What It Means to Be a Christian

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  • 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


    Galatians 2:20 is the best-known and most-quoted verse in Galatians. It is one of the great statements of the apostle Paul recorded in the New Testament. This mystical statement is a clear explanation of what it means to be a Christian.

    Christianity is more than dissent to a doctrinal statement. It is more than obedience to a moral code of conduct. It is more than the practice of rituals of worship. Christianity is Christ and Christ is God. To be a Christian is to have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity is faith in Christ, love for Christ, and obedience to Christ. But it is more than that. Christianity is a life of spiritual union with Christ.

    The Christian shares the personal, intimate, mystical testimony of Paul in Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ. Christ lives in me. I live by faith in the Son of God.”

    What does it mean to be a Christian?


    I Am Saved by the Death of Christ.


    Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” This is first a statement about Christ. Jesus was crucified. His death on the cross was “a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). But Jesus was crucified as a religious nonconformist to the Jews or political nuisance to the Romans. Christ died on the cross as our substitute (Isaiah 53:4-6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18).

    Jesus was nailed to the cross. The charges against him were nailed to the cross (John 19:19-22). Our sin-debt was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). And the believer was nailed to the cross. Paul’s personal testimony is the truth of every Christian. We have been crucified with Christ. This is not an exhortation to live a cross-bearing life. It is a declaration of the believer’s standing before God in Christ. The penalty for our sin was fully paid by the blood of Jesus. There are many ways to commit suicide. Crucifixion is not one of them. So it is with salvation. We are saved by the death Christ died, not the life we live.


    I am Changed by the Life of Christ.


    Likewise, Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” As a result of being crucified with Christ, Paul claims he is no longer alive. Of course, Paul was a live to write these words. But the “old Paul” was dead and gone, crucified with Christ. Paul had been transformed from a self-centered life to a Christ-centered life. It was no longer Paul who lived. Christ now lived in him.

    This statement is an affirmation of the resurrection of Christ: “Christ lives.” The one who died on the cross rose from the dead. But the resurrection of Christ is not just a historical fact. It is a spiritual reality at work in every Christian: “Christ lives in me.” Christians do not live our out faith by the imitation of Christ. We live out our faith by the incarnation of Christ. The essence of Christianity is the believer’s union with Christ. We live in him, and he lives in us. Christianity is not merely a legal matter of justification by faith alone. It is a personal experience of transforming grace by the indwelling presence of the Life-Giver King.


    I am Free by the Work of Christ.


    Finally, Paul says, “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.” Paul declared himself dead. But then he states that he lives in the flesh. This is no contradiction. It is a new reality. The person Paul used to be no longer lived. Christ now lives in him. Yet Paul continued to live in the flesh. He was a real person who lived in the real world. But his had reality changed. He now lived by faith in the Son of God.

    The theme of Galatians is the believer’s freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1). But freedom is not free (Galatians 5:13). We are free in Christ from our bondage to guilt. But we are not free from the duty of obedience. The difference is that we do not live obediently to merit approval. We are justified by faith in the finished work of Christ. Christians live by faith, not works. Our faith is in the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are free, because the Son of God loved us and gave himself for us. John 3:16 tells us God so loved us that he gave his only Son for us. Galatians 2:20 tells us the Son of God loved us and gave himself for us. The one who loved us continues to love us. The one who gave himself for us continues to give himself to us. Christ the Son of God is worthy of our faith, devotion, worship, and obedience, and service!



    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.