Nailed to the Cross with Christ: The Secret of Victorious Living

Dr. Brian Allison

I want to share with you the secret for living the victorious Christian life. Now, no doubt, you have heard this kind of language at different times, and on various occasions; and maybe this language sounds canned and trite because you have heard it so often. But I think the language is relevant and serviceable; and I think this truth is the desire and thirst of many Christian hearts. The secret is not profound; it is very simple. The problem is that we have difficulty accepting and believing it. I want to share with you not only the secret for living the victorious Christian life, but also the secret, or the answer, for mental health, emotional stability, and living a fulfilled life. Now, this proposal may sound presumptuous and an overstatement, but it is true.

I have been counselling for about 17 years. I have taught counselling courses at seminary. I have done extensive reading in different psychotherapies and various psychologies; and for all that, the truth that I share in this message is more effective in promoting mental health, emotional stability, and a fulfilled life than any other that I have come across. Recently I spoke to a group of aspiring pastors, and I made reference to this very truth, and I said to these men, "If there is one truth that I could leave with you as a legacy, that you could take into your personal Christian life, as well as into the ministry which God will assign to you, so that you may be successful both in your personal Christian life and in your ministry, it is this truth." In being asked to address a group of university students a short while ago, it was this same truth that I felt compelled to share with them. In one sense, when it comes to sanctification, I know of no other truth more important than the one I present in this message. If we really understand this truth, if we can really grasp it, and enter into it, we will know victorious Christian living.

Nailed to the cross with Christ

This truth is found in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." I heard a testimony of a university student recently, and she said that when she was witnessing to some others on the campus, the question of the nature of Christianity came up in the conversation; and the person to whom she was witnessing basically affirmed that Christianity merely consists of a set of rules – a list of do and don'ts. And she challenged this particular person concerning the true nature of Christianity. What is the nature of your Christianity? What is your Christianity all about? What is its essence, its substance, its heart? What does your Christian experience consist of?

Notice what Galatians 2:20a says, "I have been crucified with Christ." Let me alter the language, not changing the meaning or the sense, so that we can appreciate what is being essentially communicated. We can translate this language as follows, "I have been nailed to the cross with Christ." Think about that for a moment. I hope you realize that I am not being sacrilegious in phrasing it this way. This is a profound statement. At a point in time, every true believer was nailed to the cross with Christ. Notice that the perfect tense is used – that is, the action is something that has happened in the past which continues to have present effect or relevancy. The apostle Paul does not say, "I am being nailed to the cross," or "I will be nailed to the cross," rather he says, "I have been nailed to the cross," and the reality of that crucifixion should continue to be realized and experienced. Notice further that the passive voice is used here – that is, this action was performed on us. You did not nail yourself to the cross, but another one did. Who nailed you to the cross? God.

This language of crucifixion with Christ infers a mystical union. We have not been simply positionally or objectively crucified with Christ, but rather, we have been spiritually crucified with Him. Through this mystical union, we are spiritually identified with Christ, to the extent that what happened to Christ is reckoned to have happened to us. By an act of faith in believing that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, we became nailed to the cross with Him. In a very real sense, we were transported back in history, in the mind of God, to the time when Christ hung on the tree; and we spiritually hung on the tree with Him, being mystically 'in Him'. So, at the point of our conversion, we died – God Himself nailed us to the tree.

When Paul says, "I have been crucified," he is not referring to his psychological "I" or self, nor is he is referring to his existential "I" or self – the fact that he exists and has self-consciousness. But rather, he is referring to his ethical "I" or self-his self-centred life; his fallen, sinful nature. Notice, therefore, Galatians 5:24, "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified [again, it is referring to a past act] the flesh [the sinful, self-life] and its passions and desires." At the point of conversion, in being nailed to the cross, our selfish passions and our self-centred desires were nailed there too – the desire for wealth, prestige, reputation, power, unwholesome sex, fame, recognition, greatness, etc. Everything that drove you, that motivated you, to live for yourself was nailed to the cross, and must remain there. Now, here is the mystery: Only in so far as we understand, appreciate, and accept this truth – personally appropriate it – will the power of this truth be revealed in our lives. It is in believingly realizing this truth that we are experientially set free. Again, Galatians 6:14 reads, "But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." The world should no longer have a hold on us, we should no longer be attracted by its allurements. The pleasures of this world should no longer have a controlling influence. Why? We are spiritually dead to it.

The parallel passage of Galatians 2:20 is Romans 6:6,7, "Knowing this [it is a fact, it is indisputable], that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin [these physical instruments in which is the power and dominion of sin in our fallen state, which is the instrument by which we commit particular sins] might be done away with [become completely ineffectual], that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin." I suggest to you that we are not simply looking at freedom from sin in an objective, judicial sense, but also in a subjective, experiential sense. Yes, we have been acquitted, but this text is saying more than that. If we have died to the self-life, having been nailed to the cross with Christ, then it logically follows that we have been actually freed from sin. When Christ hung on the tree, He died to sin once and for all; and we are reckoned to have died to sin in Him. We are Christ's freed persons. We are free from sin – from sin's bondage, dominion, power, and principle. Even though we live in these 'clay tabernacles' and thus are still confronted with the presence and vestiges of sin, we have indeed died to sin when we died in Christ on the cross. And again, unless you believe this truth, unless you personally appropriate it you will not experience the power of it.

Alive with Christ

The finality of spiritual death issues into the fullness of spiritual life. We read, "And it is no longer I who live [that self-life has been obliterated; I no longer pursue my own goals, aspirations, happiness, etc.], but Christ lives in me" (Ga. 2:20b). Again, we are confronted with experiential language. In being mystically engrafted into Christ, and knowing spiritual identification, not only are we fully and completely identified with Him in His death, but we are fully and completely identified with Christ in His life. We died to self that we might live to God; and having died to ourselves, we are now free to know the fullness of the Christ-life. Through dying to self, Christ lives in us by His Spirit. It is the Spirit who mystically connects us with Christ and spiritually opens up to us all the blessings to be found in Him.

The reality of Christ's life is realized through faith – "And the life which I now live in the flesh [i.e., bodily existence] I live by faith in the Son of God" (Ga. 2:20c). The better translation of this phrase is "in the faith of the Son of God," not "by the faith in the Son of God." Faith is the sphere in which we now function; it is the context in which we move. There is no other response required from us – not our personal works, nor our personal effort, nor our personal striving. Faith is to be our life-principle; and as we live by the life-principle of faith, we will know the life-power of the indwelling of Jesus Christ. So, faith must be the only response. Why? We are spiritually dead to self. We were nailed to the cross and the only thing in us should be the Christ-life; and thus the only response to that Christ-life, that we might know its fullness, must be faith. We are called to simply trust; we are called to simply rest. We are called to simply believe and accept God's Word. We are simply to open ourselves up to the Christ-life so that we might come to experience the reality that we do not say anything but what we first hear the Father saying, and we do not do anything but what we first see the Father doing. That was the very life of Christ; and I am suggesting to you that this extraordinary life is open to us. I am so bold to say this because of the astounding reality that Christ Himself is indeed living in us. My friend, He does not simply give us life, He is our life. Again, unless you understand and accept this truth, you will not experience and enjoy the power of it. John 15:4f. presents the metaphor of Christ as the vine and us as the branches, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing." Absolutely nothing! The only spiritual good you can produce is that which Christ reveals, that which Christ performs, that which Christ creates, that which Christ gives. Any spiritual fruit we may produce is simply the demonstration of His life in us, and through us, in accordance with the response of faith.

Now, even this faith response is of God; and we should not be surprised – "And the life which I now live in the flesh I live [in] faith [of] the Son of God" (Ga. 2:20c). The faith belongs to Christ. He must give it; He must communicate it. All that we have is of Christ, even our faith. The peace that you experience is Christ's peace. Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful" (Jn. 14:27). His joy is our joy. Jesus says, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full" (Jn. 15:11). Our self-control is His self-control, our wisdom is His wisdom, our kindness is His kindness, our love is His love. We read, for instance, "Because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rm. 5:5). What I am saying is that everything, absolutely everything, that we can express and reveal in terms of spiritual living is all of Christ; and we will know the fullness of the Christ-life simply by the response of faith. In really believing that Christ's life is our life, in that very act of true faith, we will have Him; He will make Himself known; and we will live on a different plain – free from worry, fear, impatience, reaction, etc.

This life is open to anyone – child, teenager, adult, senior citizen; and we would expect it to be open to anyone. My friend, this path is not too difficult, nor is it far away from any one of us. It is near, even in our hearts, because that is where Christ is. I want to suggest to you (and I say this reverently) that the Christ-life wants out. Christ wants to be revealed in you, and through you, in all His glory and His power. It is interesting that we have that title "Son of God" used as the agent of this faith (and all blessing), emphasizing His deity, and underscoring His infinite, inexhaustible power.

From death to life

Faith fastens primarily on the love of our Saviour, a love which moved Him to give Himself up for us in death on the cross to atone for our sins – "Who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (2:20d). Christ loved you, my believing friend. He wanted the best for you, and as a result He died for you – "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (Jn. 15:13). Jesus says, "You are My friends, if you do what I command you" (Jn. 15:14). That, again, is the faith response. Christ died for us – that is the ground and the possibility of this experience of the Christ-life within us.

Is Christ indwelling you? How do you know that He is indwelling you? What is the nature of your Christianity? We know that Christ is indwelling us, we know the power of that life, only in so far as we know the reality of being nailed to the cross. There is no life without a prior death; there is no crown without a cross. Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal" (Jn. 12:24,25). This is what God has done for us. He has given us everything, absolutely everything, for life and godliness (see 2 Pe. 1:3). He "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3b). Now, the question may be this for you: Why have you not entered into this? Why are you not now enjoying this? God has already done this for us. I submit to you that it may be that you have not really appropriated Christ's death. Even though God has already nailed us to the cross, we must reckon ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (see Rm. 6:11) before we can know the full joy of this blessed truth.

In so far as we have died, we shall live; and in our living through the 'hearing of faith', we shall be made perfect by the Spirit. The Spirit reveals Himself in the context or sphere of faith. Faith hears and responds to spiritual realities, and thus receives; but unless you are dead (and here is the paradox), you cannot hear. When we truly die, God commands us to live. He gives us His own Spirit that we might have His ears to hear in order that we may fully live.

If you have understood what you have read, if you have realized the truth of this message, and if, with the help of God, you have embraced this truth, you will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, victorious Christian living – no more self-centred struggles; you will be resting. People who are resting, of course, are not struggling. People who are abiding are not fighting. They are no longer on an emotional roller coaster, going up and down. They are simply resting, and that is what I offer you. I am calling you to a life of absolute surrender, complete dependency upon God, which is the life of faith. Faith is simply being wholly and completely dependent upon Christ for everything, and realizing that He is your everything; that you can do nothing of eternal good or profit apart from Him. And in that dependency, God will reveal to you all that He is, and all that you can be in Christ.