The reason the real Jesus is unwelcome in many of the religious institutions that bear his name is that before offering us salvation from sin he demands that we first embrace his definition of sin. But as soon as he does that we discover that none of us truly want to be saved in the way he wants to save us. Save us from death and hell, from hopelessness and fear, save us from our enemies and our obstacles–sure. But don’t save us from our pride and from our selfishness. Don’t offer us liberation from our throne of independence.
It is the same reason so many reject the gift of the Holy Spirit in preference to a doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Don’t offer us the gift of the Holy Spirit when the experience of the Holy Spirit makes us feel unholy, when it is like the experience of nakedness, of having our sins ever exposed to our nagging conscience in the light of truth; the Spirit whose very job description is to convict us of sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:8); who intrudes on our self-justifying rationalizations for placing ourselves above others; who tells us to sit with the stranger and give time to the nobody; whose alien voice calls us to crucify our pride and say I’m sorry and I forgive; who insists that it is always more right to be humble than it is to be right; who refuses to take our side even when it is the right side when on the other side sits a hurting spouse; the One who comes and buries himself deep inside our ego to bring to our will the true gift of salvation–a cross–and tells us that worship doesn’t begin with a Chris Tomlin album but with a custom fitted cross-shaped altar laid out for our self-worshiping will, so that he can resurrect in us a will that is both Other and other-centered, a will that is generous and gracious and impossibly selfless and forgiving, a will that seems to care about everyone but itself, a will whose dreams and ambitions have been hanged on the eternal prefix: “Not my…”
Salvation by means of the cross means the world needs salvation from me. The good news the Christian proclaims is that Christ was crucified and that I was crucified with him. You no longer have to fear God’s justice and my injustice. The good news only sounds good in the ears of others. But for the one who proclaims it, it sounds like a song of lament, like a prayer of forsakenness; it sounds like Gethsemane. It is good news for everyone but me.
No wonder they crucified him.
“Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus:
“Who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in the form man he humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross…” (Phil. 2).
But I suppose if we allow him to show us the depth of our sin as it truly is, if we allow him to define sin for us inside that grand fortress that has triumphantly protected our fragile ego since the day we were born, if we see ourselves as God sees us, naked and laid bare before the one to whom we must give an account of our life–then and only then will the cross become more than yet another self-serving religious artifact. It will become at once the person we never could have been and the Person we so desperately need. It will become for the first time what it always has been–God’s proof of his love for sinners (Rom. 5:8), my only hope and the hope of the world.
Perhaps then will we be saved from our sin. Perhaps then will we be free to love. And in our freedom to love perhaps others will find freedom to love, and then I will become the ‘other’ for whom the good news was designed and will begin to understand the logic of the cross and the beauty of a community that wears it on its sleeve. And if that catches on, perhaps then the real Jesus will again be welcome in the institutions that bear his name and we will become the real Church he died to resurrect.