I mentioned the other day that according to the Apostle John, Jesus exegetes God in his earthly life (John 1:18). God is indeed known from the Scriptural narratives in his relations with creation and Israel. But the clearest and fullest expression of God is found in Jesus.
We might even say that Jesus improvises God. Based on God’s self-revelation in Israel’s Scriptures, we ought to look at Jesus’ life and say, “of course!” Jesus’ revelation of God is in complete continuity with God’s prior self-revelation, albeit in new settings.
We might also say that Paul improvises Jesus. 2 Cor. 4:7-12 is a powerful Pauline text that captures the paradox of life in a beautiful but broken creation. Faithfulness to God in this age calls for cruciformity, a self-sacrificial mode of life that is sustained by and unleashes God’s resurrection power.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.
As Michael Gorman notes in his various discussions of cruciformity, this is a richer notion than merely imitating Christ. In his postures toward others and his daily mode of life, Paul is re-performing Jesus’ narrative pattern of self-giving-unto-death for the sake of others. He knows that this way of life draws upon and radiates the power of Jesus’ own life.
This isn’t a life of moping drudgery driven by self-loathing or self-pity. Nor is it characterized by passive-aggressive relational strategies. This life of power-surrender, service, solidarity with the suffering, deference toward others, and weakness is driven by promise and hope. A cruciform mode of life maximally exploits the “death-life” paradox. When Paul re-performs Jesus’ life-long march to the cross, Jesus’ life-giving and joy-generating resurrection power floods Paul’s life and relationships.
The promise of cruciformity is that it is the only mode of life that unleashes the resurrection power of God.