Archive for the ‘ Union with Christ ’ Category

Paul’s Way of Imparting Christ Crucified

 

Today I submitted an essay I’ve been working on for a book project called “Making Sense of Jesus”, written by scholars related to the University of the Free State in South Africa. Here’s what my essay is about…

What would it mean for us, in Southern Africa today, to know what Paul knew of Christ crucified, and to give this knowledge and experience to others? To serve those who might wish to reflect more deeply in answer to such questions (for Africa or elsewhere), I ask the more preliminary questions: What did Paul mean by knowing Christ crucified, and especially, how did he approach imparting this knowledge?

For Paul, knowing Christ crucified means having a relationship with Christ and the gospel in which Christ’s death becomes, for believers, our dying; that is, Christ’s death becomes our way of life, our gospel-shaped identity and vocation.

While acknowledging that Paul imparted this relationship with Christ’s death through preaching the gospel, I demonstrate that he imparted it by embodying the gospel’s pattern in his own life. I maintain that 1 Corinthians represents Paul’s written attempt at imparting the identity and vocation which arise from knowing Christ crucified. Paul uses his own self-portrayal, as an extension of embodying the gospel with his life, to impart a way of thinking and living that makes space for God’s power in the midst of weakness and sacrifice. This impartation of Christ crucified seems to be the heart of what Paul has in mind when he calls believers to imitate him. For the apostle, “making sense of Jesus” means coming to know Jesus Christ in such a way that his crucifixion (and life and resurrection) becomes our way of life. Writing 1 Corinthians was Paul’s attempt to transfer this same reality from himself to the Corinthians, so that knowing Christ crucified would shape the Corinthians even as it had shaped his own life.

 

 

The gospel is the message of salvation, but it also shapes our lives

I’m exploring an area of the apostle Paul’s thought that was right at the heart of his vision for Christian life, leadership, and mission. The basic idea is this: We’re called to be people of the gospel – to share it with our words but also to embody the gospel with our lives. The gospel is the message of the cross, forgiveness, and salvation. But the gospel is not just the message of salvation; it also shapes the direction of our lives. I’m thinking about the basis of this idea of embodying the gospel.  Believing the gospel brings us into union with Christ, and union with his death and resurrection, and that union transforms us into people who manifest Jesus and represent him and his life with our lives. Our bond with Christ and the gospel transforms us, with the result that, individually and corporately, we believers can become a picture of what God is offering to the world.

The main way Paul taught this approach to the gospel was through his personal example. Paul talked a lot about himself. This tends to turn off and turn away some readers today. We too often conclude that if someone is talking about himself, he must be narcissistic and there must be nothing of value for us. But Paul’s frequent talk about himself was not really about him (I believe), but about the life of embodying the gospel. When Paul spoke of himself, in his mind, there was something far larger involved than himself. Paul has been scathingly criticized for being self-focused and egotistical and for pressuring sameness in the Christian community, among other things. At least mostly, these criticisms miss what Paul was about. Instead of emphasizing sameness with himself or the erasure of distinct personalities, when Paul invites people to follow his example, he is offering his readers a general pattern of life based on the model of Christ’s death for others. Paul crafts his example to teach the vocation of embodying the gospel, the calling which arises from union with Christ.

I’m especially thinking about this topic of embodying the gospel in 1 and 2 Corinthians. In the case of 2 Corinthians, there’s also this big issue: What about weakness and vulnerability? How can difficulty and weakness coincide with representing Jesus and the gospel, being a leader, and doing ministry? This is an issue in the Corinthian church and in Paul’s relationship with them all the way through the Corinthian letters, but especially in 2 Corinthians.  Paul answers that weakness and hardship in us and around us, instead of things to shrink from or be ashamed of, are openings for God. Weakness and difficulty are a means for going deeper in our union with Christ, and when that happens, we are changed and transformed to be more like Christ.