The story is told of a child in a church service who was intrigued by the hymn, “Gladly, the Cross I’d Bear”. Some time following church, the little one told his mother that he really liked the song they sang about the bear. “What song did we sing about a BEAR?” she asked. The child responded, “You remember, “Gladly, the Cross-eyed Bear”! Hopefully, his mom enlightened him…
Perhaps we may have been a bit confused about the various facets of the Cross. Andrew Murray noted two fundamental aspects of the Cross. First, Christ died for us–that is the REDEMPTION of the Cross: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).
Second, believers died with Christ–this is the FELLOWSHIP of the Cross: “I have been crucified with Christ; 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 gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
How does the fellowship of the Cross relate the tendency to sin–“the flesh”? Galatians 5:24 states “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” In other words, because the believer is united with Christ, THE AUTHORITY OF THE FLESH HAS BEEN BROKEN! We are free!
Now consider two questions arising from Galatians 5:24. First, Does this verse teach that the flesh is no longer present in the believer? Answer: No. The context indicates that the believer needs to “walk in the Spirit” to avoid the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:13,16,17). However, the “old man” (our unregenerate human spirit) was crucified with Christ and IS NO LONGER IN THE PICTURE because it was replaced with “the new man” (the regenerate human spirit). See Romans 6:6, Colossians 3:9,10, and 2 Corinthians 5:17 .
Second, Does Galatians 5:24 teach that the believer somehow is to directly crucify his flesh? A closer look indicates that this crucifixion of the flesh is a consequence of our union with Christ at salvation. Our part was to repent and believe; God’s part was to unite us with Christ and BREAK THE AUTHORITY OF SIN in our lives (See John 8:32).
The believer’s indirect “crucifixion of the flesh” is comparable to the indirect use of “save” found in 1 Corinthians 9:22. Paul wrote, “To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Here Paul aims to “save some” through his preaching of the gospel. Would Paul directly save them? No; God would save them through Paul’s witness. Similarly, believers “have crucified the flesh” indirectly as a consequence of being united with Christ: “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Cor. 6:17). So through Christ, THE AUTHORITY OF THE FLESH BEEN NULLIFIED BY GOD!
This truth is also taught in Colossians using the symbolism of circumcision:
“And you are complete in Him [Christ], who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:10-12).
Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of the covenant relationship with God. It conveyed the idea of putting off the sin inherited from Adam, and anticipating the promised Seed who would come–Christ (Gal. 3:16). Those who are redeemed by Him are spiritually “circumcised.” As the prophet foretold, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer. 31:33). When we walk in the Spirit we are living in accordance with our “new heart.”
There is a different facet of overcoming our sin-prone flesh that is described in Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you PUT TO DEATH the deeds of the body, you will live.” Charles Solomon explains, “When flesh is in the ascendancy or control we are functionally (though not organically) separated from the Source of Life which results in a STATE of death (Rom. 8:6) while having a STANDING of Life (Col. 3:4).” In other words, if the believer “walks according to the flesh” he does not lose his salvation, but he does hinder fellowship with God. Fleshly thoughts and actions grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). This “putting to death” of the deeds of the flesh differs from the FACT of our co-crucifixion with Christ and the blessings that flow from it (as described above). Paul exhorts us in Romans 8:13 to apply the Cross for victory over the flesh patterns that still exist remain with us in our mortality.
- Our POWER SOURCE for this victory is the Holy Spirit: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies [for holy living] through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).
- OUR STRATEGY is to set our minds on the truth, on our freedom, on Christ, and on the Spirit’s active ministry in us: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5).
A final reference to the fellowship of the Cross is Luke 9:23: “Then He (Jesus) said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Here our Savior calls us to say “no” to our independent will and “yes” to God’s will–no matter how difficult the consequences. The Lord Jesus demonstrated this commitment in His prayer in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36).
Are we gladly willing to bear His Cross? This involves reckoning our true identity and freedom in Christ. Thankfully, we can rely on His Resurrection life in us to live according to God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will. This is the life God calls us to live–a life without regrets.
Our gracious God, we thank you for the freedom from the authority of the flesh that is our birthright in Christ. As we stand in grace, we choose to live by grace. In Christ’s victory we pray, amen.
Andrew Murray, Daily Secrets of Christian Living (ed Al Bryant), Aug 1
Charles Solomon, The Ins and Outs of Rejection, Solomon Publications, p.150.151.
Copyright 1999 by John B. Woodward. Second edition. Permission is granted to reprint this article for con-commercial use if credit is given to the author and GraceNotebook.com.