I am interested in understanding the components or makeup of the whole person -- their "ontology" -- when a nonbeliever becomes a believer.

Paul writes in Galatians 2:20 -

NIV I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Paul describes himself as having the spirit of Christ residing within, but what happens to his own spirit? And what does it mean to be "crucified with Christ", -- since obviously Paul still has a physical body, and equally obviously didn't actually die. This strikes me as confusing me and I'm hoping someone could explain.

  • 2
    @peter - I've just done a fairly major edit to see if this can be formulated in a way that is "on-topic" for this site. Hope it works for you still. I think it still gets at your main concern.
    – Dɑvïd
    Dec 26, 2015 at 11:35
  • @peter if you approve of this latest edit from David I will reopen this. Comment to indicate your decision. Questions here need to focus on a specific text in its original historical, linguistic, or literary context. Its application to modern religious followers or groups is off topic.
    – Dan
    Dec 26, 2015 at 17:52

2 Answers 2


To answer the questions, we must first review the concepts of spiritual death and spiritual life.

According to the New Testament, all human beings on earth today are the biological descendants of Adam (Mark 10:6 and Acts 17:26). At the time when Adam sinned, God cursed the ground, and this cursing of the ground consigned Adam and his descendants to "return to the dust" (Gen 3:19).

Romans 5:22 (NASB)
22 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

When sin entered the world through Adam, physical death resulted. For example, one of the sons of Adam, Cain, murdered his brother, Abel. This incident was the first recorded instance of human death. Adam and his biological descendants therefore not only experience physical death, but they also lean toward destructive behaviors such as appeared in Cain against his brother Abel. In other words, the sin of Adam resulted not only in visible physical death, but invisible spiritual death as well.

Spiritual death is not explicit in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), but is more apparent in the Christian New Testament. There are at least two places in the New Testament that imply that spiritual death occurred when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden.

Eph 2:4-6 (NASB)
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Col 2:13-14 (NASB)
13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

The phrase "made us alive" is the free gift of eternal life (John 3:16), and therefore what is implied in these verses cited above is that human beings are born without eternal life, and in this respect they are born spiritually dead. For example, when Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, God removed access to the Tree of Life from Adam in order to preclude Adam from indefinite mortal existence.

Gen 3:22-24 (NASB)
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

When viewed through the lens of the New Testament, this passage in the Book of Genesis suggests that Adam had suffered spiritual death when he sinned in the Garden of Eden. So in these respects, Adam and Eve brought spiritual and physical death into the world.

So, to answer the question of the OP, the believer in Jesus Christ receives eternal life, and so ontological spiritual death is converted into ontological spiritual life at the point of faith in Christ Jesus. (The New Testament seems to indicate that believers receive and share the eternal life of Christ Jesus because of union with him.) But since believers still possess bodies that are the biological descendants of Adam, they still are subject to the curse of the ground, which beckons them not only to inevitable physical death, but also to destructive tendencies as was apparent in Cain who murdered Abel. So the idea in Gal 2:20, which is the topic of this posting, is that the body of the believer (which is subject to the curse of the ground because of Adam) had died on the cross with Christ Jesus, and so this sinful power of Adam had died. That is, the believer is made one in Christ Jesus (the new Adam), so that his death on the cross and his resurrection apply in equal measure to the believer. That is, the reckoning of our bodies in the death of Christ Jesus on the cross crucifies the destructive tendencies of our Adamic bodies (Gal 2:20 and Gal 5:24), and this reckoning must occur on a daily basis (Rom 12:1-2).

Because of this "joint-crucifixion" in union with Christ Jesus, the believer is therefore no longer consigned to the power of destructive proclivities and tendencies stemming from Adam. Because of this "joint-resurrection" in union with Christ Jesus, the believer received immediate eternal life and will also one day receive the glorified body because of union in the resurrection of Christ Jesus, whose eternal life is more powerful than death (Acts 2:24).

  • Romans 6 also has some great explanatory material related to life and death. Don Jan 1, 2016 at 10:48

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

Christ lives in us and not us in our bodies.Christ is having dominion over our bodies.It means that He is in control over our desires and deeds. The body Paul is talking about is not our physical body but rather, it is the flesh of sin (the fallen condition of our being) that is visibly expressed in us from the inside out.

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, having sent his own Son, in likeness of flesh of sin, and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh,

Romans 8:3 (Darby Bible Translation)

What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin's domain, and as a sin offering,

Romans 8:3 (ESV)

All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

Mark 7:23 (ESV)

The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Faith alone is the life-source of our tainted self.It fuels us to carry out what God is doing in us.

For we live by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7 (NIV)

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,

2 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV)

The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me

The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me

Each and every one of us is personally loved by Jesus Christ and is the recipient of Jesus Christ' self-giving act.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

John 13:34 (ESV)

who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

Galatians 1:4 (ESV)

who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Titus 2:14 (ESV)

who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2:6 (ESV)


The ontological constitution of a believer according to Galatians 2:20 is that of the full human nature (body and spirit) being discussed in spiritual terms.Our selves are operating not merely under our own but also of God's operation from the inside out. This engenders changes in the inward man on a daily basis.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.

2 Corinthians 4:16 (NLT)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV)

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