A friend recently shared with me this quote from the sermons of Theodore Austin Sparks:
“Beloved, you and I will never come through to God’s eternally intended place for us in the heavenly Kingdom until everything of this earthly life has been smitten, has been smashed. We have got to be broken men and women on the side of this nature; we have got to know the meaning of the cross as planted right at the centre of this whole life of nature, to bring it to naught, so that we can do no more of ourselves, we cannot speak as out from ourselves, we cannot work as out from ourselves, we can do no more organising as of ourselves, we can run nothing as of ourselves, we are brought to the place where we know nothing as of ourselves — and we know it; and if there is to be anything, and if there is anything at all, it is the Lord only doing it — doing it at the time, and then usually leaving us empty and spent and helpless, until He comes along again. It is so different from this continuous, everlasting go, go, go of the flesh. “
There was a time, it seems like another life now, when I was the most organized person I knew. There was a time when I could manage, delegate, arrange and categorize people and things so that everything lined up in the kind of orderly fashion I needed. There was a time when I could speak knowledgeably on some subjects, and people nodded their heads and listened. There was a time when I, and others I thought knew about such things, considered all this as evidence of spiritual growth.
But the Cross!
If we are to go on any distance with Jesus, if we are sincere in our often voiced claims to ‘follow the Lamb wherever He goes’, the Cross is going to take a toll on us. It cannot be any other way. The Cross redeems, the Cross heals, the Cross deals with our sinful natures, the Cross reconciles us to God: all of these, yes.
But the Cross also separates.
When the Cross is applied to our lives to the measure that Austin-Sparks is referring to here, it will first separate us from the world. But the separation does not finish there.
Next it will separate us from ourselves – that is, our former selves. It will reveal to us the stark futility of everything we do or say that does not flow from ever increasing dependence on the Life of Christ within us. It will bring us to a place where our natural talents, knowledge and even our spiritual giftings become hindrances to us. We will find ourselves dysfunctional apart from that Life that is filling and flowing through us. We are being conveyed by the Spirit of God to a realm where “we can do no more of ourselves, we cannot speak as out from ourselves, we cannot work as out from ourselves, we can do no more organising as of ourselves, we can run nothing as of ourselves, we are brought to the place where we know nothing as of ourselves — and we know it.”
And as the process continues we will find ourselves separated even from those we love – family, friends, colleagues. The Cross will separate us from everything and everyone who is not absolutely intent on the same journey into the depths of Christ as we are.
I’m not speaking here of a separation that looks down on, disdains or fears others. That would not be of Christ. No, I am speaking of a separation that sets us apart in such a way that we no longer find satisfaction in the former conversations, activities, and friendships that we once considered were vital to life. It does not mean we don’t love others; in fact we love them better because we are learning to love through Christ rather than through our own motivation and need.
But still we are separated, set apart. We are tasting glorious and heavenly things, we are partaking of Christ Himself, and the former things no longer have the power to hold our attention or engage us as they did.
I wonder are you finding this to be true also? It is often a solitary life, this Christ journey. Yes, we belong to a corporate entity called ‘the church’, historically and practically, and we have genuine reasons to be with one another, sharing gifts, worship, fellowship and expressing Christ as His Body.
But the Cross!
Even among those who profess to follow Christ, we will be separated in ways we didn’t anticipate. That same Cross that brings together people from all tribes and tongues also leads them onto individual pathways that they may walk a journey with Christ only He and they alone can walk together. If we are to walk without hindrance with our fellow Christ followers, we must first walk with Jesus and His Cross in the ‘aloneness’ of His crucifixion journey. There the old life must, as Sparks puts it, be ‘smitten’ or ‘smashed’ completely. Without this process, we have done nothing more than join a club.
Authentic Christian fellowship is found only among those who are also experiencing crucifixion with Christ.
Nearing the end of his letter to the Christians at Galatia, Paul stated: ‘From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ Were these marks, as some claim, literal stigmata – piercings in his hands and feet? Personally, I don’t believe so.
I believe Paul was referring metaphorically to a common practice of his time: slaves and soldiers were often ‘branded’ or ‘marked’ somewhere on their body with the name of their master or their military general. Some voluntarily chose this manner of ‘marking’ as a sign of loyalty. These days we may call such a mark a ‘tattoo’.
Paul understood, taught and daily lived the significance of the Cross. Jesus had called him ‘a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel’ (Acts 9:15). In his journey with Christ Paul was shown many Heavenly mysteries, but He also had the Cross applied to His life in significant measure: ‘For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake’ (Acts 9:16). He experienced being separated because of the Cross, even from other respected apostles of his time. Paul did literally bear the Name of Jesus in His earthly body as had been foretold.
But the Cross!
If we are truly going to be followers of Christ in this world that hates Him, we will have to be willing to carry the marks, or signature of the Lord Jesus, in our own bodies. Those invisible marks set us apart in heaven and on earth. They separate us from what has gone before in our lives on every level; they continually pull us deeper into Christ and further from all that is not Christ.
To bear the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ is no light thing. It is costly and the cost needs to be counted prior to the journey. If we are truly going to go ‘wherever He goes’, even beyond the clamoring crowds of popular Christianity, we will need to be willing to bear the sense of spiritual separation the Cross will impose on us.
The Crucified One has invited us into the fellowship of the crucified.
And yes my friends, the gate is narrow.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.
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