Exploring God's Amazing Word
18 Bible Studies on Positive Living in Christ.
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From the book In Christ
by A.J. Gordon, first published in 1872.
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This page Copyright © 1999 Peter Wade
In Christ by Dr. A.J. Gordon
2. Crucifixion In Christ
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless 1 live; yet not 1, but Christ liveth in me (Galatians 2:20).
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin (Romans 6:6).
And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Galatians 5:24).
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It is one of the great principles of Christianity," says Pascal, "that everything which happened to Jesus Christ should come to pass in the soul and in the body of each Christian."|
If by faith I am one with my Redeemer, then that term, "Christ crucified," involves another, "I, crucified with Christ." Hence, we by no means reach the true measure of our inheritance in the cross when we regard the death of Christ as a formal transaction, by which One, nineteen hundred years ago, paid a debt that belonged to us, and thus secured our release from its obligation, we having no other connection with the event than that of recipients of its blessings. Paul saw a richer heritage for the saints than this. For with that key, in Christ, which opens for the believer all the wards of Christian doctrine and life, he lets us into "the fellowship of his sufferings.''
The great thought which filled his mind was his oneness with his Lord -- a oneness not only of the present and the future, but equally of the past. And so he utters those grand but awful words, "I have been crucified with Christ," in which he carries himself back to the cross, and conceives of himself as so identified with the Redeemer that he was with Him in His passion and obedience unto death, sharing by a mysterious fellowship not only the virtue but the endurance of the divine penalty.
And what was true for him is true for all who have come into that condition expressed by the words, "in Christ Jesus."
That the crucifixion took place centuries ago does not separate us from it at all. While as a historical event we assign it to a specific time and place, as a moral event it belongs to all time, and is just as near to us as it was to John or the Marys. "God manifested in the flesh," says Coleridge, "is eternity in the form of time." Christ crucified is an eternal fact realized at a certain date, but touching all time with equal closeness. He is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." In the eye of the I Am, to whom all time is an ever-present now, this central fact of the ages, the crucifixion, is an ever-present reality, and all souls that stand in moral relationship to it, stand so and have stood so forever. Hence, it can matter little to have "known Christ after the flesh." Spiritual union is entirely independent of all conditions of time and space. And in depth of intimacy there can be no difference between the believer of today and those who knew our Lord on earth, since "by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body" (I Corinthians 12:13), and therefore into one death, since "as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death" (Romans 6:3).
How deeply, through the kindredship of the flesh, one could share Christ's crucifixion, we know! That the mother, watching beneath the cross the agonies of her suffering Son, endured in her own heart all the sharpness of His death; that as the soldiers thrust the spear into His side, she knew in her own experience the bitter meaning of the aged Simeon's prophecy, "Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also," we can easily believe. But since we have learned how nearer akin Christ now is to all His brethren by the Spirit, shall there seem to be anything less real in the words of one who, by faith, clasped to his heart the same cross of redemption, saying, "I am crucified with Christ"?
The mystery of that fellowship by which we become sharers in Christ's death, we may not presume to fathom. And yet it seems clear how it must grow out of the terms of the incarnation. Christ, in becoming man, took our humanity into partnership in His sacrificial work. Hence, His death is not something merely made over to mankind as a legacy of love; it is something accruing to it in this partnership of being. But as surely as He must be one with us by incarnation in order to give us part in His dying, so surely must we be one with Him by faith, that we may take part in His dying.
There is an inner and an outer circle of redemption, if we may say so, both having a common center in the cross. The larger describes the limits of a possible and provisional salvation; the smaller, those of an actual and realized salvation. The whole world is comprehended in the one; only those who believe are included in the other: "God who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe" (I Timothy 4:10). The relationship which those in the outer circle hold to Christ is that of members of the human race to its second Head. The relationship which those in the inner circle hold to Him is that of members of the Body of Christ to the Head of the Church. The first relationship renders Christ's redemption provisionally the redemption of every individual of the race; the second renders it actually such to every true believer. So that when the apostle says, "If one died for all, then all died" (II Corinthians 5:14), we under stand his meaning to be that all mankind died potentially in their representative. Such is the blessed provision and stipulation, if we may say so, of the atonement. But while He, who could set no limits to His love, "tasted death for every man," alas, how many refuse to taste His death, and through faith owning themselves one with Him, to taste their own death to sin in His!
As clearly now as we are forbidden by the Scriptures to extend the possibility of a vital and saving union to Christ beyond the boundaries of this inner circle of redemption, so clearly should our faith in the reality of the Christian's oneness with his Lord forbid us to admit such words as nominal and judicial within the limits of this inner circle. Here we are beyond all legal fictions. "We are in Him that is true." And as fully as we believe that His death was real, and no vain proffer, so must we believe that our death in Him was real, since we are members of His Body. The cross deals not with our sins apart from ourselves. It permits us not to lay our transgressions upon the divine victim, and yet stand ourselves afar off, and without personal communion with His sufferings.
In the typical sacrifice, the hands of the offerer were laid upon the head of the offering, and thus was declared the identity of the offerer and the offering. In the antitype, faith lays its hand upon the head of the Lamb of God, not simply that it may thereby transfer guilt to the guilt-bearer, but that it may join in solemn unity of suffering, the sinner and the sin-offering. Thus the judgment of the cross is intensely personal. Not sin only, but nature; not nature only, but personality is there brought to trial. "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him" (Romans 6:6). The nail that pierced the handwriting of ordinances that was against us to blot it out, went deeper, and transfixed also the subjects of those ordinances to inflict on them the penalty it prescribed. And now henceforth we behold Christ and His Church scarred with the same wounds. And they who once could only ask of the Redeemer, "What are these wounds in thy hands?" can now answer their question by showing their own hands and saying, "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus."
While now some reject this heritage of the cross by their denial of Christ, many also by denying Adam's sin deny Christ's death, and thrust it from them! The bitterest repining which the human heart has ever known has been against that utterance of the Spirit, "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19). But may it not be that that solemn law, which makes the fall of one involve the fall of many, is the only law which could make the rising of one to be the rising of many? A common nature ruined would seem even by its overshadowing curse to proclaim the possibility of a common nature redeemed. Who knows whether if men could only have sinned and fallen as separate units, they must not have been restored by separate redemptions? We will not speculate on such a theme. Rather will we joyfully return to what God has revealed, that as in the sin of one "all have sinned" (Romans 5:12), so in the penal death of one "all died" (II Corinthians 5:14). All died! Wonderful words! Christ's death does not supersede ours. It implies and recognizes it, as, in the civil compact, the vote of the representative implies the vote of the people. What Christ did for us, was done by us in the divine reckoning, because done by Him who was of us as Head and surety.
We say Christ died that we might live. In a deeper sense it is true that He died that we might die, might die a death painless to ourselves but satisfying to the law -- a death of such intensity and merit that it should expiate at once the penalty of our sins, instead of requiring an eternity of woe. Oh, blessed privilege! "Ye shall indeed drink of my cup," is a promise realized unto us as well as unto the two disciples. But it is only a cup of blessing to us. He drank the vinegar and gall of pain and agony. He leaves us only the precious wine of consolation. And thus we enter into communion with His sufferings, and become partakers of His death. "If one died for all, then all died." But how differently the One from the all! He bore the pain of death; they bear only the merit of it. He gives infinite worthiness to the act by His divinity; they receive the purchase of the act in their humanity. And yet nothing is deducted from the full assurance that they have died. Such "is the personal initiation into the mystery of sacrifice" which we receive through faith.
We see at once where this blessed fact places us even in perfect reconciliation to a violated law. God has said, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." The soul has sinned, and it has died in Christ. The law has said, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." None have continued in obedience. But Christ hath been "made a curse for us"; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree." Hence, crucified with Christ, we have been accursed in Him. Not one jot or tittle has then passed away from the law, but all has been fulfilled.
How affecting this perfect literalness, this rigid honesty, if we may call it so, in the dealings of our surety with the law! And with what triumphant assurance it enables us to take up and repeat that verdict of our acquittal from condemnation, "He that hath died hath been justified from sin" (Romans 6:7).
But alas, how slow is our faith to enter into the fullness of this Gospel! As that deep hunger for expiation, which the sense of sin begets, begins to gnaw the soul, many seek to appease it by mere self-crucifixion. If not with the scourge and sackcloth of the ascetic, yet with the vinegar and gall of sharp remorse, with the compunctions of a bleeding and unhealed heart, striving to satisfy that law, which, from the soul of man as well as from the statute book of God, proclaims that without the shedding of blood there is no remission. Nothing is more painful to behold than this search for the cross, which ends only in a wounded self, in a conscience that is laying on itself the chastisement of its peace, and in a broken spirit that is striving to heal itself with its own stripes. The Gospel neither demands nor will take any such offering from the sinner. Reversing that well-known sentiment of legalism, its emphatic declaration is:
The cross in thine own heart will never save thy soul,
Here, as everywhere, the Master's words meet us, to call us away from all self-help, "Without me ye can do nothing." As high as the Heaven is above the earth, so far is the distance from the self-crucifixion to crucifixion in Christ.
The cross on Golgotha alone can make thee whole.
How vivid a reflection of his own experience do we find in Luther's pithy comment on these words: "I am crucified with Christ"! "Paul speaketh not here of crucifying by imitation or example; but he speaketh of that high crucifying whereby sin, the devil, and death, are crucified in Christ and not in me. Here Christ Jesus doth all Himself alone. But believing in Christ, I am by faith crucified also with Christ; so that all these things are crucified and dead with me." (Commentary on Galatians).
To pass from the one to the other requires but a single trusting look of faith. But it is to cross "the whole diameter of being" between the spotless Lamb of God and the guilty children of men. That there is a sacrificing of self that is inseparable from the Gospel idea of discipleship is unquestionable. But it is not that which is wrought for obtaining peace with God, but that which grows out of a peace already obtained in the crucified Christ. The whole course of the divine life is from Christ to self, and not from self to Christ. To begin an expiation in one's own sufferings, hoping that it may end in fellowship and union with Christ's sufferings, is not only to transpose, but completely to vitiate the order of grace.
There is nothing of ours, soul, body, or spirit, that is without blemish. And when we understand that our very tears need themselves to be washed in the blood of the Redeemer, and our very penitence to be sanctified in His exceeding sorrow, we shall gladly turn wholly to the perfect offering. And so from that reliance on penance and mortification, which, however sincere, is an obtrusion of self into that realm of sacrifice which Christ alone can fill, and from that searching in a bruised and excruciated conscience for peace, which, however honest, is but an attempt to discover in self that sin-offering which can only be found in the bleeding Lamb of God, how gratefully we turn to Christ crucified as our only true resting place for comfort!
"Let me know that I have repented enough and suffered enough," is the voice of a faith that is still in bondage to law. The voice of a faith that is free is, "Let me hear that Christ died in the stead of sinners, of whom I am chief; that He was forsaken of God, during these fearful agonies, because He had taken my place; that on His cross I paid the penalty of my guilt. Let me hear too that His blood cleanseth from all sin, and that I may now appear before the bar of God, not only pardoned, but innocent. Let me realize the great mystery of the reciprocal substitution of Christ and the believer, or rather their perfect unity, He in them and they in Him, which He has expressly taught; and let me believe that I was in effect crucified on Calvary, and He will in effect stand before the throne in my person; His the penalty, mine the sin; His the shame, mine the glory; His the thorns, mine the crown; His the merit, mine the reward. Verily, thou shalt answer for me, O Lord, my Redeemer. In Thee do I put my trust, let me never be confounded" (Bishop Le Jeune).
Do we ask then what our death in Christ has accomplished for us? What has it not accomplished? Like the flaming sword which drove man out of Paradise, and which turned every way to keep the tree of life, this weapon of redemption with which the Captain of our salvation opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers, presents a destroying edge to every foe that stands across our track.
The world, whose friendship has been our deepest enmity to God, because drawing our best affections and diverting our truest life from Him, is at last overcome. The cross has sundered us from its enslaving bondage. "By whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." Allure us for a season it may; draw us to its pleasures it sometimes will. But from the moment we know ourselves dead with Christ, its tyranny is broken. "How shall we who died to sin, live any longer therein?" (Romans 6:2). To go back to the world from which we have thus been separated, we must despise the cross of our redemption, trampling on the blood of the covenant wherewith we are sanctified, and compelling our Master to retrace the Via Dolorosa of His agony, that we may crucify Him afresh, and put Him to an open shame.
The flesh, warring against the Spirit, violating every truce with conscience, breaking every covenant which we have made with God -- behold, this enemy from whom we cannot flee, has yet received his death wound. Christ put a nail through him when He gave His own body to the smiters. "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." Wounded unto death, yet struggling for his lost dominion, he will never wholly leave us, till the grave closes over him. But in God's reckoning we are even now delivered. "Ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit." Upon our natural and guilt-attainted man, justice has executed his death-warrant, and is satisfied. In words traced by the infallible spirit of truth, we have the record of his decease: "Ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).
When the Judge calls for us now as He did of old for Adam, saying, "Where art thou?" He will no longer seek the living among the dead. Our life, the life of which He now takes cognizance, is hid in Christ. In Him will He find it, and not in the charnel-house of our dead man. What are these evil habits that are still clinging about us, but the relics of that old and crucified nature! What are these sins that pain us and make us cry out with sorrow, but the motions and death throes of that body that has been doomed by the decree of the cross! Confess them sorrowfully and with shame we must; but we may triumphantly own that "they belong to the old man, and we are carrying them to the grave to be buried with their owner."
Even Satan, the head and instigator of all other enemies, has been disarmed and doomed. Christ took on flesh that He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and "deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage."
Rejoice then, O saint, in your rescue from "the Terrible Captain and his standard-bearer." On Calvary, Christ triumphed over death by becoming the victim of death. That eternal terror that was once before you, He by His cross has put forever behind you. It cannot cast one threatening shadow across your path way now. It cannot wring one pang of foreboding agony from your soul. "Death stung itself to death, when it stung Christ." (Romaine) .
Recognizing now the reality of this union with Christ in His death, and the fullness of blessing that grows therefrom, the believer needs to make the truth real to his own experience. Beholding how God has set Christ's death to our account, through our partnership with Him, set it also yourself to your account and take possession of the riches of grace and mercy which are thus made yours. "In that he died, he died unto sin once... Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin."
We will by no means say that this reckoning will be painless. Adam's nature dies hard within us; and before we can own the justice of its sentence, or acquiesce in its condemnation, there will doubtless be wrought within us, by the Holy Spirit, some bitter experimental fellowship with Christ's sufferings. Our sins will find us out, and the death that is by sin. We shall feel the terrible dealing of our Judge with our consciences. There will be strong crying and tears; perhaps the darkness of desertion, the rending of the rocky heart, and the sense of deserved wrath piercing the soul as with a two-edged sword. It may be long before we can yield up the ghost of the natural man and renounce all trust in him forever. But once enabled to account ourselves dead in Him, what a deliverance is ours!
Standing by the cross now, we discern in the gloom and power of darkness that gather round it, that "outer darkness" which had been ours forever out of Christ. In that plaintive "Eloi, Eloi," we hear what had been our cry of despair unanswered forever, except we had been found in Him. In that dreadful rending cry which delivers up the spirit, we own the due reward of our deeds, while confessing that this man hath done nothing amiss. But now all these things are passed forever both for Him and for us, as soon as the, "It is finished," has been spoken. And lo! the foregleams of the resurrection break upon us. The light of a certain and triumphant hope enters our heart. Remembering that we are joined to Him who said, "I lay down my life that I may take it again," we cease from tears and follow Him, saying as we hasten onward, "Now if we be dead with him, we believe that we shall also live with him."
This page Copyright © 1999 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: http://www.peterwade.com/.
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