The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts” (II Corinthians 3: 9-11 NIV).
Revealing the Glory
John Eldredge, in his book Waking the Dead, talks about three eternal truths that we must “see” with the eyes of our heart.
1. Things are not what they seem.
2. This is a world at war.
3. Each of us has a crucial role to play.
He goes on to talk about the “glory” that each of us has, and that it is essential to God´s plans that we reveal that glory, live in that glory and share that glory with others. I would add that the “glory” is not only our creational gifts and abilities, but, first of all, our redemptive glory in Christ. The creational integrated into and providing the real world context for the redemptive. The redemptive empowering and focusing the creational.
The key concept that Mr. Eldredge uses to convey these ideas is the famous phrase from St. Irenaeus. “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I would add, for clarification, “in Christ.”
The glory of God is man fully alive in Christ.
Man was made in the image of God. That is our creational glory which is muted and tarnished by our rebellion so that it is but a mere glimmer of it´s former glory.
An essential part of that glory, lost through rebellion and sin, was the intimate relational glory of man´s conscious, loving connection with his Father and Creator. Man was created in his very nature to be fully alive only in an ongoing, intimate relationship with his Maker.
The moral life is dependent on the relational.
Since morality expresses itself in relationships, it must find its power in the love and safety of the primal relationship with our Creator, as our Provider and Protector, because no other relationship is strong enough to survive in this dangerous world. How could it be otherwise in a world infused with and totally dependant on the ongoing presence and favor of it´s Maker? He has not left us to our own purposes. He has intervened and confronted and transformed our evil into a new relationship with Him.
This in-between place, this abnormal existence, deludes us into thinking that independence from an intimate relationship with God is an option, that God´s justice will somehow be controlled by His love rather than be fulfilled by the cross, calling us to a new lifestyle of dependence and obedience to our Maker, whether we like it or not. And we don´t. At least, not at first.
Man re-created in the image of God through Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, restoring the relationship between man and his Father and Creator is our redemptive glory. Created in the image of God, fallen, rebellious, evil but re-created in the image of Christ. From beginning to end, life is relational.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Romans 8:18 (NIV)
Therefore, the glory of God, the nature and character of God, is revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ in us. Our new bodies, our adoption as sons, our hope of glory is the result of something that is already within us, namely, the Holy Spirit of God, which is our guarantee of resurrection to new life now and when Christ returns.
The glory of God is the cross of Christ.
The cross of Christ, the nature and person and work of Jesus Christ, is the most valuable thing in the entire universe to God. It is because of the value of Jesus Christ, God Himself, that his suffering and death can substitute for and be sufficient for all of the sins of the world, even though it is only efficient for some.
To the degree that we also live in the glory of the cross and resurrection of Christ, to that degree the glory of God is revealed in us now and will be fully revealed in us creationally (through a new, powerful, resurrected body in a new heavens and a new earth) and redemptively (through final, and complete freedom from the corrupting influence of sin within us and the full liberation of the Holy Spirit´s influence in us, without barriers, without limit), the true hope and focus of the resurrection.
To the degree that we pursue and live out the value and centrality of the cross in our lives, to that degree, we reveal the glory of God in us.
To the degree that we walk in step with the Spirit in abundant life, as part of a fellowship of believers, to that degree we reveal the glory of God in us.
To the degree that we seek to please God above all and pursue Him with all of our hearts, casting down every idol, every pretension that sets itself up in our lives as a barrier between us and God, to the degree that we are willing to live out the miracle of wanting to sacrifice anything and everything to please the God who truly likes us, and loves us, enough to endure hell for us, to that degree we reveal the glory of God in us.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs
– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,
if indeed we share in his sufferings
in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:17 (NIV)
To the degree that we are willing to be trained, to grow, to become the kind of people that God sees when He looks at us, and to do so out of gratitude and love rather than necessity and fear, to that degree we reveal the glory of God in us.
Finally, to the degree that we live a life of loving obedience to his priorities, goals, purposes and plans, using every gift, every ability, every treasure, talent, time and thought, living with a redemptive focus in a creational context, to that degree we reveal the glory of God in us.
Perhaps it will not be so clear now, but certainly before the throne of God where everything will come to light, this revealation of the glory of God in our lives, this miracle of grace to which we responded in our weakness and frailty, this glory which is ours only in Christ, and only to the degree that we live out of our true selves in Christ, this redemptive new creation glory will be made known and we will share in the joy of our Master, casting our crowns before Him in humble and true recognition that none of it was possible without His intervention of grace.
We are significant to the purposes of God since it is only the miracle of His glory in us that can change the heart of man. It cannot be about propositional truths only, as important as they are. The power of evangelism is a transformed heart fully alive to God in Christ.
It has to do with the real transformation of the heart of man by the ongoing glory of the cross in salvation and sanctification. Redeemed by the cross but also living out the glory of the cross in our daily lives by crucifying our old nature and flesh through confession and repentance and carrying that cross with us as we follow him. It is a lifestyle-yoke which is easy and light because it is the enslaving, will-limiting yoke of love, requiring us to live in the freedom of forgiveness for ourselves and others (even our enemies) with the goal of reconciliation and spiritual unity.
Love is what makes this world bearable and Divine love rooted in the cross is the only power that can transform evil into good. That is the glory of God. The cross shows Him as He truly is in His justice and in His love. Love does not forgive by dismissing justice but by fulfilling it. The message of sin and despair and hell is essential to the glory of God. Our situation is much worse than we can imagine. We are arrogant when we should be ashamed of ourselves before God as we try to live out our lives as if He doesn´t exist, His will doesn´t matter, as if we are gods unto ourselves.
That arrogance will be revealed in us to our judgment in this life and before the throne of God on the Day of Judgment. Either our arrogance, that is, or God´s glory will be revealed in us through a cross rooted lifestyle of confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation with the goal of spiritual unity in our joint purpose in Christ. Either our arrogance will be revealed to our judgment or God´s glory will be revealed in us to our salvation and joy. It is not cheap grace after all but, rather, the most expensive grace possible, a price we could never pay, which is why it´s free. The power of evangelism is the glory of God lived out in the daily lives of God´s people.
It has to do with the radical nature of the resurrection-empowered presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer demonstrated….
- when we live out a lifestyle of repentance and forgiveness with the goal of reconciliation and spiritual unity in the fellowship of believers,
- when we love our enemies (and our frienemies) even if they remain our enemies (or frienemies),
- when we give grace to those who deserve nothing but our anger and contempt,
- when we impoverish ourselves for the sake of the gospel (Word) and the needy (Deed), even if their ongoing enmity toward Christ, or their poverty and need is their own fault,
- when we treat one another as we are in Christ rather than as we are in the flesh (even when we continue to be in the flesh),
- when we prioritize the poor and powerless in society and in the church and identify ourselves with them (whether they are Christians or not) and
- when we live in humble awareness of our ongoing sinful tendencies and constant need for His intervening and confrontative grace and respond wholeheartedly (imperfectly, inconsistently, partially though it may be).
This is the radical nature of the normal Christian life, uncommon as it is.
It is a miracle of His grace, after all, given to those who seek Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength by keeping the value and centrality of the cross first and foremost in their lives. The abundant life is not automatic. It is a relationship after all. It requires comittment, loyalty, faith, hope and love. Just like any relationship but even more with God. The abundant life is a product of walking in the Spirit. It has the conditions and requirements that all relationships have. Our eternal life, the timeless relationship itself may be secure but living it out is a process, a journey, a transformation over time. There is a process of going deeper in and further back. Just like all relationships. It is not enough to be married, we must also be, and stay, in love for this relationship to bear fruit – not for salvation, not to avoid divorce, but, rather, to find the joy, the power and the purpose of the relationship.
The abundant life is a miracle of God´s grace. It is interactive. We must respond, but He empowers us to respond. He creates the desire, we develop that desire into obedience in the context of the desert (just like all the creational gifts He gives us). He gives us the gift of grace, and faith and the miracle of wanting to please Him, just because we can. But we must respond. We must make every effort. We must work, fight, whatever metaphor you want, but we must value the relationship and show it (at the expense of our pride). That is the abundant life which is full of the presence and power of the joy of the Lord. It is the pearl of great price.
who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord´s glory,
are being transformed into his likeness
with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord,
who is the Spirit.
I Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)
We are significant to God because, by the glory of the cross, we now have the ability to please Him or grieve Him, as a child can please or grieve his natural father, with our behavior, intentions and motivations.
We are significant to God because we are channels of His grace, broken, earthen pots, that reveal the glory of a man or woman fully alive in Christ.
Why do you think the Devil spends so much time and energy, in our lives and in the life of the church, distracting us from the essential, strategic importance of the cross, not only in preaching but in the daily reality of how we relate to one another in the body of Christ? Often the preaching of the cross does not translate to living out the value of the cross in the fellowship of the believers. There is a blindness, a deception, an ignorance and even willful disobedience, excuses, justifications, rationalizations, anything to avoid the transparency of confession, the vulnerability, difficulties and effort of a lifestyle of repentance. Anything to avoid the humility (and shame) of forgiveness (both giving and asking) and the inter-dependent priority and value of reconciliation (spiritual unity, value and prioritization of those we normally would prefer not to associate with – the least, the last, the lost, the loser).
The church is the battleground for the glory of God. The glory of God revealed in us through Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, rooted in the cross, demonstrates itself in confession, repentance, forgiveness and, above all, reconciliation and spiritual unity.
Christ in us, the hope of glory
Colossians 1:27b (NIV)
It is not only about salvation, but about our sanctification, our maturity in Christ, our walk in the Spirit, our revealing of the glory of God redemptively and creationally by living a lifestyle of repentance with the goal of reconciliation. That is the source of power in the Christian life and it will bring the transforming anointing of the presence and pleasure of God into our lives personally, and, even more importantly, corporately, as a body of believers.
Spiritual unity in the body of Christ is a miracle of the intervening grace of God as we live out the value and centrality of the cross in our personal and body life.
Therefore, there is one more change that must be made to the famous saying of St. Ireneaus. It isn´t only about individuals but about the body in Christ. The body is made up of individuals who reveal the glory of God personally in their daily lives, no doubt, but we must not shy away from the goal of bringing the fellowship, as a group, as a body, into the glory of God rooted in the cross.
The glory of God is a body of believers fully alive in Christ
in spiritual unity with God and others.
The key to that kind of spiritual unity as an expression of ongoing reconciliation within the church between each other and God, is the leadership. If true fellowship is not practiced there, fiercely and with determination, then the consequences for the rest of the church will be severe.
The thing to remember is that we will be opposed. Opposed by the flesh (even and especially our own), the world, and, especially, the Devil. It is important to be aware of the Devil´s schemes, our weaknesses, and the world´s distractions.
If you can “see” with a heart that truly wants to understand and follow the ways of the Lord, you will recognize the validity of these three eternal truths that Mr. Eldredge shares with us. Things are not what they seem. This is a world (and a church and a marriage and a life) at war. Each of us has a crucial role to play.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. It’s time to talk with God…
Lord, I want to see your glory and I want your glory to be revealed in me. I know that things are not what they seem. The Devil has blinded our eyes to his involvement in our human affairs and we give him permission to do so every day. Forgive us, Lord. We are at war and we have a crucial role to play in this drama of redemption. Teach me to learn the ways of the cross and to get involved in your great rescue operation to save my friends and family members. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.