Those of you who, like me, grew up in circles which primarily sang hymns, might be familiar with the lines which read, “The way of the Cross leads home / It is sweet to know as I onward go / The way of the Cross leads home.” Our next step in the Messaging Framework—The Way of the Cross—reminds us that it is also a way which includes hard work and demands on us and our disciples.
If you have been tracking with our posts, you might recall that last month we discussed how God’s message to us is primarily about who He is, and secondarily about what He wants us to do. We also briefly related how knowing God will in turn inform how we are to live. The point of this next step in the framework is that every time our knowledge of God increases, a necessary death of self is also needed.
One way to explain this idea is to say that there is a “Showdown of Lords” taking place in our lives. As the phrase would imply, the way of the Cross runs through a contest for supremacy and power. This showdown is, in one sense, cosmic in nature. It begins in Genesis 3 and runs through Revelation 20. The scope of Scripture and our own sense of time reinforce the idea that we are a small part of a much larger story and struggle. The lords have been battling it out long before we showed up on the scene, and they will probably continue long after we have disappeared. This is part of why most narratives center on a conflict between good and evil. They help give context and perspective to the struggles we see and experience each day. And, as we read our stories and live our lives, we look forward to the day when the triumphant proclamation John foretold is raised: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
And yet, there is a sense in which the showdown is happening right in our very own lives. Concurrent with the direction to spread God’s Kingdom through the world are directions to make sure that it is spreading in our smaller circles. “Work out your own salvation,” “Bear one another’s burdens,” “Do good to the household of faith.” In fact, the general thrust of Scripture seems to be that God’s Kingdom, like ripples on water, starts in small circles and spreads to bigger ones. At the center of those circles, then, is the primary place of God’s work: the expansion of the Kingdom in our own lives. Consider Christ’s response when Peter asked about directions for another apostle’s life: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” The Church is called to provide a prophetic and evangelistic voice to the world, but that message grows out of its own obedience to Christ. Or, as Paul wrote the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Which brings the realization that the Kingdom is here now—even as we also expect its fuller appearance to come. As we continue to allow God to shape us we add to the coming of the Kingdom. Every time we allow our knowledge of God to kill our old self, we increase the extent of the Kingdom. Sanctification, to use the theological term for this dying to self, is the process of us becoming more like Christ, resuming our place as God’s Image bearers in Creation. Additionally, our continued sanctification impacts how we interact with the world around us. Those above passages are not merely suggestions on how you might want to live your life—they are directions on how we should be reaching out and serving the people around us. As the Church becomes more like Christ, the reach and depth of her influence expands. Which, incidentally, brings us full circle. As we allow the Kingdom to make small advances in our lives and communities, we contribute to the overall march of God through history. The cosmic Showdown of Lords plays out in the microcosm of our lives.
And so, knowing that the Way of the Cross leads home is not exactly sweet—at least not in the easy going, picnics and daises sense of sweet. We are called to daily pick up our Cross and continue dying. But, as Paul reminds us, we follow Christ in His death because we also follow him in his Resurrection. Or, as Lewis puts it: “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become . . . Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” If it feels like this post fails to directly address the disciple-making process, it is because we need the reminder that disciple-making starts with us. Only as we faithfully continue dying to self will we be equipped to remind our disciples to embrace the Way of the Cross themselves.
What are daily disciplines you use to set yourself up for success in the Way of the Cross?
References and Notes
Scripture quotations are from The ESVÒ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard VersionÒ), copyright Ó 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity (New York; HarperCollins, 2001), 225,227.