How would you describe the ultimate priority of your life? What principle knits together the activities of your life into a unified purpose? For Paul, that priority and principle is expressed in his loving challenge to Peter recorded in the epistle to the Galatians: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
This one window into the heart of Paul is the basis of all his life’s efforts as a Christian. For in the integrity of a good conscience and through the working of God’s grace, Saul of Tarsus became a follower of Jesus Christ.
Understanding Paul’s Statement
For years Paul had sought to merit righteousness by works of obedience to the Law. Motivated by the strictest devotion to the traditions of the rabbis, he earned the reputation of one “blameless” (Philippians 3:6). However, after becoming a Christian, he realized how inadequate his efforts had been to earn righteousness before God in this way. For the law that was intended to impart life to him (through perfect obedience) called instead for his death because of sin (Romans 7:10). Indeed through the Law, Paul died to the Law in order that he might live to God (Galatians 2:19). Touched by the love of the Savior who died for him, Paul crucified the old man and freely accepted the righteousness that is “through faith in Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:9). In baptism he began a new life in which Christ lived in him (Romans 6:3ff).
It is this single purpose that forged the many statements we read from Paul’s pen and that defined his attitudes and activities. It was the appeal of all his letters: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14). It was the grounds of his hope for those he taught: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Consequently at Antioch, when some were advocating that conditions of righteousness by the Law be added to the gospel, Paul firmly challenged them all. He reminded them that advocating any other grounds of righteousness implied that Christ died needlessly (Galatians 2:21). Only one thing mattered: “I am crucified with Christ; Christ lives in me”.
Applying the Message to Ourselves
When we clearly see Paul’s earnest desire to be like Christ, we will have discovered not only who Paul was, but also what God has called us all to be. If we are to enjoy Paul’s hope, then we must live his life. We too must come to see the selfless love of the Savior who gave himself up for us. Smitten in heart by the magnitude of our selfishness, we must crucify the old self that the body of sin might be put away from us (Romans 6:6). We must behold with reverence the Spirit-drawn portrait of the glory of the Savior (2 Corinthians 3:18). We must put to death those fleshly inclinations that lead us away from the Lord’s likeness (Romans 8:12–13). We must submit ourselves totally to the Holy Spirit’s commands as the expression of the beautiful character of the Lord (Romans 8:14).
In the most practical terms, the Lord must become the pattern for all our conduct. In every action and thought, we must ask ourselves, “Is this what my Savior would do? Would he go where I am going? Would he say what I am about to say?” And when we do, we will see God’s power working in us day by day, conforming us to “the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). Christ will truly be in us (Romans 8:10). His thoughts will become our thoughts. His deeds will become our deeds. To profess to be a Christian and do otherwise is to miss the whole purpose of our calling.
It was this purpose that permeated the life of Paul and found expression in this wonderful mirror into his heart. May we then in the spirit of Paul’s great affirmation also meaningfully pray, “Oh to be like thee, oh to be like thee, blessed Redeemer, pure as thou art! Come in thy sweetness; come in thy fullness. Stamp thine own image deep on my heart”.
 Felker, J. (1998). “It Is No Longer I Who Live, But Christ Lives In Me”—Galatians 2:20. Christianity Magazine, 15 (1), 14.
From Expository Files 23.12; December 2016