20 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 (Galatians 2:20 ESV).
I think that we Christians have gotten so used to the word crucifixion that we forget how awful it is. We wear gold or silver crosses around our necks. We even hang beautiful wooden crosses in our homes. We look at crosses as an object of art and beauty. We think of the cross a symbol of love (which it is). But we forget that the cross was a symbol of terror back in the day.
The Romans had to come up with a means of punishment that was so painful, so feared, that people would obey the government rather than face this kind of death. The pain of being crucified was so great that they came up with a new word that described this pain: excruciating - which literally means out of the cross.
So when Paul tells the church at Galatia (and us) that he has been crucified with Christ, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean a nice word picture or symbolic dying. He is saying that in order for him to follow Jesus, he went through pain. Paul had to give up something precious to himself, and in the giving it up, it hurt him.
Paul tells us what he had to give up, what he had to crucify in order to follow Jesus in his letter to the church at Philippi. 4 although I could have confidence in my physical qualifications. If anyone else thinks that he can trust in something physical, I can claim even more. 5 I was circumcised on the eighth day. I'm a descendant of Israel. I'm from the tribe of Benjamin. I'm a pure-blooded Hebrew. When it comes to living up to standards, I was a Pharisee. 6 When it comes to being enthusiastic, I was a persecutor of the church. When it comes to winning God's approval by keeping Jewish laws, I was perfect. 7 These things that I once considered valuable, I now consider worthless for Christ (Philippians 3:4-7 GW).
In other words, Paul had to give up everything he had based his identity on in order to follow Jesus. Paul allowed Jesus to crucify everything that stood between Paul and Jesus, which really was Paul himself. This was a painful and scary thing to undergo. Everything that he held on to for security was taken away. But what did he receive instead? The assurance that his sins were forgiven. The promise of eternal life in heaven. A personal relationship with the God he had feared.
How did the pain of being crucified compare to the joy of knowing Jesus? 8 It's far more than that! I consider everything else worthless because I'm much better off knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It's because of him that I think of everything as worthless. I threw it all away in order to gain Christ 9 and to have a relationship with him. This means that I didn't receive God's approval by obeying his laws. The opposite is true! I have God's approval through faith in Christ. This is the approval that comes from God and is based on faith 10 that knows Christ. Faith knows the power that his coming back to life gives and what it means to share his suffering. In this way I'm becoming like him in his death, 11 with the confidence that I'll come back to life from the dead (Philippians 3:8-11 GW).
Don’t hold on to your old way of life. Yes, you are comfortable in it. But that is because you are used to it. As my father likes to quote his father, “You can get used to anything, even hanging, if you do it long enough.”
When I lived in California, I was quite happy. I was a preschool teacher and director. I had a nice house (with a pool) and a growing family (two kids with a third on the way). But I felt God wanted me to go into the ministry. I didn’t want to give up the comforts I had. I had to allow Jesus to crucify my wants and desires (boy did it hurt) so that I could receive what he wanted for me. Only after the pain of being crucified could I experience the joy of the new life Jesus had panned or me. That new life includes New Life Lutheran Church and working in the Burmese community.
When you allow Jesus to crucify your old way of life, you receive a much better way of life. But you can’t have them both. One must die a violent, bloody death. It will be painful, but it is pain with a purpose. The purpose is to make way for the new life in Christ!
Go ahead and recite Galatians 2:20. But say it like you mean it! Experience the joy of resurrection to a new life in Christ!