Galatians 2: 20a I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me
I have fond memories of growing up playing pick up sports behind my house. The high school was in my backyard, which included a baseball diamond, soccer field and parking lot for street hockey. For a sports nut kid, it was heaven. From the second I got home from school until the sun went down, my life was sports. One thing we would always do is imitate our sports heroes. If playing baseball, I’d probably be Reggie Jackson; if it was soccer I was Franz Beckenbauer, and if it was hockey, I’d be Wayne Gretzky. All kids who played sports have similar stories and each will have their own sports heroes who they imitated. While I could imitate a few of my heroes’ moves, no one would ever confuse me for a professional player. It made for lots of fun for us kids, but it really wasn’t more than a very sad imitation.
In a devotional, “Identified or Simply Interested?”, Oswald Chambers wrote: “Paul said, ‘I have been crucified with Christ….’ He did not say, ‘I have made a determination to imitate Jesus Christ,’ or, ‘I will really make an effort to follow Him’ —but— ‘I have been identified with Him in His death.’”
I think we as Christians often make the common mistake of trying to be like Jesus. On the surface that sounds like an admirable goal, but the reality is we will always fall short. How do we imitate the perfect God of the universe? Yes, while Jesus walked on the earth he was fully man, but he was also fully God. The reality is we can’t do it adequately. And God does not call us to simply imitate him because that would be setting us up for failure. God calls us to do something far more radical, he calls us to identify with him.
The book of Galatians is quite interesting. It is Paul’s letter sent to the Christians in that region. Most in Galatia had likely been first converted to the Christian faith by Paul’s ministry years earlier. Since Paul had left the region to continue on his missionary journey, Judaizers (Jewish Christians who believed certain ceremonial practises of the Old Testament, like circumcision, were still required for non-Jewish believers) had infiltrated the churches in Galatia. These Judaizers argued that Paul was not an authentic apostle and that he had only removed ceremonial laws to make Christianity more appealing to Gentiles.
In Paul’s letter, he attacks these accusations head on, and in Galatians 2 he even calls out the early church “pillar” Peter. He found Peter (a Jew by birth) was withdrawing from the Gentiles so Paul “opposed him to his face” (vs. 11), pointing out his hypocrisy. What made Paul so angry? Paul was livid because the gospel says we are not justified by works, but by faith (Romans 5:1). He questioned why they were returning to what they once were (Galatians 2:18)? Paul then writes one of the most beautiful and powerful verses in the Bible: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;” (Gal. 2:20).
We will never have the power to adequately imitate Christ. While Ephesians 5:1 calls us to be “imitators of God”, it can only happen if we recognize Jesus in us. “Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5b). The Holy Spirit lives in us and transforms us, and we become more like Jesus not because of imitation, but because of impartation. If you choose to be crucified with Christ, then you will be able to look back 5 years or even 1 year and say: “I am not the man or woman I was, because the Holy Spirit dwelling in me is sanctifying me, so that Jesus is becoming more evident in my life.”