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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cruciform Community

We've been talking about something called 'Cruciform Community' in class lately. The basic premise runs something like this - we are blind to our own sin; we have a fundamental inability to see our own weaknesses and deficiencies. The reason for this is because we are sinners.

In other words, my "sin" runs much deeper than occasional lapses in judgment or behavior - it really flows from the core of my being. I sin because I am a sinner; everything I do is fundamentally bent in a certain direction, against God, in my own favor. And I am completely blind to it. I constantly do things to make myself, my actions, look better - when I speak, when I act, even when I pray. I do things for my glory, to make me look better, to justify my actions, to get you to do what I want.

I think most of us have experienced this to some extent - if not in ourselves, then we've certainly seen it in others (sometimes to the point where we wonder "How on earth can they be such an idiot?!? Don't they see what they are doing???").

And that's actually the second part of the equation - we may be blind to our own sin, but we are surprisingly good at seeing the sin of others. I see this in my kids all the time - as soon as one of them so much as thinks about doing something wrong, the Society for the Betterment of Siblings Patrol comes swooping in with sirens blazing:
"Mom!!!! He hit me!!!" [translation: your son, this brother you gave me, just sinned most egriously by daring to touch my delicate personage...]

"Oh yeah, well she was bugging me" [rebuttal: look, I had a good reason - this creepy little wench is sitting here nagging me like a leaky faucet, trying to be a boss and exert her authority over me...]

"Well he wasn't cleaning up his room like you told him to" [ooh, the trump card: mom, I'm just trying to enforce the policy you yourself laid down; I am actually helping by my bossing...]
See how easily we see the sin in one another? And yet isn't it amazing how we see ourselves as perfect and pristine - I mean, every time I look in the mirror, I simply cannot fathom how women in this world keep from flinging themselves at my feet. After all, who wouldn't want to be married to someone like me? Clearly, all the problems in my marriage must be located squarely in my wife, who just doesn't realize how good she's got it.

Yeah, right. What's scary here, is that 99.9% of you reading this post know exactly what I'm talking about here. You can identify with these comments because you have experienced them yourself. Sure, the particulars may vary, but underneath, we are all singing this same old song.

We are blind to our own flaws. And yet we actually have a capacity to see the blindness of others, we can see their shortcomings quite well (and guess what, as we begin to study Scripture you will actually get better at identifying problems in others - which can be extremely dangerous if used wrongly).

So how does all this connect to community? The bottom line is that we all need one another to help correct our blindness. Hebrews 10:24-25 says "Don't give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another..." This is talking about much more than attending church on Sundays. We gather as community in order to encourage one another to be more like Christ.

But there's more to it than that. Hebrews 10:26-31 goes on to say, "BUT, if we go on sinning..." and then it launches into this really scary warning about falling away from God, a warning which concludes with these ominous words: "We know who said 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay'... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Cruciform community is brothers and sisters who are blind to their own sin, but who can nevertheless see the sin in the lives of one another. And so we are called as brothers and sisters in this family of God to help each other see our own blindness.

This means we need to be willing to point out problems. And the better we know God, Scripture, Christ, and the gospel, the better we will get at seeing blindness - both in our lives and in the lives of others. But we point out that blindness in others not just because we see it, but because we also see the living God who redeemed us, we see him. And we invite them to do the same thing for us.

So we have a great responsibility, because we have been called by God to speak into one another's lives - we are authorized, even expected, to do so. And yet at the same time, we are called to great humility, because we know that we ourselves are blind in many areas ourselves. But that's the whole point - we need one another to deal with our own blindness. We need fellow believers to point us to the cross; we need them to show us where we still need to die to ourselves. That's the essence of Cruciform Community.


At 12:45 PM, February 21, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

Brilliant! Wonderful post! Growing up, I was always used to hearing and being told that when we did see sin in other people the right thing to do was not to judge and to just leave it alone. But what kind of gospel is that?!

I think only real, deep, genuine love can manifest itself in community, when that community is living faithfully. I really like that you are willing to also point out that as we grow as Christians we will become even better at finding sin in other people; but our compassion, patience, wisdom, humility, and love should also be growing, allowing us to be just that much more helpful to each other.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

Here, I believe, stands the example set for us in living faithfully as a community. One thing I like about this verse is what God is demonstrating to us in His actions: love; not power, not holiness, not humilty, not courage, but love.

One reason why love never fails (and maybe why we have a hard time understanding this) is because love exists independently or despite of circumstances.

The point: to be faithful in speaking to someone else about their sin we need to be humble enough to discuss our own sin when confronted with it, and we also need to be motivated by love, a love that is willing to die for that person to help them through the sin they are fighting.

This of course is rarely a literal dying, but it takes the form of giving up our own comfort, time, money, security, etc. . . whatever it takes.

We've been talking in the last year about the need to share the Gospel with each other on a more regular basis, in everyday conversation (as Paul seems to so often exhort us to do). I think this has the ability to encourage us and to make us more open to ministering to each other, and it also reminds us that this is most effective when we are willing to die for each other.

(Let me know when my comments are becoming too lengthy.)

At 7:20 AM, February 22, 2006, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

Romans 5:8 is a very interesting verse both in context, and in real-life application...

"But God demonstrates His own love for us..." - GOD does the work...

"While we were STILL sinners" (emphasis mine) - this is a PAST-TENSE sentence, is it not? we WERE sinners... this is a key thing to remember... particularly in light of:

"Chrsit died for us." - something occurred WHEN WE WERE (used to be) sinners... Jesus Christ, if you believe the gospel, BECAME sin on my behalf - He died FOR me, He became my one-time, once and for all, forever SACRIFICE - And the Bible says that if we (I) died with Christ, then I have also been raise with Christ! I am a NEW CREATION!

What does this mean?

Sorry to say - I am NOT "a sinner." I used to be - but if I am truly in Christ, I am NO LONGER A SINNER. Otherwise, I am continually trying to put Christ on that cross - and, as He so clearly stated, "It is Finished..."

At 7:46 AM, February 22, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Dan,

I wonder if we're speaking past one another here (so apologies in advance if I'm mis-reading you).

I definitely want to hear and affirm what you are saying - we are new creation; there is a fundamental and definitive break with the past. So we are no longer "sinners" in the sense of "people in rebellion against God".

At the same time, we're not yet perfected (very few people are brazen enough to claim that) - we still wrestle with sin (and hence Paul can tell believers to "stop sinning", etc). So there is a very real sense where we ARE still sinners.

There I go feeling postmodern again - we are no longer sinners; we are still sinners. Both of those are true at the same time (and actually, it's not a postmodern thing - it's more of a 'mystery of the gospel' thing).

The point of the post is that real Christians still struggle with real sin in our lives - in fact, I'd suggest that the better I know Christ, the better I see the sin that remains in my life. And there's a lot of it. But that's why I need the gospel daily.

And that's why we need one another - to preach that gospel to one another (and to ourselves) daily, to help each other overcome our sin and grow into who we really are in Christ.

At 7:49 AM, February 22, 2006, Blogger rs said...


I think I see what you are trying to articulate here, but we have to be careful of two things (not saying you are saying this, just want to make sure your comments aren't taken to extremes) -

1) that we don't minimize the depths of our ongoing corruption of the flesh (think Rom 7 here). I am questioning how you interpret Romans 5.8. "While we were still sinners" doesn't make a qualitative statement about our present state. Paul is speaking here about reconciliation with God and in his eyes, you are right in the sense that he no longer sees us, but Christ-the sinless one, so in that sense we are sinless.

2) Christ's "it is finished" must be taken as the finished work of redemption, but not that Christ's work is finished. He doesn't sit down at the father's side and rest. He still has rest to do. He intercedes and "ever" pleads for us. This fact also highlights our ongoing struggle with the flesh.

I've been reading some great stuff lately on this new creation language and what Vos says is that the believer becomes a new creation because his environment has changed! That's something to think about.

At 8:01 AM, February 22, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

(As I was writing this it seems both Christian and Ryan jumped in ahead of me, so most of this might be a little redundant, but I will post it anyway.)

Mr. McGowan - I give a hearty Amen to your comment! Realizing that we, who are in Christ, are no longer sinners seems to be such an important ingredient for the health of the Church.

As my mind continues to wander, I wonder if the idea of "already and not yet" has to come into play somehow? Paul speaks of us as having been saved, as being saved, and waiting to be saved. This may be poor logic, but I wonder then if we can also say that we are no longer sinners, we are still being purged of our sinful nature, and one day we will no longer sin.

We are justified, but not yet fully sanctified . . . and God uses His people through the Church as a community to help sanctify His people I believe. So it is necessary to recognize sin in ourselves and each other and not to be too surprised by it, but to know that when Christ said, "It is finished," He conquered the grip death had on us because of our sin so that sanctification is a very real possibility.

At 8:04 AM, February 22, 2006, Blogger Brian said...


~ Ryan, I'd love to see a post on what you mentioned reading by Vos.

At 7:54 AM, February 24, 2006, Blogger rs said...

brian since i am a people pleaser, i will give you what you long for! i'll have a post up in a few minutes that summarizes Vos's point about "new creation."

At 8:19 AM, February 24, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Hey Ryan, as long as a) you're into people pleasing, and b) you're taking orders, I'd like a nice 6 pack of "Ryan's Homebrew" while you're at it :-)

At 3:52 PM, October 22, 2011, Anonymous Jonesy said...

If you're blind to YOUR sin, why would I want you pointing MINE out?

I'll tell you why I don't!

(1) In your blindness to see your sin, you won't see how you're sinning when you point out my sin.

(2) Christ didn't say, go and take the log out of your neighbors eye so that you can take the log out of yours. No, it's the other way around: take the log out of your own eye so that you can take the log out of your neighbor's eye.

(3) You want to grow in "holiness without which no one will see the Lord"? (Heb 12:14) May I recommend that a much better course of action is stated in 2 Cor 3:18 to wit: As we meditate on Christ's glory we are changed into His glory, a glory whose radiance never ceases.

In other words, you're focusing on the wrong people if you're wanting to be godly people. Focus on who Christ is what He's done and what He's promised, not on telling me I'm a sinner or how I sin.

I already know that, probably better than you realize it.


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