How Does ‘Christ Live in Me’ (Galatians 2:20)?
Article by John Piper (Pastor John responds to a question)…
Today we have a question about John Piper’s bestselling book Don’t Waste Your Life. And it comes to us from a listener named David. “Hello, Pastor John! Over the years, I have pondered Galatians 2:20. It appears to teach that the person I was in Adam is dead, and the risen Christ is now doing the living in my earthen vessel. Would this be your understanding also, and if so, might it be appropriate to modify your book title to Don’t Waste His Life? In what sense is the life we now live really a calling for his full life to manifest through us and break through our limitations and doubts and fears?” What would you say to David?
Don’t Waste Christ’s Life
I would say, “Yes, yes, yes.” When I say to Christians, “Don’t waste your life,” this means, “Don’t waste Christ’s life.” That is that what I mean, so yes. I didn’t make the connection, so thank you. I didn’t make the connection with Galatians 2:20 like you did, but that is exactly right. Let me read it so people are up to speed with what we’re talking about.
“Being crucified with Christ means that we are no longer slaves of the world. We’re free.”
Paul said, “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 . . .” Notice the paradox there: he says, “I no longer live,” and then he says, “the life I live.” There’s some sense in which he’s not living and Christ is living instead, and another sense in which, “Oh, I am living.” But what does he mean then? He says, “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’s the fundamental truth about a Christian. When we by faith are united to Christ, we are first united to his death. Romans 6:5 says, “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Then, since our old rebellious, unbelieving selves died with Christ, in union with him in his death, we’re made alive by the Spirit to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). David is emphasizing that we think of this newness of life as Christ living through us so that all our life becomes a display of Christ. That’s good. Let’s look at some other texts and see how that works itself out.
Dead to Sin, Alive to God
I’ll stay in Galatians for a moment. We were at 2:20, but let’s go to Galatians 5:24: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” What dies in union with Christ is old passions — old destructive, sinful, Christ-dishonoring desires. That’s how we show Christ now. We have new desires. His desires start to rule.
Then again: “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). Being crucified with Christ means that we are no longer slaves of the world. We’re free.
We’re not just echoing or conforming or mirroring the standards of the world, which means that our sin is broken. Romans 6:7: “For one who has died has been set free from sin.” Paul continues, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). This is how we live the life of Christ. We live in victory over the sin that he died to defeat.
Here’s the positive way of saying it in Romans 6:13: “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members [that is, your arms, legs, and tongues] to God as instruments for righteousness.” I think “instruments for righteousness” is another way of saying “visible manifestations of the way Christ lives righteously in the world.”
Aroma of Christ
Another way Paul says it is that if we suffer for Christ, “[We are] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:10). There it is, real clear: the life of Christ shining out, manifest in our suffering bodies.
“What dies in union with Christ is old passions — old destructive, sinful, Christ-dishonoring desires.”
Still another way is to use the imagery of the aroma of Christ. Paul says, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). We are the aroma of Christ. I think that’s another way of saying that our life is Christ.
When people spiritually smell our ethos, our attitudes, our actions — when they sniff spiritually, what they smell is the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:15). Don’t waste the aroma of Christ which you are.
Another way he talks about it is in 2 Corinthians 3:18. This is how we actually look like Christ: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, the more we see Christ clearly in the word, the more we are changed into his image, and the more our life becomes his life for others to see.
We don’t waste our lives by looking more and more like the world. We try not to waste our lives by looking more and more like Christ, seeing him more clearly, knowing him more deeply, and so coming closer and closer to his image in the world.
Here is one last way Paul talks about our living the life of Christ and not wasting the life of Christ in us: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Then again: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). Or, “Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10).
Paul thinks of Christ as our new uniform, insignia, badge. Put on Christ. What we put on, or wear, as a covering, badge, or insignia not only covers us, but becomes our new identity, our appearance in the world. This appearance of Christ we must not waste.
Way of the Spirit
Maybe one last question: How do we live out this new identity of “not I, but Christ in me”? Just two quick pointers. Galatians 2:20 says that we live it by faith: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” The life I now live I live by faith. The conscious appropriation of the new life is by trusting Christ.
“The more we see Christ clearly in the word, the more we are changed into his image.”
But then Romans 7:4 says, “You also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. . . . [We have] died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:4–6).
In other words, once we thought willpower law-keeping was the key to life, but we died to that. We died to the law in that sense. Now the key is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit way — the way he’s active in us is by faith. This is the new way of the spirit. The sum of the matter is that, when we are saved, we are united by the Spirit to Christ. Our old self — our unbelieving, rebellious, loving-sin self — dies with him.
Our new self is created by the Spirit through faith, and the image of that new self is Christ, Christ himself. From one degree of glory to the next. Yes, David, yes, don’t waste his life; don’t waste Christ’s life in you. It’s good theology, and you can change the title of my book if you want.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.