When we inwardly mythologize Jesus’ suffering as a story or as mere theology, our redemption becomes mere theology as well.
33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.
34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.
35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”
36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine,
37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”
38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
(Luke 23:33-38, NKJV).
There has been a huge dialog over the relationship between grace and works for centuries. The general thought is that there is a mysterious something that comes over you and changes you, and you become entirely righteous, except not actually.
When Paul says that Jesus was just, and the justifier, of those who have faith in Him (Rom 3:26), it masks a huge reality of suffering. I believe the various aspects of His suffering were carefully orchestrated so that almost everyone’s lot in life could be represented by His circumstance.
- He was betrayed by His closest friends
- He was rejected by the religious and cultural elite
- He was unjustly accused and executed by the political powers
- He died a friendless pauper
- He was cut down in the prime of life
- He was cut down in the prime of His ministry
- He was physically tortured and killed
- He was universally misunderstood though He meant no harm
- He was forsaken even by God
This is not some insightful teaching. You can even dispute some items on that list. The fact remains, it is real, it happened. these are some flawed ways of looking at different aspects of His suffering. When we inwardly mythologize Jesus’ suffering as a story or as mere theology, our redemption becomes mere theology as well. As long as we do not see Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion as real events which happened to a real person, we do not see the Father’s wrath and jealous anger against sin as real. In other words, we do not loath and hate our own sin when we think the cost of our redemption was only a children’s fairy tale.
Theology is important. The meaning and purpose of Jesus’ suffering and public execution, which Paul explains in his letters, is all-important. However, we tend to look primarily at the logic of the theology of His death, and to downplay the raw visceral empirical truth of His suffering. Doing so, we forget the cost of our salvation, and we open the door to a cheap and meaningless gift, our theology becomes anemic. The power of our justification becomes obscure, and we begin to wonder what relationship it has to our life. Weak Christian living stems from weak grace, and weak grace stems from a weak view of Christ’s suffering for us.
This does not imply that there is a backdoor to the obligation of the law. When Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” I believe it includes me. Our salvation includes that we are forgiven for making light of His suffering. As much as I live in a way that demands God’s good wrath, I crucify Him in ignorance. When I sin I make a myth of His death, I marginalize and anemically theologize my salvation. As much as I come and confess my evil, and recognize the wrath He endured on the cross, I am cleansed. The more I recognize the reality of His suffering, the more questions like “I know I am justified, but am I sanctified?” drop off the radar. True justification bought by Jesus’ real blood and real suffering implies a heart-level sanctification at the same time. It brings to question whether you have understood the truth of the wrath you deserved, the cost of your redemption, and the release of real mercy, when you divide justification and sanctification in this way.