In the gospel accounts the disciples experienced the life of Christ. Peter is recorded as saying that the Historical Christ was benefacting; that is, giving gifts and mercy as would a ruler to his subjects. He said that God preached peace to Israel through Jesus Christ. Peter describes himself (and certain others – i.e., the disciples) as “witnesses” of all Jesus had done, including His hanging from a tree, His resurrection on the third day, and his command to preach the good News. Peter mentions, speaking from the Jewish Scriptures, that all who believe receive forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus (Acts 10:34-43). Where Peter sees followers as “witnesses” to the life of Christ Paul calls us “expressions” of His death.
Obviously, for Paul, the life of Christ is an historical fact; but, for Paul, the life of a follower of Christ begins at the Cross of Christ. In his letter to the Romans (6:3-5) he states that anyone identifying with Christ through baptism (the “Christian” identity) has been baptized into His death – the Baptism of Death. The Cross of Christ is the point where we abandon our fallen identity and embrace our new identity in Christ. This identity, however, necessitates a death like His; which death then brings a resurrection in the same power as His. Not because we are a certain few; not because we magically become Jews; but because we have buried, and then died with Christ (don’t miss the burial then death).
In his letter to the Colossians (2:11-14) Paul explains that believers are pierced from within. The “circumcision of Christ” is the killing of the flesh on His cross. As we are crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20 – See my “The Cruciform” essay), not in a literal sense for Paul, neither is this spiritual jargon, but in a mystical union with Christ has our flesh, too, been nailed to the cross. As we mystically experience the death of our evil desires on the killing cross, God, through faith, raises us up with Christ from the dead. The fact of forgiveness of sins comes not only in the resurrection of Christ but in the resurrection of believer as well.
According to Chapter 3 of Colossians (1-4) this resurrection is not just an eschatological (last things; end times) event, but also a fact of life for the believer today. It is by the resurrection of Christ that we believe we will be resurrected as well (1Corinthians 15), and it is by this future resurrection that we experience the resurrection power in this life, as the Church of Christ. Today, we are not to attempt to follow Christ in our flesh (Eph. 2:3-7), but we are to experience the killing Cross of Christ and live a resurrected life in Christ (Eph. 2:8-10).
Writing to the Philippians (3:10-11) Paul gives us the clearest definition of what it means to express Christ. To “witness” of Christ is to speak of the things He has done, but to “express” Christ is to experientially know Him, to experience the power of His resurrection, being willing participants in His suffering (Col. 1:24) by becoming like Him in His death (dead in the flesh), and finally attaining to the future resurrection of the dead. This is no self-help ideology. Nor is it a kind of self-denial in the name of Christ. But this is an experiencing of the resurrection life, right now, today! This resurrection power in the present life is the equipping of the church as the full expression of Christ on earth. This resurrection power is a guarantee of the future great resurrection of the body. And it is the reason for the raising from the dead of Jesus Christ, bodily, in resurrection life.