2 Corinthians 4:12. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
“To live is Christ” is to live the crucified life. The life of the cross. A life where death is at work in us so that life can be at work in others.
In 2 Corinthians 3 and 4, Paul shows us the connection between suffering and glory. It is imperative for us as Christians to understand how glory and suffering work together. How our dying brings about real living. How death brings resurrection. Union with Christ, the Christ of the cross, means that there is no glory without death.
Fifteen hundred years after Paul, Martin Luther developed his thoughts into what he called a Theology of Glory and a Theology of the Cross.
Theology of Glory.
For Luther, the “theologian of glory” is the Christian who seeks to skip the cross on their way to glory. They want glory without death and resurrection. This Christian will try to move past pain and suffering as quickly as possible. They may even believe that God doesn’t want us to suffer (think prosperity gospel).
This is not to say that glory is bad. God created us in glory and for glory. We have been crowned with glory and honor. But the question that we must wrestle with is “what is the path to God’s glory?” Most Christians look at suffering, pain, and difficulty as a temporary glitch. Somehow we are off the path to glory and we just have to work hard to get back on the right path.
But this is what Luther pointed out – the theologian of glory will always choose works over suffering. Why? Because the theologian of glory does not see God hidden in suffering.
And so in suffering the theologian of glory sounds something like this:
In the break-up: “It wasn’t a good relationship for me anyway.”
At the job loss: “I know God has a better job waiting for me.”
In the difficulty: “I’ve learned so many things about myself.”
But each of these responses to suffering is actually just rationalization at best, and calling what is evil, good, at worst. Instead of looking at our suffering and trusting that God is actually found IN the suffering, we want God to move us out of the suffering asap. We fail to let suffering reveal our deeper desires and thus our sinful desires. We don’t see suffering as a chance to die, but only as a chance to gain more glory – usually by good works, or living by “Christian principles,” or by seeking a religious experience to boost our morale. We don’t see death at work. We are Palm Sunday Christians, instead of Good Friday Christians.
But this is not how Paul, or Jesus, sees our suffering at all. Death (suffering) is at work in us. It is not something to leave behind or escape. Our pain is not something to “get over,” or “move past.” Rather, our suffering in our weakness offers us a chance for real life. The life of Christ. The life of the cross. We see suffering as primarily a chance for self-improvement. But God sees suffering as primarily a chance to learn self-denial. Sacrifice. Love.
Theology of the Cross
Luther’s “theologian of the cross” embraces their suffering, sorrow, weakness, failings, and yes even their sinning (not in enjoyment, but in acceptance of its reality). Why? Because this is death at work in us. And this dying is the path to true glory. The glory of grace.
God only works in the humble. The contrite. The weak. The foolish. The sinner. The failure. Victory comes from defeat. Life comes from death. This IS the cross. This is the upside down reality of God.
A theology of the cross declares that the cross is not a means to an end for us. It is the end. Our new life in Christ hasn’t moved as past the cross (as the Corinthians believed). Rather, our new life in Christ, our resurrection, has taken us backward into the life of the cross. Carrying our cross. Crucifying our flesh. Putting to death the deeds of the flesh. Sacrificing for others. Allowing death to work in us so that life may be at work in others.
“To live is Christ” means living the crucified life. The life of dying unto the glory of god’s grace. Sacrificing for the sake of others that they too might find the life of Christ.
Do you see yourself as a theologian of glory or a theologian of the cross? Or, do you tend to try to work your way out of suffering or do you let it work in you?
You in Christ
How does your union with Christ allow you to let his death do its work in you?
Christ in you
How might your sacrificial “dying” today bring life to someone else?
Playlist: Dying and Living.