Galatians 5:24-26. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Over the centuries Christians have struggled to understand just how exactly does spiritual growth occur in the Christian life? How are we transformed into the likeness of Jesus? Is it primarily a passive thing? Let go and let God? It’s all of grace? Just believe more? Or, is it primarily an active thing? God helps those who help themselves? Beware of cheap grace? Just obey more?
Is Jesus doing the sanctifying work in our lives alone, or are we actively participating in it with him?
By our union with Christ we are both in Christ and Christ is in us. We’ve already seen in Galatians 2:20 that being in Christ means that we have been crucified with Christ (see day 181). We have been placed into Christ by God’s grace, and we have passively received all the benefits of co-crucifixion with Jesus. The old sin nature has been killed. The power of sin has been broken. The debt of our sin has been nailed to the cross and we bear it no more. This happened TO us. In the past. Once for all time.
But here in Galatians 5:24 we are the ones actively doing the crucifying – those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh. This is written in the past tense, but with a continuous, ongoing result. So like the Roman centurion in the story of Christ’s death, we have begun the crucifixion of our flesh and must see it to completion. Paul doesn’t say we have stabbed, beheaded, or shot the flesh with arrows. These would offer our flesh a quick death. No. We have crucified the flesh.
Crucifixion is slow, torturous, gruesome, and shameful. It’s never easy, and it’s never glorifying to you, only to Christ. And it’s the only way to experience real, lasting spiritual transformation. There is no short cut to spiritual growth. The flesh only responds to the slow death of the cross of Christ. No re-dedication, spiritual experience or enlightenment, or any other quick-fix can ever replace the crucifixion of the flesh. In fact, these things just enliven the flesh and it’s spiritual pride.
At this point you might be thinking that crucifying the flesh sounds like works without grace or faith. But here’s where we must remember this most important gospel truth – we have already been crucified with Christ and Christ lives in us! It’s all of grace. Our old sin nature, the old self, is dead and gone. That part of you died with Jesus on the cross. Sin is no longer the deepest part of you – Christ is. By faith in our union with Christ, we can continue to crucify our flesh (just to be clear – our selfishness not our bodies).
Yes, we have died with Christ, but the flesh still remains. It’s on the cross, and it needs to die. That shallow part of you that is still holding on to old thoughts, old habits, and old desires must continue to be tortured by Christ’s love. All that self-promotion, self-justification, and just good old fashioned selfishness that lives on in your heart must be suffocated by grace. Those desires that oppose the Spirit and keep you running back to law-keeping need another nail of faith pounded in to their hands and feet.
But how? How do we crucify the flesh with its passions and desires?
You can never kill a desire by focusing on the desire. You can’t crucify your flesh by focusing on your flesh. Rather, we must focus on the Spirit – If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. The only way to defeat a fleshly desire is by walking in step with the desires of the Spirit (see day 187).
“In step” is a military term. We are marching to the cadence of the Spirit of Christ. Moment by moment. Day by day. Step by step. Trusting. Abiding. Constantly depending on him and his great love for you to direct your next response, your next choice, your next movement.
Because Christ loves me I will ___.
“To live is Christ” means your old sin nature is dead and gone, and yet the remaining selfish flesh inside of you is still hanging on the cross. Now every day we must continue crucifying the flesh and its selfish desires. Not by focusing on the desires of the flesh, but by keeping in step with the desires of the Spirit. The desire for Christ and the desires of Christ that now flow out of our grace filled lives as we live by faith.
Have you seen your Christian life as mainly passive or active? How should it be both?
Christ in you
Are you actively crucifying the flesh and its desires by faith? Faith in your co-crucifixion with Christ.
Christ in you
Are you in step with the Spirit and his love? What might that look like today specifically?
Playlist: Songs of the crucified flesh.