Which word best describes the Christian life in the here and now? Cross or glory? This is the question that Dr. Steven Hein is answering in this book.
The book has its foundation in Martin Luther’s Theology of the Cross. Luther did a lot of work on a theology of the cross and a theology of glory. Dr. Hein argues that here and now the Christian lives a cross life. After all Jesus said we should take up our crosses daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). The theology of the cross encapsulates all the promises in Scripture of suffering and fighting sin now and glory to come when Jesus comes again. Any theology that promises glory now is deficient and dangerous because it promises things in this life that are meant for the life to come. Luther himself wrote:
The cross is not simply the end of the journey in our quest for righteousness-not simply the destination of a happy outcome of life with God for us dead sinners; it is also the means by which the journey is made, and the experience of the journey itself.
The cross is all of life for the Christian, not just a part of it.
If you decide to read this book I want to make sure you do so with eyes wide open. Dr. Hein is Lutheran, which is not a bad thing. Therefore if you are a Baptist, as I am, some of the things in the book will make you uncomfortable. Such as Dr. Hein says that their is a “faith-creating power called Baptism.” Some in the church believe that you must be baptized in order to be saved. So that if you are not then you can not be saved. The language Dr. Hein uses can cause confusion because it appears that Baptism is a requirement for salvation. So when you come to his chapters on the gospel and justification one can be confused when he talks about the free grace of God in Christ.
Now, that is not to say the major theme of the book is wrong. The first chapter covers an important Lutheran emphasis of law and gospel. A theology of glory will use the law to say if you will do this God will bless you where you are right now and these promises are almost always divorced from Christ. The law does lay down commands and tells us to do them and we will live. Our problem is that we are dead in our sins and trespasses and there is no way we can keep the law (See Ephesians 2:1-10). What is the use of the law then? The law shows our lack of ability to be made right with God. After the law has been spoken the sweet balm of the gospel comes and says someone has done for you everything that was required of you. Jesus purchased your righteousness in His life, death, and resurrection. There is nothing you need to do, stand there and do nothing.
Chapter three is a pivotal point in the book. Entitled “The Two-Faced God” God comes and meets us in His law so that we might meet Him properly.
You cannot meet God as He truly is until you have met up with yourself as you really are. God will not be mocked by sham meetings with faceless human beings. We must wear our true face, and that is just what God would provide by meeting Him though His law.
God’s law shows us that we are bankrupt spiritually and dead. The law prepares us to meet God, it is the schoolmaster that leads us to Christ. After hearing God speak in the law we are ready for His message of grace in the gospel.
Full-strength Gospel proclaims the Good News of a priceless gift that the gracious God who loves us has appropriated and gives to us for the sake of the saving work of His Son’s death and resurrection. It is the gift of righteousness, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It is the gift of secured unconditional acceptance now and forever. It is the gift of freedom, new life, and adoption into the family of God. It is the gift of well-being now and forever.Pure Gospel brings us face-to-face with the loving God who, through His Son and with grace, brings us back into the most beautiful love relationship and matures our faith and love into the full stature of His Son.
How does the law apply to Christians? Hein answers:
God’s ministry of law in the life of the Christian is not to reform the fleshly self. He is out to kill out. Paul exhorts us to mortify and crucify the flesh. Kill it! Remember the heart and mind of the fleshly self is organized around a rebellious answer and strategy to solve the problem of existence itself-personal well-being.
God is not out to make you a better you. You are dead and stink, as am I. When God redeems us He does so that sin might be killed in us. We take up you our cross, kill the deeds of the body, and offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (Luke 9:23; Romans 8:13; 12:1). This is not popular and we can see why God has to do a work in us so that we might believe this good news of the gospel. God calls us to Christ that we might die to live. And the longer we are on this journey God calls us to the more we will see our sin and the magnitude of God’s grace:
Your appreciation of the value of grace is tied to your awareness and appreciation of the magnitude of your sin. When sin becomes a small matter, so does forgiveness.
Chapter four is on Justification. A Lutheran has to have a chapter on this, right? The title explains the whole chapter: “Justification: Getting Saved, Doing Nothing.” There is nothing we can do to be made right with God. God does not declare us righteous because of anything we do but wholly because of Christ. This frames all of the Christian life and is something we should go back to often. Who we are in Christ before the Father. We stand not guilty before God and it is all because of Jesus.
I have gone on for a while now so I want to cover a few more things, although there is much more. All Christians have experienced Romans 7:14-25 where we do not do the things we want but rather do the things we don’t. This is the war within. Remember Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow Him. And then “He goes to battle in our lives against the powers of sin, death, and the Devil and He bids us as a new creation to join in the fray. This is not a detour to real Christian living. It is a vital part of what the sanctified life is really all about.” This is the cross life. Jesus is working in us to kill sin, to destroy it. As we grow in maturity, “the more we grow in the mind and heart of Christ, the more we will see of the depths of our sinfulness and hate them… Christians are those who become progressively more disturbed about themselves, but they sleep really well.” And we sleep well because we rest in Christ and the work He is doing in our lives.
Chapter seven is open and honest that the Christian life now is not inspirational and cozy. Anyone that promises the Christian their best life now is a liar and the lie has come from the pit of hell. Now we are called to struggle, to kill the deeds of the body, because this is the work God by His Spirit is doing in us. Is it hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. Will there be glory? Yes. But for now we take up our cross and follow Jesus. Dr. Hein reminds the reader throughout the book that Jesus has had His Easter, we are still waiting on ours.
Many who read this will be disturbed. They will think Dr. Hein’s view of the Christian life is bleak and morbid. But, as Christians we are called to view life the way God has revealed it. It is tough now. But one day we will be able to see that our present sufferings will not be worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us.
You can pick up a copy on Amazon.