Although it is true that we are already redeemed, to say that “Christ died for us in order that we might live” is only half the story. God has done his part in Christ, now we have to do our part, also in Christ. We need to die with him in order to live with him. The paradox of Christian salvation is that though Christ shares our death in order that we may share his life, the believer can only share that life if he/she, in turn, is willing to share Christ’s death.
How does this work in actual life? Do we not sometimes wonder, when we are faced with a very serious temptation to sin, whether it is true that sin has indeed been rendered powerless? In the same way, we continually grapple with the enigma of evil in our world. Paul brings us back to his concentric pattern of argumentation in Romans 1-11, where he demonstrates what humanity is like with and without Christ.
The only answer for the Christian lies in being in Christ. This prepositional phrase, for Paul, describes the sphere in which corporate salvation is realized. Since Christ is our representative, our entire life must be patterned after his. If through his willing submission to the destruction of his human flesh in death, Christ has rendered sin powerless, then the same must be true also for us. Sin will only lose its hold on us if we participate in Christ’s death. This is what Paul means when he says: “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin” (Rom 6:6-7) Our final death is preannounced by the daily “deaths” that we undergo every time we choose to forget the ego in the name of love. These choices conform us to the death of Christ.
Sufferings come uninvited into our lives. Our natural survival instinct may tell us to run away, but when we muster the courage to face them, when we welcome them as opportunities for growth, or at least bear them with patience, these sufferings conform us to the death of Christ. In today’s culture of comfort and ease, where pain is either “relieved” or “killed”; where euthanasia is considered a “merciful” act and abortion a “choice,” a serious Christian commitment to a cruciform way of life could be an object of scorn. Living the cruciform life can make us today a sign of contradiction today, just as Jesus, the representative-man, has been a sign of contradiction in his time.
Excerpted from Glimpses of Paul and His Message.
Bernardita Dianzon, FSP, is a member of the Daughters of St Paul. She obtained her Licentiate in Sacred Scriptures from the Pontifical Biblical Institute and her Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Loyola School of Theology, where she also teaches the Letters of St Paul and biblical Greek.
About the image:
Paul Preaching in Athens, Giovanni Paolo Panini (1734); National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.