Introduction: Only once have I thought I was drowning. I was a boy at a swimming pool, and some older fellows held me under water a little too long and scared me. The Bible describes trouble as deep waters. Job felt he was drowning in affliction (Job 10:15). Psalm 18:16 says God pulls us out of deep waters. We become overwhelmed with the issues of life. There’s a powerful lifeline for such times—Galatians 2:20: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (KJV).
1. Being Crucified with Christ
I am crucified with Christ is a vivid statement, but what does it mean? Paul wrote this after his first missionary journey when the church was torn apart by the question of salvation. Are we saved by faith alone, or must we also obey the Mosaic Law given to Israel? The early Christians were Jews, and they continued practicing their Jewish habits. But Gentiles were coming to Christ too. Must they adopt Judaism? On his journey in Acts 13 and 14, Paul preached salvation by grace through faith alone. At the end of the tour, Paul learned that Judaizers were following in his footsteps throughout Galatia, confusing his new churches. He wrote the Galatians sternly, saying: I am astonished you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel… Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached, let him be under God’s cursed.
In Galatians 1-2, Paul insisted the Gospel didn’t have its origin in human imagination. It was given by revelation from God. In Galatians 2:17 he said: But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!
In other words, “If, in being justified by grace, I say that my salvation is not found in keeping the Law of Moses, does that mean that Christ is telling me to live a lawless life? No!”
Verse 18 continues: For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. In other words, “The Law of Moses led me to see myself as a sinner and as a lawbreaker, that I might turn to Christ by faith and live for God.”
That brings us to the powerful phrase: I am crucified with Christ. What exactly, then, does that mean? Paul wasn’t speaking in literal terms; he wasn’t nailed to the cross on Good Friday. He is speaking theologically and stressing two things:
A. Our Sins Are Nailed with Christ to the Cross
First, our sins are nailed with Christ to the cross. A few months ago, I was troubled with regrets. The next morning I was reading a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, which said:
You and I must never look at our past lives; we must never look at any sin in our past life in any way except that which leads us to praise God and to magnify His grace in Christ Jesus…. If you look at your past and are depressed by it, you must do what Paul did…. He glories in grace and says, “And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
That is the way to look at your past. If you look at your past and are depressed it means you are listening to the devil. But if you look at the past and say, “Unfortunately it is true I was blinded by the god of this world, but thank God His grace was more abundant, He was more than sufficient and His love and mercy came upon me in such a new way that it is all forgiven, I am a new man,” then all is well. That is the way to look at the past, and if we do not do that, I am almost tempted to say that we deserve to be miserable. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depress (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 75-76).
That’s what it means to be crucified by Christ. We can never be saved by keeping the law; indeed, the law simply defines our sin. But Christ lived by the law and died according to the law, in our place, and our sins were pardoned by His blood.
B. Our Lives Are Committed to the Christ of the Cross
Being crucified with Christ also implies the relinquished life. Our lives are committed to the Christ of the cross. On two other occasions Paul spoke of this. One is at the end of Galatians—Galatians 6:14. I’ll never forget this verse because of an experience Katrina and I had a few years ago. We were at an event, and in came Billy Graham. He was in a wheelchair and almost blind and nearly deaf. But someone him what Bible verse he was memorizing—he was still memorizing Scripture. He said Galatians 6:14: God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, though which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
We are crucified with Christ in the sense that when we decide to follow Him, we die to the world. The other passage is very similar—Romans 6:5-13: We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…. Now if we died with Christ, we believe we will also live with Him…. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus…. Offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness.
Just as Jesus gave all of Himself for us, we should give all of ourselves for Him.
- When James Calvert went as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the captain of the ship sought to turn him back. “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages,” he cried. Calvert only replied, “We died before we came here.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “When God calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
- Someone asked George Mueller the secret of his victorious life. He replied: “There came a day when George Mueller died, utterly died! No longer did his own desires, preferences, and tastes come first. He knew that from then on Christ must be all in all.”
- My pastor in college was Dr. Edwin Young. One day he told me to put 220 volts to myself every day–Galatians 2:20.
- Someone once saw this sign in the window of a dry-cleaning and dying business: “We dye to live, we live to dye; the more we dye, the more we live; and the more we live, the more we dye.”
2. Being Channels for Christ
Galatians 2:20 continues: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me….
Pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor called this the Exchanged Life. After arriving in China, he nearly had a nervous breakdown from trying to do too much work in his own strength. One day he received a letter that spoke of an exciting discovery—the secret of abiding in Christ and allowing Christ to live His life and do His work through us.
“As I read,” Taylor recalled, “I saw it all. I looked to Jesus; and when I saw, oh how the joy flowed!” He wrote to his sister in England and said, “As to the work, mine was never so plentiful, so responsible, or so difficult; but the weight and strain are all gone. The last month or more has been perhaps the happiest of my life; and I long to tell you a little of what the Lord has done for my soul.”
He went on to describe the truth of John 15—we’re to abide in Christ as branch in a vine. When the relationship is intimate and unhindered, the sap flows from branch to vine, just as the Holy Spirit flows from Jesus to us. He’s the one producing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives doing the work through us. It isn’t what we do for Christ, but what He does through us that makes all the difference. I have to remind myself every day that the secret to the Victorious Christian Life is being crucified with Christ and being channels only.
3. Being Confident in Christ
The final portion of the verse says: …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.
A few weeks ago, I went for a walk around the northern shore of Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks and I was meditating on this verse. Schroon Lake is a wonderful lake for waterskiing in the summer time, and I thought about how I learned to waterski. I was college during a break, I went home with my friend, Bill McCoy, who lived on a lake in Orlando. He parents had a ski boat, and they put Bill and me in the water side by side and after multiple attempts I made it up and skied about a hundred feet before falling—I still remember the exhilaration of it.
The mechanics of faith are much the same. Think of the boat and the pilot as God Himself. He has unlimited power and He knows exactly where He is going. He knows the smooth water and He knows the rough water, and His horsepower is unlimited.
Think of the biblical promises as the ropes to us. For example, here in the book of Galatians is a promise I’ve gone to repeatedly—Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in well-doing, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” The Bible is full of promises like that, and there is a promise for every need, for every contingency in life.
Now think of the handle at the end of the rope as faith. Here we are, thrashing around the water, wondering if we’re going to sink, wondering if we’re going to drown, but God is there in the boat and He has tossed us an unbreakable promise. We grip it and hold on. And His power conveyed through His promises, as we hold on with the grip of faith, lifts us out of our situations and enables us to virtually walk on water, as Simon Peter did on the Sea of Galilee. That is the life of faith—being confident in Christ and in His power and in His promises.
Conclusion: If you’re in over your head with the issues of life, grab the lifeline of Galatians 2:20. Be crucified with Christ, for that’s the relinquished life. Be channels for Christ, for that’s the exchanged life. Be confident in Christ, for that’s the trusting life. And this is the life that walks, as it were, on water.
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.