Sunday, December 06, 2009

Crucified with Christ?

No one desires a cross. No one. We all want affirmation and recognition. We pursue security and life. We all need affection and friendship. But no one wants a cross. Of course we love the cross upon which our wonderful Savior died for us. We all love and appreciate that cross. But no one wants a cross for themselves. No one.
But the cross is what we are called to. A sinner realizes he is lost. The Spirit illuminates to him just Who Jesus is, and that sinner believes that Jesus is the Savior and the only way to eternal life. The sinner is born again and his life and eternity is changed forever. That sinner is now a child of Almighty God. God is his Savior, his protector, his sustainer, his provider, and his everything. So the rest of this believer’s life on earth will be strewn with material blessings, fame and recognition, and all the accolades this world has to offer. Right?
Like every believer, this one is called to a cross. The cross of Jesus is the foundation of his faith, but there is another cross to which this believer is called. This is the cross where he is called to die to himself. This cross will not be easy or pleasant; this cross will prove to be painful and rewarding. We, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, are called to die to ourselves, which is a spiritual cross. Our thoughts, our desires, our perspectives, and our lives must all die upon this cross. The task is daunting, but the reward is pleasing our Master.

I wrote about it here.
Convenience and a culturally formed cross is not at all what this cross is to be. This cross will strip us all of any pride and will open us up to ridicule and shame, even though this same cross will not allow us to respond with anything but forgiveness. And any persecution will not come because we are outspoken and belligerent, and it will not be because we are fierce and argumentative. This cross prohibits that kind of fleshly projection. And if we are to die to ourselves it will not come quickly and without much pain; the pain which accompanies this cross is both for the glory of God and for the sake of sinners…exactly like the cross of Jesus.
If this western culture is so unlike Christ and is in fact against almost everything Jesus lived and taught, then why are we not so different than our surroundings? The answer is embarrassingly obvious. The many caricatures of Jesus that believers have created are to serve their own misguided agendas and not the Scriptural template which is much more radical and extreme. And just a reading of Matthew chapters 5 thru 7 present a challenge which has been softened through the years in order to make it fit into our established lifestyles.
But the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are nothing less than editorial facets of the cross which we are commanded to bear and die upon. You would think that a group of people who sacrificed themselves and their wills in such a hedonist culture would be a remarkable light in the midst of such darkness. But yet the church that numbers itself in the millions in this country are no more than an undistinguished segment of this western culture. And the most notice we get from the world is when some preacher is asked to be on one of many television talk shows, usually to give another perspective on gay rights or abortion. The glorious cross of Jesus Christ has been relegated to one of many voices about social and moral issues.
But looming large is this question: Do we believe that every sinner that dies spends a conscious eternity in one of two places? And if so, do we believe that only those in Jesus Christ will spend eternity with Him? And do our lives mirror our lips when we say, “Yes, I believe that.”? And if we believe that we will spend a glorious eternity with the Lord of all Lords, then why does this world mean so much to us? Why do we return evil for evil because our reputations have been sullied? And why do we attack lost sinners when we say we know they are headed for damnation and they need to read some living epistles that speak of Christ and redemption?
Lofty words, lofty thoughts, and lofty truths. Most of what should be obvious in the New Testament has been repacked for the western consumption and causes little if any spiritual expenditure. Living the Christian life has become easy and mundane, and even the most hedonistic, debt ridden congregation is charitably called “evangelical”. Jesus had no place upon which to lay His head and yet we have ornate edifices that we pay for with borrowed money from institutions that use our money to lend to all sorts of evil enterprises.
See, just a cursory examination brings up all sorts of uncomfortable places that are obviously incongruous with Biblical teachings unless we redefine those teachings all the while professing we espouse the literal interpretation of Scripture. And yet there are many Scriptures we absolutely do not believe regardless of how passionate our protestations to the contrary. Here are just a few verse that make nice plaques but are not even targets for which to strive anymore:

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:”

“For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”

“And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

Now how in God’s dear name can we bring those truths out of abstract belief into living faiths?

There is only one way and that way is the cross. We must die to ourselves and become alive to Christ. Taking up our cross involves a daily death to our desires and a daily reaffirmation and modeling of God’s truth. And if indeed we die to ourselves, who is it that lives on?

Gal.2:20 - I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

How different would our lives be if that truth was demonstrably observable in our lives? What aspects of our mundane and nondescript western lives would be radically different if we actually were crucified with Christ and Christ Himself was living through us? So often we have taken a verse like this and made them pitiful and powerless by diluting them so deeply that they are just convenient life helps and not the dynamic exhibitions of the Christ? Some teach that a verse like this means that we should not respond when a car cuts us off.
How tragic and how pathetic are those watered down teachings. Of course we should not respond in those situations, however there are many unbelievers who exhibit such patience. To be crucified with Jesus Christ goes far beyond situational ethics and response readjustment. And using that scenario, we are supposed to relinquish our rights, and when we truly embrace that issue we are exempt from offense. And we are called to immediately forgive that driver, love him, let him move ahead of us, and pray for him as well. And that is just one small example.
To walk in the desolate place with the life of Christ being our life force we can see everyone through the prism of divine love and the divine will that none should perish. What are my rights and feelings when compared with the eternal destination of others? The plight of others should be my motivation, especially when I am fully aware of my eternal standing by God’s grace. And in those circumstances, where should we find our “self worth”?

Gal.6:14 - But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

When we stand before the Nail Scarred One in God’s throne room will we draw anything from this world? Spurgeon once observed that when we see the Risen Christ “We will think ourselves a thousand fools for ever having any affection for the things of this world”. With what can the world tempt a man who glories in the cross of Jesus Christ? If that cross is what energizes his life, and if that cross is his boast, the glitter and glamour of this world has no power over him. He is willing to be demeaned; he is willing to be maligned; he willing to be lied about; and he is willing to suffer any and all indignities for the sake of the One whose cross is his glory! Nothing compares with this cross, and in fact, all personal sufferings because of this cross are just incandescent opportunities to illuminate that same cross!

The world believes that life comes by avoiding death, while in the Spirit the truth is just the opposite.

Matt.10:37-39 - He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

Losing your life for Christ’s sake is finding it again. How many of us are still experiencing a treadmill life experience that is hardly different than the good man next door who isn’t the least bit interested in Jesus Christ? And Jesus teaches that our love for Him should make our affection for our family appear as hate. That, my friends, is a vicious indictment of the modern western church. We have thousands upon thousands of teachings, videos, books, and conferences on how to love our spouses, but how many conferences are there on how to love Jesus?
We are exhorted to have three hour “date nights” with our earthly spouses but how many three hour prayer dates do we have with Jesus? How many three hour Bible dates do we have? Whose love do we work at more? And yet Christ Himself stated emphatically that if we love the things of this world more than we do Him we are not worthy of Him. And given that last statement in those verses, how many believers are living lost lives? Now here again is a verse that must mean something:

Lk.14:33 - So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

Ok, you can breathe again. Since Jesus asks us to give to the poor we can safely assume he doesn’t mean for us to sell all that we have and never accumulate anything else. Whew! What a relief! But that verse must mean something. I have heard preachers say that “You can have anything as long as it doesn’t have you.” Almost inevitably the more you get the more it gets you. In a practical sense this verse would probably exhort us to live way below our means and allow the rest to forward God’s kingdom and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we already should know that we should consider ourselves as unprofitable servants and just grateful slave/sons to the One who showers us with His redemptive grace.
In the end, there is precious little teaching of the crucified life, and much of the teaching is very guarded and reserved and lacks the powerful challenge of the Spirit. The salt has turned to sand, the light has been extinguished, the hill has become a valley, and what should be profoundly conspicuous has quietly taken an insignificant place in a culture of darkness. We need a massive revival of the cross, both His and ours. Print all the literature you can, and build all the building you can, and organize all the political movements you can, and write all the books you can, and write all the blog posts like this one you can, but if we do not return to the resurrected life of Jesus Christ via our own death on the cross we will continue on the unassuming path on which we now walk. And we will continue to project a fraudulent and counterfeit manifestation of Christ and His kingdom, and we His contented imposters.

Lk.14:27 - And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.


Anonymous said...

I am with you friend. What a blessed privilege to have one's ears open to hear and one's eyes open to see. We are unworthy and have done nothing to deserve it. Your words bring to mind the great call of our Saviour Jesus Christ: And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23
Sure, one doesn't have to look far in the Christian world to see how the old landmarks of faith have been torn down. It is undignified and gruesome to regularly mention the Blood that saves. It is impolite to refer to Jesus. Rather it is preferable to refer to Him as Lord or Christ instead.
We read how that Jesus will be on the Throne…a Lamb as it had been slain…Rev 5:6 and He will be worshipped throughout eternity as …the Lamb that was slain…Rev 5:13.
The Cross is a Way of Life. It is a marriage dance with Jesus. The angels above marvel at the song it produces in the human soul. It is such a Love that cannot be imitated apart from walking with Jesus under the weight of the wood. The Way of the Cross is a hidden fountain. It is the satisfying quencher.
Rick, the twenty three questions you ask are rhetorical. And you seem to answer your questions and end your essay with scorn. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for a wake-up call. We live in a world fraught with danger. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. There is a spiritual battle going on and God’s people are left for dead in the gutter. The Good Samaritan had compassion and first poured oil in the wounds not the wine.

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