Galatians 5:18-end; Psalm 1; Luke 11:42-46
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. - Galatians 5:25-26
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be crucified? Personally, I find it a helpful exercise to ponder during Lent and the build up to Easter; trying to imagine myself in Christ’s shoes as we remember the trial and passion of Christ during Holy Week in the lead up to Good Friday. Crucifixion was a particularly cruel method of execution designed to inflict intense pain without killing you quickly. It’s disturbing and unflinchingly brutal.
Why, then, does Paul use crucifixion language to describe those of us who belong to Christ in Galatians? What does it mean for us to crucify our ‘flesh with its passions and desires’? What do we gain from doing so?
Those of us baptised as small children may not remember it, but those who chose to be baptised later in life - whether aged 15 or 50 - often have a testimony, a story, as to how and why they came to believe in Jesus. Often this is a transformational journey where they have experienced a change in their perspective or attitudes towards life because of a ‘god moment’ which has drawn them not just to Jesus but also to living a better life.
My parents had me baptised as a baby, but didn’t raise me to be a practising Christian. I later came to realise that somehow my life was not as it should be. It’s not that I was a bad person, per se, but that my life didn’t reflect the person I was and am called to become in Christ. This realisation led me to the recognition that to become who I am meant to be, I first had to crucify myself so that I might be raised to a new life in Christ. Whether we were baptised as a child, or by choice later on, we all need to make this profession of faith and have the humility to recognise our humanity. We are fallible. We are weak. We need Jesus to help us change our habits, even our unnoticed subconscious biases and imperfections, so that we might change and become who we are called to be.
This change is described in the Church of England baptism service as being ‘clothed with Christ, dying to sin that we may live his risen life.’ There’s an understanding that in our baptism we participate in a real and meaningful way in the crucifixion and death of Christ. It’s not that we share in his Gospel work on the cross, more that in our baptism he takes our death as his own on our behalf on the cross. Christ takes the death which we each personally deserve, and one day will experience, and offers us a way through that death to share in his resurrection life. Until we make that final pilgrimage ourselves we experience the death of our old self, the person we used to be, and, much like Christ rises, we rise above our old temptations and habits; transformed by the power of Christ in our hearts.
In our baptisms, we are brought into a new life in the Spirit. Just as the sacrament of baptism affirms dying to sin and living to a risen life, it also acts as a reminder that ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ has told us that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must be born again of water and the Spirit.’ When we live our lives according to the Spirit we can’t help but find ourselves changed, bit by bit, day by day, for the better.
How can we tell that we are being changed according to the Spirit? Galatians 5:26, our Epistle reading for the day, gives us what might be an uncomfortable answer. It calls us to a life of unity where we are not vain, envious, or competing against one another. These, and a litany of other unhealthy acts, distract us from focusing on God. ‘By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ - Galatians 5:22.
This is what it means for baptised believers to crucify themselves; it is to be uncompromising in not just rejecting sinful and negative behaviours, but a steadfast commitment to being loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and disciplined. Each of us today will have opportunities to practice some of these characteristics - even if it feels difficult and challenging to love those who irritate or upset us.
I wonder what opportunities you will have this week to crucify your old-self and focus on living your life in the power of Christ?