Friday, 29 February 2008

The Empty Set

"Everyone who relies on deeds defined by law to be righteous are cursed,
because as the law says 'cursed is anyone who does not abide by everything contained in the law, fulfilling it all'. No, the righteous will live by faith....
In Christ alone, the blessings of Abraham come to us,
we receive the promised life in the Spirit through this faith".

Paul to the Galatians.

Have you ever been in a situation where you have totally miss-interpreted or miss-understood the information you've been given about a particular subject or task? I don't know if it's because I'm getting old or stubborn (probably both!), but I often find myself these days 'tripping up' in this fashion and then realizing - "Ah ha! I should have done this". Normally, of course, making such mistakes isn't too serious (you can usually re-do most things), but what if you're doing something totally wrong about something that really matters?

In his 'letter of liberation' to the miss-guided Galatians, the Apostle Paul confronts just such a problem - one that arises again and again in Christianity.

Now I realize that my last statement is pretty strong, and may raise some objections...
'How can that be?' someone may ask - 'we no longer have those early 'Judaizers' peddling certain rites or practices in our day', but to reduce the purpose of this epistle to something as cultural as allowing or stopping a certain tradition is to entirely miss-construe the nature of the systemic 'leaven' - the malady - which Paul is exposing.

Those Reformers of the 1500's which sought to correctly apply the Apostle's teaching here spoke of the vital distinction between a 'theology about the cross' (what they often referred to as a 'theology of glory') and a 'theology of the cross' - where our faith (our 'dying' and 'living' each day) is determined by a genuine union with Christ.
As then, and in Paul's day, the church is plagued with 'about' theology -approaches which look at the New Testament and seek to determine what is meant by formulating some system which makes it reasonable. The cross can then become some form of example to us (i.e. of God's love) - something that we can assent to without this in any manner impacting directly upon ourselves. We are left as merely spectators, seeking to judge if such a 'fact' has any real bearing or relation to the rest of our reality. The defining element, then, quickly becomes our own determinations rather than the revelation provided by God.
It leaves us , by our own faculties (should we chose), to 'climb' towards 'God' - to use such understanding as a means to reach (what we determine) as heavenward. By holding such views (however these may be deemed 'right'), we fall into the same trap as the Galatians - seeking to gain and advocate a 'form' of righteousness detached from Christ and the actual theology of the cross.

Christianity is something very different to this.
Christ calls us not to speculate, to de-construct His work in this way, but to participate, each day, in His life through a dying to self and a living through Him.
The Cross is an end to all that has gone before, putting to death the dreadful fraud of finding ways and means other than union with Christ as the truth - it is as total and as final as physical death, and it must be something which works in us everyday if we are to know any freedom from the "old" - the old nature, the law, and sin.

To conclude,
"The stem of the Cross becomes the staff of life, and thereby in the midst of the world life is set up anew upon a cursed ground...What a strange paradise, this hill of Golgotha - this cross, this broken body, this shed blood. What a strange tree of life, this tree on which God must suffer and die - die! But it is in fact the Kingdom of resurrection given to those who draw close by God's grace; it is the open door of imperishable hope, of waiting and patience...the centre of both the fallen and preserved world of God" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Creation and Fall).

Let us come, and let us thereby walk and live.

1 comment:

sportzart! (949) 355-6381 said...


You certainly do have a way of understanding the "cross alone", theology. The right way!

For me, it's not quite so easy to put into words. It is dificult for the old Adam to understand and accept the idea that God has done it all. We just can't seem to leave it alone...we don't want to leave it alone.

But when His Word finally breaks us to the point of death, then, and only then, is it possible to hear and experience all that God has done for you.

We truly have a magnificent Lord.

Thanks very much Howard.

- Steve