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If anyone could have hoped to please God by living a moral life, it was Saul of Tarsus, the zealous Pharisee: ‘as for legalistic righteousness, faultless’ (Philippians 3:6). But in a dramatic way he came to realise that such efforts were doomed to failure. He was brought by God’s grace to trust in Christ. He understood that a spiritual revolution had taken place in his life which he described in terms of union with Christ. He speaks of this in Galatians 2:20 Crucified with Christ.
1. The death that has been died
Paul speaks of his spiritual transformation in terms of a death (v19), a radical break with his Pharisaic past, but note there are two deaths discussed when he refers to ‘crucified with Christ’:
(a) The death of Christ. Only on this basis may sinners be saved and transformed. Christ died as the representative of his elect – ‘God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul’s description here is most significant. He uses the title ‘Son of God’ – the deity of Christ gave his sacrifice infinite value to redeem his people. God himself provided what was needed. Note ‘who loved me’ – personal redemptive love from before the creation. None of God’s people is merged into the crowd. Love resulted in specific action – ‘gave himself for me’ – in my place. Every believer can say the same. The love of Christ reached its goal at Calvary.
(b) The death of Paul. ‘I have been crucified with Christ’. Even though Paul’s death could not be redemptive, it is nevertheless real. All who put their faith in Christ die a spiritual death – in a profound sense they die with Christ. In a legal sense what Christ accomplished is counted as belonging to his people. We also die in a personal sense – ‘those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires’ (Galatians 5:4). The old nature has been put to death. The dominion of sin is destroyed. ‘I no longer live’ – he no longer lives for self. This is how we must now view ourselves. We are dead to the old life of sin and rejoice in a new freedom.
2. The life that is to be lived
Paul continues – ‘The life that I live in the body’ – life in this present world continues, we are not raptured into heaven upon conversion. It is again essential to see that two lives are in view:
(a) The life of Christ. ‘Christ lives in me’. In a mysterious sense Christ indwells his people. There is a fellowship between them that words cannot fully express, fulfilling the covenant promise is ‘I will walk among you and be your God’ (Leviticus 26:12). Christ is the source of our life (Colossians 3:4). This is an ongoing daily reality. He is our source of strength to face whatever God in his providence sends. ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:13).
(b) The life of Paul. His life is ‘in the body’ – literally ‘in the flesh’, indicating human nature in its weakness and frailty. The believer cannot escape into some ‘higher life’. Christian faith is to be lived out in the realities of a fallen world. Paul had his ‘thorn in the flesh’ (2 Corinthians 12:7). The Christian is not called to a life of ease. Jesus warned ‘in this world you will have trouble’ (John 16:33), but we have all the necessary resources if we approach life in the right way – we are to ‘live by faith in the Son of God’. We must draw on his strength and provision. He will ‘supply all your need’ (Philippians 4:19). To focus on self brings despair. We must focus instead on Christ who told us ‘I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).