Thursday, March 09, 2006

Dignity in Jesus

It is one the great moments in Calvin’s Institutes: in Book 3 of this monumentally significant work he outlines the very nature of the Christian life in terms of cross-bearing and self-denial (cf. Matt. 16:24).

Cross-bearing is the mark of Jesus’ call to discipleship. Not feeling good about ourselves, not finding the inner strength within, not maximizing joy and pleasure (the eudemonistic obsession of our times); but, following in the footsteps of our Lord in denying ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of God. It is a lesson set before us every day of our lives. It involves the business of how strain and pain is transmuted into gain and glory. It is like turning mud into a beautiful sculpture. In the studio of Christlikeness there are chisels, kilns, hammers, scissors, needles and other instruments, each one designed to shape and mould and extract so that what results is beauty.

So much of today’s Christianity is about finding our comfort-zone. Christians are discontent because they have told too often that when they come to Jesus, all their troubles will vanish away. But being in the kingdom of God has to do with self-denial and cross-bearing and living a life in which instability and problems and relational headaches of one sort or another are par for the course. This is what I see in the New Testament everywhere. When Paul is asked to account for himself or John talks about the need to love each other, it is self-denial and cross-bearing that comes to surface.

Martin Luther wrote and preached a great deal along these lines, in what today we call his Theology of the Cross. For Luther (in contrast to, say, Harold Kushner), when bad things happen, it is because (for Christians at least) God is actually blessing them. We need to have good eyesight to see this, of course. We need to be able to see beyond the here and now and the visible, to the world to come. We need to have that perspective that so marked former Christians, that we look for that city…whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 13:14).

When we live with our sights firmly set on the world to come, we will better understand how to live in this world with all of its troubles.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love watching mud turned into a beautiful sculpture. I have witnessed that a few times and it is awesome. God IS beautiful.