In Galatians 2:20 Paul famously declares,
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
For many Christians, this verse is familiar. And yet, despite the verse’s familiarity in many believers’ minds, I believe the broader topic of our union with Christ that it represents and its basic application is easily forgotten. And without realizing it, I, like many believers, unknowingly fall out of the pattern of life emphasized by Paul in Galatians 2:20 and into the pattern of life condemned in passages like Galatians 3:3 where Paul emphatically condemns the Galatians’ mistake with these words:
“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
The audience of Paul’s letter, it seems, had done that which is so easy for any believer. They had professed faith in the work of Jesus Christ for their forgiveness of sins and for eternal life only to then live out their present life as if their own works were responsible for their salvation. In so doing, those believers were forgetting their new found identity in Christ and living their life as if they still were under the law that had previously condemned them.
The mistake of the Galatians is both exceptionally offensive in its witness and exceptionally common in its practice. The offense of this mistake is, again, highlighted throughout the book of Galatians and particularly in Galatians 3:1-9. To allow our eyes to become focused on self-righteous efforts is, according to Paul, to allow our eyes to drift from our crucified and resurrected Savior. It is, then, both a mistaken attempt to practically live out our faith as well as to live as a witness for Jesus Christ to the world around us. Instead of living as witnesses for Jesus Christ, we end up only living as witnesses of the importance of morality and right living.
Despite that clear offense, however, this mistake remains extremely common and even attractive for many of us today. To fix our eyes on Christ takes constant discipline that comes only as we strive to walk according to the Spirit. To fix our eyes on this more common and mistaken lifestyle, however, only requires us to keep a close eye on our neighbors and strive to live just slightly better than them. This striving is attractive because it lowers the bar for us and allows us to live out our days in relative anonymity. It allows us to avoid falling into the “big sins” of the world without having to regularly speak of Christ because it allows us to live as self-reliant individuals.
Yet, despite its initial attraction and supposed ease, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a loud reminder of the fact that this mistake is neither easy nor is Christian. While the Law-centered life allows us to maintain the status quo of the world around us, it does so by requiring us to live like slaves. Slaves to an impossibly high standard. Slaves to how the world around us views us. And slaves to a way of life that is exhausting. What initially appears to be the easier route, then, proves to be the far more difficult path that leads only to further frustration and a lack of rest.
It is only when one can truly embrace the words of Paul in Galatians 2:20 that the believer’s calling and overall new-found identity in Christ can be understood and enjoyed. For it is only when we understand that both our eternal life and present life are wrapped up in Christ’s sufficient work that we are able to enjoy the peace and rest promised by Christ. It is only when we walk with a constant eye set on Christ that we are able to truly enjoy the Fruit of the Spirit promised in Galatians 5. In other words, it is only when we die to self daily that we experience the glorious life given in Christ through his resurrection.
Our union with Christ is not simply a doctrine that impacts our eternal destiny. It is the doctrine that defines your new found identity as a Christian and it is the doctrine that gives us our daily call.