Thursday, 29 March 2018

Crucified with Christ

Two weeks ago I had a bit of an awkward experience. I shared some thoughts with a bunch of folk who we gather regularly with around the the atoning work of Christ and why I believe that it is better suited to the language of union or identification than it is with the more traditional language in the Western church of substitutionary atonement. What made the message awkward is that it completely went over everyone's heads. It was met with a little skepticism, some family friendly banter and a lot of confusion. So I am hoping to do better here on the blog with the same message that I shared last week.

I don't want to repeat what I have said in previous posts before so let me just start by laying a quick foundation. it might come as a surprise, but the Bible never uses the word substitution, neither does it refer to Christ's sacrificial death by using phrases like 'instead of' or 'in the place of' either. There are a few places where people with a substitutionary mindset might read the concept into certain texts (like Isaiah 53 or 2 Corinthians 5:21) but in reality, it's simply not there. What we do see however are phrases like 'in Christ', 'in Him', 'together with' and 'through Him' hundreds of times.

Christ never died for us in the sense of a substitute, for everyone one of us must still face death as well. Neither did Jesus take a cup of the Fathers wrath for us on the cross in our place. What He did do is that He took upon Himself our cup of suffering (as well as our curse, sin, shame and death) and then promised that we too would drink from that same cup (see Luke 12:49-50 and Mark 10;35-39). The early church not only understood this, but they rejoiced in it (Acts 5;40-41, Romans 8;16-17, 3 Timothy 3:12, Philippians 1:27-29, 3:8-10). The cross is not the story of a divine pardon but of a glorious union between God and man. The true message we should be hearing over Easter is that God, in Christ, has reconciled us to Himself, Jesus has identified with man and joined us in death that by Him, in Him and through Him, we may be raised with Him in glory.

The reason that I feel so strongly about this message is that if one were to follow the logic of substitutionary atonement deep down the rabbit hole then your personal conduct in this life means nothing. Who needs deliverance from sin if you can just be forgiven? Any teaching that tells you NOT to pick up your own cross and follow Jesus is extremely dangerous and contrary to the words of Jesus (Mark 8:34-35). As followers of Christ, we in no way avoid the shame of the cross, everything we read in scripture points us toward union with His death (Romans 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 6:17, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 2:4-6, Colossians 2:12, 3:3, Hebrews 2:14, 2 Peter 1:4, Revelations 12:11-12).

Let me today encourage you to think of the cross in a different light than the one so many churches will be speaking on this morning. Jesus has died for us. He has taken our death into Himself and made it His death. He becomes our dying that our dying might become His life. He has taken our sin into Himself that we might take His righteousness into ourselves. The forgiveness of God is wonderful but it is not attained by blood sacrifice as it was with the pagan deities. God has always shown forgiveness and mercy to people. The cross does not point us to the wrath of God but to the love of God (John 3:16). What we needed was life and deliverance from the power of sin. This has being granted to us through the victorious Christ who now lives in us.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy. Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.  - Philippians 2:1, 5, 8 , 12, 13.

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