A remarkable revolution takes place when a person is converted. I will never tire of reflecting upon the conversion of Saul of Tarsus that day on Straight Street in Damascus. After he met the Lord Jesus Christ, the activistic antagonist had atonement applied, and the archpersecutor became the Apostle Paul. All his sinful desires and shameful acts – the approval of Stephen’s stoning, the persecution of Christians, the Pharisaical pride – these things, and much more, were put to death in the death of Christ. He put it succinctly years later: “I have been crucified with Christ.” But his very next words were, and are, just as stunning: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20a). The old man had gone, and the new had most certainly come. Meeting the Lord Jesus was the most important thing that had happened, or would ever happen, in his life.
Now, what does it mean to no longer live, but to have Christ living in you? It cannot be understood in physical terms. When we are converted we continue breathing, and the ascended Christ continues reigning from his heavenly throne. It seems to me that Paul is speaking about the deep and abiding union with Christ we receive by faith and by virtue of the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere he says that we are united to Christ in his life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and even his heavenly session. Thus, Martin Luther once commented on the Apostle Paul’s language in Galatians, and said that Christ adorns our faith as colour or light adorns a wall. It is an inescapable reality that the ‘I’ of a converted man or woman can never be separated from the ‘Thou’ of Christ. Everywhere you and I go, Christ goes before us.
This remarkable truth of our union with Christ has plenty of implications for us. One of the most important is embedded in Paul’s next words: “And 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” (Gal 2:20b). That is, living by faith means a certain self-effacing and Christ-focused stance throughout the converted life. Consider Paul’s own ministry. Jews demanded signs, and Greeks sought wisdom, but Paul preached Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23-24). He did not proclaim himself but Jesus Christ as Lord (2 Cor 4:5). In fact, Paul counted everything as a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Phil 3:7-11). It is little wonder he summed up this stance in the memorable words: “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).
If that is living by faith for Paul (or at least scratching the surface of it), what might we say about living by faith for ourselves? Well, living by faith in Christ Jesus impacts our vision for life and ministry in two major ways: commendation of Christ and comfort in Christ. On the one hand, we have a responsibility to commend Christ high above ourselves. In our preaching and teaching, in our marketing and promotion, in our marriages, our service of others, and our generosity. In all these ways, and more, there is a relativising of ourselves and a lauding of the Lord required. On the other hand, we can revel and rejoice in our inseparable identification with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. When we are mistreated, misrepresented, or even misunderstood, we may take comfort in our union and communion with Christ. When ministry is hard and feels joyless, when we cannot humanly see the way ahead, when we feel like giving up and finding something easier to do – we may find deep comfort in Christ, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross and scorned its shame. We may rejoice as we follow in his footsteps and participate in his suffering.
The articles within the present ACR Journal are aligned with this vision: to see Christ clearly commended, and to see men and women take comfort and rejoice in him. We truly wish to see the name of Christ exalted and lifted high, we deeply desire to see myriad men and women raised up for Christian ministry, and we earnestly desire to see countless Australians converted. Why? Because we know the revolution which takes place in the soul of a converted man or woman, and we believe that the essence of the converted life is simply this: “not I, but Christ.” Oh, that the Lord would revolutionise the souls of the Sauls in our city of Sydney, that the name of Christ Jesus would be highly exalted in this city, and that safety would be sought in the Suffering Servant! To these ends, we must fervently pray on.
This article is from the ACR’s 2020 Winter Journal