new leaf, not because we make a strong commitment to always do the right thing, but rather as a direct result of a faith relationship with Jesus. As we look to the Savior, and stay in a continual place of dependence on and trust in Him, floods of divine life, righteous fruits, godly desires, and supernatural abilities flow within us, to such a degree that, as Paul puts it, it is not we who live but Christ who lives in us. He writes elsewhere, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Here then is the secret of the successful Christian life. It does not consist of us trying to merely imitate Jesus, and do as He did. Rather it involves Jesus Christ reproducing His life, His righteousness, His ability, and His love in us as we abide in Him through faith. When we were born again we received the Holy Spirit, who came into us with the very nature of Jesus Christ. But although this nature of Christ lives in every genuine believer, it must be released through faith. And this faith works primarily as we focus our attention on Jesus. To ignore Jesus, never to read His word, never to meditate on the gospel accounts of His life, death, and resurrection, and then say that we trust Jesus is a complete absurdity. Faith in Jesus is primarily a result of focusing our attention on Jesus.

It is no great mystery why we do or do not have this faith. Watching television does not produce this faith. Reading novels will not do it. Surfing the Internet, watching humorous YouTube videos, or playing video games will not bring faith. What brings faith is focused attention upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Attending Bible studies, reading the Bible, reading the Gospel accounts in the Bible, hearing good, Bible-based sermons that magnify Jesus, reading Christian books that do the same – all these are means by which the Holy Spirit does His amazing work and produces faith in our hearts, which results in the Christ-life becoming operational in us.

The good news is that the word of God is so incredibly powerful that it doesn’t take as much as we might think. We do not have to become Bible scholars; we do not need to spend many hours every day reading the Bible. Ordinary Christians, with busy lives, children to care for, businesses to run, meetings to attend, household chores that need their attention, can still find enough time to read the Scriptures in short portions from day to day, attend church and Bible studies, read good Christian books, and experience Jesus Christ making Himself powerfully known in and through their lives.

Part of the process is the simple recognition that Jesus Christ is the only One able to truly live the Christian life. At some point we need to have a little conference with ourselves and give ourselves a notice of termination. We need to fire ourselves and hire Christ. We need to trust Jesus to be the parent in us, the Sunday school teacher in us, the businessman or woman in us, the writer, the home-group leader, the evangelist, the teacher, the friend, and on and on. In whatever role we find ourselves, what is called for is Jesus. And He is more than able and more than willing to manifest Himself in our every situation as we let Him know that our trust is in Him.


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