Black Joy and Co-Crucifixion with Christ
“Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1969) was an anthem of Black joy as we continued the struggle of working to affirm Black dignity in the ‘60s. On the surface, the sentiment behind these celebratory words seems at odds with the New Testament’s language of self-denial and co-crucifixion with Christ.
Jesus challenges his followers to faithful discipleship stating, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). Jesus’ words about self-denial emphasize his disciples must be loyal to him above all, even to the point of death.
The apostle Paul says something similar in his letter to the Galatians when he discusses co-crucifixion with Christ (Gal. 2:19-20; 6:10). In Christ, he refuses to erect the law of Moses as a dividing wall between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles (Gal. 2:18). God revealed “in” Paul that Jesus is the gospel so that he would preach Jesus as the good news amongst the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-16).
In Gal. 2:19, Paul elaborates his point from Gal. 2:18 stating he “died to the law through the law so that I might live to God.” He explains this statement in Gal. 2:19b-20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And 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.”
Co-crucifixion with Christ does not eradicate ethnicity in Christ, but transforms ethnicity in Christ. Paul says he died “with Christ” with the concept of co-crucifixion and that “Christ lives” in him (Gal. 2:19b-20). He states his life “in the flesh” is now lived by faith in Jesus who loved him and died for him (Gal. 2:20).
Paul emphasizes that in Christ, God transformed his “flesh” (Gal. 2:19b-20; 6:14-15). In Paul’s letters, the term “flesh” has more than one meaning (Gal. 5:13, 16, 24; 6:8). In Gal. 2:20, “flesh” refers to God’s transformation of Paul, the Pharisee, into a Jewish Christian (e.g., Gal. 1:13-16; 2:16; 3:3; 4:13, 23; 4:29; 6:12; see also Acts 9; Phil. 3:4-5).
This seems right because Paul describes his co-crucifixion with Christ saying the life “I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God…” Paul’s transformation resulted in his realization that Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles, as transformed Jews and as transformed Gentiles, are one by faith in the Jewish Messiah apart from works of the Jewish law (Gal. 1:13-5:1).
The “I” in Gal. 2:20 is representative of all Christians, for we too participated in co-crucifixion with Christ when we gave our lives to him. But the “I” especially represents Paul, whose life was disrupted by God’s revelation of his Son “in” him (Gal. 1:15-16).
However, even as a transformed Jewish Christian, Paul was still Jewish (Acts 16:1-3; 1 Cor. 9:20). He both lamented over the unbelief of his fellow Jews and greatly valued his Jewish ethnicity (Rom. 9:1-11:36; 2 Cor. 11:22).
Yet, because God transformed Paul in Christ, he willingly lived as a Gentile when doing so didn’t conflict with the gospel and when necessary for his gospel-mission amongst the Gentiles (1 Cor. 9:19-23; Gal. 2:14; 5:16-26). God’s transformation of Paul in Christ also caused him to see Christ as more valuable than his accomplishments in his pre-Christian life as a Pharisee (Phil. 3:4-11).
Paul realized by faith that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah of Jews and Gentiles “when” God revealed his Son “in” him to preach Jesus as the good news “amongst the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:15-16). Paul died to his “former violent manner of life in Judaism” in which he sought to destroy the church of God (Gal. 1:12-14; 2:18). Paul neither compelled Jewish Christians to stop being Jewish nor Gentile Christians to become Jewish (cf. Gal. 2:11-14). Instead, he preached both Jews and Gentiles could be justified by faith in Christ, receive God’s Spirit, and become transformed Jewish and Gentile members of God’s people (Gal. 1:1, 4; 2:11-21; 3:1-5:26; also Eph. 1:9-6:20), because Jesus died for their sins and resurrected from the dead (Gal. 1:1, 4; 3:1, 13-14).
Blackness and Co-Crucifixion with Christ
As a Black Christian man, Paul’s remarks about co-crucifixion with Christ are very helpful to me. They teach me that in Christ, I can be both unapologetically Christian and unashamedly Black. In Christ, the Spirit frees me to love Christ above all, to love everything God loves about my Black ethnicity, and to love my neighbors as myself.
I’m free in Christ from self-hate. I’m free in Christ from thinking that there’s only one way to be Black. I’m free in Christ to value, not to worship, my Blackness. I’m free in Christ from thinking I need the acceptance of people who hate me because I’m Black, not Black enough, or too Black for them. I’m free in Christ from the present evil age to live in obedience to the gospel in the power of the Spirit, as a black Christian man, in a way that seeks to unify all things and all people in Christ.
The call to take up our cross and follow Jesus is not an invitation to Black Christians to be self-hating Black people. It’s an invitation for us to follow Jesus and to love him above all as Black people. It’s a call to live faithfully in obedience to the gospel in the power of the Spirit as transformed Black Christians. In Christ, Black Christians are still Black. And, in Christ, we can and must celebrate Black joy and Black dignity.