The Cross of Jesus Christ: The Basis of Our Perception and Value System

We have seen that the problem in the Corinthian church is factionalism and the root cause of that problem is that their basis of knowledge, perception and value system is “flesh”. In other words, their perception and value system belong to the old age, from which they were redeemed by their faith in Jesus Christ. That means, the members of the Corinthian church are trying to live in two diametrically opposite worlds.

After pointing to them the problem and the root cause of that problem, Paul turns their attention to the crucified Christ. Paul says that their basis of knowledge, perception and value system are in contrast with that of the cross of Christ.

So, today we discuss the significance of the cross of Jesus Christ.

II Cor. 5.14-17 “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore, all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from human point of view, even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.”

Paul says this in the context where some were boasting “in outward appearance” (II Cor. 5.12) or “according to flesh” (II Cor. 11.18). Because of that Paul was directing Corinthians’ attention to the significance of the death of Jesus Christ.

Verse 16 starts with “Therefore”. However, the appropriate word is “Consequently”. Verse 17 also starts with the same word “Consequently”. That means, both verses 16 and 17 refer to the consequences or results of what is mentioned in verses 14 and 15. Vv. 14 and 15 mention the death of Jesus Christ.

What are the consequences or results of the death of Jesus Christ?

1. Epistemological Change
The simpler definition of epistemology is, it is the basis of knowledge or the window through which a person acquires knowledge. It is the window through which you look at or view things, people and the reality around you. In that sense it is also connected to one’s perspective or perception and value system.

V. 16 “Consequently we now know no one according to flesh; even if we knew Christ according to flesh, but now we no longer know.”

Three times the word “know” is used in this verse. Paul also used the word “know” in I Cor. 2.2: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Once Paul knew Christ according to flesh. But NOW he no longer knows Christ according to flesh.

What does it mean when Paul said that “we knew Christ according to flesh”?

Before his conversion, the basis of Paul’s knowledge was the “flesh” or the old age. From that point of view, the crucified Christ was considered as the cursed one of God (Gal. 3.13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on the tree”” Deut. 21.23). A crucified person can not be the messiah of God. Moreover, the cross of Christ has made the important Jewish customs or their identity markers insignificant: “But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed” (Gal. 5.11). The cross has, thus, become a stumbling block for the Jews because it brought Jews and Gentiles together by making their important identity markers insignificant. That was why Paul persecuted the Christians and wanted to destroy the church. This was THEN. Before his conversion.

BUT NOW. Here “now” refers to the new age or new creation. After Paul’s conversion, his existence is no longer in the old age. He no longer belongs to the old age or the flesh. His existence is in the new age or new creation. So in this new age Paul’s basis of knowledge is no longer “the flesh” or the “old age”. Paul’s perception and value system are not according to the flesh or the old age.

For the one who is in Christ, knowing on the basis of the flesh is past. Flesh is no longer the window through which he/she gets the knowledge. Flesh is no longer the window through which you view or perceive things, people and the reality around you. The value system is not based on the flesh.

What brought this change?

Paul says, this is the consequence of the death of Jesus Christ. Now Jesus Christ is no longer perceived as the cursed one of God. He is the “wisdom of God” and the “power of God”.

Therefore, the first consequence of the cross of Christ is the epistemological change. It brought about a change in the basis of the knowledge. Paul’s basis of knowledge is no longer the flesh or the old age. It is the cross of Jesus Christ. It brought about a change in the perspective or perception and value system of those in Christ.

2. The New Creation
The second consequence of the cross is: v. 17, “Consequently if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away, behold! Everything has become new.”

The second consequence or result of the death of Jesus Christ is the new creation.

New Creation is characterised by reconciliation and unity

Paul mentions “New Creation” in only two places in his letters: II Cor. 5.17 and Gal. 6.15. In both the places new creation is contrasted with “flesh” or the “old age”.

Paul describes the nature of the new creation in II Cor. 5.18-21. He says that God through Jesus Christ has reconciled us to himself. By demolishing the wall that separated human beings from God, the death of Jesus Christ has brought God and human beings together.

In Galatians 6.15 Paul says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything.” Circumcision was significant in the old age. Circumcision, along with dietary laws and Sabbath, formed as important values in the old age. They have formed as walls of separation between Jews and Gentiles. By demolishing these dividing walls, the death of Jesus Christ has brought the estranged groups of people together.

So in the new creation the perception and value system of the old age or the flesh are not valid or significant. That is why Paul says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.28).

Therefore, the cross of Christ has reconciled not only God and human beings, but also the estranged communities and individuals. New creation or new age is characterised by reconciliation and unity.
Therefore, the implication are:

– Factionalism has no room in the new creation. It belongs to the old age. That is why Paul says: “For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” (I Cor 3.3).

– Perception and value system based on socio-economic, culture, caste, creed and region have no place in the new age or new creation.

3. The Cross Introduces Paradoxes

II Cor. 5.14,15: “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore, all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

The Greek word that is used for “therefore” is ara, which denotes transition from one thing to another by natural sequence and logical inference. The meaning is “therefore”, “then”, “consequently” or “as a result of”. The consequence of Jesus Christ dying for all is that we all have died. Died to what? V. 15 explains: “He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

There are several important things that these two verses convey:

a. In II Corinthians the cross of Jesus Christ is characterised as “weakness”. II Cor. 13.4: “He was crucified in weakness.”

Paul also characterises his ministry in terms of “weakness”.

– I Cor. 2.3-5: “And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the powerful Spirit, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

– II Cor. 4.8-9: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down; but not destroyed.”

– II Cor. 6.4-10: “But as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger, by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying and see – we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

– II Cor. 12.7b-10: “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

In all these references Paul introduces a paradox.

Paul says that according to the perception and value system of the old age or the flesh, the shameful death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and Paul’s hardships, sufferings afflictions, beatings, imprisonments and so on signify “weakness”.

Paul argues, this may be “weakness” according to the perception and values of the society. But this is not an evidence of powerlessness.

Rather paradoxically God’s power is at work or manifested in this weakness:
– II Cor. 13.4: “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God.”
– The salvation of people manifests that the power of God is at work in the “weakness” of the cross of Christ: “But to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1.18).

In Paul’s list of hardships he introduces a series of antitheses:
– I Cor. 2.3-5: “And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the powerful Spirit, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
– II Cor. 12.7b-10: “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

All these references show that the “weakness” actually discloses the power of God. That is why, Paul says that he boasts in his “weakness” because of this paradox of power in weakness, rather than “outward appearance” or outward manifestations of power such as visions and revelations (II Cor. 12:1-10).
The paradox of power in weakness stands in contrast to Corinthians’ understanding of power. For them, power makes an individual powerful in some noticeable sense. For them weakness and power are incompatible. For Paul, weakness and power are not mutually exclusive, but are coterminous.

– The “weakness” of the cross of Christ and Paul’s ministry have an intended purpose of benefiting others
In II Cor. 5.14,15 Paul twice says “he died for all.” For Paul, the love of Christ is manifested in Christ dying “for all”. That means, the love expressed by the cross of Christ is defined as existence or living for others (II Cor. 5.15; Gal. 2.20, Rom. 14-15).

The “weakness” of the cross of Christ has an intended purpose of benefiting others. Christ died for the benefit of others.

In all the lists of “weakness” or sufferings that Paul enumerates in II Cor. 4.8-10, 6.4-10, 11.23-33, the notion of “service” is included. Paul is not rejoicing in his “weakness” or sufferings per se, but because of their constructive purpose of serving Christ and the community. Paul maintains that his “weakness” in his apostolic ministry has an intended purpose of community building (II Cor. 10.8; 12.19; 13.10).
That means “weakness” refers to a mode of existence, marked by willingness to endure suffering and hardship for the purpose of building others up.

b. The second important thing that the death of Jesus Christ conveys is:
II Cor. 5.15: “And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

In II Cor. 4.10,11 Paul characterises his ministry as “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” and “always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake”. The purpose is: “so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” and “the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.”

This is what we see in II Cor. 5.15: “And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” Jesus died for all, so that his life, i.e. the existence or living for others, may be imparted to us.

The cross, thus, introduces second paradox, i.e. the paradox of life in death. Paul states this briefly in II Cor. 4.12: “Death is at work in us, but life in you.”

Thus, the paradox of power in weakness and the paradox of life in death are very much evident in the cross of Christ. The paradox of power in weakness and the paradox of life in death are fundamentally associated with Christian life and ministry. Therefore, the cross of Christ is intrinsically associated with the concrete existence of Christians who belong to the new age or new creation.

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