The Apostle Paul’s declaration about being crucified with Christ is one of the most profound statements he makes in all his New Testament letters. It’s a staggering first-person revelation that unites him with the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, a man he once persecuted in unfathomable ways (Acts 9:4).
To be crucified with Christ means that a person is united with Jesus in his death on the cross. For followers of Christ, Jesus’ death is their death. This means that when Jesus died for sin on the cross, that included the transgression, rebellion, and shortcomings of those who, by faith, are in him.
What does the Greek word behind the declaration mean? What does it mean to identify with Christ’s death? How did Paul “die” to sin? How do believers today “die” to sin? What does the Bible say about union with Christ? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see What Did Jesus Write In the Sand? to learn more.
What does it mean to identify with Christ’s death?
In most English Bibles, the phrase “I have been crucified with Christ” appears in Galatians 2:20. However, in some Greek manuscripts, the phrase appears at the end of verse 19. A few translations, such as the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), place the phrase in that location. As seen in the table below, most major English translations locate the phrase at the beginning of verse 20.
|ESV||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.|
|KJV||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.|
|NASB||I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; 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 up for me.|
|NIV||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.|
|NLT||My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.|
What does the Greek term behind the phrase mean? The Greek word translated as “I have been crucified with” is sustauroó. The word combines sun, meaning “together,” and stauroo, meaning “to crucify.”
Paul is figuratively saying that he was with Christ on the cross. That is, when Jesus defeated sin with his death, Paul’s old life — i.e., his transgressions, rebellion, and shortcomings — were forgiven and destroyed.
Being crucified with Christ not only forgives past sin, but it breaks the power that it has over believers. Paul expresses similar thoughts in Romans 6:6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
Also see Why Did Jesus Fast for 40 Days? to learn more.
Paul died to sin
After Paul became a follower of Christ, he separated himself from his old way of life, which he mentioned earlier in the letter: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (1:13). As one who was now “in Christ,” Paul longer thought or behaved the way he did before he was saved.
For Paul, being forgiven was not a license to continue to sin, but a reason to refrain from it. He writes in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Paul’s old beliefs, convictions, values, and priorities “died” on the cross when Christ gave his life for them. How could Paul return to a dead way of life? This is what Paul means in the second half of Galatians 2:20, when he writes,
“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.”
All Christians must die to sin
The application of Paul’s declaration for Christians today is to “die” to sin. They must turn from their old way of thinking and behaving, and live for Christ alone. Elsewhere, Paul encourages believers to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10).
Pastor David Platt writes, “When we become followers of Jesus, we make a decided break with an old way of living and take a decisive turn to a new life. We literally die to our sin and to ourselves – our self-centeredness, self-consumption, self-righteousness, self-indulgence, self-effort, and self-exaltation.”
He continues: “In the words of Paul, we ‘have been crucified with Christ and [we] no longer live, but Christ lives in [us].'” (Follow Me, p. 23)
Also see Why Was Jesus Arrested? to learn more.
What does it mean to be “in Christ”?
When a person is regenerated or born again, Paul describes them as being “in Christ.” The term expresses the union that believers have with their Savior. His death is their death. His life is their life. Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” several times in his letters to communicate this reality. For example:
- 1 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
- Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”
A.W. Pink writes, “The subject of spiritual union is the most important, the most profound, and yet the most blessed of any that is set forth in the sacred Scriptures; and yet, sad to say, there is hardly any which is now more generally neglected.” (Spiritual Union and Communion, p. 7)
Also see Did Jesus Baptize Anyone? to learn more.
7 more Bible verses about union with Christ
- 1 Corinthians 6:17, “But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”
- 1 John 4:13, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”
- Colossians 1:27, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
- Colossians 3:3, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
- Galatians 3:27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
- Romans 6:4, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
- Romans 8:17, “And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Also see What Did Jesus Teach? to learn more.
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