Question: "What does it mean to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20)?"
Answer: Several places in the Bible speak of being crucified with Christ or having died with Christ: for example, Colossians 2:20; 3:3; and 2 Timothy 2:11. An extended discussion on the subject is found in Romans 6:3–14. Since no believer was literally crucified with Christ, the phrase crucified with Christ is symbolic for a spiritual truth.
Galatians 2:20 is a key passage: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The context of Galatians 2 is how the believer is made right with God. False teachers were telling the Galatian churches that faith in Christ was not enough. To be saved, they said, believers must also be circumcised and become “Jewish.” Only then would they be wholly right with God. In Galatians 2:15–16 Paul counters that idea: “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”
Paul says, “Through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God” (Galatians 2:19). While Paul was trying to please God by keeping the Law, he was not really living for God. The more he tried to keep the Law, the more he saw how much he failed. It was only when he gave up trying to achieve righteousness on his own and accepted the righteousness of God by faith in Christ that he truly began living for God. Justification by faith actually makes it possible to live for God.
Being crucified with Christ means that we are no longer under the penalty of the Law. That penalty was paid by Christ on our behalf. When Christ was crucified, it was as if we were crucified with Him. The penalty was fully paid—just as surely as if we had been crucified for our own sins. When Christ rose from the dead, we rose, too. Now the risen Christ empowers us to live for Him in a way that pleases God. We used to seek life through our own works, but now we “live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20).
Being crucified with Christ means that we are new creations. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The old life is dead and gone. We walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
Being crucified with Christ means that we have a new love. The lusts of the flesh and the love of the things of this world have been crucified (Galatians 5:24). Now we love Christ, though we have not seen Him (1 Peter 1:8).
Being crucified with Christ means that we have a new commitment. We are dedicated to the service and glory of the Lord, and that dedication destroys selfishness and surpasses ties to family and friends. We have taken up our cross to follow Him (Matthew 10:38).
Being crucified with Christ means that we have a new way of life. At one time we “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2). But that way of life was nailed to the cross. Now we follow Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and we seek to please Him in every way (Hebrews 12:2).
The idea of being crucified with Christ emphasizes our union with Him and His death on our behalf. We trust in Christ’s crucifixion as payment for our sin penalty, and we rely on His power to live in a way that pleases God. The emphasis is on what He has done for us, not what we have to do for God. Too often, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is Christ who lives in me” becomes “I need to crucify my sinful desires and try harder to live for God.” When this becomes our perspective, we have slipped out of grace-living and back into law-living, and we minimize the power of Christ’s death for us. We are relying less upon the power of Christ and more upon our own power—and that will never work out well!
In short, Galatians 2:20 tells us how we escaped the penalty of sin to live a life that pleases God. Knowing that we are “crucified with Christ” should give us great encouragement in our Christian walk. We have the power to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God.