The Cruciform God: The Body of Christ

We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God. We are now well-beyond the book, but continuing to explore its implications.

Body of Christ

One of the most familiar descriptions of the church is as “the body of Christ.” Why did Paul choose this metaphor?

(Rom 7:4)  So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

In this case, of course, Paul uses “body of Christ” in its literal sense. It appears that he uses “body of Christ” to refer to the crucified body, in contrast the resurrected body alluded to later in the verse. Thus, we die to law as Jesus died on the cross, and as Jesus was resurrected, we belong to the resurrected Jesus. Death, Paul argues, releases us from whatever bound us before (7:1-3).

The point, you see, is that “body of Christ” is specifically a reference to a crucified body here — because only the dead have been freed.

Just so, Paul writes,

(1 Cor 10:16)  Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?

Paul’s reference to “body of Christ” is again a reference to his crucified body. After all, this is an allusion to Jesus’ words, “This is my body which is for you” (1 Cor 11:24).

(Col 1:18-20)  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

(Col 1:24)  Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

Now, we see the same metaphor used of the church, but as before, crucifixion is part of the discussion.

(Col 2:18-20)  Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19 He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. 20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules:

Paul reminds the church, as Christ’s body, that it is part of Christ and so that the church has died with Christ.

An essential characteristic of Christ’s body is that is has been crucified. Therefore, what’s true of Christians individually — that we are co-crucified with Jesus — is true of the church universal and each congregation. One of the defining characteristics of the church is its kenosis — its self-emptying and co-crucifixion. And this limits and defines much of how the church is to act as an institution.

Take Col 2:18-20 as an example. Why is it wrong for us to be puffed up? Beause we died with Christ. Why are we not required to submit to manmade rules about how to worship? Because we died to the world with Jesus.

The joy of kenosis

So what does it mean for the church to be co-crucified and self-emptying? How does that play out in reality? Well, it’s a big deal. You see, sometimes the scriptures talk about the command to “Love your neighbor.” But other times the emphasis is on “Love another.” Those are different, and both are true, but there is to be something special and better about the love enjoyed within the church.

There is a love that can only be enjoyed by kenotic people. Selfish people cannot love as they should, nor can they enjoy love as much as they could. You see, the selfish never really appreciate the price being paid. A selfish child doesn’t appreciate his birthday present as he could because he’s never given from the heart — so he doesn’t know how the person giving him the present feels. He sees the present as something deserved — as an entitlement — rather than a free gift. He doesn’t feel the love that the present represents. He only sees the present.

Just so, in the church, the selfish members are among the most unhappy because they feel the least love. Their lack of kenosis gets in the way of joy — and makes it hard for them to express a love they’ve never enjoyed.

But when the church is made up of crucified people, they are freed to love as Jesus loves — and to enjoy both loving and being loved. Crucifixion, you see, frees us from the law of sin and death.

Just so, a church trained in legalism see obedience as a burden and see obedience as an obligation. Therefore, they’ve never truly enjoyed being the body. Their worldly attitudes make them miserable, whereas a kenotic church will do all the same things — and far more — and find it delightful.

(Rom 14:17)  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,

(Rom 15:13)  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you [believe] in[/are faithful to] him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It just makes sense.

Advertisements

4 Responses

  1. I suppose that depends on how you define who is being legalistic. I see that term thrown around a lot, and it seems that it’s applied quite liberally.

  2. I find it interesting though
    in light of Luke 17:7-10

    Or Paul’s writing concerning our turning to be Slaves of God.

    We are free yet in servitude.

  3. Jay,

    I think this has been (is?) one of your best series – though some others have attracted a lot more attention. This is getting to the nub of what Jesus means when He invites us to take up our cross to follow Him.

    I did my Master’s thesis on The Use of Baptism in Exhorting Christians. Of course, the exhortation that can come from baptism comes because of being co-crucified with Christ and raised with Him. The gospel (meaning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – and of the church) is at the heart of this exhortation.

    I have not put this thesis on my blog yet, but I hope to do so before long. I do have it in electronic form now (unlike when I wrote it back in 1976!). Since I wrote it, John Mark Hicks (and several others) have written about baptism in a way that very few had written when I wrote in the mid-70s – and it is refreshing. What is not refreshing is that so many of the churches still limit their talk about baptism to the effort to convince a potential convert that baptism is necessary. Little is said (by most) about how in our coming to Christ we die, are buried, and raised again with Jesus – and what that all means in our subsequent lives.

    Again, thank you for an excellent series!

    Jerry Starling, committedtotruth.wordpress.com.

  4. Jerry,

    Thanks. I think this is a big, big deal and needs to be preached and preached. I’m going to post quite a bit more because this perspective greatly enriches and re-directs our thinking. It’s so powerful that it should actually take us away from the IM controversy if we were to really understand it.

    Since I first started writing the series, I’ve discovered that nearly every paragraph in the NT is affected by this understanding, and language that I used to skip over suddenly becomes the essence of the passage.

    I’m still learning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: