We know that Jesus was crucified between two thieves and that Paul was probably not even present at the actual, historical event of the crucifixion of Christ.
Then, Paul says that even though he was crucified, he lives. Does Paul mean to say that he was raised from the dead with Jesus also? If so, why have we not heard about this before now? Finally he says he is not really living at all, but Christ lives in him. To the natural mind, of course, this all sounds very strange. This is why we must discern spiritual things spiritually.
It should be obvious that Paul is talking about something other than a physical crucifixion and a physical death, burial, and resurrection. Although he says, “I was crucified with Christ” he does not mean that he was present with Christ in the flesh at the moment of crucifixion; instead, he intends to show us something much more profound. We will soon discover that this experience of being crucified with Christ is not unique to the apostle Paul, but is true of every born-again child of God. Not only Paul, but all disciples of Jesus have been crucified with Christ.
How is this possible? The Bible says that there is an invisible but very powerful union that exists between Jesus and all His disciples; they are one Body. It is a spiritual union. This spiritual union forms the basis of our relationship and fellowship with Christ. Jesus says, “I am the True Vine… live in Me, and I will live in you” (Jn. 15:1,4a). Jesus compares this union to a vine that has many branches. Each branch lives in union with the vine. The same life flowing in the vine is also flowing in the branches. Jesus says He is the True Vine, and we are His branches. This is spiritual union. As branches, we can only grow and produce spiritual fruit so long as we continue to live, dwell in, abide, and be part of the Vine. So then, union with God is not the reward for spirituality; it is the basis of spirituality.
With this analogy we can now understand what Paul means when we look at some of his other statements. He tells the Corinthians that “He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Cor. 6:17). To the Ephesians, Paul compares this spiritual union to the union that exists between a man and a woman when they are married: “And the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the [Ekklesia]” (Eph. 5:31b,32).
Certainly this is a great mystery. How God is able to make us one spirit with Jesus is beyond human knowledge. But this we know: however it is accomplished, it has its beginning in the Cross. The Cross is the starting point of our union with Christ. In the Cross, God sees us in the place of Christ and sees Christ in the place of us. That is to say, in the Cross, all our sinfulness is attributed to Christ, and all His righteousness is attributed to us.
How wonderful for us – but how terrible for Him! Yet this is God’s Way, and the Bible refers to it as identification:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
The Bible never identifies us as being one with Jesus in His preexistence with God, or in His birth, or in His sinless life on earth. But when Jesus submitted to the Cross He indentified with us by taking on our sins and accepting the penalty just the same as if He had sinned Himself. In the same manner, when we submit to the Cross, God identifies us with Christ just the same as if we were sinless. Jesus becomes our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). It does not say that He gives these things to us, it says He is these things to us.
Was Jesus crucified for His sins? No, He was crucified for our sins. Are we now wise, righteous, sanctified, and redeemed because of anything we have done? No, God simply identifies us together with Christ, as if we were crucified together with Him. He loses everything and we gain everything. This is why salvation begins with repentance, surrender, and faith in Christ and His finished work on the Cross. It cannot be accomplished otherwise. What a glorious Lord we have!
Being “In Christ”
You may wonder how this union with Jesus was accomplished. I do not have the answer to that, but I consider it to be so because God says it is so. God placed us in Christ. I do not fully understand how He did this, but I know that He did it, and I thank God for it. The Bible says that “because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:30a). Disciples of Jesus are one with Christ because God has placed us there. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. We may not understand how this can be so, but it is so. We are spiritually one with Christ. This oneness, this union, this partnership and fellowship with Him is the basis of our spiritual life and our walk with God.
Passengers in a commercial airliner must entrust themselves to the plane when they wish to fly somewhere. They place themselves in the jet, and once there, their destiny (for better or for worse) is linked to the plane. If the plane rises to 30,000 feet, the passengers rise also. If the plane crashes, the passengers crash right along with it. When the plane arrives at its destination, the passengers arrive at the exact same moment. Is it possible for the plane to arrive in Seattle but for the passengers on the plane to arrive in Dallas? Or could some of the plane’s passengers arrive in Miami while the rest of the passengers arrive in Denver? Of course not. Is it possible for the plane to arrive one hour or one minute or even one second before or after the passengers arrive? By no means. All the passengers who are in the plane arrive whenever and wherever the plane arrives. In the same way, when God placed us in Christ, He forever linked us to Christ’s death, burial, resurrecti0n, ascension, and being seated in the heavenlies. So God considers us to have been crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, ascended, and seated as well. It cannot be otherwise. So long as we remain in Him (Jn. 15:5) our destinies are linked.
I once placed a $20 bill inside of a book. I then misplaced the book. What happened to the $20 bill? The bill was lost when the book was lost. The bill and the book were linked together because I placed one inside the other. In order to find the bill I had to find the book. Once I found the book, I also found the bill. In like manner, God has placed us in Christ. When Christ was crucified, we were also crucified. When Christ was raised, we were also raised. The two have become one, and what is true of Him is true of all those who are one with Him.
Now, follow me closely here. Before my father married my mother and conceived me, he was in a serious automobile accident. You ask, did he survive the accident? You know very well that he did survive, because I am alive and able to write these words. But had my father died at the age of sixteen, I would have died also, because I was still in my father. His death would have been my death; and not my death only, but also the death of my children, and their children, all the way down the line. We would have all died together with him, having never even lived. But his life, his survival, his overcoming the accident was just as much my life, my survival, and my overcoming. His testimony of life and overcoming death is verified by my life, and the life of my children, and on down the line. Spiritually speaking, this is similar to what God has done for us by placing us in Christ. Christ was crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, ascended, and seated; and since we were in Him when it all happened, God considers it to have happened to us as well. We who are His children now share in the very life of Christ, and each of us bear witness to the resurrection and overcoming of Christ. When God raised Him from the dead, He raised us from the dead as well.
The key to all of this, of course, is to see ourselves in the exact same way that God sees us. We must see that God has made us one with Christ; only then can we say, along with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ” and experience the reality of the fact. Once we see that then it will be very easy to see that we who were crucified with Christ were dead, buried, resurrected, ascended, and seated together with Him also. Tremendous benefits accrue to those who God has made one with Christ, for when we are made one with Him then our spiritual history becomes linked with His. We are “blessed with every spiritual blessing… in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). In ourselves? Never! Only in Him!