“I have been crucified with Christ…” – Paul the apostle
I have been crucified with Christ, not apart from Him. This has to be at the forefront of my every action, the faith behind my every prayer, and the motive behind every work of ministry I undertake. Thanks to Christ I can honestly say that God does not ask me to do things that He would not do Himself. Christ demands my life but my sin-debt first demanded His. The only way the gap between God and myself could be filled was with the fullness of God – Jesus. Willingly Jesus died for me [John 15:13; Romans 5:6-8]. Now willingly I must die every day for Him.
It’s hard sometimes but only because I fail to look right next to me and see Jesus doing the same thing for me. Before being betrayed, tortured, and murdered, Jesus brought His disciples together. He had them share a loaf of bread and a cup of wine together, explaining to them that the bread represented His body being broken for them and the wine represented His blood being poured out on their behalf. Then He told them, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Over twenty centuries years later, His disciples still do this as a way to remember Christ. Every moment of every day I need this in my head. I need it on constant replay. If I can make this a practice in my life, I can truly live as Paul did – crucified with Christ, not apart from Him.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
– Ephesians 3:14-19
No language on earth has the words I need to properly respond to all of the wonders in this passage. Paul is not bowing his knees before a human father who sometimes fails his children. He is not praying to a dad who only has a few evening hours each day to spare for his kids. He’s talking to God – the Creator of fatherhood and Father of all. If anyone knows what it takes to be a good dad, it’s God. Paul is well aware of this and he asks God for things not according to his own limitations and resources but according to God’s limitations –which are zero – and resources – which are infinite.
Paul asks for God to strengthen the Ephesians with a power not of them or through them but of God and through His Holy Spirit. He asks for this not for the sake of showing off but for the sake of each of them personally coming to a realization of the weight and enormity of God’s love. He’s asking a God without measure for a power without measure to be given to a people so that they can realize just how immeasurable their God and His power truly are! It’s like Paul is saying, “Lord, give us all of these things just so we can see You. Because that’s all we want and it’s more than enough.”
Did you catch it? The underlying theme in all of this? It’s trust. Paul trusts that God is not only real but a loving and generous Father – everything He claims to be. Paul trusts that God doesn’t want to hold out on us. Paul trusts that God, instead of giving to us only according to our need, wants to give to us according to His infinite riches. Paul trusts that the Holy Spirit is real and powerful enough to strengthen us. Paul trusts that our faith [trust] in Christ is enough for Christ to dwell in our heart. Paul trusts that through a real faith in God and God’s real power at work in us, we can come to comprehend the love of Christ. Paul trusts that the love of Christ is beyond understanding because it really is that big. Paul trusts that we can be filled with all the fullness of God if we can trust like him.
I know I’m repeating myself but I think we need to hear this stuff over and over again. Our hearts, minds, and spirits are trapped by a lack of trust in God. We began this journey by faith solely in love and power of Christ. We must finish it the same way we started it!
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” – Romans 8:7
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 10:34-39
Jesus knew the effect that a call to total submission would have on people. If you do not belong to Christ, His words will offend you. The teaching of Christ doesn’t cause hostility. Instead, it draws a hostility out of people that has always lingered within them. Jesus is the Light. When you introduce someone to Him, He reveals the things that are hidden within them. Eventually it will reveal their hostile nature towards Him. Only a touch of His grace can remove their heart of hostility and plant a heart of submission within them. Only someone who accepts His grace by putting their faith in Him can be touched by it. Submission is the core of a faith placed in Christ. It’s the exact opposite of the lost world’s reaction to God.
As disciples of Jesus, we need to know and accept the fact that we will always be met with hostility for our faith. As Paul says, it is impossible for those who have set their mind on this life only (“the flesh”) to submit to God. Hostility is their only possible response. Why is it so important for us to know this? Because that revelation will give us the edge we need to show compassion to all people. Did you hear that? Not judgment. Compassion! Jesus knew that. That’s how He was able to hand Himself over to be mocked, tortured, and brutally murdered. He handed Himself over to the hostile nature of humanity so that He could destroy that hostility and bring them back into a love-centered, submitted relationship with God [Romans 5:10-11]. How brilliant that is!
That same hostile nature still lingers within our hearts even as disciples. This should drive us into deeper submission to Christ. The knowledge of where that nature will take us – for the refusal to submit to God ends in the attempt to stamp Him out just as we have already witnessed – should make us all the more desperate and dependent for Jesus to finish His work in us [Colossians 1:21-23].
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
We who are in Christ have not been given a ministry of manipulation. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Our calling is not to make people do the right things. It is not our job to convince them of anything. Rather our calling is to simply lead them to Christ so that their relationship with Him can begin. We cannot make them follow us to Christ, but we can continually extend the invitation and boast of the name of Christ.
The Gospel must be more than just words on our lips. It must be power in our hearts. The ambassadors of Christ are first reconciled to God and then instruments through which He calls out to others. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” To take part in the ministry of reconciliation we must walk in the way of Christ, trust in the truth that is Christ, and take hold of the life found in Christ.
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
– Luke 21:1-4
Do I give out of my abundance or do I give out of my poverty? Is it my circumstances that decide how much I’m going to give or is it an undaunted love and devotion to Christ that decides this? God’s eyes are on all of us. He watched as that widow dropped all she had in the offering box. It was His voice that said, “Now that’s a gift that catches my eye. She gave the most of all.” She wasn’t focused on what other people were putting in it. Her gift was not measured by how much others could give or by who was watching. Her gift was not weighed on a scale that was based on how much she had. It was weighed and measured by her love for God and her simple faith in Him. Oh, that we would have that’s widow’s heart!
What happens when we fail? What does it mean? Is it “game over” for us?
We all have our vices and closet sins. I spent Tuesday night opening up to a dear friend about one of my darkest struggles. We spent some time praying together and seeking the comfort of God’s compassion and mercy. Failure is still a very real part of my life. [But Christ’s work in me is far more potent than the sin that still lingers in my life!]
After I give in to sin and the realization of what I’ve done sinks in, my initial reaction is not to run to Christ. I don’t immediately call out His name. What I often want to do first is lock myself in a room alone, sitting there in the quiet while sin festers in my heart. But this is not the way Christ would have us treat our failures.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
– Psalm 103:9-14
The love Christ has for us is without question! If you are grounded in His love and His Word, then you can ask yourself a very important question. “Do I love Jesus?” If you don’t, then you haven’t received His grace and you don’t have access to the power and strength Christ longs to give you. But if you do love Him, then you can rest assured that nothing can separate you from Him! Not your darkest sin. Not your deepest doubt. Your answer to that question will give you the strength to accept forgiveness and press on with your day and your journey with Christ. You are dead to your sin and alive in Christ. Be that living dead person and rest in the freedom only God’s love can bring!
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?“
– John 18:33-38
I wonder if Pilate replayed this dialogue over and over in his mind afterwards. Did it give him goosebumps? He stood toe-to-toe with God incarnate and heard Him reveal the mysteries of His invasion. Invasion…Can you call it anything else? Every bit of this was planned. This was a spec ops mission that only one Man could pull off. But He didn’t come empty-handed and He certainly wasn’t walking away empty-handed. He came to reclaim His kingdom – His people.
Pilate asked the wrong question. Truth is not a what. Truth is a Who. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” [John 14:6] I don’t know how it works or how to explain it, but Jesus is not a speaker of truth. He is the Truth. To know truth, you must know Christ. Nothing else matters if you do not know Christ. Paul knew this.
“But we preach Christ crucified.” [1 Corinthians 1:23]
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” [2 Corinthians 2:1-2]
Everything that we who willingly lay our lives down for Christ have is staked upon this one mission. Know Christ. Preach Christ. Pilate’s question resonates all over the world. (Post modernism only amplifies it.) “What is truth?” We know the answer and we are called to give that answer. Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus set the wheels into motion for the largest full-scale invasion the world will ever know. Be a part of the kingdom force. Stake everything you have on it.