Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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by John David Clark, Sr.
“I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live.”
Paul’s phrase, “I am crucified with Christ”, obviously does not mean that he was physically nailed to the tree upon which Jesus died. Paul was speaking only of becoming dead to sin as Jesus was, and of being hated as Jesus was. Jesus was dead to sin and hated by the world before he was crucified on the cross. This death to sin, and this being persecuted for it, is the crucifixion Paul experienced and preached as being “Crucified with Christ”.
The phrase, one should note, is not “crucified by Christ”, but “crucified with Christ”. God ordains it to happen, but He does not crucify anyone. He gives that work to the wicked, as Peter said, “Men of Israel, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene . . . this man, who was turned over to you [into your hands] by the fixed purpose and foreknowledge of God, [you took] and killed him with wicked hands, nailing him to a cross” (Acts 2:22–23).
People hated Jesus because he was sinless (Isa. 53:9). His death to sin exposed their sinfulness, and they responded by unjustly executing the Prince of Life, hoping to put out the revealing Light.
Being crucified with Christ is not accomplished merely by being born again. We are crucified with Christ only as we patiently suffer reproach for righteousness’ sake, as Jesus endured it. Even Jesus’ complete death to self was accomplished only by the sufferings which he endured. “For although he was a Son, he learned obedience by the things that he suffered, and when he had been made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8–9).
The apostles labored to prepare the saints to endure patiently the suffering to which righteousness always leads. Peter wrote, “And so, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind” (1Pet. 4:1). And again, “If you patiently endure when you do good and suffer, this is commendable with God. You were called to this, for Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his footsteps” (1Pet. 2:20b–21). Paul said, “For it is given to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him” (Phip. 1:29). And Jesus warned his disciples, “A servant isn’t greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they’ll also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they’ll also obey yours. But all these things they’ll do to you because of my name” (Jn. 15:20–21). The certainty of suffering for righteousness was not hidden from the saints; on the contrary, suffering was promised to them. The apostles exhorted God’s people not only to follow after righteousness, but also to endure with grace the suffering it would bring, and thus be crucified with Christ.
Our loving heavenly Father is determined to perfect us, to discipline us until we bear His image on the earth; and He will do this for us, if we will yield to His chastening hand. The only way for a follower of Christ to avoid being perfected with Christ is to refuse to be crucified with him. We have the option of compromising with the world and receiving praise of men instead of their abuse; but, what will the harvest of that choice be?
Without exception, every one who is obedient to the Spirit of God will be misunderstood and hated. Paul, am I correct in saying this? “Indeed, ALL who are willing to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” There is no such thing as living a holy life and, at the same time, being highly esteemed by men. The persecution which comes from following after godliness will serve one of two purposes: either it will drive us closer to God, or it will cower us into quenching the Spirit so that men will receive us into their company.
All of man’s hatred is actually hatred of God, but unable to reach God, men turn their hatred toward one another. Whenever a child of God begins to exhibit the nature of the Father before men, this feuding world will unite and turn its fury upon that saint. The psalmist spoke of this when he said, “The reproaches of those who reproach you [God] fell on me” (Ps. 69:9). Pontius Pilate and King Herod, for example, despised one another until their mutual contempt of Jesus brought them together and made them friends. They forgot their personal enmity when God, the real object of their hatred, was manifested in His Son.
In the presence of Jesus, and in the presence of every child of God who is like Jesus, all people express their true feelings toward God their Father, despite any show of religious devotion that they may otherwise make (Mt. 10:40). People can make a grand show of love for God, but only the presence of someone walking in His holiness can bring out what is really in their hearts.
“A man’s enemies will be members of his own household.”
The most puzzling and painful persecution we face as we grow in Christ is the persecution that comes from our own family in the Lord. We are truly crucified with Christ only when we, like Jesus, “come to our own, and our own people do not receive us” (cp. Jn. 1:11). Jesus’ own people accused him of being demon-possessed (Mt. 12:24; Jn. 8:48) and a blasphemer (Mt. 26:65). God’s people, not the Gentiles, demanded that Pontius Pilate crucify Jesus, after one of his own disciples betrayed him. The Romans did not consider Jesus a threat until the Jews slandered him as a rival to Caesar (Jn. 19:12).
The most vicious persecutions that faithful servants of God suffer are always those instigated by disobedient children of God. The Great Wilderness Rebellion against Moses was led by Moses’ cousin, Korah (Num. 16:1–2). They were believers who led a rebellion against Paul, which spread until virtually all of Paul’s converts forsook the gospel he preached. “All they in Asia have forsaken me”, mourned the aged apostle (2Tim. 1:15). “They in Asia” included the congregations in Ephesus, Colossae, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. At Paul’s death, as he had predicted (Acts 20:29–30), much of the body of Christ had turned from the truth; and so it is to this day.
In our time, too, many brothers and sisters, “having loved this present world”, have forsaken the truth they know. They have cast God’s law behind them and now persecute the few who are still standing for it. They have joined with the world in crucifying the upright, just as God’s people joined with the world to crucify the Lord Jesus. This is how being crucified with Christ always happens: unfaithful people who belong to God join in with the world to crucify a faithful believer.
Annas and Caiaphas, the chief priests who engineered Jesus’ arrest and trial, probably carried out their priestly duties the next day, thankful that they were finally rid of Jesus. They no doubt continued worshipping God as they had been doing, and continued living as they had been living. How justified they must have felt! They hated the Light, and, so, they called the Light darkness and persuaded the people to follow them – the blind leading the blind. Likewise, those who turn from the Light and persecute the upright today often continue to worship and live as they have been doing, and by their appearance of goodness influence others to follow their wayward path.
Those who are privileged to be crucified with Christ respond to their persecution with Christ-like meekness and goodwill. They follow the Lord’s example, “who committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth; who when he was reviled, did not revile in return; when suffering, did not threaten, but committed himself to the One who judges justly” (1Pet. 2:22–23).
When those who ought to understand and love the truth do not understand it and hate us for proclaiming it, then we have the golden opportunity to turn the other cheek, as Jesus did, and let our old natures be thoroughly crucified with him. We expect the world to reject us. The real test of faith is when members of “the household of faith” join hands with the world to condemn us.
A day of deliverance is coming for faithful children of God, a day of revival of true holiness. Many of God’s children at that time will be crucified with Christ – by children of God who love this world and its pleasures more than they love God. Pray, dear friend, to be among those persecuted instead of among those who persecute others, for in that day, I assure you, you will be in one camp or the other.