To be a Christian is to believe this: God has ratified a New Covenant through the death of Jesus on the cross. One of the great promises to us who believe is that we have a personal, spiritual union with the perfect Messiah Jesus, thus making us partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). Jesus’ union with the sinner brought the wrath of God upon Him, and our union with Him brings God’s favor, His smile, upon us. This concept of “Christ in us” is the great mystery that Paul preached with a power and passion that defied human zeal (Colossians 1:27-29).
This mysterious union with Jesus brings about a great transformation to our inner being because His Holy Spirit dwells within and among us. He grants us new hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26; 2 Corinthians 3:3). This new inner person is being transformed day by day to become like Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:16; Colossians 3:10). The risen Christ, who now has complete freedom from any of sin’s tempting grip (Romans 6:10) is united with us, and as a result we experience the power of His resurrection in our lives (Philippians 3:10) to overcome sin.
Some day Jesus will return in glory and make the whole world new. We are the opening act of that renewal (Isaiah 65:17; Acts 3:19-21; Romans 8:19-21). We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Yet the oldness of our bodies remain. The physical members of our bodies remain the same. The outer self is the beachhead where sin can attack. It is where sin dwells (Romans 7:22-25). This outer self includes not just our visible extremities, but all the inner workings of our brain, our appetites, and our hormones. While the body can and should be used as an instrument of righteousness (Romans 6:13), because it is impulsive and indiscriminate in its responses to temptation, this is where sin grips us.
The great hope is that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). Our “mind” refers to every faculty of perception, understanding, feeling and desire. As our attitudes, desires, thoughts, and imaginations are infused with truth, sin can be stopped on the beachhead of tempting our flesh.
A hundred years ago in the Deep South, the phrase “born again” was seldom used. Instead, when someone wanted to talk about entering into a vital, personal relationship with Christ, they would say that they were “seized by the power of a great affection.” It is only at the cross that we can become convinced of the great affection God has towards sinners. It is only at the cross that we can come to hate our sin as God does. There our doubts about our sin and God’s great love can be shattered. There we can be seized by that great love and be totally overwhelmed by it. This and this alone will give us new desires to replace old, sinful ones.
“Calvary is the unbearable place where all the evil in our shabby selves tries to hold its own against God, and thus provokes the thunder of resurrection.” (Brennan Manning)
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The Daily Walk to the Cross
Paul tells us that we are transformed as we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6). It is this daily habit of “beholding” His face that we find the path to freedom.
Here are some practical steps we can take in this journey to the cross. This is not a method of freedom. There are no methods. There is only Christ. But these are steps towards the renewing of our minds so that we can behold the one on the cross who makes all things new.
1. Find a wooden cross. This can be small enough to stash under a bed or stick in a corner (three or four feet tall). It can be something you make or buy. It can be ruddy and unpolished, and is probably better if it is.
2. Put the cross in the place where you can go to pray alone each day. If you don’t have a place, it is imperative that you create a “sacred space” to meet with God.
3. Picture the face of the Son of God on the cross. See His body. Hear His prayers from the cross. Go back and read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s accounts of the crucifixion. Hear him crying out to the Father who had forsaken Him. Place yourself there at the cross and hear the words of John Calvin again: “When we behold the disfigurement of the Son of God, when we find ourselves appalled by His marred appearance, we need to reckon afresh that it is upon ourselves we gaze, for He stood in our place.” Let the anguish of Christ on the cross turn your heart inward to consider your sins and rebellion. See your sins for what they are — ugly and empty.
4. Write your sins on a scrap of paper and then sign your name to it. Nail that paper to the cross. Remember Paul taught the church: “He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained written charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross” (Col.2:13-14). Prisoners in his day would have written lists of charges that were against them, laws they had broken, which were signed by the prisoners as confessions of their crimes. Each of us, says Paul, is like that prisoner: none of us have lived up to God’s standards and laws. But for those who have agreed to and confessed their great debt, God has nailed those sins to Christ’s cross with Him. In your mind imagine hearing the words of Jesus from the cross after six hours of agony: “It is finished.” In Greek this is τετέλεσται (tetelastai). This word signifies finishing or “fulfilling” or “paying” a debt. This statement could actually be translated “Paid in full.” Jesus paid it all.
5. End your time in prayer with praise and thanksgiving, for He is risen indeed! Again imagine the face of Christ, this time not disfigured, but resurrected. See His smile. Praise God for the undeniable sign of His love in the cross. Praise God that both the cross and the tomb are empty.
This process can be repeated every day. As you meditate on the cross, your heart and mind will begin to revolve less around yourself and more around Christ who died for you. As you do this, your mind will be renewed to hate your sin. You will begin to rest more in the grace of God revealed in the cross and less in your “ability” or “progress” or “spiritual growth.” Over time you may want to add things to or around your cross that serve as reminders: a crown of thorns, iron nails, etc. Be creative. Remember this is a time to let God nurture both your rational mind and your affections. Study the cross. Try to grasp the mystery of what happened that day at Calvary. As study nurtures your mind, allow your imagination to nurture your heart. Don’t just see the cross as an abstract concept. Imagine the Son of God hanging upon it. See His face. Hear His cries. Let the story of the cross seize your heart.
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The Precious Blood
(excerpt from a collection of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision)
BLESSED LORD JESUS,
Before thy cross I kneel and see<
the heinousness of my sin,
my iniquity that caused thee to be ‘made a curse’,
the evil that excites the severity of divine wrath.
Show me the enormity of my guilt by
the crown of thorns,
the pierced hands and feet,
the bruised body,
the dying cries.
Thy blood is the blood of incarnate God,
its worth infinite, its value beyond all thought.
Infinite must be the evil and guilt that demands such a price.
Sin is my malady, my monster, my foe, my viper,
born in my birth,
alive in my life,
strong in my character,
dominating my faculties,
following me as a shadow,
intermingling with my every thought,
my chain that holds me captive in the empire of my soul.
Sinner that I am, why should the sun give me light,
the air supply breath,
the earth bear my tread,
its fruits nourish me,
its creatures subserve my ends?
Yet thy compassions yearn over me,
thy heart hastens to my rescue,
thy love endured my curse,
thy mercy bore my deserved stripes.
Let me walk humbly in the lowest depths of humiliation,
bathed in thy blood,
tender of conscience,
triumphing gloriously as an heir of salvation.