Here we are at the fourth section titled Living Under the Cross which concerns itself with how the cross alters all our relationships. It comprises four chapters which I shall tackle in pairs.
10. The Community of Celebration
Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. His purpose wasn’t just to save isolated individuals, but to create a new community of people who would belong to him and love one another. Having been brought into being by the cross, this community should have its perspective and behaviour governed and transformed by the cross.
A new relationship to God
As seen in chapter 7, we are now reconciled to God. This new relationship is marked by:
- boldness: We have freedom and confidence ; we can approach the throne of grace with confidence; we can enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.
- love: We love because he first loved us. We now live our lives in grateful service.
- joy: Those who had been in exile in Babylon had mouths filled with laughter on their return. How much more should we be joyful?
Boldness, love and joy should characterize both our private and our public worship.
Christ’s sacrifice and ours
The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper dramatize the truths of the gospel. Baptism is a picture of being cleansed from sin and sharing in his death and resurrection. At the Lord’s Supper we remember the self-sacrifice of Christ.
What spiritual sacrifices are the people of God to offer?
- our bodies
- our praise, worship and thanksgiving
- prayer—which ascends to God as a fragrant incense
- a broken and contrite heart
- our faith
- our gifts and good deeds
- our life, even unto death
- the evangelist can present his converts as an offering acceptable to God
11. Self-understanding and Self-giving
The cross calls us to both self-denial and self-affirmation. Because of Christ, we are a new people. We died to sin and live a new life. We are therefore to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, and to live a life consistent with this fact.
Jesus said: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. In Roman times, every condemned criminal had to carry the horizontal beam of their own cross to the scene of execution. By taking up our cross we are following Jesus to the place of crucifixion. Our “cross” then is a symbol of death to self.
Self-denial is the renunciation of our supposed right to go our own way, and not simply the denial of luxuries. Our death to sin takes place at conversion. Death to self is a daily occurrence.
Jesus also calls us to self-affirmation:
- He taught the value of human beings
- He didn’t despise anybody, but went out of his way to accept the rejected—women, children, Samaritans, lepers, Gentiles, tax collectors…
- He came to serve, not to be served and to give his life as a ransom for many. That he would willingly lay down his life for us affirms our value to him.
The cross is therefore both a picture of the value of human self and how to deny human self. How do we value and deny ourselves at the same time? What we are is partly the result of creation and partly the result of the Fall. We are to crucify our fallen self—everything opposed to Jesus. We are to affirm and value our created self.
Christians are to view themselves as created, fallen and redeemed. We have been created and re-created in God’s image. We have more to affirm. We also have more to deny. The Apostle Paul, for example, had a right to marry and to receive financial support, both of which he denied himself. Similarly, we may have to give up something that isn’t wrong or sinful in itself in order to carry out God’s will in our lives.
Self-denial and self-affirmation are both means to self-sacrifice. In Mark 10:35-45 we see clearly the contrast between the standard of the cross and the standard of the world. In verse 35, we see the depths of James’ and John’s selfish ambition, which is in conflict with the selflessness we are to possess. They wanted power (v 37); instead Jesus told them of service (vv42-43). They wanted comfort; their future held some suffering: James was beheaded, and John died in lonely exile.
It is interesting to note that this account is presented right after a reference to the cross.
Spheres of service
For a Christian these are the home, the church and the world.
- In the home, wives are to submit to their husbands who on their part are to love their wives as Christ loved the church.
- In the church we are to love one another; do nothing out of selfish ambition; look to the needs of others; remember that sinning against our brother/sister is sinning against Christ.
- In the world, we are to engage in missions. Mission arises from the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. In his birth he identifies with our humanity; in his death, the seed that dies multiplies; in his resurrection he receives all authority to send his church to disciple the nations.
In the cross, God does more than reveal his love: he puts his love within us. Thus we have a double incentive to give ourselves in love to others.