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Friday, April 30, 2010

The Cross - Power for Living

I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galations 2:20)

Paul pens these words to the Galation church with the definite intention of calling attention to the fact that a follower of Christ lives a transformed life – a life affected by the cross. The cross is a place of execution – a place where something is put to death, or the power of it is destroyed. That is what those opposed to Christ’s ministry on earth hoped would happen when they hung Jesus on a cross all those years ago – they thought his power and influence in the lives of the people would be destroyed. They put him on the cross with the hopes that the “status quo” he had so dynamically challenged would be allowed to continue – things would go “back to normal” and life would go on without having to change.

The Christian is called to allow the cross to affect their lives – but it has to be embraced in order to be effective in our lives. We are called to crucify (apply the cross to) several influences that create compromising “tugs” on our hearts and “cloud” our minds from seeing clearly (as God sees a situation or person). Let’s explore just a few things that the Scriptures teach us about the cross in our lives.

Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. (Gal. 6:14) Paul knew that the world had an appeal for each of us. It is different for each believer depending on the influence of how we were raised, what we have come to believe about ourselves and others, etc. The glamour and glitter (what I call the hype) of the world promise all kinds of potential “power” for us. We think, “If only I had this…” or “If only I was better acquainted with….” At best, the world offers a make-believe power through status, acclaim, honor, or stature. The belief that we can “fit in” if we follow the pattern outlined by the world is just an illusion. None of these really matter in God’s economy – our status is found in Christ, the acclaim we enjoy in his presence is because of Jesus’ blood applied in our lives, and the honor all goes back to Christ, not us. Paul wants us to understand that our Christian walk is more than the world not having a significant pull in our lives, but it is that its pull is a “dead” thing in our lives – it no longer influences our desires, our attitudes, or our responses – we no longer strive to “fit in” according to the world’s definition.
 Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20-21) Ego no longer central – speaks volumes, doesn’t it? How does this happen? Paul gives us the answer – not through our own doing, but through Christ living in us – empowering us to live above the pull of our own self-centered ego. The power of God became pre-eminent in Paul’s life as the cross was allowed to be applied to the very center of his self-centered drives, habits, and responses. In our self-centeredness, we long for, and actually go after, things that are clearly outside of God’s will for us. Self makes huge demands on us – but God calls for us to not be drawn away by self. The sooner that we realize that our “self” (that part of us Paul calls ego here) misdirects us and keeps us from living righteously, the sooner we can learn the value of living lives separated from the world’s influence. Living separated from the world does not mean that we go off into some communal living relationship in the backwoods. It means that we don’t respond to the influence of the world’s pull to conform to the values it portrays – instead, we pursue and embrace the values of the kingdom of God as Scripture portrays them. Self brings us into bondage – keeping us in a place of fear and affords us ample opportunities for failure. We must learn to embrace the cross in order to overcome the influence of our own misdirected ego.

When we embrace the cross, we can expect to see its influence in our lives – first in the power it produces in us and second in the separation it creates in our lives. The power produced by the cross is different from the power offered by the world – it cannot be easily understood by our intellect. The world’s power is something we see, feel, and understand with our minds. The power of the cross is something we trust in, base our every move upon, and count on to transform us. When Paul describes living no longer by his own efforts or will, he is giving us a hint about the power of the cross – it is a place of total dependence on Christ accomplishing in and through us whatever is to be produced in our lives. The separation the cross produces is a direct result of the power of the cross being applied to our lives.

The effect of “Christ living in me” is that I am changed – everything that acted as a substitute for holiness in my life falls away and true holiness is produced. What types of things act as a substitute for holiness in our lives? For some, it may be that they work, work, work their way to heaven – believing that their involvement in the “right” works will keep them secure in their salvation and “buy” them entrance into the kingdom. For others, it may be self-abasement – thinking that if they just lower themselves to a place of total “non-value”, then holiness will be produced. Both are totally damaging and wrong concepts. Holiness is not a “thing” – it is not earned. It is a condition of heart that is produced through the power of the cross – the Holy Spirit working in us to bring about the heart and mind change that affects our priorities, influences our choices, and transforms the way we interpret life.

As we dedicate ourselves to the purposes and plans of our holy God, we are determining to live godly (holy) lives. We are determining to embrace the cross. This dedication is not a one-time thing – it begins at a point in time when we submit to the work of the cross in our lives (we call this the justifying of a sinner). It continues in a daily submission to the work of the cross in our lives (we call this the sanctifying of a sinner). Justification is a one-time event (we are made right with God through the blood of Christ at the point of our accepting Christ into our lives). Sanctification is a life-long process (cross being applied daily to our choices, our values, and our actions). The cross is a place of consecration – we give it all. In exchange, we get it all. No other influence in our lives produces what the cross does – no other influence has the power to transform like the cross. Embrace the cross – it may be painful, but the cost is worth the outcome it produces.