Cal writes in to ask, “Pastor John, I’m right now reading through your book Don’t Waste Your Life, and I have a question about Galatians 6:14, and boasting only in the cross. Specifically, what does it mean to be dead to the world?”
Let me get the verse right in front of us so we can hear how that phrase occurs: “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” So the question is coming, I think, from that last phrase: “I am crucified to the world,” or, “I am dead to the world.”
What It Means to Die
So my first question, even before I ask what it means to be dead to the world, is, What does it mean to be dead? And I think in Paul’s mind, that idea of Christians being dead starts with Jesus’s words in a bunch of places in the Gospels like Luke 9:22–23 where he says to his disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and . . . be killed, and after three days rise again.” And then he said to everybody, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Now when Bonhoeffer read that, he said that Jesus was saying, “When I call you, I bid you to come and die.” So to take a cross means to die. To follow Jesus is to experience a kind of death. And the way he says it in Luke 9 is it is a daily taking up of the cross. So, there is a daily dying going on.
And then when Paul picks that up — for example, when he describes baptism — he says, “We were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). So at the point of conversion and faith signified in the water of baptism, we are being united to Christ, and when we are united to Christ, the death that he dies, we die.
Living (and Dying) with Christ
In fact, the very next verse in Romans 6:5 makes that connection with union with Christ: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” So, we died when we were united to Christ, and we were united to Christ when we believed in him, and we signified that in baptism. And for me, the next question becomes, So who died? I am a living being, aren’t I? I mean, I am talking to you right now. And Cal wrote and asked the question. So he doesn’t sound dead. He is thinking. Who actually died? So let’s go back to Galatians. Paul, I think, answers that — helps answer it, anyway — when he says in Galatians 5:24 that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” So the old me which Paul calls the flesh — that self-reliant, proud, idolatrous, world-loving, world-worshipping self — died when I trusted Christ, because I was united with him in his death. And when he died, I died, and the part of me that dies is the old, unbelieving, self-reliant self. And a new person comes into being, and who is that?
“That self-reliant, proud, idolatrous, world-loving, world-worshipping self died when I trusted Christ, because I was united with him in his death.”
Galatians gives the answer again, I think. I mean, one of my favorite verses in all the Bible ever since I was a sophomore in college has been Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” So it sounds like the new person who is alive is Christ. But then it says, “And the life I now live.” Oh, I thought I was dead. No, you are not dead, because as Christ lives, you’re alive. How? “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” (Galatians 2:21).
So the new me is not the old, unbelieving, selfish, self-reliant, world-worshipping me. It is the new trusting-in-Christ, enjoying-the-life-of-Christ-in-me person. So there is this new creation. There is this new Cal, this new Tony, that has come into being, and it is marked mainly by, “I live by faith.” And I think faith is not only trusting that he died for me, but trusting him for all that God is for me in him. He has become my world. He has become my treasure. He has become my satisfaction.
Dead to the World, Alive to God
So now I go back. After all that, I go back to Galatians 6:14 where it says that we are dead or crucified to the world. And I think that means that my flesh once loved the world. Back in Galatians 5:24, Paul said the flesh died with its passions and its desires. My old flesh loved the world, craved the world, depended on the world, needed the world, worshipped the world as its god and its satisfaction. And now all that died, and now the world has been crucified to me as a god.
So if you say, “In what sense has the world died in me?” I say, “The world once was a god to me. It once was my life, and I killed it. I crucified it. I put it to death with its desires. And my flesh died. So my dying to it, and it dying to me, is the same reality. I killed this pseudo-reality called the world, which was posing as an all-satisfying god to me, and my old, blind, foolish self, who worshipped this world, died when I died with Christ.
When I think about this, I want to make one qualification, because God made the world. The world is not evil. Material is not evil. Physicality is not evil. God meant the world to be not our god, but a gift. And so maybe the simplest way to say it is this: when you come to Christ and the old world-worshipping self dies, what comes alive is a self of faith in Christ that receives the world no longer as a god, but as a gift.
So I would say directly to Cal, every time the world starts to claim for itself more than it is, tell it, “World, I am dead to that pseudo-claim. Jesus is my treasure now. He died to have me, and he died to give himself to me as my all-satisfying treasure. So, world, I am dead to you, and you are dead to me as a god, and I now come to you no longer as my god, but as a gift from my loving Savior. And every time you come to me now, I am going to see him in you. If can’t see him in you, I am going to reject you.”