“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).
There is an explicit paradox in this verse. “I have been crucified,” but “I now live.” But you might say, “That’s not paradoxical, it’s just sequential. First I died with Christ; then I was raised with him and now live.” True. But what about these even more paradoxical words: “It is no longer I who live,” yet “I now live”? Do I live or don’t I?
Paradoxes are not contradictions. They just sound that way. What Paul means is that there was an “I” who died, and there is a different “I” who lives. That’s what it means to become a Christian. An old self dies. A new self is “created” or “raised.” “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “When we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him” (Ephesians 2:5-6).
The aim of the death of Christ was to take our “old self” with him into the grave and put an end to it. “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing” (Romans 6:6). If we trust Christ, we are united to him, and God counts our old self as dying with Christ. The purpose was the raising of a new self.
So who is the new self? What’s different about these two selves? Am I still me? The verse at the beginning of this chapter describes the new self in two ways: One way is almost unimaginable; the other is plain. First, it says that the new self is Christ living in me: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” I take this to mean that the new self is defined by Christ’s presence and help at all times. He is always imparting life to me. He is always strengthening me for what he calls me to do. That’s why the Bible says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). “I toil . . . with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29). So when all is said and done the new self says, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me” (Romans 15:18).
That’s the first way Galatians 2:20 speaks of the new self: a Christ-inhabited, Christ-sustained, Christ-strengthened me. That’s what Christ died to bring about. That’s what a Christian is. The other way it speaks of the new self is this: It lives by trusting Christ moment by moment. “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.”
Without this second description of the new self, we might wonder what our part is in experiencing Christ’s daily help. Now we have the answer: faith. From the divine side, Christ is living in us and enabling us to live the way he teaches us to live. It’s his work. But from our side, it’s experienced by trusting him moment by moment to be with us and to help us. The proof that he will be with us and will help us do this is the fact that he suffered and died to make it happen.
*This is taken from John Piper’s book “The Passion of Jesus Christ,” which was later released under the name “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die.” Please visit Desiring God’s Website for more gospel-centered resources from John Piper. You can also download a free PDF of “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die” here.