Summary: What does it mean to be crucified with Christ? Paul explores this thought as he writes of his own experience.
*The Life I Live*
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. 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.”
Zealous Christians sometimes say they are trying to live the “crucified life.” Actually, I don’t know anyone who is living the crucified life, though each Christian can say with conviction that he or she has been crucified with Christ. The reason you can’t live the crucified life is that it is impossible to crucify yourself. There are many ways to kill oneself, but crucifixion requires that another perform the crucifixion.
When we were buried in baptism, we testified that “our old self was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” [*Romans 6:6*]. However, we did not baptise ourselves, nor did we crucify the old nature. God, by the power of His Spirit performed that action. Paul’s justly famous affirmation looks back to what God has done for him, and to his present response to the divine initiative revealed through his own life that was being lived out in response to what the Master had done.
*Crucified* — Six out of ten people living in the Roman Empire were slaves. With such a massive slave population, the Romans feared rebellion against their rule. Therefore, they felt compelled to find a way to control the restive population. They chose to control the unruly slave population through intimidation and fear. Accordingly, the Romans adopted the Persian invention of the cross as a means of capital punishment.
Crucifixion was one of the most horrifying ways of execution that man has ever invented. It was thought to be so horrible a means of death that by law Roman citizen could be executed by hanging on a cross only under exceptional circumstances. Not only did the one executed die a slow, agonising death, but the condemned person was humiliated beyond anything we might imagine. Stripped naked, they would hang suspended between earth and heaven, fighting for days to draw one more breath as gravity inexorably exerted its power over their pinioned body.
The Romans had become experts in extending life for those affixed to a cross, ensuring that they experienced the most painful death imaginable. Those witnessing these executions would hear the gasps and the groans of the condemned individuals as they struggled to draw one more breath. The torture that dying criminals endured made an indelible impression on those thinking of rebellion, dissuading them from attempting to overthrow Roman rule.
The cultured world of Rome did not even want to hear about crucifixion. It was a subject that was not discussed in polite society. Cicero, defending a Roman senator named Rabirius against a murder charge, warned against the runaway prosecutor who was suggesting crucifixion as the penalty for the senator. Cicero endeavoured to sway the jury with the following plea, “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes, his ears.”
The deep contempt of the Romans for those who were crucified is seen in several instances. A graffito scratched on a stone in a guardroom on Palatine Hill near the Circus Maximus in Rome shows the figure of a man with the head of an ass hanging on a cross. Just below the cross, another man is shown raising his hand in a gesture of adoration. The inscription reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.”
Justin Martyr summarises the view of enemies of the Faith providing an example of the ancient distaste for crucifixion. He wrote, “They proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all.” Origen (A.D. 185-254) quoted Celsus as mocking the Christian Faith, “In all their writings (is mention made) of the tree of life, and a resurrection of the flesh by means of the ‘tree, ’because, I imagine, their teacher was nailed to a cross, and was a carpenter by craft; so that if he had chanced to have been cast from a precipice, or thrust into a pit, or suffocated by hanging, or had been a leather-cutter, or stone-cutter, or worker in iron, there would have been (invented) a precipice of life beyond the heavens, or a pit of resurrection, or a cord of immortality, or a blessed stone, or an iron of love, or a sacred leather! Now what old woman would not be ashamed to utter such things in a whisper, even when making stories to lull an infant to sleep?”