“Christ crucified” is the pattern for discipleship, the test of its genuineness, and the Jesus that Christians are summoned to emulate.
In the New Testament, the death of Jesus on a Roman cross is the paradigm for discipleship, the benchmark against which Christian conduct is measured, and the criterion for identifying true disciples from unfaithful ones. Whether examining spirituality, wisdom, or the miraculous, Calvary is the line that separates the genuine from the counterfeit, and God cannot be known apart from the crucified Messiah.
Certain Christians at Corinth boasted of their special insight and “spirituality,” which, in their minds, was demonstrated by the abundance of spiritual gifts operating among them. Paul retorted – If you are so “spiritual,” why are you behaving so “carnally”?
- (1 Corinthians 3:1-4) – “And I could not speak to you as to spiritual people, but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with meat; for you were not yet able to bear it. No, not even now are you able; for you are yet carnal: for whereas, there is among you jealousy and strife, are you not carnal, and do you not walk after the manner of men?”
Even though the gifts of the Spirit were manifest in the congregation, the dissension and backbiting among the Corinthians evidenced they were anything but “spiritual.” Miraculous displays have their place, but by themselves, they do not constitute wisdom or power. Instead, Paul pointed to the Cross:
- “Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; to Jews, scandal; to Gentiles, folly, but to them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power and the wisdom of God” – (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
To any patriotic first-century Jew, the idea of a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. To Gentiles, the claim that the answer to humanity’s plight was found in the shameful execution of a powerless man by the world’s mightiest empire was sheer nonsense. Yet it was by that very means that God achieved victory over sin, death, and Satan. Therefore, the proclamation of “a crucified Messiah” is the “wisdom and power of God,” for the very scandalous and foolish proclamation of “Christ crucified” became the “power of God” that brought salvation to the Corinthians.
In contrast, the “rulers of this age” did not understand genuine wisdom or God’s power. If they had, they would not have “crucified the Lord of glory,” an act that sealed their own doom. By the “rulers of this age,” Paul meant the nonhuman entities he elsewhere labeled “principalities, the powers, the world-rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies.”
Despite their spiritual powers, those otherworldly creatures proved incapable of comprehending what God would do through the execution of His Son, the very thing orchestrated by them. The paradigm of the Cross can only be comprehended through revelation “by the Spirit of God.” Christ crucified is contrary to the ways and “wisdom” of this age. Only those who have the Spirit of God, and thus, the “mind of Christ” can understand the “power and wisdom” demonstrated by God on Calvary before the entire world.
If a Christian is truly “spiritual,” instead of asserting his or her “rights” or superior “spiritual” insights, he or she would set aside such things for the sake of others. As Paul wrote to the Philippians: “In lowliness of mind, each counting the other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you to the things of others. Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
And just what was this “mind of Christ”? Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to “become like God.” Instead, he chose to “pour himself out, taking the form of a slave,” which meant denying himself and becoming “obedient unto death,” even to the shameful death of crucifixion. And for that very reason, God “highly exalted him” – (Philippians 2:1-11).
Power, spirituality, wisdom – All are found in “Christ crucified,” and his disciples are summoned to live accordingly. Even the ability to perform supernatural feats or peer into the “spirit realm” is no guarantee of spirituality or genuine Christian faith. On the last day, many who prophesied, cast out demons, and did many “mighty deeds in his name,” will hear Jesus declare, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of iniquity!” – (Matthew 7:21-23).
Daily, the disciple must “deny himself and take up the cross,” just as he did. But what does that mean in practical terms? Fortunately, Jesus provided a clear explanation. When the disciples were arguing over who would be “greatest” in his kingdom, and who would sit at his side, he intervened:
- “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones tyrannize them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your slave: even as the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” – (Matthew 20:25-28).
Noteworthy in the preceding passage is the term rendered “servant,” which represents the Greek noun diakonos. Originally, it referred to servants that waited on tables, one of the lowliest positions in any household, and one performed by the lowliest slave.
Service to others, especially to the needy, the helpless, and the marginalized, is what it means to become “great” in the kingdom, to be “spiritual.” And Jesus illustrated exactly what this means by pointing to his own example, the laying down of his own life “as a ransom for others.” And as Paul reminded the Roman church, “while we were yet enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” – (Romans 5:10).
As for who will sit at his side, “when the Son of Man sits on the throne of glory,” Jesus illustrated that by his parable of the sheep and the goats.
When he “comes into his kingdom,” he will set the “sheep” at his “right hand, but the goats on the left.” The “sheep” represent faithful disciples who served the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, and the imprisoned. To them, he will say: “Inasmuch as you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me… Receive everlasting life.” But to the “goats,” to the unfaithful disciple who preferred to serve self rather than the weak and the needy, he will declare: “Depart into everlasting punishment” – (Matthew 25:31-46).
In the end, there can be no genuine Christianity without Christ. And the only genuine “Christ” is the one who “gave his life as a ransom for many” on Calvary. And every Christian is called to emulate THAT Christ, which is the mark of the true disciples.