"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). This was Paul's testimony. It should be our testimony also. What does it mean in practical terms? How does it work out in our lives?
When was Paul crucified with Christ? What does he mean by it? I think if we go back to the account of his conversion, we can gain some insight. Paul was a very zealous man. He said he was a "Pharisee of the Pharisees." He was whole-hearted, giving himself to what he believed was right. Then on the Damascus road he came face to face with Jesus Christ. God stopped him in his tracks and he fell to the ground. "Who are you, Lord?" Paul asked. "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting," was the reply. For three days after that, he was shut up to God. We do not know what transpired during those days, but perhaps we could say he was three days in his grave. He was blind, he had to be led by the hand, and everything he thought he was doing for God crumbled. In many ways, he was a dead man.
We have some insight into how God saw him by what God told Ananias. Ananias had misgivings about going to Paul because he knew what Paul had been doing. "But the Lord said to him, 'Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake'" (Acts 9:15-16). God knew what was taking place in Paul's heart and what He wanted to do through Paul. He sent Ananias to pray for him, that he might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul later said of himself that he was shown mercy because he had acted ignorantly in disbelief. When Ananias prayed for him, his eyes were opened and he rose up a new man, filled with the Holy Spirit.
So, when was Paul "crucified with Christ"? We are told clearly in scripture that the transaction for all of Adam's race was accomplished when Christ died at Calvary. "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8). In one sense, Paul was crucified with Christ as a member of Adam's race when Christ died on the cross. It was an accomplished fact because we were all in Adam and Christ bore all the sin of Adam's race at Calvary.
But for Paul to benefit from what Jesus did, he had to "receive the reconciliation" that was accomplished at Calvary. "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation" (Romans 5:9-11). When did that happen? Was it not at that time of prayer with Ananias? The old Saul died. When he received the Holy Spirit and the scales fell from his eyes, Paul became a new creation in Christ Jesus. Old things had passed away--behold, all things were now new. Jesus was now his Lord. He had now risen with Christ and was fully identified with Him. As he began his new life in Christ, he was going to fill up the sufferings of Christ in his earthly body. Jesus had ascended to heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit so that the ministry He began during His time on earth would continue through other vessels. Paul was one of those chosen ones.
If we consider Paul's testimony, I think we can learn something of how God deals with men. First, Paul had a desire to please God. We see that based on the testimony of his experience under the law in Romans 7. However, his desire had been formed and misdirected by the religious environment he grew up in. God is bigger than all of that, and at the appointed time He moved to rescue him and set Paul's feet on the straight and narrow way. When Jesus revealed Himself, Saul said "Who are you, Lord?" Is this not our beginning place with God? Jesus must be Lord. He reveals Himself as Lord, and then we must freely bow and acknowledge Him as our Lord.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and proclaimed Jesus as Lord. "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). Our place is to acknowledge Him as our Lord. On that day, we are crucified with Christ in experience as we fully identify with Him and His place as Lord of lords. We lay down our will, our right to ourselves, and our life. It is the door through which every person must pass if they choose Christ. But when we do, Jesus will not leave us in the grave, any more than His Father left Him in the grave. The Father raised Jesus up, and Jesus will also raise us up from the grave. He raises us up a new person--a new creation. We will then say with Paul, "Yet I live, but not I." It is now Christ living in me His resurrected life.
How is the new life lived out? Does my life continue as before? Or does God express His will through my life without my cooperation? I think we know better than that. The evidence of the indwelling God is a transformed life. It is lived out of an active faith relationship with God day by day and hour by hour. Paul said that "the life I now live, I live by faith in (of) the Son of God." I continue in the choice (transaction) that I made on the day when Christ became my Lord, and God is present by the Holy Spirit to give me the grace (ability) to live dead to this world and alive to the will of God. "Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). The indwelling God makes me alive unto Him. In Adam I was dead, but now in Christ I am alive. I am a new creation in Christ Jesus (in union with Christ) and my whole purpose is now to express the new life that God has brought me into. I am part of the "new man" and my Head (Christ) will express His life through me as I submit and obey. This is our walk in His life.