21 October 2022

True Spirituality


Christ crucified is the pattern disciple of Jesus are summoned to emulate, and the test of genuine faith in him

Crucifix - Photo by Dejan Livančić on Unsplash
Christ's death is the paradigm for discipleship, the measuring rod for Christian conduct, and the criterion for discerning his true followers from false disciples. Whether examining spirituality, wisdom or the miraculous, Golgotha is the red line that divides the true from the counterfeit, and God cannot be known apart from His crucified Messiah - [
Photo by Dejan Livančić on Unsplash].

In the city of Corinth, certain Christians are boasting of their special insight and spirituality, which, in their minds, are demonstrated by the abundance of spiritual gifts operating among them, especially “speaking in tongues.”

Essentially, to such presumptuousness and immaturity, the Apostle Paul retorts - IF YOU ARE SO SPIRITUAL, WHY DO YOU BEHAVE SO CARNALLY?

  • (1 Corinthians 3:1-4) – “And I could not speak to you as to spiritual people, but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with meat; for you were not yet able to bear it. No, not even now are you able; for you are yet carnal: for whereas, there is among you jealousy and strife, are you not carnal, and do you not walk after the manner of men?

CARNAL THINKING


Contrary to their pretensions, despite the manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit in the congregation, the dissension and backbiting among the Corinthians prove they are anything but “spiritual.”

Miraculous displays have their place. However, by themselves, they do not constitute wisdom or power, and certainly NOT “spirituality.”

Instead of impressive displays of spiritual gifts or eloquent speech, Paul points to the Cross of Christ as the model of true spirituality:

  • Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; to Jews, scandal; to Gentiles, folly, but to them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power and the wisdom of God” – (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

To any patriotic Jew, the idea of a crucified Messiah is a contradiction in terms. To Gentiles, to claim that the answer to humanity’s plight is found in the shameful execution of a powerless man by the world’s mightiest empire is utter nonsense.

TRUE WISDOM AND POWER


Nevertheless, the shameful death of Jesus is the very means by which God has achieved victory over sin, death, and Satan, and therefore, the proclamation of this “crucified Messiah” is the “wisdom and power of God.”

What this fallen age sees as scandalous and foolish, namely, the proclamation of “Christ crucified,” is the very “power of God” that has accomplished salvation for believing Jews and Gentiles.

In contrast, the “rulers of this age” did not understand the true wisdom and power of God, for if they had, they would not have “crucified the Lord of glory,” an act that sealed their doom.

And by the “rulers of this age,” Paul means the nonhuman entities he elsewhere labels “principalities, the powers, the world-rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies.”

Despite the presumed spiritual powers of those otherworldly entities, they proved incapable of comprehending what God did through the execution of His Son by the Roman Empire and through the connivance of the priestly leaders of Israel.

The paradigm of the Cross can only be comprehended through revelation “by the Spirit of God.” Christ crucified is contrary to the ways and “wisdom” of this age. Only those who have the Spirit of God, and thus the “mind of Christ” can understand the divine “wisdom” demonstrated before the entire world on Calvary.

TRUE SPIRITUALITY


If a Christian is “spiritual,” instead of asserting his superior “rights” or “spirituality,” he will set aside such things for the sake of others. As Paul wrote to the Philippians:

  • In lowliness of mind, each counting the other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you to the things of others. Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”

And just what was this “mindset” possessed by Jesus? Unlike Adam, he did not attempt to “become like God.” Instead, he chose to “pour himself out, taking the form of a slave,” which meant denying himself and becoming “obedient unto death,” even to the shameful death of crucifixion on a Roman cross. And for that very reason, God “highly exalted him” – (Philippians 2:1-11).

Power, spirituality, and wisdom are all found in “Christ crucified,” and his disciples are summoned to live accordingly. Even the ability to perform supernatural feats is no guarantee of genuine Christian faith.

Jesus warns his disciples that on the last day, many who have prophesied, cast out demons, and done many “mighty deeds in his name” will hear him declare, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of iniquity!” – (Matthew 7:21-23).

Whether his or her life is filled with the miraculous, each day the disciple must “deny himself and take up the cross,” just as Christ did. But what does that mean in practical terms?

Fortunately, Jesus has provided us with a clear explanation. When the disciples were arguing over who would be the “greatest” in his kingdom, he intervened:

  • You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones tyrannize them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your slave: even as the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” – (Matthew 20:25-28).

In the immediately preceding passage, the term rendered “servant” represents the Greek noun diakonos, which originally referred to the household servant or slave who waited on tables, one of the most menial tasks in any household.


Crown of Thorns - Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
[Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash]


SPIRITUAL SERVICE


Self-sacrificial service to others, especially the marginalized and “enemies,” is what it means to become “great” in his kingdom, and to be truly “spiritual.” And Jesus illustrated exactly what this means by laying down his life “as a ransom for many.”

And as Paul reminded the churches of Rome, “while we were yet enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” - (Romans 5:10).

As for who will sit at his side when he comes in glory, Jesus answered this question with his parable about the sheep and the goats. On the last day, he will set the “sheep” at his “right hand, but the goats on the left.” The “sheep” symbolize faithful disciples who serve the hungry, thirsty, stranger, the sick, and those in prison. He will declare to them, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me… Receive everlasting life.

But to the “goats,” the unfaithful disciple who prefers to serve self rather than the weak and marginalized, he will declare, “Depart into everlasting punishment” - (Matthew 25:31-46).

In the end, there can be no genuine Christianity without Christ. And the only genuine Christ is the one who “gave his life as a ransom for many” on Calvary. And every Christian is called to emulate THAT Christ, and doing so is the mark of the true disciple.



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