Martin Luther’s theology of the cross, in contrast to a theology of glory, greatly pervaded many of his other theological systems. This theme is immensely significant because it attacks the very root of all our sinful tendencies—pride. A robust theology of the cross not only draws us to exult in the glory of Christ in his humiliation, but it also calls us to imitate his ‘kenosis’ even to the point of death on a cross. The cross and the crypt must precede the crown. This is the mysterious wisdom of God. However, in our pride and selfishness, we are prone to live out of sync with this gospel truth. A theology of the cross leads us to know the fellowship of Christ in His sufferings. For the sake of knowing Christ, we must be mastered by such a theology of the cross.
Luther’s theology of the cross permeated all of his other theological convictions. Theologians debate as to whether Luther’s theology was chiefly marked by a cross-centered theology, a word-centered theology, and a theology of two kinds of righteousness. There is good reason to suggest a cross-centered theology is the case. Here’s a brief review of how the theology of the cross is central in Luther’s theology. The theology of the cross affects God’s special revelation to us. It is a mystery hidden by the pride and wisdom of man. Too often our understanding of God is that he is a wrathful and capricious God who demands human contribution. But, God has revealed himself through the Incarnate Word, in the Written Word, through the preached Word, and in Sacramental Word. The apex of God’s self-revelation in the Word is always the death of the Son. God’s power is revealed in his humility on the cross. God’s power in the lives of believers is revealed in our weakness. The wisdom of God is revealed in the foolishness of the crib, cross, and crypt, yet the last place human wisdom would look for God is in a manger, on a cross, and in a tomb. Such places mysteriously reveal his amazing love for fallen sinners.
The theology of the cross affects our discipleship. Our personal sufferings (or crosses) don’t save us or others, but they do serve the neighbor. The crosses of daily life convey the love of Christ to others in a world of suffering. We overcome evil by living life under the cross. We must avoid the temptation to think that we are something special for suffering or for success. There can be a false pride in suffering, but if we learn to suffer well, we will know the fellowship of Christ as we make sacrifices to serve others. These crosses are not only illnesses and inconveniences. They arise out of serving in ways that twist us out of our comfort zones for the sake of loving others. Our personal preferences go to the stake for the sake of other people. We should not fall into the temptation that God calls us to be masochists or self-made martyrs. Conversely, we should not fall into the trap that says God wants to bless us with ease, comfort, convenience, and fun. The true Christian life should be one of triumph and power through suffering, not in escape from suffering. In other words, we experience the power of the resurrection through a cross-like life.
Mini-Seminar: “Suffering and Persecution in the Global Christian Context”
In light of the unrelenting adversity that the global church faces in our day, global Christians need to revisit a theology of suffering and martyrdom. In June 2017, The Judson Center hosted a mini-seminar entitled, “Suffering and Persecution in the Global Christian Context.” The two presenters were:
Why is it impossible for self-love to be the foundation of genuine Evangelical spirituality?
4a. For Edwards there is no room for self-love in the believer as foundational. John 4:19 says, “We love him, because he first loved us.” God is the mover the first initiator to regenerate a man and therefore once a man sees the awesomeness, majesty, beauty, and holiness of God he should be captivated by it apart from its personal benefits. To see God as He really is should produce holy fear and humiliation in a believer’s heart thus seeing himself as he really is compared to the glories of God. Edwards, referring to John 4:19 gives three points to its support. (1) The saints’ love to God, is the fruit of God’s love to them; as it is the gift of that love. God gave them a spirit of love to him, because he loved them from eternity. (2) The exercises and discoveries that God has made of his wonderful love to sinful men, by Jesus Christ, in the work of redemption, is one of the chief manifestations, which God has made of the glory of his moral perfection, to both angels and men. (3) God’s love to a particular elect person, discovered by his conversion, is a great manifestation of God’s moral perfection and glory to him, and a proper occasion of the excitation of the love of holy gratitude… arising primarily form the excellency of divine things, as they are in themselves, and not from any conceived relation they bear to their interest.”
Is Edwards refusing to allow any place for self-love in our love to God?
4b. Edwards does allow a place for self-love but it is not anywhere as foundational to man’s authentic affection for God’s glory and beauty. This reality is touched by man’s self-love as explained in Psalm 116:1, “I love the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplication.” God first loves man and by this love man is changed and now loves God for who He is and because of this has godly gratitude for the personal benefits he receives from this great divine love.
What constitutes a “spiritual” person in the perspective of the New Testament?
3a. A spiritual person has the Spirit of God in him. The spiritual person means sanctified and gracious. This does not mean perfectionism, but it does mean the spiritual person is in a notable process of sanctification and grace. Christians are called “spiritual,” because they are born of the Spirit and because of the indwelling and holy influences of the Spirit of God in them, writes Edwards. The spiritual mind means to be graciously minded, Rom. 8:6. Because believers are spiritual God communicates Himself to the saints by His Spirit to their spirit. The affections of the Saints are acted upon, by influences that are spiritual and divine. According to the N.T. the spiritual person has the spirit of truth (John 14:17)
What are the differences between a “spiritual” person and a “natural” person?
3b. The natural man is different than the spiritual man because the natural man was born of the flesh and is therefore born of corruption with a corrupt nature. The natural man cannot understand spiritual things, to him they are utter foolishness. Regarding the Spirit’s affects on the natural man, Edward writes; “The Spirit of God, in all his operations upon the minds of natural men, only moves, impresses, assists, improves, or some way acts upon natural principles; but gives no new spiritual principle.” This reveals that if a natural man has a vision or a revelation of sorts there is nothing supernatural, spiritual or divine in it. The natural man can and does have many of the same gracious affections as the spiritual man in the sense that a love for God for the spiritual man is similar to the natural man’s love for his friend etc.
What are the implications of Edwards’ discussion in these pages for the designation of some Christians as “carnal Christians”?
3c. The “carnal Christian” is a bit of an oxymoron because Edwards quotes Rom. 8:6, “To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Edwards connects carnal with unsanctified or rather the unspiritual man. The spiritual man has the special, gracious, and saving influences of the Spirit in his life where the natural, carnal man does not. Natural man will experience the influences of the Spirit but not in relation to the gifts, qualities, or affections that characterize the spiritual man.