Why the Cross Matters (Pt 2)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Last time I left off speaking of Paul's exegetical declaration "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Co 2:2). The cross has a profound affect on how we read the Bible, and is key to its proper interpretation. This time I want to focus on how the cross affects how we think and how we live, that is, how it is the key to a Jesus-shaped ethics.

Paul's stance of seeing everything through the lens of "Christ crucified" completely revolutionized how he read Scripture, and it also revolutionized how he lived his life, and his understanding of what it meant to follow God. That is not just pious talk, Paul radically changed his approach to faith, going from a faith which led him to violently persecute the church, to one that led him to endure persecution in Jesus name. He went from legalism to grace, from religiously justified violence to enemy love and nonviolence. At the heart of that change is the cross. Having listed all the things he used to see a central to his faith, Paul writes, "I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3:8). Now what does it mean to "gain Christ"? He continues, "I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (v 10-11). Notice the pattern here of knowing the power of the resurrection by becoming like him in his death.

This echos the pattern Paul has set up in the previous chapter where he tells of how Christ "being in very nature God... made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant" (Phil 2:6-7) and how that act of self-giving and dying to self resulted in "every tongue acknowledging that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (v 11). For Paul, saying "Jesus is Lord" means that the crucified one is Lord, and thus that God has proclaimed the way of the cross as both God's way and our way. This is, as Michael Gorman calls it, Paul's "master story" of both the narrative of God's actions in Jesus, and of our model of ethics as we take up our cross and follow. Paul in fact directly connects the example of Christ in the opening hymn of Philippians with how we should act. He introduces it by saying, "In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus" (v 5). Our way of life needs to be the way of the cross, the way of doing "nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." (v 3-4).

Paul makes an identical point in in Romans when he says we are to live as a "living sacrifice" (Ro 12:1) so that how we think, see, and act is formed by the cross . He continues, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (v 2). Notice here, as in Philippians, Paul draws a direct connection between Christ's sacrificial death and our ethical response. In fact, more than any "theory" of the atonement, what we see in the NT again and again is a connection made from what Jesus did, and what we should do. The cross leads to ethics. From the perspective of the New Testament, this is not a side point, it is the main point.

Paul goes on in this chapter to outline what that looks like. It involves being "we-focused" rather than "me-focused," caring for those in need, demonstrating humility and compassion... but the crux of it all (if you pardon the pun) is summed up in his concluding statement "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (12:21). We see here that Paul's understanding of the Christ crucified, and what it means for us to declare the crucified Jesus "Lord" is deeply tied to what we see Jesus doing throughout the gospels in his teaching and ministry. That is, in order to understand the cross we need to get that all of what Jesus did lead up to the cross. The way of Jesus we see throughout the gospels is the way of the cross. Paul directly makes that connection for us.

Why does the cross matter? Because the atonement is inseparable from ethics, and from exegesis. Understanding the cross properly does not just have an impact on our own personal salvation and relationship with God (as important at that is!), it also changes how we see our world, what we value, and how we treat others.

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At 3:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Derek,
clear thoghts.
Somehow not astonishing, that nobody want's to comment this?

A small addition:
You mentioned "we-focused" rather than "me-focused".
I would call it "you-focused" meaning
a) focused on you, my god (as jesus did)
b) focused on you, my neighbour

Today the "WE" is more or less not more than a bigger "ME" with clear defined boarders to be defended. And a clear message: "You are a friend, when you come in. But if you stay out..."

(Hope my english is understandable)

Merry X-mas

And here my chrismas gift:

At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Peter,
What you are describing is called in English an "us/them" mentality. Saying "you/me" would imply that a person is focused either on themselves OR on others. I wanted to imply BOTH loving ourselves AND loving others. So the idea of "me/we" juxtaposes thinking individually vs. thinking socially (both me and you).

At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Derek,
OK, seems that the English language is richer than German in this case.

But, still, I think the "We" sounds so weak. It goes beyond the theme of your article, but all your citations lead to it:
Let me try to elaborate. Christians are called not to live a "we" as a good balance between "me" and "you", (or as a tamed "me"). Instead they are called to live the "you-me", the "me" which finds identity, purpose, etc. in connecting to all the "you's" (god at first, then all the others). But I admit, "you-me" is not a good word for this concept...
(furthermore Martin Buber's "you-me" is nearby this concept.)

kind regards

At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Peter,
Ach so! you are thinking in German!
Yes, in German I agree with you that "wir" can imply an insider group. In English there are different connotations, and "us" would imply exclusiveness while "we" would not. So I guess it got lost in translation. Perhaps in German I might say "mich-orientiert" vs. "uns-orientiert". I'd have to think about that.

I assume that Buber really says "Du-Ich" which usually is translated as "Thou-I" rather than "you-me" in English. I think however that here he is talking about the relationship between a person and God rather than inclusive-focus vs self-focus, but I have not read much Buber so I could be mistaken.

At 6:47 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Even better, I think I'd call it "Beziehungs-orientiert" as opposed to a "Selbst-orientiert" (relationship-centered vs. self-centered).

At 9:52 PM, Blogger GraceAnn Love said...

Hi Derek, I am yet to read your articles, but wanted to say that I am reading Satisfaction Doctrine vs Christus Victor for about the 4th time. I think it is the BEST thing I have ever read on Jesus' life/death/resurrection in my whole life, and I am telling others about it. It if comes out as a book I will buy and recommend it

At 11:14 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks Penguin, that's very kind of you to say.

At 10:59 PM, Blogger GraceAnn Love said...

I am trying to summarise what you said in it into a facebook Nnte , and it's not easy, since it goes beyond simple formulae for salvation. A theology of the heart!! I wish my words did not get in the way!

At 11:34 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Well, really simply put: I'd say that any understanding of the atonement that does not focus on and demonstrate God's love for us has the wrong focus. Along those lines, Karl Barth was once asked to summarize his multi-volume Church Dogmatics, and he answered "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."


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