The Cruciform God: The Cross-Shaped Colony, Part 2

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.

A different kind of colony

(1 Pet 2:9-10)  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Peter wrote his epistles to several churches, and each church was made of people who were proud of their ethnic heritage, whether as Jews, Romans, or Greeks. The Empire was very cosmopolitan and a given city might have businessmen and bureaucrats and soldiers from anywhere in the Empire. And Peter dares to tell them, “Once you were not a people”! That would be insulting even today.

You, Americans! You  aren’t really a people! Neither are you Mexicans! Or you Chinese! People would take offense, wouldn’t they?

But Peter explained they were now truly a people because they’d become a people chosen by God — a single people. You were peoples. Now you’re a people — God’s people. You see, “chosen people,” “royal priesthood,” “holy nation,” and belonging to God are all terms the Law used to refer to the children of Israel. And only the elect are truly a people.

The final phrase is a reference to —

(Hosea 2:23 KJV)  And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.

This difficult teaching allows Peter to say —

(1 Pet 2:11)  Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

Get the full force of this. “Alien” means, well, alien — not in the Area 51 sense but in the sense of someone from a different country who is not a citizen. Yes, Peter says, you are citizens of God’s nation — and you are not citizens of any other nation. Now, he doesn’t mean that you have to surrender your citizenship. That’d be too easy. Rather, you have to surrender your loyalty.

Which nation does Jesus love the very best? Obviously, he loves them all. If we are to be like Jesus, which nation should we love the best? Well, we have to love them all just the same — I don’t care what you were taught in your Christian Sunday school.

You see, co-crucifixion means dying to the world, and worldly citizenship is something we die to. We can use our citizenship for Kingdom purposes, but we can never be torn between being an American and an Christian. There is no choice.

And that means we love Cambodians and Nigerians and Mexicans just as much as we love Americans. Our loyalty is to God and his Son — and to his church, which is our only nation. Period. There are no other loyalties. They all died on the cross.

Now, that’s far from saying that you’re disloyal to your country. It’s not loyal vs. disloyal. It’s loyal to God or loyal to the U.S. “No man can serve two masters.” And yet we can serve our fellow Tuscaloosans or Americans in the name of Jesus — because God ordains government and wants people to have the blessings of good government. But we can never compromise our Christianity even a little for the sake of political gain.

But Peter makes it clear that we aren’t here as citizens of any earthly country. We live as “aliens” — people who are not citizens. It’s a hard saying. He’s not saying that we can’t enjoy the privileges of citizenship — such as the ability to work at a job or to vote. Rather, it’s about who you’re loyal to and whose approval you seek. It’s about whether you see the church has being obligated to America first and other nations second. Or seeing only Americans as truly your neighbor.

There’s another thought in the passage. “Stranger” is not just a synonym for “alien.” The ESV translates “exiles.” The same words were used in the Septuagint to describe Abraham while wandering in Palestine and the Israelites while in Egypt. We are each, like Abraham, a “stranger in a strange land” (Ex 2:22). You see, this world is not my home.

(“New Day” is a Church of Christ a cappella group.)

I skipped something earlier —

(1 Pet 2:9)  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

This is all so that we’ll tell the world about God. Why?

(1 Pet 2:12)  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

So that the “pagans” — those outside the holy nation — will “glorify God.” We declare God’s praises to bring others into the Kingdom. And we do this by — declaring God’s praises.

We also do this by being servants — the most natural thing for kenotic people. You see, we are to do such good deeds that even pagans who don’t know God feel compelled to praise — not us, not our congregation, and not our denomination! — but God. That’s because we defer all praise to God. It’s not about how wonderful we are, but how wonderful God is.

And this sounds a lot like —

(Mat 5:14-16)  “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

We let our light shine by our good deeds — which are done in the name of God, for his honor and glory. It’s got to be about God or it just won’t work. After all, if it’s about us or our little group, well, we aren’t being co-crucified, and so we won’t be lifting up Jesus.

Jesus said,

(John 12:32)  “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

He was, of course, speaking of his literal crucifixion. But it remains true that the crucifixion is Jesus’ means of drawing all men. And it will hardly do for us to preach the crucifixion unless we live the crucifixion, and the living is worth a thousand times the preaching. The passages are about living for Jesus through service to others. That’s how we participate in God drawing the world to Jesus.

Preaching is too easy.

Okay — so this tells us something about the Christian colony. The colony is different from the surrounding world. Rather, it models life in heaven — life in God’s presence — for the world to see. Indeed, our greatest testimony is how we live in the colony. If the world doesn’t see that the church is different, special, and maybe even better, it’s not a colony — and it won’t appeal to those outside.

We aren’t to be different for the sake of being different. We’re different because we serve a different king. We don’t measure our conduct by whether it’s the same or different from those outside. It’s just whatever it takes to be faithtful to our King.

This means, of course, that we can’t live just as individuals. We have to live as individuals who are part of a special, different community. It’s not that we are “selling” the church. Rather, we are called into a different kind of living, which is more than personal morality and personal good works. Read Romans 12 —

(Rom 12:9-21 ESV)  9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Notice how many of Paul’s instructions are about interpersonal relationships within the church. Recall that 1 Cor 13 was written to teach us how to live as a congregation — not as husbands and wives. Much of the focus of the Sermon on the Mount is on how to live in community.

We cannot honor these passages living apart from our brothers and sisters. It’s only as the church — the body of Christ — that Jesus is most fully lifted up. Of course, we do it as individuals, but we also do it as community. And this is the only way to truly be a colony, a nation, a priesthood, and a people.

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16 Responses

  1. Paul was called to be a missionary. Paul proved to be a great missionary and minister of God’s Word. Paul never forgot the people whom he came from, his heart longed for the Jewish people, and he expressed his dear love of his countrymen and his Jewish Roots.

    Romans 9:1-5 “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”

    Romans 11:1 “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.”

    Paul was a Jew who had Roman citizenship. Paul understood very well that seeking his rights as a Roman citizen under the law of the land would be very helpful to him.

    Acts 21:37-39 “Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I speak to you?” He replied, “Can you speak Greek? Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?” But Paul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.”

    Acts 22:22-29 “And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” Then, as they cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him. And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?” When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.” Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” He said, “Yes.” The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.” And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.” Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.”

    Being a Christian does not mean we can’t proclaim our national citizenship and our rights. Proclaiming our national citizenship and exercising our rights does not make us no less a Christian.

  2. Anonymous
    “Proclaiming our national citizenship and exercising our rights does not make us no less a Christian”

    Hmm!! Depends on what the citizenship means and the rights.

  3. Paul mentioned his citizenship twice. Under duress. For a specific purpose.

    Christians should free to follow that example.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  4. When it comes to the law of the land, many Christians treat it is an unwelcome intrusion, that they do not apply. Christians want to see themselves as necessarily above the law, they say but we are citizens of heaven. That is being both naive and arrogant.

    Christians render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. There are laws for business purposes, Christians own property, pay property tax, pay laborers, and buy and sell things in the normal course.

    Who set their minds on earthly things

    Those who set their minds on earthly things look at life from the standards of a world without God with a self indulgent viewpoint rather than the divine viewpoint.

    If we must choose between obeying God or man, we will obey God, those potential situations should not be used as excuses for Christians to abdicate their responsibility as citizens of our nation.

    For our citizenship is in heaven

    The seat of a Christian’s citizenship is in heaven. Our citizenship is first in heaven then to our nation. Christians have citizenship both here and there. The people Paul spoke to lived in Greece but their citizenship was in Rome, they could understand Paul’s speech. They have a citizenship on earth but they have another in heaven. They were never to forget they were citizens of heaven. It does not prevent us from being obligated to our country, as some sects have falsely taught. As Christians we are obliged to be good citizens on earth, and because we serve God, we are all the better able to serve our country.

    A Christian may from lack of proper knowledge not always show the right attitude toward government and yet be a believer in spite of this weakness. God’s will in regard to our relationship to government is clearly expressed in the Bible. When we do not submit to God’s Word we are not loving God. Citizenship on earth entitles us to rights and imposes duties. To claim Christ’s kingdom and at the same time refuse to acknowledge the earthly authority that God has placed over us is not the Christian thing to do.

    The Word of God does not exempt any person from being subject to an earthly government. It speaks rather plainly on this matter and demands of all men that they should take their citizenship seriously. Christians may be praying for God to guide their footsteps, but they are not willing to move their feet. The believers, in particular, should measure up to higher standards of obligation to our country. The Apostle tells Christians that, because they are citizens of heaven, they should be model citizens of the nation to which they live in.

    Romans 13:1-10 “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”

    1 Peter 2:13-17, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”

    I don’t believe that the Son of the God of law and government, the Christ on whose shoulders the government rests never wants us to proclaim our rights under the law.

    Being a Christian does not mean we can’t proclaim our national citizenship and our rights. Proclaiming our national citizenship and exercising our rights does not make us no less a Christian. Christians should strive to be able to serve our country better.

    God wants us to produce fruit not nuts.

  5. The trouble is that there are too many Christians who proclaim their national citizenship publicly while keeping the proclamation of Jesus Christ to a private matter.

    Whatever we may infer from Paul’s acknowledgement of his national citizenship and ethnic identity, those acknowledgement WERE NEVER made to prop up Judaism or Rome as being somthing to be proud in. Paul only boasted in the gospel of Jesus Christ and his proclamation of that gospel far outweighed the acknowledgement of his ethnic and national identity.

    Why do so many Christians in America (or American Christians?) fight to defend their ethical decision to proclaim their national and/or ethnic identities as if such identities are something to boast in? Paul had a singular passion…the gospel of Jesus Christ and nothing else.

    Let’s remeber than as we spend so much energy trying to defend an ethical decision to proclaim our national and/or ethnic identities.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  6. One more thing…just because it may be ethically acceptable as Christians to proclaim our national identity, that does not mean it is the wise thing to do in our cultural circumstances where praise for the nationa and all of its accomplishment is celebrated in numerous way all the while the gospel of Jesus Christ in North America has been forced by public sentiment into a relative truth that every person can accept or reject in part or in whole as long as they do it in a private manner.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  7. Anonymous,

    What I wrote in part 1 is —

    Just so, when we get distracted from God and his word, and instead focus on securing our rights as Americans under American law, well, that’s to seek the lesser thing. It’s not Christianity at all.

    It’s not that the use of our rights for the sake of the kingdom is wrong. Rather, the error is in thinking our litigation and agonizing over our rights is at the heart of Christianity. There’s a substantial industry that focuses on making Christians angry over the loss of their right and making us feel persecuted — so we’ll get out and vote Republican.

    I became disenchanted when I started checking out the stories. What is rarely reported by the rightwing press are Christian victories. If someone is arrested for holding up a sign opposing gay marriage, the rightwing media is delighted to report the story — to make us Christians angry. They don’t report it when the case is tossed out for violating our First Amendment rights.

    Just so, the famously liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — federal appeals court in California — upheld the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance a few days ago. We heard next to nothing about it — because there was nothing there to drive Christians to the polls.

    On the one hand, many of these cases are quite real and reflect a very real bias against Christians — which is very worrisome. But the bias won’t be fixed with legislation or court decisions. We need Christians to stop being jerks and for the churches to unite to pursue God’s mission. That doesn’t mean we never go to court — but we’d better not imagine that the courts or Congress will solve our problems. They are neither the origin nor the cure. They only reflect society at large — a society that’s unhappy with the church because the church has been very sinful in many ways.

  8. If you think my motive is to try to get Christians to vote, hold up picket signs, or go to court… you are very wrong. My motive is that Christians speak the whole truth of the Scriptures and the balance Scripture lays out for all of us.

  9. Anonymous,

    You hardly seem balanced in the scriptures…you mention one example of where Paul acknowledged his national identity against how many examples of Paul (and other apostles) being singularly focused on proclaiming the gospel. Not to mention an entire scripture with a trajectory of being interested in the proclamation of God’s victory and reign. There is no such thing as balance.

    I am sorry but your defense of your position comes across as sounding more passionate about your national identity than the gospel.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

    P.S., for me, it makes no difference whether I can or cannot as a Christian acknowledge my national and/or ethnic identity. What difference do those identities make in the world? What good will they do?

  10. There is no such thing as balance.

    I’m sorry you feel that way. People should not be selective in what they want to see in Scripture, seeing certain things and refusing to see others. We should have an open mind and be teachable. The Bible gives a balance to our lives. God’s will is revealed in Scripture and encompasses all aspects of life. People can live a life that is steady and well balanced if we have the grace and the dedication to seek answers in Scripture.

  11. When I said, “There is no such thing as balance” I was refering to this issue alone. I am plenty teachable, for I once would have argued right with you but it is because I have been teachable that I finallly came to the conclusion that the one passion of Jesus and Paul was the gospel, not the gospel and ___________ (their national and/or ethnic identities or other). Sorry but given the one citation in Acts 22 (which is at bestambiguous on this issue) against all the scripture to the contrary, I cannot fathom spending so much energy to justify the celebration/proclamation of one’s national and ethnic identity/herritage…especially in a culture such as ours where the majority (including many Christains) triumphantly bask in their national and ethnic identities at the expense of the gospel. And some of those Christains bemoan in a private “church” setting the fact that fewer and fewer actually believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe if we counted all those other things as “rubish” (Phi 3.8) as Paul did and pursued the gospel as our one singular passion, the one thing we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for, then maybe our world might actually take the message preached seriously.

    Did Jesus, an Israelite himself, die to establish a national Israel? Can you imagine Paul and the many other early, pre-Constintinian, Christians dying for the sake of Rome or an Israeli state…especially after hearing preached so often that they are neither Jew or Greek but in Christ (a new identity)?

    Any ways…that is all I have to say. I don’t know who you are but I hope the dialogue has been beneficial to the both of us as well as other readers.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  12. When pointing your finger at someone else you have three fingers pointing back at you.

    1 Timothy 2:1-2 “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”

    The Biblical believer yearns daily for a God-fearing population. That believers intercedes for our nation, its leaders, its future. The believer researches Scripture for divine wisdom in how to better serve the country we live in. Patriotism is God-based for it is totally reliant on His provisions for our liberties.

    Numberless organizations and committees are now operating for the good of America’s citizens and other nations solely on the drive of a Biblical faith. There are many who reach out daily to the broken, needy, homeless, and hungry because of serving the God of Scripture. They compose a commendable list.

  13. Should good Christians in Cuba search the Scriptures for divine wisdom for how to better serve the Castro regime?

  14. Nick,

    That’s a good question and a great way to get to the heart of the matter. It exposes the problem behind Christian Americanism…the view that somehow American purposes and God’s purpose (the gospel) are not opposed to each other, that somehow the American purposes are good and within the limits of God’s will for creation and therefore it is moral as a Christian to support the former. Of course, the more the former is served by Christians, the more the gospel seems to get placed in a back seat or, in the worst case scenario, left at home. In the end, it amounts to an statue on Ellis Island, NY; an edifice on Capitol Cir and Pennsylvania Ave becoming an errected idol with the American flag being the representation of its omnipresence and the constitution becoming the doctrine of how to serve worship that idol.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

    P.S., for the record, I do not hate America, I am simply concerned that it has become an idol for some Christians living within its borders.

  15. Philippians 4:22 “All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.” Christians who were part of Caesar‘s cabinet their roles were very much honored. Men of God such as Joseph, Nehemiah, and Daniel were given prominent positions within government. Saul’s reign as king was taken away and David became king. Although Saul was no longer a good king, David waited until God removed Saul, even though he had excellent opportunities to remove him, 1 Samuel 24:1-15; 26:6-12. If we must choose between obeying God or man, we will obey God, those potential situations should not be used as excuses for Christians to abdicate their responsibility as citizens of any nation.

    The Word of God does not exempt any person from being subject to government, every soul is in subjection to government, any and every government, whether we are Christians in China or America or anywhere else.

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