Could things get any worse? I find myself asking this question often over the last several months. And yes, it has everything to do with COVID-19, frustrations of ministry, trying to transition to a new church during this pandemic, racial injustice and all of the baggage that comes with it, and this presidential election. But what confounds me the most and causes me to be out-of-sorts is my inability to discern what the Christian answer is to it all.
A couple of nights ago for example, I was exasperated watching two presidential candidates throw insults at each other like kids fighting at the monkey bars in grade school. Or over some recent social media posts where I was simply lamenting that white Christianity seems to care even less about racial injustice given everything we have seen this year…and then I was interrogated, and in some cases, attacked from friends and family in the faith for taking a “political stance.” So, the question I continue to ask myself is what do we do? Today, God has helped me to see the more important question is who are we to be?
I am teaching through the letter to the Colossians this fall, and I was struck by some words that Paul shares in the first chapter when he writes:
Colossians 1:24–25 (NIV)
24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—
Here Paul does a couple interesting things:
- He claims to find joy in suffering for the recipients of this letter
- Then he claims to be achieving something that is still lacking in Christ’s afflictions
What is happening here? Well, I think what is behind both of these statements is an important answer to our questions of what do we do and who are we to be? Scholars think that Paul might be using a rhetorical style to concede a point and then crush the opponent. It is likely that there are people in Colossae that seemed to say that Christ has not accomplished enough in his suffering to free the new believers from evil and suffering in the world. Paul ironically implies, “they are right.” Then proceeds to say that what is lacking is a final step for us to be connected to the sufferings of Jesus, in the way that he models for the church (see Col. 1:24-2:3). Only that will bring victory over evil and suffering in the world, because Jesus has accomplished victory in death and resurrection. And this truth brings joy to Paul even in his sufferings. Michael J. Gorman calls this focus from Paul “cruciformity” and defines it as:
. . . conformity to the cross, to Christ crucified. Cruciformity is the ethical dimension of the theology of the cross found throughout the NT and the Christian tradition. Paradoxically, because the living Christ remains the crucified one, cruciformity is Spirit-enabled conformity to the indwelling crucified and resurrected Christ. It is the ministry of the living Christ, who reshapes all relationships and responsibilities to express the self-giving, life-giving love of God that was displayed on the cross. Although cruciformity often includes suffering, at its heart [it]—like the cross—is about faithfulness and love.
I love how Nijay Gupta describes the same idea, “The cross-way, ‘cruciformity,’ is about living a new kind of life. The crucial thing to observe, though, is that it is not just suffering ‘for Christ,’ but in imitation of Christ’s suffering for other people.” So in our suffering we are linked to Christ’s suffering and victory over suffering. More so, those who are conformed by the cross will suffer for neighbor.
What if this is who we are to be? People of cruciformity. In times of distress, peril, evil, disillusion, and anger—Christian: maybe your calling is to die, deny yourself, and serve. Ed Stetzer has a timely book called “Christians in the Age of Outrage,” where he aptly applies this idea: “When we live out a gospel-driven Christian worldview, the gospel is not just something we grasp at conversion; it is something that influences how we see and respond to the world in all areas of our lives. When Christians participate in an unhelpful way in this age of outrage, this transformation has not happened; instead, they have allowed their worldview to become infected.”
Like Stetzer, I think too much of our church is getting caught up in the rage, or at least they have lost their anchor in the faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The consequences of this trend are devastating corporately and individually. First, the church is full of people living their life for the gospel only when it suits them or their ideology. Secondly, individuals are infected by all the fear and hopelessness of a worldview absent of the victory of Christ. When this happens, we cannot lead or love.
This is the point where critics might say, “yes, but we still need to vote,” or “there has to be more that we can do,” or “we just can’t serve and love when ______ is going to ruin our country or our home”…. Or whatever fatalist view we are tempted to believe. But here is the deal, the cross of Christ and the blood shed on the cross is what will “reconcile all things” (Colossians 1:20). Not an election. Not facebook. Not even a great sermon, bible study or book. Only Jesus and the way of the cross. There are many things we should do, but let’s start with who we should be.