The Cruciform God: Introduction and Chapter One, The Self-Emptying God, Part 2

We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God.

Exaltation

Gorman explains that God’s exaltation of Jesus was not a promotion but a proclamation of what was always true but is now shown to be true — that Jesus’ submission to the crucifixion proves he’s co-equal to God the Father — and so people will give homage to Jesus that is appropriate to God himself.

Jesus wasn’t earning a promotion. Rather, he was demonstrating why he is like God and so sits at God’s right hand.

Paul paraphrases Isa 45:23 to make the point that Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah and that his suffering defines him as the Sovereign Lord as well.

Phil 2:9-11, therefore, narrates God’s vindication of the story of Christ as the story of true humanity and true divinity. In this part of Paul’s master story, we see how God’s exaltation of the Son confirms the character of true divinity and calls humanity to become truly human by sharing in that divinity.

Do you see the irony? Do you want to be like God? Do you want to be like the Lord of the Universe? Then serve. Even serve your enemies. Serve even if it costs you your life. Indeed, nothing could better show yourself to be God-like. And this will make you truly human. After all, God always meant for us to be in his image.

Majesty

Because God’s majesty and God’s relationality cannot be separated, we must understand God’s majesty in light of God’s revealed relationality. We do not simply hold the majesty and relationality in tension; with Paul, we must see them in concert, a unison revealed in the power of the cross. God is not a god of power and weakness but the God of power in weakness.

God did not lift Jesus from humiliation to glory. Rather, his humiliation is his glory.

Mission

The mission of God, of course, must be consistent with his essential nature as a self-emptying, voluntary slave. Mission is service to others, even at great personal cost. The church participates in God’s mission by allowing the Spirit to shape the church in the image of Christ. By being like Christ in the sense of kenosis and serving others in this same way, the church shows itself to be Christ-like.

Some Conclusions from Chapter One

I think any preacher would do well to preach from this passage for, say, one year. I think there are at least 52 pertinent lessons here. Here are some possibilities.

The worship wars

What would the worship wars be like if all sides of the controversy had heard this passage preached on a regular basis? What would kenotic (self-emptying) Christians say about old hymns versus new hymns? How many worship ministers would be called on the carpet or fired over such things?

I posted my answer here. If we really understood Christianity — Christ-like-ity — we’d fight to be the ones to give up our preferences. We empty ourselves of what we want and look for ways to serve others through worship. Indeed, nothing else is truly worship.

Hell

Just this morning, we were discussing hell in class (I wrote this 2/21/2010). We were working through the verses teaching that immortality is conditional, and that only the saved will live again and that the lost will be destroyed and die a second death, rather than being tortured forever.

I explained that this understanding is easy when you have the right understanding of who God is. If you see God as looking for ways to damn, as hiding rules in silences and asking trick questions so that only a few will ever figure out what the rules really are, well, such a God may well torture people forever. But a God who loves us so much that he’d die on the cross for us, who desperately wants us to be saved, and whose very nature is seen in voluntarily taking on slavery and obedience to his enemy — death — for us, such a God will give immortality to those who are faithful and will punish the unfaithful fairly and justly.

A better understanding of who God is leads us to discover truer doctrines about God. You see, the doctrines we find sometimes reveal more about our concept of God than what the scriptures actually say.

Ethics

What does it mean to live as God calls us to live? Well, it means to live as Jesus lived — by self-emptying. Sacrificial living becomes the standard. No longer do we need to ask, “What’s the rule?” Rather, we ask, “What’s the need?” You see, the question isn’t how much money we have to give on Sunday but what can we give in order to fulfill God’s mission?

Long before we get to whether we have to tithe or give weekly, we realize that we’ve already committed to give everything and so to dedicate our houses and savings and our jobs and our retirements to service to others.

This isn’t the place to exhaust the topic, but the path is simply found. “Love your neighbor” is defined by Jesus’ kenosis. Like the Good Samaritan we serve as we can, even serving our enemies. Remember, the Jews and Samaritans hated each other. There were plenty of murders between those two peoples.

Ecclessiology

How then do we do church? Is church about meeting the demands of a God who insists on obedience to obscurely revealed rules on penalty of damnation? No, church is a living community, an organism filled with God’s Spirit that encourages and builds up each other to help us all empty ourselves and so be like Jesus. We serve each other because Chrlst-like people serve.

Thus, the church honors God by becoming like God by becoming like Christ by picking up our own crosses — and helping each other to do the same. And in doing so, we show the true glory of God to the world, lift Jesus up, and let God draw people to him through us.

Leaders, therefore, must be among the most kenotic — the most self-emptied. That doesn’t mean people with low self-esteem. Rather, it means people so filled with the Spirit that they look like Jesus. Those who would be lords among us must be most like the Lord. That means they must be slaves.

Mission

We’ve touched on this before. God’s mission is first to reveal himself to the world, and he does that in part through us. We reveal God, not by seminars on the sinfulness of Post-modernism, but by being like God — and showing our servant nature through acts of service.

Cooperation

Rather than looking for authority to cooperate, we recognize in sister congregations of believers that they, too, are self-emptying servants and part of the same church — the same community — that we’ve been added to. Therefore, we look for ways to encourage them in their efforts to be shaped in the form of the cross — and we appreciate their efforts to do the same for us.

Summary

It’s popular to speak of having a “relationship” with Jesus. To have a relationship with someone, you have to know who that person is, at least. And we sometimes imagine Jesus as our personal therapist or best friend forever or a judge wanting to damn us. When we see Jesus as self-emptying slave obedient to Death, we realize that befriending such a person is going to be expensive. He’s going to expect us to be a lot like him.

On the other hand, he wants us to succeed — so much so that he’ll come live within in us through his Spirit to help us make it. And he forgives us our failings so long as we remain faithful.

The key — for us — is to understand what it is he expects of us.

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7 Responses to The Cruciform God: Introduction and Chapter One, The Self-Emptying God, Part 2

  1. Nick Gill says:

    God did not lift Jesus from humiliation to glory. Rather, his humiliation is his glory.

    His humiliation IS his glory… oh wow. Now this makes more sense!

    And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (Revelation 5:6 ESV, emphasis mine)

  2. Ray Downen says:

    Jay writes, "Mission — The mission of God, of course, must be consistent with his essential nature as a self-emptying, voluntary slave. Mission is service to others, even at great personal cost. The church participates in God’s mission by allowing the Spirit to shape the church in the image of Christ. By being like Christ in the sense of kenosis and serving others in this same way, the church shows itself to be Christ-like."
    Question: Are we talking about the God of the universe who without doubt will condemn to Hell countless people who have spurned the gospel call? Who set up a nation in land already occupied by others, then had His nation wage total war against those who lived in that land? Is this the same God who instructed that violaters of the sabbath law should be stoned to death? Who called for penalties including death for many other acts? Is this the same God?
    Is this God whose "essential nature is that of a self-emptying, voluntary slave" the same God whose power created everything that exists? It can't be denied that Jesus while on earth lived as a voluntary "slave." Yet He dared to drive from the Jewish temple those whose activities disgraced it. A self-emptying voluntary slave hardly describes the Lord of storms whose command caused cessation of the wind on the Sea of Galilee. Our God is more than a slave.
    Men and women who lead businesses may be no less Christ-like than those who work for those businesses. Men and women who accept potlical positions of power may be as nearly like Jesus as those who voted for them. Is humility the ESSENTIAL characteristic of our God? Unselfish service, yes. Needing constant directions from others as a slave? No, that's not Jesus, and that's not us when we live as Jesus did. Willing to be taught? Yes, of course. Not dictatorial? Always. But determined to follow God's directions in spite of any advice to the contrary. That's us as Christians.

  3. bms says:

    I haven't read these posts yet, but am looking forward to reading them. I bought this book a few months ago, but haven't picked it up to read just yet. I read Gorman's intro to reading Paul book for a class, and then re-read it again to let it sink in more. He is a great writer, and really challenges the way I have read Paul.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Ray,

    Jesus said,

    (John 12:44-45) Then Jesus cried out, "When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me."

    (John 14:9-11) Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

    (John 17:20-21) "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me."

    Jesus is God's self-revelation. John and Phil 2 say the same thing.

    And, of course, Jesus said many of these after taking on the role of a slave in washing the feet of his disciples. And he told them to let him do this — let him be a slave — or they could have no part with him.

    It's not easy to understand, but it's truth.

  5. Mick Porter says:

    Ray and Jay,

    Jesus most definitely is the full revelation of God – "in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being".

    However, we must tread somewhat carefully in defining just what his nature is. I have seen a church with a written constitution include a phrase like "Christ is central, therefore grace will be the prominent theme of our preaching…" That is, they make the leap that Christ is (purely/essentially) the revelation of God's grace.

    Isn't the astonishing nature of the gospel, and that which was both a stumbling block to Jews and offensive to Greeks, that this crucified one is Lord of all? That the one who was hung naked for all veryto mock is the creator of the earth and the firstborn of the age to come? That the one who cleansed the temple (and thus claimed authority over it) was arrested by the chef priests whose authority he contested? Yet he's also the one who cursed the fig tree (representative of Israel), and most certainly that earthly temple was destroyed within a generation.

    The one who was silent before Pilate is the one greater than Caesar; actually, he really is "Lord" and "Saviour", despite Caesar's pathetic claims to be such. The one who washed his disciples' feet is the one John would fall down before as though dead.

    Just in a passage like Colossians 1 we see so many aspects of who Christ is, and believers are called to "inhabit" those truths. Thus the application is made in ch 4 that slaves should submit to their masters (not, in this case, out of imitation of Jesus as servant so much, but rather) because their true master is the Lord (Kyrios, even Yahweh) who will grant them an inheritance.

    As much as I rejoice at any proclamation of an aspect of who Christ is, we need to be careful to keep on plumbing his unfathomable depths, and beware of any potential reductionism.

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Mick,

    He is, of course, Lord. But what kind of Lord is he? Or more to the point, how do we obey this kind of Lord?

    I'd like to continue this conversation after I get Part 3 posted. I've got to toss some John Howard Yoder into the mix to finish the thought.

  7. Mick Porter says:

    Yoder? Interesting that will be. Sorry, not Yoda?

    Looking forward to Part 3 for sure, especially if it involves the kind of application you're hinting at. I've had Gorman's book on my reading list for a while now, it sounds really helpful.

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