The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were give the one Spirit to drink” (I Corinthians 12:12-13 NIV).
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into hi who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15,16 NIV).
In a couple of weeks on Palm Sunday, we will have a potluck fellowship dinner. Everybody brings a dish and a desert. Drinks are provided. We get together and chat for a while and call it fellowship. Fellowship is supposed to be another word for Spiritual Unity. Doesn’t sound very interesting but it is nice, I suppose.
We have been talking about the Way of the Cross – confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Fellowship or Spiritual Unity is supposed to be the result of reconciliation.
I suppose it could happen. There is no reason why we can’t have a potluck dinner as a spiritual body of reconciled believers. Except that it isn’t true. That old lady over there complained that one of the other men stinks and she avoids him like the plague. She doesn’t even want to shake his hand. You see that guy in the corner? He sings in the choir but he is living with the woman sitting next to him and they aren’t married. I just heard that he is planning to leave her when he gets back from his next trip. That girl over there, had her baby out of wedlock and hasn’t said a word to anyone. No one seems to care one way or the other. The older gentleman in the corner is upset with this guy sitting beside me because he had the gall to suggest that he should give his life to Christ. He’s been in the church for fifty years. If he isn’t a Christian, then nobody here is. And I could go on to talk about divisions, disagreements, disunity and a general lack of reconciliation. It may be a fellowship dinner but that doesn’t mean that there is much spiritual unity.
And that is fairly normal in the church. Since we don’t talk much about sin and we certainly aren’t going to confess our sins one to another (James 5:16), there also isn’t much effort at the faithwalk of repentance. Therefore forgiveness isn’t talked about and fellowship dinners are the best we can do at spiritual unity. And we are happy with that status quo.
Well, we may be happy, but God certainly isn’t. Ephesians 4 makes it quite clear that spirituality cannot be present until we have spiritual unity based on the way of the cross. We are so committed to our individualistic spirituality that we fail to grasp that we are only a church together – and by together, I mean in spiritual unity. In fact, as Professor Lovelace says in his book, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life, “grace is conveyed through the body of Christ along horizontal channels as well as through the vertical relationship of each believer to God” (p. 168). We need each other.
We need each other for spiritual growth. We need each other for mission. We need each other for support and encouragement. As John Wesley is famous for stating over and over again, “there are no individual Christians.” But it isn’t just about being together. The church is not a country club or a community center. It’s not just about unity but about spiritual unity. There’s a big difference. That difference is called reconciliation.
We spoke in previous blogs about the unique power of forgiveness when it is rooted in the cross. Sin (and forgiveness) is no longer cheap but, rather, a price none of us can pay. We must all receive it in grace as a free gift. But there is a purpose to forgiveness. The idea is to bring spiritual unity to the body of Christ. To heal a relationship is to make the sin of no account in the relationship. We call that a “forgetting” of the sin so that it no longer affects the way we act one toward the other.
The problem is that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same things. Sure reconciliation naturally flows from forgiveness but just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean that you are reconciled with them. That is a second work of the Spirit that we must pay special attention to.
When we need to forgive someone, it helps to imagine God asking us a question. Will you accept the death of my Son as sufficient payment for this sin against you? If you don’t, then the cross cannot be applied to your sins either. No double standard allowed.
When we need to reconcile with someone, it may help to imagine God asking us another question. Now that you have forgiven this person, will you treat them as they are in Christ rather than how they are in the flesh? That’s how God does it. He treats us as we are in Christ even though we may continue to sin (sometimes the very same sin). I like to say it this way. Will you treat them as they are in Christ, even though they may sin against you again and again?
How many times must we forgive someone who sins against us? Jesus was asked. Seven times? No, seventy times seven. Over and over and over again. Is that easy? Of course not. Is it what God wants us to do? Yes, it is.
What does it mean to treat someone as they are in Christ and not as they are in the flesh? It means to treat them as they will be when you see them in glory. It means to treat them as they are right now in the eyes of God. It means not to hold their sin against them and treat them as if the sin never happened. Again, not easy. But the impossible is made possible through faith and the power of the resurrection which lives in us.
Up to that point, it is only dependent on me (and the Holy Spirit) but has nothing to do with the other person. You can forgive them and you can reconcile with them to a point. So far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14).
This is true reconciliation but it is not full reconciliation. The miracle continues. So far the person may not even have asked for forgiveness, nor confessed his sins, nor engaged in acts of repentance or reconciliation. But you can forgive them anyway and treat them like they are in Christ (if you believe that they are Christians) or evangelize them if they are not.
But that is not full reconciliation. Remember that the way of the cross is for two (or more) believers to walk together. Let’s assume that there is confession, there is repentance, and you give them forgiveness and you treat them as they are in Christ and they do the same to you. They may have been the offenders but likely you also reacted negatively and may have to admit to that. Point being that the relationship is now being restored on both sides. What does that look like? How do I know whether or not I am in spiritual unity with someone else?
Here is how I like to describe it. I know that I am fully reconciled with someone when I can pray and work with that person for the kingdom of God with open and transparent hearts according to our spiritual gifts.
He accepts my life ministry and I accept his life ministry. We respect and encourage each other in our walk with Christ. We pray together and minister to one another according to our gifts. We work togther for the kingdom of God. Together. Unity. Oneness. That is spiritual unity. We might also want to have a potluck dinner on occasion, but that’s just an extra. Do you see the point?
Professor Lovelace puts it this way. “Therefore “the normal Christian life” is not simply a function of an individual believer’s relationship to God. If he is isolated from Christians around him who are designed to be part of the system through which he receives grace, or if those Christians are themselves spiritually weak, he cannot be as strong and as filled with the Spirit as he otherwise would be. Individual spiritual dynamics and corporate spiritual dynamics are interdependent, just as the health of the body and the health of its cells are correlative” (p. 168).
So it matters what kind of church you attend. If it is a spiritually weak church more interested in potluck dinners than spiritual unity, you may have to go elsewhere. On the other hand, God may be calling you to start a small group or get involved in ministry or leadership right there in your present church in order to help it become stronger. But even if that is so, you still need a small group of believers around you who will walk the way of the cross with you and encourage you in your spiritual walk. Whether that small group is from your present church or from another church, you cannot do ministry much less grow as a disciple without the grace that comes from your fellow believers.
There is a great need to talk about the importance of spiritual unity as the result of reconciliation. Psalm 133 makes it clear that God’s anointing is poured out on that fellowship of believers who are in spiritual unity. It is not too much to say that this anointing of God is given to those who do things His way, who walk the way of the cross and who seek spiritual unity as the highest value in the church, above politics, status quo, being nice or avoiding confrontation.
When spiritual unity through reconciliation is our goal, we will be bold to root out any possible barrier, any fortress, any false belief, any misunderstanding that gets between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ. When spiritual unity is our highest value, we will go out of our way to make sure that we are right with everyone in the church (as well as our family members and friends).
If the board doesn’t trust someone, they don’t punish them by disallowing them to use their gifts (God forbid!) but rather they will reconcile with that person, do whatever it takes to bring true spiritual unity back to the body where that brother can exercise his gifts as a means of grace to build up the entire people of God. That’s why he is there. That’s why God brought him to you in the first place. He needed healing and part of that healing comes as he uses his spiritual gifts once again in the context of a fellowship of believers. When a Pastor has a problem with someone, he doesn’t tell them that he won’t pray for them anymore (yes, I know a Pastor like that). He focuses on reconciliation.
It is true that full reconciliation will also happen on the last day before the Judgment Seat of Christ. There will be tears and confessions and hugs all around. But it will be too late. Too late to work and pray together for the kingdom of God. Too late to build one another up or influence our children in a positive manner. I believe that what we do or fail to do in this life will have eternal consequences for ourselves and others. Yes, God is Sovereign but that doesn’t mean that our actions aren’t significant. They are significant because He chose to work through us, through our testimony. That’s how He gets His best work done. When we do things His way, there is power and anointing in our ministry. Relationships are healed. People are changed.
That is the ministry of reconciliation and it draws people like flys. Who doesn’t want to belong to a group of people who are serious about how they love each other? It’s a beautiful thing to behold when it happens, but it mostly happens by accident. Can you imagine what might happen if a group of believers understood that this ministry of reconciliation was the true spiritual warfare and started to pray and fight for healing in all of their relationships. Wow. That’s how revivals start. I want to be part of that kind of church.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I want to be part of that kind of church and I know that it starts with me. The problem is that if I walk the way of the cross and the others in the group don’t, they could end up crucifying me and hurting me deeply. I know, I know. That’s what happened to Jesus too. Lord, give me the strength to follow you no matter where you lead. Help me to help others also follow down that road. In your name I pray. Amen.