Editors Note: This is the fifth of a six-part Lenten/Easter series on the “The Glory and Power of the Cross.” The articles also include discussion questions to allow them to be used in Lenten discussion groups.
There is real freedom in the cross
Sometimes Jesus made his point by speaking in exaggerations. Nowhere is this more clear than when he talked about the dangers of sin. According to the Gospels, he taught that we should cut off our hands and our feet and pluck out our eyes if they are leading us to sin (Mark 9:43-47). The church has always taught that Jesus was not literally encouraging his followers to maim themselves. Rather he spoke in this dramatic wasy to emphasize his warning about the potential of sin to rob us of eternal life.
Why did Jesus feel it was necessary to speak in such extremes? Because he knew that we risk becoming enslaved to sin if we let sin fester, if we do not repent, and if we do not resist temptation.
So in this article, let’s examine how we can take hold of the power of the cross to free ourselves from any slavery to sin and to draw us closer to our Lord. Let’s see how, rather than cutting off our hands or our feet, the cross has the power to cut sin away from our hearts.
One of the most important discoveries we can make about the Christian life is the truth that faith is not simply a matter of human effort. It is not only about our striving to act the right way and to believe the right things. Rather, the Christian life is about the power of God alive in us and in our world. It is about God filling us with his power to overcome sin and live in his love. The Christian life is about bringing glory to God and loving one another by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How does this relate to the cross? It shows us that the cross of Christ is one of the greatest spiritual “weapons” we could ever have. The cross opens the door to the grace we need to live the Christian life. St. Paul once told the Corinthians that “the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying strongholds. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
As we said in a previous article, there is a huge difference between “noble” striving and relying on God’s power. Human striving alone, which is good and necessary, does not open itself to God’s spiritual weapons. But Paul tells us that these weapons are stronger than the temptations of Satan. They are strong enough, in fact, to break down strongholds of sin that have made their home in us.
We may have allowed anger or moodiness or lust to establish a stronghold in us. But these strongholds, which tempt us, control us, and separate us from Jesus, can be destroyed as we take hold of the spiritual weapons God has given us—mainly the cross. It is the cross that gives us God’s power to defeat the arguments of temptation that come into our minds. It is the cross that helps us say “no” to sin’s deceitful and empty promises of joy.
The Cross and the Spirit
Scripture tells us that blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side when he died on the cross (John 19:34). From the earliest days of the church, believers have seen the blood as a symbol of the work of the cross, and the water as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. From the time of the church fathers, we have seen that if we want to know God better, overcome sin, and love and serve the church, we need both the cross and the Spirit.
In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul was very clear about this relationship between the Holy Spirit and the cross. When he saw how the Galatians had lost the spiritual clarity they once had, he became very passionate and asked them: “O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? I want to learn only this from you: did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard?” (Galatians 3:1-2)
Paul told the Galatians that the cross of Jesus Christ gave them full rights of sons and daughters. Consequently, they were no longer slaves to sin but coheirs with Christ himself. He told them that the Holy Spirit, who lived in their hearts, was constantly calling out, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6-8). Paul wanted to make sure that the Galatians understood that the cross had set them free from all of their sins (5:1). And he wanted them to know that they were called to be free (5:13). But he cautioned them that they would not experience the freedom that Jesus won for them on the cross unless they asked the Holy Spirit to show them how to be free.
Paul summed this all up by saying, “Those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). In other words, we have to take up the power of the cross in our lives, and this can be done only by the power of the Holy Spirit.
( Joe Difato is the publisher of The Word Among Us devotional magazine. Many thanks to The Word Among Us (http://www.wau.org/ ) for allowing us to use his articles from their 2009 Lenten Issue. Used with permission.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion
- The article describes the cross as having the power to “free ourselves from any slavery to sin,” “draw us closer to our Lord,” and “cut sin away from our hearts.” How have you experienced this in your life?
- The article goes on to say that “One of the most important discoveries we can make about the Christian life is the truth that faith is not simply a matter of human effort.” How would you describe the role of God in living out the Christian life?
- Because of the fall and original sin, we are all fallen human beings. We are all subject to temptations to sin whether they are anger, bitterness, moodiness, lust or other sins. Sometimes these temptations and sin areas can become strongholds that we find difficult to overcome. In 2 Corinthians 10:4, St. Paul proclaims that “the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying strongholds. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” What steps can you take to use these spiritual weapons, especially the power of the cross, to destroy any strongholds you are battling against.
- The article ends with these words, “Paul summed this all up by saying, ‘Those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:24-25). In other words, we have to take up the power of the cross in our lives, and this can be done only by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Why do we need both the power of the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit to fight and win the battle to overcome sin areas? What role does the Holy Spirit play in your life now in fighting this battle?
- If you are in a men’s group take some time at the end of your meeting to pray for one another for a deeper infilling of the Holy Spirit and a greater work of the cross in our lives.