The Dimensions of the Cross, Part 2


Not only has Christ died for us, but believers have died with Christ! This is like the width of the Cross–it reaches every aspect of our nature. When I first learned about this I wondered, How could I have died with Christ 2,000 years ago, when I wasn’t born until the 20th century?

Consider first what this doesn’t mean.

First, this union does not mean that we were pre-existent. We were not personally present like the thief on the Cross (Luke 23:40).

Second, many teach that our co-crucifixion with Christ was only positional. This is compared to our justification, in which God declares us righteous based on the merits of Christ’s righteousness and sacrifice. (Justification relates to our position–our righteous standing before a holy God–Rom. 5:1). Similarly, some would see our death with Christ as only positional. However, it is more than positional–it is also spiritual and experiential.

Our spiritual union with Christ has many wonderful and radical implications. Consider four of them. As 1 Corinthians 6:17 declares, “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” What are the implications of this spiritual union?

A. We were united to Christ in His death.
As Paul wrote, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him …”; “For you died… you have put off the old man …”; “I have been crucified with Christ …” (Rom. 6:6; Col. 3: 3,9; Gal. 2:20). Our union with His death means that we have been taken out of Adam’s line and placed into Christ’s line. We have become something we were not before! Through co-crucifixion with Christ, the believer is severed from the condemnation of the law! (Rom. 8:1).

B. We were united with Christ in His burial.
“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death” (Rom. 6:4). And Colossians 2:12 states that believers were, “buried with Him in baptism…” Through co-burial with Christ, the believer is severed from the authority of sin. The sin principle no longer has dominion over us! (Rom. 6:6,11,14,18,22).

Jessie Penn-Lewis emphasized that our death with Christ set us free from sin’s authority:

“‘Our old man was crucified with Him’ is the message of Calvary to the fallen sinner, and is the secret of deliverance from the bondage of sin. All who were baptized into Christ ‘were baptized into His death.’ Through ‘baptism into death’ they were buried into His grave for the express purpose ‘that like as Christ was raised from the dead’ they might look upon His cross and grave as a great gulf fixed between them and their past, and with the Risen Christ emerge to ‘walk in newness of life.’… Sin has no longer a claim to reign–its tyranny is over.” [1]

C. We were united to Christ in His resurrection.
“If [since] then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is … you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). Through co-resurrection with Christ, the believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, made a partaker of the life of God, and grafted into the True Vine (Eph. 1:13; 1 John 5:9-11; John 15:1-5; Rom. 5:10).

Not only were we severed from sin’s penalty and power, we have a new life source through Christ Who indwells us. Evan Hopkins wrote in his, Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life:

“A bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Regeneration is essential in order that the fruit should be good. But the new nature is not the source. There is only one source of all holy living: there is only one holy life. ‘From Me is thy fruit found (Hosea 14:8). [Christ affirms] ‘I am the life,’ not simply because I am the pattern of perfect life, or because I am the bestower of the gift of life, nor yet because I am the vital principle itself. Christ is the Spring itself. ‘With Thee is the fountain of life’ (Psalm 36:9). It is Christ living within us. ‘Not I,’ says the apostle, though I am redeemed. ‘Not I,’ though I am regenerate, and have eternal life. “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Gal. 2:20).” [2]

Friend, voice Paul’s biblical prayer for the Holy Spirit’s illumination about this (Eph. 1:18,19).

D. We have ascended with Christ.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7). Through co-ascension with Christ we are partakers of Christ’s authority to accomplish the Father’s will!

Romans 5:12-21 unfolds a profound series of parallels between the headship of Adam and the headship of Christ. We sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12) yet (through the new birth) are made righteous in Christ (Rom. 5:18). Adam’s sin brought spiritual death to his descendants; Christ’s redemptive work has brought spiritual life to His people (Rom. 5:15,17). Adam’s fall brought misery and bondage; Christ’s redemption brought us salvation and victory: “…where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20,21). Just as you were not personally present in Eden, yet “sinned in Adam” (inheriting an Adamic, dead spiritual nature), so–as a true believer– you were “crucified with Christ” (partaking of Christ’s living spiritual nature) by virtue of your union with Christ (1 Pet. 1:4; 2 Cor. 5:17)!

We see glimpses of God’s renewing power in creation. For example, the caterpillar “dies” to its identity and nature as a crawling, fuzzy, earth bound, plant-munching, local insect when it goes through its metamorphosis. From the cocoon emerges a creature with a changed identity–a butterfly! This insect has beautiful colors, can fly, consumes a different diet, and can migrate hundreds of miles! This is a picture of the transforming power of our death with Christ: “…we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died … Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:14b,17).

According to Romans 7:22, our new nature, “delights in the law of God in the inner man.” So the apostle John indicated that sin no longer springs from our new, regenerate spirit: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin [from his spirit], for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).[3]

Then why do we still need to resist the temptation to sin? (James 1:14; 3:2). The nemesis is the “flesh” (not the “old man”): “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another…” (Gal. 5:17) [4]. Yet, our resource for victory over the flesh is the power of the Holy Spirit: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

To gain practical benefit from these truths, we must “reckon” them personally true by faith (Rom. 6:11). However, knowing precedes reckoning. Watchman Nee pointed out the need for claiming this assurance by faith: “Praise the Lord, when He [Christ] died on the Cross, I died with Him. He not only died in my stead, but he bore me with Him to the Cross, so that when He died I also died. And if I believe in the death of the Lord Jesus, then I can believe in my own death just as surely as I believe in His.” [5]

A Traditional Spiritual, titled, “Were You There?” asks,

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?…
Sometimes it causes me to tremble…
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?…
Were you there when they pierced Him in the side?…
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?…
Were you there when He rose up from the dead?…
Sometimes I feel like shouting glory!”

In light of our spiritual union with Christ, by faith we can answer yes! We were positionally and spiritually crucified with Christ. We tremble with awe at the significance of this liberating fact. It should make us shout, “glory!”

Part 2 of 4

To align with the Four Phases of Discipleship Counseling chart, we have designated the cross of Victory as third dimension and Discipleship as 4th]-12/2019

[1] Jessie Penn-Lewis, The Cross of Calvary, (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade), p.26-27.

[2] Evan H. Hopkins, The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1991), p.109-110.

[3] Cf. David C. Needham, Alive for the First Time, (Multnomah, 1995), p.120-123, discussing “essential selfhood” [which is the human spirit] in 1 John 3:9.

[4] Definitions: “Old Man” refers to one’s condition in Adam before salvation as identified by the unregenerate human spirit. “New Man” the believer’s new condition in Christ as identified by the regenerate human spirit, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9).
“Flesh” is the residual depravity in the mortal body that has been conditioned by living in a fallen world. It includes the old tendencies (beliefs, values, identity messages, coping mechanisms etc.) acquired through living independently of God. It is sin-stained (by depravity from Adam) and sin-trained (from each person’s life experiences and choices – Romans 7:18). see www.Grace “definitions
[5] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, (London: Victory Press, 1963), p.35

Copyright 2001 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint for noncommercial use if credit is given to the author and Biblical quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (copyright by Thomas Nelson).

Honorable Mention

In the booklet The Secret of Christ our Life, Andrew Murray “Briefly yet eloquently, Murray teaches that our lives and faith are strengthened when we persistently pursue God. The Secret of Christ Our Life contains one month of daily selections that reveal the importance of Christ not only being for us, but also being in us.”

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