Crucified With Christ
I am crucified with Christ. (Galatians 2:20 KJV)
There are four important operative words in this most important statement describing the experience of every genuine Christian. But until now I have missed possibly the most important message hiding in plain sight here. There is so much in these simple words that I am sure I do not have time or space right now to unpack a lot of it, but I want to capture what I am seeing before it slips out of sight.
I am Crucified
I am the one that needs crucified. This is all through the references Jesus made repeatedly about taking up my cross and following Him. Of course, if I have the typical confused or distorted views of why Jesus died on the cross then I will continue to have very vague ideas about the meaning of what it means to take up a cross or be crucified myself. But given the much clearer pictures of God and an increasing appreciation of the real issues and reasons around why the event of His cross took place, I now have much better keys and filters with which to unmask the true meaning of the cross, both His and mine.
But one thing that seems to be unavoidable about a crucifixion is that it was clearly designed to be associated with pain and suffering and ultimately death. Men's purposes for crucifying a person on a cross was to inflict as much torture as possible on a person against their will to settle a score with that person – whether justly or not. It was a means of expressing anger or vengeance against someone who had violated the demands or wishes of human society in order to punish them. This subconscious perspective of the intent for a cross still permeates most people's thinking about how God feels towards sinners. But that thinking originated in the evil nature of Satan himself, the father of all deception, murder and pain.
If I have distorted ideas of why suffering is unavoidably involved in becoming more like God and being conformed into His image, then I cannot really understand these words about the necessity of being crucified with Christ. But I do want to know the true meaning of this verse and all its peripheral vital concepts that are essential in the life of a real follower of Jesus. I feel like I am just beginning to make out in a thick haze the outlines of the real issues going on here amidst the confusing fog of all the lies about God promoted by nearly all religions. I am pursuing the real truth about this issue relentlessly and I sense that God has been faithful to allow me to see it more and more clearly though it is still quite hazy at times.
Somehow implicit in this verse is the fact that if I want to follow Jesus and become like Him however that takes place the right way, that it is going to involve being treated like He was treated when He lived among sinners. Seeing this is essential to begin to have a better understanding of why this crucifixion for me is necessary. Since I too live in a world opposed to revelations of the real truth about God, then the more openly I demonstrate the true character of God in my relationships with others the more similar reactions of anger and persecution are going to be evoked by those whose views of God are being threatened by my life's testimony about Him. It is simply unavoidable that the more I allow Jesus to dwell in and live His life through me that the outcome is going to move me toward an experience similar to what caused His ultimate crucifixion.
But there is much more than that implied in this verse. Paul said elsewhere that he died daily as well as this reference to being crucified with Christ. So the I in this verse seems to indicate that it is not just Jesus who would experience crucifixion but each person who gets serious about devoting their lives to Him must also participate in His willingness to go through the unavoidable suffering that this kind of life will produce. And the key issue that is involved in having that willingness to suffer is my own willingness to die to self.
Jesus said that there must be a willingness to die or else a person simply cannot be His disciple in truth. This goes counter to everything we are wired instinctively to feel about life. In fact, it is impossible for us to accomplish of ourselves because our subconscious intense motivation for self-preservation will sabotage our efforts to emulate the self-sacrificing spirit of Jesus. Therefore the only way that I can ever have the motivation and attitude necessary for this crucifixion to take place is for Jesus to dwell in me and be so completely permeated into my thinking and choices that He can make that decision through me. But I must choose to let Him have His will in me in opposition to my natural desires to live my own way. Sin is independence from God, attempting to live life outside complete submission to God's perfect design and will. To come back into that proper relationship to God requires that I be willing to die to my desires for independence and life outside of those parameters.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25 also Matthew 10:39, Mark 8:35 and Luke 9:24)
So the I in this verse from Galatians requires that I be the one to make the choice implicit in these words by Jesus. This is the part man must have in the plan of salvation. God has provided everything and more in order for everyone to enjoy eternity in His presence, but unless we are willing to die, to be crucified with Christ and die to our own desires for what makes us feel alive and important, then it will be impossible to be transformed into the condition necessary to survive and thrive in His presence.
If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:26-27, 33)
Another key word in this verse is Christ. There have been thousands if not millions of people who have been crucified, but there is simply nothing inherent in suffering crucifixion that will make a person a follower of Jesus or create merit for them to experience salvation. Again, a better perception of the real issues and attitudes that were demonstrated at the cross of Jesus will bring great light to the intense darkness and ignorance and superstitions that cloud the minds of most Christians about this subject. Jesus absolutely was not dying on a cross to appease an angry God for the sins that we committed against Him as many Christians teach. Jesus made it explicitly clear that He and the Father are one and both feel the same way toward us. Paul also declared that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. We must clearly reject all notions that the cross was any kind of appeasement for God if we are ever to begin to see the much deeper issues that took place there.
Understanding the real truth about God and how He feels about us is vital to understanding how to relate to being crucified with Christ. If I don't have a reasonably proper perception of why Jesus died on the cross then I will also be very misguided about the reasons why I must be crucified with Him. Confusion on this subject has kept my own mind and heart clouded and unable to make sense out of all this for much of my life until very recently. Now as I see more clearly each day the real truth about what was going on there everything else is also coming into focus and fitting together much more succinctly. And as a result I am also beginning to perceive more clearly my own relationship to Jesus as laid out in this verse from Galatians.
As I am beginning to see it now, the main reason that Jesus died on the cross was because that is the unavoidable result that takes place whenever the true revelation of God's attitude of love and forgiveness towards sinners comes into close proximity with the lies about God that fills the hearts and minds of all humanity. Those who rejected the real truth about what God was like in the person of Jesus Christ could not do any less than to torture Him and inflict the greatest pain and suffering on Him that they could invent in their attempt to force Him to display some sinful attribute that they insisted was necessary or were unwilling to give up.
What am I trying to say here? I am saying that if we are not willing to admit that our ideas about justice through which we view the cross of Jesus is perverted by sin and selfishness we remain blinded to the real truth of what went on there. And when we remain willing to accept God's declarations of the real truth about His character, we too are going to treat anyone who exposes our faulty thinking with resentment.
Sin in the heart is always fiercely defensive of its views of reality. Sin will always compel us to form opinions about God that are reflective of our own fallen desires rooted in pride and selfishness. We will create a perception of God in our own image and will treat others based on that perception of God just as people did when Jesus demonstrated a life that defied all those false assumptions. The conflict between lies and truth will always produce violence, hatred and persecution on the part of those who continue to cling to those lies. Darkness hates light and will not stop at anything to prevent it from exposing the evil deep inside.
So the more clearly a person sees the real truth of God's goodness and perfect character, the more tension and resistance is aroused inside because of the dissonance between the two conflicting views of reality. If I choose to let go of these lies and allow the light to expose me and have God cleanse me of all the lies about Him, then my life is going to more and more look like the life that Jesus lived because He will be living that life out from within me. By beholding the real truth about Him I cannot help but be changed if I am willing to embrace that truth. If I resist that truth I am also changed – but not to be more reflective of His goodness but to move the opposite direction in my own character and treatment of others, especially those who tend to expose me.
I need to see clearly the real truth about God's goodness as revealed in the events surrounding the cross of Calvary. Since I now know that this event does not support the false ideas about appeasement of the Father as taught by many Christians, I now can see more and more that the cross was the culmination of the inevitable results of what sin will push me to do to someone who shows me the light of God's goodness and character that I refuse to embrace. Jesus was crucified by those who claimed to know God best yet resisted His revelation of God's love for them; the hatred in their hearts produced by their resistance drove them to do that to Him. Yet all through the torturing and abuse He endured, Jesus continued to reveal even more clearly that there was nothing anyone could ever do to Him bad enough to get Him to stop loving or forgiving them. That is the very essence of God's goodness and character of love.
Jesus himself underwent punishment for you, giving you an example, so that you might go in his footsteps. (1 Peter 2:21 BBE)
I don't want to get stuck following this vital part of truth too far here because of space, but I want to mention the issue of Jesus taking punishment for us. It is so easy to entertain the mistaken assumption that it was God punishing Jesus on the cross. But Isaiah makes it very clear that God was not the one punishing Jesus, even though to us sinners it very much appeared that way. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4 NIV) We thought, and still often think, that it was God doing all of that punishing at the cross. But in fact it was God in Christ being punished by sinners, allowing us to vent our hatred and wrath on Him. In the process He was demonstrating all throughout that ordeal the love and compassion and intense desire to be reconciled with us that always has and always will be His only attitude towards us.
So if I experience crucifixion with Christ, it will only be because I am beginning to demonstrate the same character of love, forgiveness and passion for souls that always flowed out to everyone from the heart of Jesus that drove His enemies to crucify Him. Again, that will be impossible to demonstrate without having Jesus Himself living inside of me and supplying all that motivation through me. But I must allow Him full access to all of my heart, mind, soul and body if He is going to fulfill His purpose to demonstrate His character through me to the world. Only as I am crucified with Christ and die to self, and not for some other reason, will His character of love ever be exposed and seen by the world around me.
I can also now begin to see why I will suffer from wanting to be reconciled to someone who chooses to believe lies about me. If I continue to forgive and love them in spite of all their insinuations, gossip or even outright persecution or character assassination, I will experience just what Jesus experienced from doing the very same thing. I will be in fellowship with Him in His sufferings.
Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:18-23 NRSV)
But there is one more word in this verse in Galatians that I have not touched on yet. This morning this verse came to me with new emphasis that I have never seen before that unlocks so many other things and makes these verses have much more sense for me personally than ever before.
I am crucified with Christ
Over the past few years since I learned the real definition of the word joy, I have found it very compelling to take note whenever the Bible uses the word with, particularly when it has to do with Jesus. As I have explained many times before, according to the brain's definition as discovered by the latest brain research and modern science, joy is the most desired and powerful element in life to activate growth of the most important part of the brain, the right orbital pre-frontal cortex. And according to the brain, joy is the experience a person has whenever someone else is glad to be with them; when someone cares deeply about them; when the person experiencing joy senses that they are the “sparkle of the eye” for someone else and that person wants nothing better than to be with them.
Thus, when Jesus promised that He would be with us to the end of the world and that He would never leave us or forsake us, He was really providing for us the condition and basis for experiencing joy all of our life. Joy is not happiness, though it can produce happiness as a result of embracing it. Joy is far deeper and more powerful than happiness or pleasure. Joy activates growth of the part of our brain where we sense our identity and value and where we have creativity. And interestingly it is also the very same part of our brain that is needed most to process pain and suffering properly.
One of the main reasons that I have misunderstood this verse in Galatians for so long and why it has always produced such a negative connotation in my mind is because I didn't perceive the real significance of this word with here. Like the verses in 1 Peter indicate, suffering in and of itself has no merit or usefulness to help us be inherently better or necessarily have better relationships. In fact, suffering causes just the opposite of better relationships for most people; it often produces resentment, bitterness, despair or anger. That is a result of sin in the heart. But it also explains why so much suffering was imposed on Jesus.
Jesus spent a great deal of effort filling His heart and mind full of the real kind of joy just before He went to the cross. His words in John 13-17 are filled with references to joy. That is because the part of the brain needed to deal with suffering and pain properly is the same part that is stimulated by joy. Hebrews says that it was for the joy set before Him that He endured the cross and despised the shame. The joy set before Him was what He talked about in these chapters in John – His desire for all those who would accept His love and salvation to be with Him throughout eternity in joy.
When I read the initial verse from Galatians in this light it suddenly takes on a whole different meaning for me. Crucifixion with Christ is the same as experiencing joy in Christ; for the only real source of lasting and transformative joy is Christ and His presence – the very essence of joy. (Psalm 16:11) If I experience suffering because Christ is living in me and I am meeting resistance from others who resist that love flowing out of me, then the experience of having Christ with me in my heart in those sufferings has the capacity to produce joy amazingly enough if I choose to relate to it properly. And joy in turn nurtures the growth and strengthening of the very part of my brain necessary to endure suffering. As James Wilder points out so clearly, the life of a growing Christian that is advancing through the stages of maturity is to learn how to suffer well.
I am also beginning to see that the suffering forced onto Jesus was an attempt to get Him to demonstrate some weakness, some fault in His character, some resonance with fallen sinful nature to validate Satan's assertions that God was not as perfectly loving or consistent as He claimed to be. And yet that suffering Jesus endured only proved forever that love really is stronger than sin and death. But the merit or effectiveness of the suffering Jesus experienced was produced as a result of having God's character in Him consistently in spite of all that men and demons did to Him, not due to the fact that He suffered so much that He exhausted God's anger somehow.
Someone once said that you can find out what is in a container by squeezing it and seeing what comes out. If you have a plastic bottle filled with some unknown liquid, you can find out what it contains by squeezing it enough to make it spill out the top so it becomes obvious what is inside that bottle.
Suffering is the squeezing of a life to see what is inside of it. People don't really know what is in the deepest parts of the heart until a person comes under pressure from pain and suffering. Then their true nature is more likely to be displayed and their true motivations become exposed. Satan and sinners believed that if Jesus could be squeezed hard enough through torture and suffering that some weakness, something other than love would emerge as a result. That is why all the pressure possible was put into squeezing the life and heart of Jesus on the cross – to squeeze out absolutely everything that might be hiding inside. But to the amazement of the whole universe, the only thing that could ever be extracted from the heart of Jesus – all the way to squeezing every last drop out – was only compassion, forgiveness and undiminished, everlasting love for everyone.
These insights are incredibly exciting for my left brain right now but I have to admit that my right brain is still very skeptical about some of this. But that is OK for now. My left brain often embraces deeper truth before my right brain is willing to embrace and experience it. But I choose to surrender myself to the work of the Holy Spirit to do whatever it takes to grow both sides of my brain and all parts of my being up into the maturity of Jesus which is God's desire for me. I am starting to see more clearly the direction I want to move in coming closer to the path laid out in His Word. And seeing where I am supposed to be heading is sometimes very helpful in knowing which direction to move when my heart is suddenly in circumstances that force it to move.