“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
~ Ephesians 2:4-7
What does it mean to be raised with Christ? Is this something that only happens when we pass from this life to the next through what is commonly called physical death? The answer is a simple—no. A revelatory notion in Scripture is that we can indeed be dead [to the life of God], when in fact our physical bodies are still alive [in this world]. Whereby Jesus says, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22); or Paul when he says, “But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6).
So although we can be dead [to God] and yet alive [according to the flesh]; yet, we can also be dead according to the flesh [i.e. old man—Romans 6:6-9] and also alive with God. For we are to be “united together in the likeness of His [Jesus] death” (Romans 6:5), because “If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). However, although we are still in the physical body, we are not in the fleshly consciousness of setting our minds on earthly things (Romans 8:5-6; 2 Corinthians 10:2-3). This is what it means to actually experience what Christ Jesus says when “we are not of the world” (John 17:14, 16), but “we are in the world” (John 17:11). To not simply believe that we are strangers upon this earth, but to actually know our identity in Christ so strongly that our faith is fixed upon the Rock that is unshakable (Psalm 61:1-4).
When we think about being raised with Christ it should be made clear that we can be raised with Christ now while we live in the flesh, although we do not war according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:3). What does this mean? It means very literally that there is an aspect of you sitting in the heavenly places in Christ—now (Ephesians 2:6; Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 3:1-4). Thus, this spiritual reality is what Paul groaned for and earnestly desired in order to be clothed with (2 Corinthians 5:2-4). Therefore, we too should deeply desire to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, now in this moment. This refers to our ability through the grace of God by having our “senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14), and by “yielding the peaceable fruit of righteousness by being trained” from the Holy Spirit via our life experiences to “be transformed by renewing our minds” (Hebrews 12:11; Romans 12:2).
To be raised with Christ refers to the work of God moving through our lives, which manifests in such a way so as to literally “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). But “how” do we seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness? We do this by actively and consciously pursuing God, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6). How do we acknowledge God in all of our ways? We do it by “guarding our hearts with all diligence” (Proverbs 4:23). How do we guard our hearts with all diligence? By seeking to acknowledge and prioritize our lives by seeking Yahweh with our thoughts, emotions, will, words, actions, that is, with our entire being at all times by mustering as much strength and intensity (Isaiah 64:7) as we can to love Yahweh our God and to seek His counsel and strength. Let us not simply come to the cross of Christ, let us also get on the cross and be crucified, namely, we must die to ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Galatians 5:24). Additionally, we do this by walking in the Spirit (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16, 22-25) seeking to embody spiritual fruit in order to love God and humanity in truth (Mark 12:29-31; John 13:34-35; Galatians 5:6, 13-14), and to worship God in the beauty of holiness by means of spirit and in truth (Psalms 29:2; John 4:23-24). However, to be raised with Christ, it is the Father who draws us that we may die with Christ (John 6:44; Romans 6:1-4; Colossians 2:20; 3:1), because it is the Father who has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14). Once we have truly been “born from above” or regenerated by the Spirit of God we are now truly free to serve God in the newness of life by seeking our true Life from above which is hidden with Christ in God.
But how do we live this life where God comes first in ordering our thoughts, emotions, words, and actions? From my experiences in life it comes from two specific changes in one’s being. First, it comes from literally being “born from above” (i.e. born again) – which is revealed by knowing, growing into, and daily experiencing who you truly are in Christ, which is the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9; Titus 3:4-7). In a word it is by having a new life and a new identity. Second, it comes from a renewed will (Psalms 16:8; Romans 12:1-2) that longs to please Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous Light (1 Peter 2:9). This “renewed will” is not divorced from this new identity, but it naturally seeks through careful study to imitate our Heavenly Father’s characteristics and holy attributes embodied in Christ Jesus—no matter the cost or sacrifice.