From the upcoming book Altar’d by Jennifer Kennedy Dean. Release date February 2012. Be sure you are on our newsletter list so you will know when new books and products are release.
The cross of Christ stands as the point of separation between the old person powered by death-driven corrupted flesh, and the new creation, powered by the very Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. At the moment you embrace the cross, you receive its power into your life —a power that is eternally and continually working. Paul says that “death is at work in us.” At work in us now. Doing ongoing work. Doing present work. A.B. Simpsons says, “We may not preach a crucified Saviour without being also crucified men and women…The cross that Paul speaks about was burned into his very flesh, was branded into his being, and only the Holy Spirit can burn the true cross into our innermost life.”
The death that Jesus died on the cross cannot be—and need not be—repeated. Only He is able to die for our sins, having no sins of His own to die for. As we surrender our corrupted flesh to His crucifixion, and as His death works in us, we are not repeating the atoning work of the cross. That is done, completed, finished. Instead, we are letting the power of the cross work out the crucifixion of our flesh. It is not a cross of punishment that works in us. The cross did its work of punishment on the body of Jesus. It is the cross that is freeing us from the confines and the distortions and the limitations of our sin nature. It is not restriction, but freedom. It is, in fact, the only hope of being all that we were created to be.
God designed the eternal cadence and it is built into creation at its crux. Life emerges out of death. The seed that falls into the ground to die to produce a harvest. The branch that is pruned so that it can bear more fruit. The beautiful colors of fall, ushering in the very death that will culminate in the springtime resurrection.
Living altar’d means surrendering to the death from which life comes. The cross is the only place where flesh can go to die.
Flesh is designed to misdirect. Flesh will work hard to direct your gaze somewhere other than the cross. Failing that, flesh will attempt to distort your view of the cross. Make it seem ugly and harsh instead of life-giving and redemptive and tender.
I have something of a hobby, I guess you would call it, of reading books and articles and blogs by people who grew up in strong Christian homes, but as adults rejected their belief in Jesus. Their stories seem to have several common themes, but central to most is the theme of always trying to please a God who could not be pleased. They felt burdened and ashamed—always trying to measure up. They fell for a misdirection.
You know how a magician’s tricks work. He depends on the fact that our minds can only focus on one thing at a time. He uses his skills to draw the focus of his audience where he wants it, so that he can do something else where his audience is not looking. The end result is that a lie appears to be the truth. He appears to have accomplished something by magic that was really done by trickery. It is very convincing.
This is what our flesh will try to induce in us. A misdirected focus. If flesh can keep you focused on your sin instead of His grace, then the myth of a rigid, angry god seems absolutely true. If your flesh can misdirect your focus away from the reality of the cross, and keep your attention on your best effort, then the perception of a demanding, harsh god appears grounded in reality.
Flesh tries to pull our attention away from the beautiful cross, where our freedom is to be found. tries to keep us focused on our own failings, or our own fleeting successes, redefining the cross as vindictive and vengeful and fearsome.
The cross is a living power working in our lives to irradiate the flesh that holds us captive and stunts our growth. It has nothing to do with our ability to follow rules.
If the cross is working on the inside, then the evidence will show up on the outside. If, however, the flesh is working hard at conforming the outside, it will wear you out and discourage you. Flesh-produced outward changes that started out looking shiny and beautiful will fail the test of perseverance. It won’t be lasting change. What counts is a new creation, transformed from the inside out. Not a spiffed up old creation. The only way to live is to live altar’d.