I have been wrestling with a few things in my heart lately. They are a mixture of something I found in Philippians, recent sermons heard in my church, and my recent study of Hebrews. Actually, it also includes what I hear as a consistent theme in modern church music.
The problem is described pretty well in Hebrews 4:1-2:
Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.Hebrews 4:1-2 NASB
Here’s the problem: what does it mean to unite the truth of Jesus with faith? According to the letter of James, faith without works is dead (James 2:17-18). But what of works? Clearly, works are not what saves us (Ephesians 2:8-9), and yet works are what we were created to do (Ephesians 2:10). So, what are we supposed to be doing? What works fulfill our purpose?
And this is an important question because failing to find that answer endangers our finding the final rest of our Savior (Hebrews 4:1). This question of what we are supposed to be about is crucial to our “Walk with God”. Think about this enormous elephant in the room: Belief in the Cross of Jesus does not save us in and of itself. Are you now horrified, and ready to burn me at the stake as a heretic? Well, wait for it…
The cross of Jesus makes it possible to enter into a relationship with our Creator. The barrier of our sin, of our rebellion, of all our twisting of His work in human history has been removed in the work of Jesus on a Roman cross. All debts are paid at the Cross of Jesus, and, in truth, we are finally free. And if Jesus had only died on that Roman cross, our sin would have been paid for, but He didn’t only die on that cross.
Paul, in the letter to the church in Philippi wrote the following, summarizing the life of Jesus:
who, although He existed in the form of God,Philippians 2:6-11 NASB
Did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
But emptied Himself,
Taking the form of a bond-servant,
And being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
By becoming obedient to the point of death,
Even death on a cross.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him,
And bestowed on Him the name
Which is above every name,
So that at the name of Jesus
Every knee will bow,
Of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And that every tongue will confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father.
The quote is from the New American Standard, but I put it in the poetic structure of the Nestle-Aland 27th Edition Greek Text. This is likely from an early Christian hymn, which means it was supposed to be familiar to the church. Yet Paul begins his quote by commanding them to “Reason yourself to the same conclusion reached by Jesus.” (my translation of Philippians 2:5).
From this hymn, we learn that Jesus essentially did three things, three things Paul wants the people of the Philippian disciples to do:
- Jesus empties Himself of His equal form and nature of God (v.7)
- Jesus took the form of a servant (v.7)
- Jesus humbled Himself becoming obedient to death (v.8)
The basic pattern of Jesus is made up of these three things. And Paul goes on to describe three examples of people, familiar to the Philippian disciples, who lived these three things out: Timothy (Philippians 2:19-22, servant), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30, obedience to the point of death), and Paul, himself (Philippians 3:3-11, emptying himself).
What this means for us is that we are designed to live out this pattern as well. It is good to celebrate the Cross of Jesus. But, let’s continue on to celebrate the Resurrection Power of Jesus at work in us to follow the pattern of Jesus. When we stop, content to be “saved”, we fail to continue on walking with Jesus in the garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). And according to Hebrews 4:1,2, this means we fail to reach the Garden at all.
The purpose of the Cross of Jesus is to bring down the barriers erected in the Garden of Eden. Now we can empty ourselves of the oppressive weight of all our power and achievements. The barriers to becoming a servant have been destroyed. And our obedience is made possible through the blood sacrifice, once for all, of our Apostle and High Priest (Hebrews 2:14-3:1).
I have been called by my Master to three things. I have been called to wait, to worship, and to walk before Him. I have been enabled to do these three things because my Master knows my name, He loves me, and He has my back.
Regardless of how you express it, you are called to walk with Jesus, daily. And this walk is characterized by a cross of your own. To carry it, we empty ourselves and become a servant. Then, and only then, can we carry our mark of obedience toward death, even the death of a cross. What this looks like for you will depend on Jesus. For Peter and John, they had to leave their nets. For the “Rich Young Ruler”, he had to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor. What will “emtying” look like for you?
I think Christianity erred. The concentration on the cross is not where the emphasis should be placed. Lots of 1st C. Jews were put to death on a cross, two (that we know of) at the same time. The emphasis should be on the Resurrection of Christ, only *one* person ever rose from the dead. If Jesus had just died then, like so many *messiahs* before him the movement would have ended there, and our salvation would be for naught. It is through the Resurrection that we are saved, for without that the Gates of Hades would still stand and no one would be able to join in the final Resurrection.
As far as works, the Western Church (IMHO) missed this big time. Salvation is a gift, the gift must be accepted and made a part of our being. Once it is fully assimilated into our being then, like Jesus and the Apostles and Disciples, the works cannot help but to issue forth. If works (almsgiving*) do not issue forth then salvation hasn’t truly been received. This and more will issue forth from the truly saved person, they will not be able to stop it from happening, and it will be done joyously, not as a “Father said I should be doing this, so I am.”
*almsgiving in the Eastern Church isn’t money. It is charitable work done for another – feeding the poor, clothing the naked (let’s not get literal here), caring for the sick.
LikeLiked by 1 person