Yesterday I wrote about the virus infecting the UMC (which is actually in every church, and every person). Addressing pride will go a long way in healing our churches and ourselves, but there is something essential about the gospel that I think we’ve collectively forgotten, or at least diluted.
When I was in the pit of my addiction and everything around me was unraveling, a trusted friend and mentor asked me over dinner,
Chad, do you believe in the power of the Gospel?
I responded by saying I do. After all, shouldn’t pastors and seminary students, of which I was both at the time, believe that? But today, years later, I realize I didn’t know what I was really saying. I didn’t understand the power behind the question nor what would be required of me to access such power.
I am still very much a work in progress, but here I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned about that power and how it’s made available in your life and mine. My prayer is that it will help you, as it’s helped me, to live free from whatever is holding you hostage or restore the joy of your salvation.
If when you hear the phrase “the power of the Gospel” you think of Easter, you are thinking about it the way I did when initially asked that question. If you think first and foremost about resurrection, new life, freedom from addictions and failed relationships, healing, redemption, an eternal home in heaven, or anything of the sort, you are not alone, but you are believing in only a partial gospel.
It’s easy to do. Who wouldn’t want all of those things? And when you are in the pit, you certainly want out. The problem with it though is that this partial – yet hopeful – gospel obscures the real power behind the gospel.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church which was plagued with living a defeated Christian existence (sexual sin, relationship issues, church division, etc), he reminds them where the true power of the gospel rests:
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Did you hear that? Or better yet, did you hear what Paul doesn’t say? None of the things I thought was the power of the gospel back in the day. Paul says the power of the gospel is not in resurrection, but in crucifixion. It’s not an empty tomb, but a blood-stained cross. Not Easter, but Good Friday.
A partial gospel – one that emphasizes Easter over the Cross – can be used by the enemy to rob you of ever knowing the power of the full Gospel, thus keeping you in perpetual disappointment and defeat as you seek a resurrected life without crucifying the present one.
This was the predominant truth I was missing in my life. I did not know or understand (it was foolishness to me) the power behind the blood of Jesus Christ and the reason why the Cross must take center stage in my life – even more than an empty tomb. For when the cross gets diluted in my thinking and in my life, the tomb of my life gets repopulated and polluted.
Paul stresses this just a bit further on in his letter when he writes that he desired to know nothing among the Corinthian church “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). It was the cross that dominated Paul’s thinking, not Easter.
Because Paul put Good Friday first, he lived an Easter life. The paradox of putting the cross at the center of our lives is that it leads to a reality only God can produce in us: resurrection.
Tragically, far too many of us want the new life without dying to the old one. We love the promise of resurrection and cringe at the prospect of crucifixion. Can’t we just be bandaged up a bit and go on with our lives as we have come to know them minus these “bad behaviors”?
Not if you want to experience the power of the Gospel. For the power of the Gospel knows nothing of making men and women better people and only of making men and women new. God’s program of redemption, then, requires we go the same way of Jesus, which knows resurrection only as hoped-for promise of a life crucified to God. It requires that everything we know dies.
Death to our dreams and hopes for how our lives should be. Death to our past, our present, and our future. Death to our desires and preferences. Death to our plans for how we intend to recover ourselves or others. Death to our rights. Death to our pride and place and prestige. Death to our intentions for where we want to live, what we want to do, what we desire to be, and how we can carve out a “life” for ourselves.
Every time I experience a rift in my spirit, or sense a shift in my relationship with God or others, or feel as though the future is scary or the present suffocating, I can usually identify something of my crucified self that is rearing it’s defeated, yet greedy, head. There is something within my flesh that I must hand-deliver to the Cross of Jesus Christ and crucify once more so that I might be able to experience the life of the Spirit in which I, and I imagine you, desire to walk.
The paradox in all of this, and perhaps the reason why Paul called this fixation on the Cross “foolishness to the perishing,” is that every time I do this I find God a more-than-ready and trustworthy steward of my crucified self and where my sin abounds, His grace abounds even more. When I live to know nothing except Jesus Christ crucified I receive a life that is not my own, but Christ in me, who is new and alive and full of Easter promise and power.
The thing I thought was missing from the recent United Methodist General Conference, and I would contend in most American churches today, is a proclamation of this cross-bearing life which always precedes the resurrection life. Jesus did not go to the cross to affirm our natural state but to inaugurate our supernatural one.
If you have been missing out on the fullness of the power of the Gospel my advice to you would be to prayerfully ask God to give you a heart willing to take everything to the cross. Pray this every day until it becomes a reality in you. Then, and only then, after you have been to the cross, will you experience the gracious gift of Easter and the power of the Gospel which makes men and women new.