In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he says that Christians grow and change through faith in the cross and life in the Spirit.
Galatians 3:1 says: ‘O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.’ Paul is reminding the Galatians of what happened when they were converted. Paul preached Christ crucified in such a way that their hearts were won. But the whole point of this paragraph is Paul’s call to the Galatians to continue as they began. Look at 3:2-6:
‘Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness?’
Charles Blondin, a tight-rope walker in the 19th century, crossed Niagara Falls with a man on his back. Imagine if halfway across the man said, ‘Thanks for bringing me this far. But I don’t trust you to get me the rest of the way. I’ll walk it myself from now on.’ We might well say, ‘You foolish person!’
We began the Christian life when the cross captured our affections. This is precisely how we continue the Christian life: by going back again and again to the cross, by having our imagination captured by the cross afresh each day, each crisis, each time we face temptation.
But what are we to do with the resurrection life we have been given? Colossians 3:5 gives us a clue. We have been given life to put to death sin in our lives. We have power for self-denial. Ironically, this death to self can be seen in the resurrection life of ordinary Christians. It is evident in their sacrificial love, their suffering for Christ, their submission to God, their self-denial.
Our resurrection life is revealed now in our conformity to the way of the cross. Why? Because our unity with Christ in his resurrection is revealed in our unity with Christ in his death. In his death we see the true nature of sin, as well as the true nature of love.
If you want to know love then look to the cross of Christ. We are changed by looking to the cross because the cross wins our hearts. Look at Galatians 2:20: ‘The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’
Living by faith is not some abstract principle or simply agreeing to an idea. It’s being captivated by a person. Notice how Paul describes Jesus. It’s not just faith in Christ, but trusting in ‘the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’. The more we appreciate who he is and what he’s done for us, the more we will want to live for him.
To believe in the cross is not just to assent to a piece of information. It is to believe that a person died for us, and that changes everything.
This post is an extract from our course ‘Living the Cross and Resurrection’, which is written by Tim Chester. Tim is the a pastor of The Crowded House in Sheffield, director of The Porterbrook Seminary and author of over 20 books.