I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal. 2:20
Figurative speech in the Bible sometimes makes me feel a little like Rosie, a little Yorkie I used to have. On occasion she would look at me with her head cocked to the side and one ear up as if to say, “Huh?”
Jesus’ speech was full of figurative phrases like “light of the world,” “living water,” and “bread of life.” For example, when Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be “born again” to see the kingdom of God, Nicodemus, thinking purely literally, couldn’t quite figure out how he was supposed to accomplish that particular act at his age. (I imagine he was picturing the look on his elderly mother’s face when he told her what Jesus said.)
The apostle Paul, however, wins the prize for perplexing turns of phrase in his letters to the various churches and peoples to whom he had preached. His letters are filled with such phrases as “prisoner of sin,” “fruit of the spirit,” “to live is Christ,” and such declarations as “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes my brain can get a little fuzzy. (Picture me with my head cocked to the side and one ear up as if to say, “Huh?”)
However, the Holy Spirit can and will remove any “Biblical fuzziness” (figuratively speaking) when needed – I know that, because when I first began memorizing Galatians 2:20 (above) the phrase “I have been crucified with Christ” had me stymied.
Oh, I could surmise that by “crucified with Christ” Paul meant something changed when I became a Christian, but I couldn’t get very far beyond that. After all, crucifixion involves death – I thought salvation brought rebirth and new life due to being born again.
It was all kind of confusing.
Instead of going straight to the Lord and asking for knowledge and wisdom to (figuratively speaking) “get my arms around” what Paul was talking about, I did the next best thing: I Googled. Not to justify that choice or anything, but hear me out.
In his book “Experiencing God,” Henry Blackaby said that God uses the Holy Spirit to speak to us through different ways, including through other believers – and I’ve found lots of thoughtful Christian commentary online in the past and no dearth of helpful archived sermons. As it turns out, however, the Lord was already lining up a team of “Godly Men” to give me a little insight into what it meant to be crucified with Christ – even though I (figuratively speaking) circumvented Him and went to Google first. Here’s what happened…
About the time I was trying to commit the verse above from Galatians to memory and start thinking about writing this post, I was just finishing up a course of Bible study and had asked God to show me where he wanted me to study next. For fun, I was also reading a book from Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series that my mother loaned me (definitely “chick lit”, but really fun and engaging – and clean – to read) in which one of the main characters loves to quote Oswald Chambers, the early 20th century Scottish Christian minister and teacher and one of my favorite expositors – and, as it turns out, Godly Men team member #1.
As I read one of the quotes Ms. Karon used from Rev. Chambers’ book, “My Utmost for His Highest,” I knew with iron-clad certainty that God was pointing me to Oswald Chambers for my next few days of Bible study. So I hauled my own copy down off the shelf the next morning and started reading.
It would be neat and tidy to say that right there on that particular morning just when I needed it, God provided the answer I was looking for through Chambers’ writing, but that wouldn’t be true: it was actually three days later. (That’s apropos of nothing, but you can rest assured that God had some sort of, as yet unknown, purpose in that timing.)
On the morning of day three I read:
“When we are crucified with Christ by faith in Him, we are to completely surrender every selfish desire and ambition to the perfect will of God…All sin erupts from the desire to please self, and this is what must be crucified with Christ in surrender to the will of God before salvation can bear fruit.”
There was my answer; can’t get much plainer than that. And I can definitely attest to struggling with surrendering my “self” to God’s will. In fact, Chambers goes on to say that putting to death the desire to please ourselves…
“…is an ongoing process, because the spirit which has been crucified with Christ still resides within the flesh – which is still very much alive.”
That reminded me of a story my friend Greg (Godly Men team member #2) shared with me. (Best he can remember, our pastor told it in one of his sermons – which I guess makes him Godly Men team member #3.)
A missionary couple serving in a foreign country came home to find an enormous snake in their house. They called on one of the locals who had experience exterminating enormous snakes for assistance and he promptly went inside to assess the situation. After a short while he came back out, having beheaded the snake. He told the couple, however, that they should stay out of the house for a few hours because, even though the snake was dead, its body didn’t know it yet and was probably going to wreak havoc for a while.
OK, that’s a little icky, but just like that snake, even though once I became a Christian my self-pleasing spirit was dead (figuratively speaking) it didn’t know it yet and continued to wreak havoc for a while. But by staying focused on God’s will for my life and immersed in His word and in constant communion with Him through prayer, pretty soon my old, dead self stopped thrashing about and became no more of a threat than that enormous snake eventually became. (Well, occasional involuntary twitches, but nothing God can’t give me strength to deal with.)
So, as it turns out, “I have been crucified with Christ” is a pretty good way to put it. To be (figuratively speaking) “born again” with a new spirit, the old sinful one had to die; and when I became a follower of Jesus, my old selfish, independent, self-pleasing self was (figuratively speaking) put to death (just as being crucified would accomplish) and I was given new life by faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ. (I hope Nicodemus got that all figured out before it was too late.)
“Thank you, Father, that ‘I’ no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
Figuratively speaking or not…