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How to Die on a Cross

By July 7, 2014Discipleship

If you’re going to be a follower of Jesus, you’re going to be crucified. Following Jesus means taking the path he takes. Since his path led to the cross, ours will lead there as well. Following Jesus will always mean being led into a personal crucifixion.

Galatians is a letter written by Paul to a group of churches who were taking a path away from a walk of faith and towards a walk of good works and law. The path these churches were on caused Paul to be deeply distressed and discouraged; these are the first churches he planted on his first missionary journey. It was like his firstborn deciding not to be a part of the family anymore. Here’s what Paul wrote to them:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

For Paul, following Jesus meant being “crucified with Christ.” As we look at the crucifixion of Jesus we see at least a couple similarities between Christ’s crucifixion and ours.

  • Personal crucifixion is public. Soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, which means he was naked and exposed on the cross. Personal crucifixion always exposes us. It strips away whatever pretense we were hiding behind and humbles us. Personal crucifixion isn’t you alone in your house working on stuff, it’s out in the open. People can see it happening.
  • Personal crucifixion is isolating.Leading up to the cross Jesus’ closest friends couldn’t stay awake and pray with him, and in the end most of them abandoned him. Crucifixion is an isolating experience. Although there is transparency in our death, it is isolating. That’s the shocking paradox of crucifixion – it is isolating exposure, a public loneliness unlike any other death.

I am convinced that everyone who follows Jesus will have at least one experience of isolation and exposure in public (and probably more than one experience of it). That’s personal crucifixion. Until you actually know what that’s like, you haven’t been crucified with Christ. Crucifixion is coming to a point of exposure and death where the things you’ve done- or others have done to you (deservedly or not)- will cause you to feel shame, guilt, and fear… but never in private. Crucifixion always occurs in public.

The immediate temptation all of us feel when confronted with this is to minimize it, hide from it, cover over it, manage it, avoid it somehow. But the only way to deal with it is to fully embrace the process of being crucified.

You can’t hide on the cross.

Jesus could not cover himself, because his hands were nailed to the crossbeam.

You will get to this point from time to time as a follower of Jesus. Things will happen and you will feel betrayed, let down, unjustly treated. Life will make you feel alone and isolated and exposed. Oftentimes you’ll experience these things in the harsh light of other people’s public observation.

In those moments, the best thing to do is let the process crucify you. Here’s what I mean by that: It causes you to let go of the things that you normally rely upon as your means of security.

For example, many people find their sense of meaning and security from the approval of others. Others find security in support by others or material wealth. Still others look to their moral uprightness for their security.

During personal crucifixion, none of these things are available to you. You are stripped of every source of idolatrous security and significance.

Being crucified forces you to rely on the most important thing: your relationship with God. The most important thing is that, just like Jesus, you have a Father into whose hands you can commit your life.

Until you get to the place where all you have is God it’s difficult to understand how significant he really is to you. You don’t know how strong the rope is until you let go of the cliff face and trust the rope. This is the work crucifixion does in our life. You’ll have at least one of these experiences; most of us have multiple crucifixions in our life.

That’s certainly been my experience in just this last year. A little over one year ago I repented to the 3DM team here in Pawleys Island of something being exposed in me: the vanity of an unlimited capacity. My personality drives me to seek omni-competence and complete capability in all situations. I don’t like feeling inadequate or weak. Last year I got to the point of realizing that is a vanity. It easily leads me to be proud and judgmental.

So what I did last year is what I’ve done with every crucifixion (and there have been several others since that time last year): embrace it, and to live it out publicly. You have to live it publicly! That’s the only way that you can be a person who grows in your security in God. So if you want to actually grow as a Christian, you have to go through crucifixion. It’s the only way you’ll ever know that God is your only support, and he’s enough as your support.

Here’s the thing about this—the only way to fully experience resurrection is to fully experience crucifixion. If you want to live the resurrected life, you have to live the crucified life. The good news is that resurrection is what lies beyond the “bad news” of crucifixion. Here’s how Paul puts in later in Galatians:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

You receive that new creation by dying to the old one. So if you feel like crucifixion is what is happening right now in your walk with Jesus, embrace it- committing your life to your Father- and trust him for resurrection on the other side.

photo credit: Christopher JL via photopin cc

8 Comments

  • Janet Lee says:

    This is the most important message I have heard in a very long time. I am in the midst of my own personal crucifixion and I find it so difficult NOT to try to hide. I want to wait until I’m “on the other side of it” before I let anyone see. I hope you will say more at some point on what it looks like to embrace it and live this out publicly. We have so few examples of that in our church culture.

    • Katrina Holgate says:

      Hi Janet,
      Thank you for sharing the very challenging place that you find yourself in at the moment. Praise the Lord that He knows that we will struggle and HE has given us encouraging scripture to help us through those times:
      My prayer for you is that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:7

      Blessings
      Katrina

  • Janet says:

    My name is Janet too! And I’m also going through painful crucifixion: severe financial adversity caused by the sudden loss of work and income. And it’s as Mike said: public and isolating. Public, because I had to try to borrow from friends and church members. Isolating, because with ONE exception, I was rejected, made to feel ashamed. Some church members even suggested that I was spiritually “inferior” because I no longer looked victorious. I believe they were simply afraid of their own vulnerability. People to whom I thought I mattered distanced themselves, as if my adversity was contagious and they might “catch it”. Only in God have I found consolation, and the conviction that no matter how broken and degraded I appeared on my cross, my Father’s love would resurrect me and restore all that had been lost–in material necessities, joy, beauty, and peace. Take heart, dear other Janet. God is with you, and with us both.

  • Chris says:

    Mike, Jesus is allowing this ministry to CHANGE MY LIFE FOREVER in ways I have only hoped possible in prayer many years ago, from a community/Body of Christ perspective. Mind you, I was a pastor as my wife at the time said she didn’t want this life, fell in love with another man, left and abandoned all that we had. Though this public crucifixion is nothing compared to Christ on a cross, I am so encouraged reading this today.

    As life went into a complete aerodynamic tailspin-nosedive, I failed to heed these words for quite some time -“in those moments, the best thing to do is let the process crucify you”. That was the bad news…but here’s the good news: “the only way to fully experience resurrection is to fully experience crucifixion.” Amen to that! Two years later, here’s to you Jesus as we head towards a more fuller expression of resurrection to that which already has been, and is still being fully crucified.

    So Thanks LORD for finding me (once again) when I didn’t want to be found. And thank YOU 3DM for giving me hope once more that abundant life beyond public shame and humiliation is possible once more with my Family ON Mission. Blessings Mike 🙂

    • Mike Breen says:

      Chris, thank you so much for sharing part of your story. What a wonderful picture of God’s grace at work in your life!

  • Robbyn Abedi says:

    Mike, good stuff — thank you. I can absolutely relate to what you posted and am thankful to have this as a resource moving forward. For guys like me who can be more interested in looking competent (and confident) instead of embracing the character change during these cruciforming times, it’s truly a load-off when I embrace all that comes with this gift and privileged experience from God.

    Hope you’re well.

    • Mike Breen says:

      Thanks Robbyn – I am with you, by the way, in wanting to look competent and confident! Crucifixion is quite necessary for folks like us, I’m afraid 😉

  • Andy Castro says:

    Gotta love the crucifixion.
    It typically shows up when dealing with workrelated isssues.
    You know, talking to others about the work you do. It’s hard to not
    fluff and puff myself up to make it look better than it is.
    Good article.

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