In his letter to the Church in Galatia, St. Paul wrote these incredible words: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” (Gal 2: 20). This declaration comes after his arguments are made against the teachings made by certain Jews who came to faith in Christ. These Jews demanded that Gentile Christians take on circumcision and live according to the Law of Moses. St. Paul firmly states the opposite: salvation only comes through faith in Christ, not by adhering to the Law: “…a man is not justified by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ…” (Gal 2 16).
St. Paul, after the above statement, continues,
For I, through the Law, died to the Law, in order that I might live to God. I was crucified together with Christ: I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith through the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal 2: 19 – 20).
“I was crucified together (sunestauromai) with Christ…” These words imply union. When Christ died by crucifixion on the cross St. Paul was also there in that moment. He too was suspended on that wood. And so are we who live today. His and our union with Christ’s crucifixion is brought about by the sacrament of Baptism. We read this in St. Paul’s letter to the ancient Roman church:
Therefore, we were buried together (sunetaphemen) with him through baptism (dia tou baptismos) [this phrase in the genitive case shows that baptism is the agent by which this union is brought about for us], in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
We can walk in newness of life because Christ is living in us through faith and by sacrament.
St. Paul is speaking of a true relational, ontological, union: We are in Christ; Christ is in us. This is an abiding relationship. It is the ultimate good for humanity and creation: we are to be in Christ! Yet, we cannot leave this as simply a theological truth. If left as such, this profound existence becomes a meaningless abstraction. Being in Christ must have a goal. This goal is to have Christ manifested to the world by our lives! This is a lofty goal; a tall order.
This expression cannot be brought about by vain human effort. Christ manifested by our lives can only come about by the fact that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit resides in us by faith and sacrament. By God working in us is this accomplished. We cannot be passive. We must cooperate with the God who dwells in us. We must do to become.
Let me give a physical illustration. I play the guitar. Simply buying a guitar did not make me a player of the instrument. I struggled (and still struggle to be better) to acquire the needed skills. New neuromuscular connections and pathways had to be created, and are still being created by practice. Whatever the goal, we must work and struggle. This leads to PRAXIS — what one does, because this is who you are.
St. Paul gives this command to us: “…with fear and trembling work out your salvation, for God is the one working (energon) in you both to will and to work (energein) in behalf of his good pleasure. The word in italics, work, implies the divine work of God himself in us — it is his energy. This is possible because the Triune God indwells, touches, and transforms us when we cooperate with this will and working of God.
To my Protestant brothers and sisters let me be clear: we Orthodox Christians do not teach that we merit the salvation given to humanity by all accomplished by Christ when he walked this earth. Salvation is a free gift from God. But, Christ’s salvation and life is to be worked into us that Christ might expand in us, live in us, and be recognized in us by what we do in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.