Holiness & God of the Cross

Readings for this week March 23 – 27
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – The Meaning of Faith

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Galations 2:15-18

What are we talking about when we talk about ‘faith’? Some people seem to think that faith is simply ‘what you believe’, the content of religious belief in particular. Having faith is believing the right things. Often this is (incorrectly) juxtaposed with ‘rational thought’ or the scientific endeavour: the latter is based on evidence and empirical enquiry; faith is based on, well, nothing. It is a lack of evidence, things believed with no support whatsoever. But Paul sees faith differently. For him it is our human response to the gospel, a response that involves our whole being, not just our conscious, mental assent to a series of propositions or beliefs, but our entire selves. Faith involves the complete reorientation of ourselves and our lives towards Jesus Christ through being ‘co-crucified’ with him.

Justification (another word with a storied, controversial history even more convoluted than ‘faith’!) is restoration to right, whole covenant relations with God and with others. And, says Paul, this does not happen through zeal for the Law and the rigorous pursuit of covenantal purity (as he once thought) but through participation in Christ’s death. It is more than just a matter of beliefs. It is about the posture of one’s entire life: the putting to death of the self in co-crucifixion with Christ, embracing the resurrection to new life in Christ, and living a life of faithfulness towards God and love towards others.

Questions to Consider
If someone asks you what ‘faith’ is, how do you answer? What does it mean to you? How would you describe the distinction between the content of your faith verses the idea of having faith?

Prayer
Lord God, help me live a faithful life, one that is holy and pleasing to you, and one that is encouraging and edifying to those around me, whether they know you or not. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Life and Death

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Galatians 2:19-21

If justification is by faith, and if faith is understood as co-crucifixion with Christ, then a faithful response to the gospel involves both life and death. The ‘life’ part is very attractive and is the part we most often want to embrace. Who doesn’t want new life? Who wouldn’t want to experience the risen Jesus and the power of new life through his indwelling Spirit? We all want life. But the resurrected Christ is always the crucified Christ. Death comes first, and is crucial for those following Jesus to enter into if they are to fully experience new life in Christ. This death experience in which we enter fully into Christ’s crucifixion is absolutely central to any response of obedience to the gospel. We cannot avoid it, or try to wriggle out of it, or downplay it. We cannot only embrace the new life that comes through resurrection. Faith is a death experience as well. Identifying with and entering into the crucifixion as the place where we die to ourselves, where God cleanses and forgives, and where he reconciles us to himself and sets us free.

This requires a continuing death to self. Living in the power of the resurrection requires that we daily take up our cross, we daily submit ourselves to God, that we daily put to death our own desires and let the Spirit of God continue the work of transforming us into the likeness of Christ, a likeness involving both death and life. It’s a crucified-and-resurrected deal. The crucified Christ is continuous with the resurrected Christ, and we cannot have one aspect of the person and work of Christ without the other.

Questions to Consider
What does it mean to live a crucified life? How do we “die to self”?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me live a life that mirrors the life and death of your son: his love, his compassion, his obedience, his sacrifice. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Death and Life Through Baptism

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 6:1-4

Baptism is very important in Paul’s understanding of our death and new life in Christ. It is not an add-on or an optional extra. It is a crucial element in being united with Christ, of embracing and taking on the death of the old and of being raised up and taking on the mantle of the new. Through baptism we die with the Messiah. It is through being united with him in his death that we are also raised with him in the resurrection. They go together; you can’t have one without the other. The story we should have in mind when Paul uses this image of baptism is the Exodus, the rescue of Israel from Egypt, when God brought the Israelites through the waters of the Red Sea and into the new life he had promised them.

Like the Israelites in the desert, we have the choice before us of who we will follow and what we will chase after. If we want to remain our own master and chase after what we think we deserve and what we believe we can achieve for ourselves, then all we will get is death – and not the powerful, sacrificial death of the Messiah that buries our old self and old desires before we are raised again, but just inglorious, sinful, destructive death. But if we want to offer ourselves completely to our new master, and receive his gift of life, then, because of God’s generosity to us, we can do so. All that is required is accepting the gift of Jesus, his death and resurrection, both by turning our backs on the life of sin and putting our old selves to death, and living in the power of his resurrection.

Questions to Consider
What does dying to sin actually mean? Why is it so important?

Prayer
Loving Lord, thank you for the new life that you have given me, undeserved though it is. I praise you for your grace and your desire to have us reunited with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – We Are ‘In Christ’

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 6:5

If we have united our lives with Jesus, then we have also united ourselves with him in his death – the death that could not corrupt, contain or counter him and his work of restorative, reconciling love. His death and his resurrection become the bedrock of the community of God, the foundational aspects of both the individual and communal life of those who are his. These are to be the defining traits of the followers of Jesus.

As Jesus is in his glory, so too will we one day be. One day. Not yet. The process that has been completed in Christ is not yet complete in us. It is a work in progress. The full equivalent to his resurrection – and the work that the resurrection initiates in us – still lies ahead of us. If we have died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him. This process, while underway in those crucified with him, will not be completed until our own resurrection. But the transforming power of Christ’s own resurrection – the Spirit of God – is already at work in us, enabling us to be free from the power of sin. So just like Paul says to the Christians in Rome, we must understand that the defining characteristic of our existence, corporately and individually, is that we are ‘in Christ’, and that this is to underwrite all that we do. And we are ‘in Christ’ with regards to both his death and his resurrection. Again, they both go together. We must let Christ’s ‘deadness’ to sin and his ‘aliveness’ to God find expression in every aspect and moment of our lives. No to sin. Yes to God and his transforming power.

Question to Consider
How are the death and the resurrection of Jesus lived, experienced realities for you in your life?

Prayer
Lord God, show me the deeper reality of dying and living in you. May my life be a sign of your defeat of sin and the victory of the cross. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Living in the Right Direction

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 6:6-7

We need to honestly face up to the fact that our human desires can be so easily corrupted by sin, and twisted and perverted by that deadly power. The only way to do this is to take our entire lives – every aspect of who we are and what we do, all parts of our personality and being, every relationship, everything that makes us up – and hand ourselves over to God. The grace that God showed towards us is what allows us to do this in the hope that he will transform us into his holy people. We have changed masters. We are no longer automatically beholden to sin’s power; we no longer automatically have to answer to its call to us. The power of the cross has defeated sin’s hold on us. But we still have to choose which master we will serve. As we saw, the power of the resurrection is not complete in us yet. Yes, we are being transformed. But while this is still happening in us, we must still decide which voice to heed.

Paul is reminding us of the way we are to live, now that sin is no longer our master. Our bodies and minds and desires will still hear the seemingly attractive call of sin; we are still susceptible to the lure of our old master. But the followers of Jesus are under no obligation to listen to that voice. In fact, our new master has placed on us the specific obligation to not listen to that voice, but to obey his voice instead. We have left the territory where sin reigns; therefore, let’s remind ourselves of who we are now, in Christ, and who we now serve.

Questions to Consider
What must we do – how must we live – in order to make sure that sin does not ‘reign in our bodies’? How do we make good, Godly choices?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me become attuned to your voice, and your voice alone. Guide me along the right path. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)