The apostle Paul makes this remarkable claim: “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20).
Wait! Christ was crucified between two thieves. Neither of them was Paul (or Saul, as his name would have been at that time). So how can Paul claim to have been crucified with him?
One answer is: Paul was baptized after Christ appeared to him on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:10). Years later, Paul states, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3). Baptism signifies our identification with Christ in his death for our sins. An old spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” If you have believed in and received the Lord Jesus in baptism, then you and your sins were present when Jesus died. Jesus bore your sins and paid the penalty of God’s wrath by dying for the guilt that you incurred.
Another answer is: Paul believed in the gospel message of salvation. When a sinner receives the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus, that person is “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24-25). “Propitiation” means satisfaction of God’s demands that sin’s penalty be paid. Jesus did that “by his blood,” the blood of his cross.
This means that when Paul placed his personal faith in Jesus, who died for him, he was “justified.” God extended to him the righteous standing that belongs properly only to the One who never sinned: Jesus. Jesus “became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Sometimes it’s hard to see how something that happened in AD 30 could have meaning for anyone today. But the passage of time does not limit God. He can apply the victory Jesus won over sin and death to every one of us who seek him and place our faith in him in light of (1) our sense of guilt and need for forgiveness, and (2) what Jesus did.
“I have been crucified with Christ.” That was Paul’s testimony, and it is ours, too. Here is the profound but happy outcome: “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” (Gal. 2:20).
This reflection originally appeared in a slightly different form in The Voice, the monthly newsletter of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Lindenhurst, Illinois, where Dr. Yarbrough serves.