I’m reading through N.T. Wright’s The Crown and the Fire. It’s a great devotional book on the cross and the Spirit. Here’s a quote that I’m spending some time thinking about. This quote is especially relevant in light of a three-part sermon series I’m preparing in Romans 12. Listen to Wright’s words:
“Consider what happens normally in the world. When we are cursed, we curse back, if only in our hearts. When we are hated, we pass the hate on; we keep it, so to speak, in circulation. Someone is mean to me, so I take out my feelings on someone else, probably someone weaker than me…
“But the divine way is different. Jesus takes temptation, hatred, curses — the bitterness of a bitter world — and he absorbs it into himself on the cross. Jesus, pronounced guilty as a blasphemer for claiming to be the Son of God, demonstrates on the cross that he was speaking the truth, by doing what only the Son of God could do — loving his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end, the bitter end. And this pattern, acted out uniquely on the cross, becomes then for us, by the Spirit of Jesus working within us, the pattern we are commanded to live out, as we give back good for evil, blessing for curse, prayer for persecution. One might say that this is the vocation of the Church: to take the sadness of the world and give back no anger; the sorrow of the world, and give back no bitterness; the pain of the world, and not sink into self-pity; but to return forgiveness and love, blessing and joy. That is what Jesus was doing on Calvary. He drew on to himself the sin of the ages, the rebellion of the world and humankind, the hatred, pain, anger, and frustration of the world, so that the world and humankind might be healed, might be rid of it all.”
As I’ve been reflecting on Romans 12, Wright’s words help me unpack the poignancy of Paul’s phrase, “Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” I am always to give back good for evil. This, and all that comes before it in the chapter, is only possible if I take to heart Romans 12:1-2. It’s in true worship (offering myself as a sacrifice to God) and in true formation (being transformed by the renewing of mind) that I become more like Christ. As I die to myself (sacrifice), I truly come alive in God (renewing of my mind).
And in this Christ-likeness, I then have his abundant life and love that allow me to take up the vocation of his people. I can implement what he launched — the transforming presence of the New Creation — by absorbing the pain, damage and sorrow of this creation into God’s abundant life at work in me.
This adds further meaning to Jesus’ invitation to carry my cross. The cross isn’t just a personal invitation to die, but also a personal invitation to continue in the vocation of Jesus’ cross — to take on the world’s pain and to return it with God’s life and love.