Paul’s Cruciform Performances of Jesus

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.

Rembrandt, The Apostle Paul in Prison

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.


9 responses to “Paul’s Cruciform Performances of Jesus

  • athanasius96

    That’s interesting. When many people say they want to “imitate Christ” they mean his kindness, his understanding, or his treatment of the poor. Paul does make it clear that knowing his death is the only way to know the power of the resurrection. Good post.

  • Sean Leroy

    Statement of the year, no decade…wait, no, century – “Jesus’ revelation of God is in complete continuity with God’s prior self-revelation, albeit in new settings.”
    Couldn’t agree more.

  • Bob MacDonald

    Performance – that’s a great word. It follows and presupposes engagement. I.e. it is announced and is also legitimate. There are many pretenders. Identify it also with Israel even in the exile through psalm 44 which Paul quotes. Identify it also with the re-presentation of the church in the Eucharist.

  • Albion

    God’s prior self-revelation included wholesale slaughter of Canaanites, etc. In what sense is Jesus’s revelation of God in complete continuity with the relentless violence of Israel’s God?

  • Abraham Vivas (@abrahamvivas)

    Very challenging words and great reminder. I want to know His death and the power of His resurrection!

  • John Thomson

    Couldn’t agree more with comments about cruciformity. However, I’d say that while Jesus is in continuity with previous revelations of God, he is full revelation where they were but partial.

  • S Wu

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Tim. I have been reading and praying with 2 Corinthians lately, and indeed I am going to preach on the passage you cited here next Wednesday. In Romans 8:17 (and 8:18-39) Paul speaks of sharing in the suffering of Christ so that we may be glorified with him. This is about resurrection life being lived out through cruciformity, isn’t it? And in 2 Cor I find Paul speaking of his own cruciform life in great intensity. Profound.

    • timgombis

      That passage in Rom. 8 seems to be a climax in the letter where redefines the identity of the people of God precisely as those who suffer with Christ. To the question, “who are the people who will be exalted at the final day?” Paul answers, “those who suffer with Christ, whatever their ethnic identity.” Huge.

      • S Wu

        Thanks, Tim. A few years ago I was talking with the senior pastor of my church on this topic. The discussion was about what the characteristics of a Christian community were. In other words, what defines the identity of God’s people today? I suggested that it’s the sacrifice and suffering of Christians. (By that I didn’t mean that we should make suffering glamorous, but that the biblical evidence is that suffering is the hallmark of NT followers of Jesus.) My pastor’s response was that sacrifice and suffering were unhelpful categories for the church today. They were not encouraging. My heart sank when I heard that. (But to his credit, he did change his mind after our long conversation.)

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