Joseph 2

The future purposes that are hidden within God’s plans for Joseph in Egypt have a powerful holding force with Joseph, more powerful than any alternate worldly sensible argument, to rebel against the negative present circumstances, to attempt escape, and to wrestle back control over the course of his life.

This sheds additional light on another observation that can be made about the story of the life of Joseph.

A large portion of Joseph’s pride was nailed to the cross of Christ as a result of his reduced social status as a servant-slave in Egypt.  Everyone who looked at Joseph assumed that either he or his family must have done something wrong for him to be in the position of a servant-slave as a Hebrew in Egypt.  Even though Joseph enjoyed some measure of elevated status for a while as the head overseer in the house of Potiphar, he was still a slave.

Joseph could not respond to those who looked down their nose at him, that he was actually the son of a wealthy man in Canaan, or that he was in Egypt through no fault of his own.  Joseph could not answer back that God was really in control of his life and that this was just a temporary setback that would soon be rectified.  Joseph was in no position to defend his pride.  In light of his two earlier dreams, Joseph himself did not know exactly why events in his life had taken this peculiar course.

Although Joseph…being human…naturally cared about his pride and the humiliation of being a slave in Egypt…apparently God saw it differently.

This is the way of the cross.

God’s character-building investment of situations and circumstances in Joseph’s life in Egypt did not start out with the outward moniker of respectability.

For the period of his life from age 17 to 30, Joseph’s life is a study in contrasts.  He occupies lowly positions as a servant and then as a prisoner, yet in each situation the blessing of God on him is so outwardly apparent that he is quickly elevated to positions of “upper management.”  God alone knew that one day in the near future Joseph would be Governor in command of all of Egypt, because that was God’s creative plan.

God’s plan at no time was in jeopardy from or limited by the temporary outward appearance of failure, or by circumstances that seemed utterly hopeless.  God Himself was the author of these character-building circumstances, and was in control all the time.

Joseph’s part was to not lose faith in the character and competency of God, and to patiently await the working out of these events in his life towards the fulfillment of his two earlier prophetic dreams.

God is telling us through the example of Joseph that portions of God’s plan for our lives may take us down a lowly path that does not include the “pride of life.”

The low and humble road sifts out and separates the genuinely committed from all other hypocrites and pretenders.  Being a servant of God is often a thankless and unappreciated role, especially in the training-for-service orientation phase at the beginning of our calling.

The life of Joseph is a preview of the universal biblical experience of character-building that launches spiritual power, starting at a base level of humility devoid of self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

This is what Paul is referring to in describing himself and the other apostles as “last” (1 Cor. 4:9), which in Paul’s case eventually leads to writing fourteen of the New Testament letters to the churches.

The false accusation of sexual assault against Joseph by Potiphar’s wife is instructive for Christians today.  Even when things are going completely wrong according to outward appearances, when God is in control of our lives, utter failure and complete catastrophe can be divinely shaped into a positive outcome.

This devastating event in Joseph’s life God uses to extend the management training of Joseph into a new prison environment for several more years leading up the time of the upcoming famine, within a new context requiring more humility on Joseph’s part than previously as the chief overseer in Potiphar’s house.

At first glance this might appear to be over-coaching…of over-doing it…on God’s part.  But in a profound way this seemingly negative experience with Potiphar’s wife actually demonstrates the uncompromising reality of the love of God in thoroughly preparing Joseph for his future elevation to the highest level of power in Egypt.

It reveals the tightest of circumstances in a God-composed life-script that is beyond our human capacity to imagine, orchestrate, or resolve, which is common to all adventures of faith recorded in the Bible.

There was something unique to Pharaoh’s prison in the advance training of Joseph that was not at Potiphar’s house.  We do not know what this difference might have been.  Perhaps the trait of pride was again lifting up its ugly head within the character of Joseph as chief servant in Potiphar’s house.  Probably looking back in hindsight as governor, Joseph recognized and appreciated the value of the unique lessons learned in the different and more humbling environment of Pharaoh’s prison.

Only God could craft a training regime for a Hebrew to become the governor of Egypt using the extremely unlikely, totally unconventional roles of servant/slave in the venues of a private Egyptian home and in the prison of a Pharaoh.

When Joseph finally sees the whole picture in hindsight as his half-brothers stand before him as governor of Egypt, Joseph breaks into tears as he recognizes God’s hand in everything leading up to that time.

Do we possess the patience and determination to persevere in difficult circumstances, when we know without a doubt that God has us there for some not yet fully revealed reason?

If Christians today place the highest value on ultimate purpose and meaning in life, beyond merely responding in the reactive mode to the challenges that chance brings our way, then the final outcome of Joseph’s story is wonderful beyond all measure.

The plan that God had in mind was beyond anything that Joseph could have imagined or orchestrated.  It demanded tenacity and a stubborn faith that would have left many less determined people behind.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter in at the narrow gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in that way.  Because narrow is the gate, and hard is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Joseph 1

“Good and upright is the Lord; therefore will he teach sinners in the way.”                                                                         (Ps. 25:8)

When Joseph was sold into Egypt, from that moment forward he was no longer in complete control of his life.  The mysterious blend of God’s sovereignty and mankind’s free-will choice finds full expression in this incredibly brilliant joint-venture narrative of the life of Joseph   that has inspired millions of people for thousands of years.

As much as any person in the Bible, God took great liberties with Joseph’s life.  Yet the outcome was and still is enormously positive and inspiring.  We can then ask the question in hindsight, would Joseph be pleased with both the course and outcome of his life, or would he instead have chosen some other life for himself based upon his own ideas?

The account of Joseph’s life begins with two dreams as a young man.  The first dream involves the sheaves of his brothers standing and doing obeisance to the sheaf of Joseph.  The second dream has the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars making obeisance to Joseph.  As a result of these dreams we can reasonably assume that Joseph had the intended foreglimpse into the future, that God would somehow be actively involved in the upcoming events of his life.

When Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, the scripture says that God was with Joseph.  This unexpected development must have seemed strange and deeply puzzling to Joseph, despite his two earlier dreams.  How can he be the favored son of a wealthy herdsman one day, and then a few weeks later become a servant-slave in Potiphar’s house in Egypt, yet God be with him?  This drastic intervention in his life would appear during this period to be entirely upside down to Joseph.

Yet here we see in hindsight the wisdom and imagination of God.

In addition to the change of environment that is enabling Joseph to mature as a young man, Joseph is unintentionally attending God’s version of graduate management school.  God has sent Joseph abroad, in the midst of the most unsettling of family circumstances, to be schooled in business and leadership in a way that could never have happened working for his father Jacob back in Canaan.

Joseph is being prepared by God Himself to manage the future affairs of the entire nation of Egypt, second in command to Pharaoh no less.

Several observations can be made about Joseph.

The scriptures say that at Potiphar’s house, as chief overseer, Joseph had complete control over everything.  Joseph could have planned a risky late-night escape with two horses loaded with provisions, at a time when Potiphar was away.  Joseph could have ridden west along North Africa into Libya or Morocco, or northeast past his homeland toward Lebanon, Turkey, or Greece.  He could have avoided both his painful family situation and escaped his difficult circumstances in Egypt.  The Bible says that Joseph was handsome and well favored, so he potentially would have been successful wherever he went.

The fact that Joseph did not escape from the situation, although it was within his means to attempt to do so, adds light to this concept of the second half of the cross.  Joseph is intrigued and fascinated by his two earlier inspired dreams in Canaan and by the fact that God is blessing him and everything he does in Egypt.  Part of Joseph’s willingness to stay grounded in Egypt, despite these odd circumstances, may result from a curiosity to see how this will all work out.

But beyond curiosity, Joseph is responding to the will of God in a way that is incomprehensible to the ways of the everyday world.

It must be noted that this is not Joseph’s plan.  Joseph is responding to God’s initiative.  The hold that God’s Spirit has over the will of Joseph results in Joseph going along with only a partially revealed plan.  This quality of faith is always misunderstood, rejected, and ridiculed by conventional worldly thinking.  But the love of God that is an integral part of the will of God draws Joseph into this unfolding scheme, and Joseph follows.

Abraham 2

Several important lessons can be drawn from the life of Abraham.

First, the plan for Abraham’s life shows in hindsight that God knew what He was doing.  We know from history that if Abraham had independently decided to help God out by putting down permanent roots in Canaan for the large family he and Sarah expected, that after a few generations his descendants might have been overrun and carried off by several large foreign armies that passed through this region during the next 430 years.  If that had been the case, the children of Abraham would never have been able to grow into the sizable nation that existed in Egypt at the time of Moses.

The scripture says that Abraham dwelt in tents.  Abraham did not start digging foundations for a permanent village or small city upon reaching Canaan (Heb. 11:9-10).  It was actually Abraham’s grandson Jacob who had the large family of twelve sons and a daughter, yet this occurred just before the widespread famine that caused the family of Jacob to seek refuge in Egypt.

Through these narrowly defined chain of events God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be in number as the stars of the night sky, did indeed come true (Heb. 11:12).

Second, it is said of Abraham that “he believed God, and this was accounted to him for righteousness.”

In the story of Abraham’s life, there is no mention of any set of rules, or system of regulations, or a philosophy of life that God gives to Abraham to achieve this righteousness through a program of works or self-effort.

There are only two major elements in this account—God’s promise and Abraham’s faith.  The fulfillment of God’s plan through Abraham’s trust and faith in God, even with some major human missteps along the way, is accounted as righteousness.

The Ten Commandments, the covenant laws, the temple services, and the observance of festival days, which come along 430 years later at the time of Moses, are not involved.  Faith in God alone is the key to Abraham’s story.

Third, the unique and imaginative life of Abraham can only happen within the context of a relationship with the true living God.  The story of the life of Abraham is a two-man play, and the character billed as “God” must show up.  In fact, God is both the playwright and the actor opposite Abraham.  Only the Creator God can compose this story and bring it to completion.  The story of Abraham is a God-composed life-script.  Any other naturalistic or humanistic explanation for the totally unconventional life events of Abraham falls flat.

A journey of faith according to a God-composed life-script written exclusively for each one of us excludes merit on our part.  By its very nature a journey of faith sets us on a path not of our own composition, and through faith in God’s intelligence and character leads us to circumstances and places we could not imagine on our own.

This is the uniquely innovative element of the Bible that validates and authenticates this God as the true God…a distinct and separate Person composing brilliantly devised life-script callings for people that are at the pinnacle of creative imagination, artistic beauty, and purposeful meaning at the height of intellect and moral character.

A journey of faith following a spiritual Coach who is our divine Creator, writing and managing life-plans that match our innate capacities and personalities perfectly, is beyond human contrivance.

It is the second half of the cross that opens up the possibility for God to perform these living masterpieces of creativity.

When Abraham journeys towards Canaan, the canvas of his life is now clear and open for God to paint a beautiful portrait of a life of faith.  When Abraham sets out toward Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:3), the nearly completed portrait reveals a man whose faith and trust in God has been matured through years of character-building experience.  This final God-initiated test of faith demonstrates Abraham’s total trust in God.  Unconditional trust is the hallmark of a rock-solid friendship.

This test of Abraham on Mount Moriah not only defines the trust-based relationship between a man and God, at the start of redemptive history, but also previews the actual sacrifice of God’s Son Jesus Christ on the cross two thousand years later.

This wonderful story of Abraham in the Bible demonstrates the creative imagination of God in the life of someone who surrendered all in faith, according to the principles of the second half of the cross.

Abraham 1

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing where he went.”                        (Heb. 11:8)

When God…in the Old Testament…spoke to Abraham, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee” (Gen. 12:1), from that moment forward Abraham was no longer in complete control of his life.

Here begins the mysterious blend of God’s sovereignty and mankind’s free-will choice, combined within the dynamics of an individually tailored, God-composed life-script that requires subordination of our ways to God’s higher plans for our lives, entirely unique to the Bible.

In choosing to obey God, some of Abraham’s self-in-charge nature was left behind as he headed off toward Canaan.  Abraham’s own plans, schemes, and ideas for his life were displaced by God’s plan that was much larger and grander than anything Abraham could have imagined.

With each step toward Canaan and away from Haran, Abraham left behind the other life he would have lived had he not met God, and walked toward the new life being offered to Abraham by God.  For this it is said of Abraham that “he believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6).

At the time of his departure from Haran, Abraham was a wealthy man, and had the means to support a large family.  We can imagine that when Abraham excitedly told his wife Sarah about God’s promise that their descendants would be in number as the stars of the night sky, as they traveled together toward Canaan they both began to think with future expectations about the joys of a family life with lots of children.

Abraham could see himself teaching his sons to ride horses, hunt wild animals, tend their herds of sheep, and to worship the one true God who had spoken to him in Haran.  Sarah thought about the joys of raising young children, seeing them grow up into fine adults, and providing her husband with male heirs to continue his name.  The information that God left out of this promise was the long wait in years before Isaac their only son would be born.

Here lies one of the stumbling blocks that the human race generally has with the cross of Christ.  Matthew 16:24-25 reads: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

If we offer up our self-made plans to be crucified on the cross of Jesus Christ…will God’s plan for our lives be better than the plan we would choose for ourselves?  Will God’s plan have more meaning and purpose in relation to our individual gifts and talents, than the life we otherwise would create?

If we give our all to God, including our goals and dreams, will God take our lives and come up with something that is better than what we would come up with ourselves?  Will we be able to look back on our lives and be glad that we chose God’s way instead of our own?

Will the benefits of following God outweigh the costs of giving up control?

This is one of the fundamental issues in allowing God to take over the course and direction of our lives.  This is a basic, narrow-gate question that confronts every Spirit-led Christian along their individual journey of faith following Jesus (Mt. 7:13-14).

Can Abraham become the father of faith, and achieve his highest and best life as recorded in the Bible, without walking in God’s uniquely imaginative plan for him?  Is there some compromised, less difficult, middle-ground course of life that would combine Abraham’s will-and-way with God’s plan that might still produce the same result?

Can’t Abraham and Sarah go to Canaan and have Isaac right away, along with a lot of other children, without the years of waiting and believing that God will perform His promise?  Can’t Abraham skip the whole part about sacrificing his 13-year old son Isaac on Mount Moriah as a burnt offering to God, and do something else for God like going on a spiritual pilgrimage or sitting alone on top of a rock in meditation for a month or two?

Through the benefit of four thousand years of hindsight, each one of us can make a judgment as to whether Abraham made the right choice in believing and following God.

I believe that if Abraham could go back and do it all over again, that he would not change a thing, even the major mistakes he made involving Lot, Hagar, and Ishmael.  I think Abraham would stand in awe and amazement at what God has accomplished and is currently accomplishing in our world, using the simple ingredients of cooperation, trust, and faith.

I think that both Abraham and Sarah, despite their major lapse of faith regarding Hagar, would say that their one great personal sacrifice in waiting for Isaac, though difficult at the time, in hindsight was miniscule in comparison to the enormous good that was accomplished through the creation of the nation of Israel and the future Christian church.

The Second Half of the Cross Intro 4

I Did It My Way

Part of the difficulty that Christians and non-Christians have regarding the second half of the cross is that it runs contrary to conventional worldly thinking.  A person who uses their talents to achieve fame, fortune, and success all on their own is applauded by our popular culture.  Few people critically question the theme of Frank Sinatra’s song “I did it my way.”  The world validates and celebrates its own, but frowns upon dissenters.

Spirit-led Christians dissent from the conventional self-on-the-throne pursuit of personal validation and acclaim, and because the world does not understand the underlying issue of sin, the resultant response of rejection, criticism, and outright persecution is the attitude the world takes toward a walk of faith with Jesus Christ.

It is an immense challenge for Christians to live in a world where the outward appearances of success are the only standards by which we are judged.

Genuine Christians have to make the choice to follow Jesus Christ according to God’s higher ways (Isa. 55:8-9), which at times do not conform to the world’s expectations and standards (1 Cor. 4:9).

The fundamental question is whether our individual talents and our short time spent here on earth are given to us to use for our own exclusive self-gratification, or is the purpose of life to discover God and glorify Him in a life-plan that is larger than ourselves?

The “I did it my way” approach by definition is completely at odds with the biblical walk of faith designed to actualize our true calling within a life-script composed by the Creator God.  Part of the cost of living the Christian life is being radically different from other people, in our core goals and aspirations that are based upon a belief system that is centered in a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

The people of Haran did not understand why Abraham would suddenly head off in search of a new country, with his family and material belongings, through faith in a God they did not know.

At the time, Abraham outwardly appeared to have everything going for him, right where he was in Haran.  This drastic move made little sense from a conventional, worldly viewpoint.  The few people sparsely living in the region around where Abraham eventually settled in Canaan had no idea he was the God-sent future “father of faith” example for literally hundreds of millions of people in the ensuing four thousand years of human history.

They did not recognize, by anything in his outward appearance, that “somebody” important in the future spiritual destiny of mankind had arrived.  A genuine adventure of faith with God is seldom recognized, understood, or appreciated by the world.

One of the important points to be made in this book is that the second half of the cross is a necessary integral part of the package of Christian salvation for every believer.

The cross is divided into two parts by me in this book for better analysis and understanding, but we sign up for and receive the crucifixion of our self-autonomous nature, just like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and others in the Bible, as part of the initial and ongoing experience of salvation.

Not only are we forgiven, cleansed, and born anew into the Spirit, but we are also given the power through Christ to cast aside our own short-sighted will and way about the direction of our lives, like an old worn-out garment (Isaiah 64:6), when we invite Jesus into our hearts at our conversion.

The clearly defined break-points between self-in-charge, and God’s plan described above in God’s call of Abraham to leave Haran and go to Canaan, or when Moses met God at the burning bush, are also included within our salvation package.  We received this when we repented of our past life and asked Jesus Christ into our lives.  Our part as Christians is to be aware of this important feature, and to willingly surrender daily our self-wills to God in search of His higher way for our lives.

One of the vital features therefore of the new life in Christ is a higher life plan whose events and circumstances are designed and orchestrated to allow a person to get to know God personally (Jer. 31:31-34).  The believer has the participation of the Creator of the universe in helping to discover and craft a meaningful and intelligently planned life.

The associated cost involved in following God is that our self-in-control nature has to be crucified on the cross alongside Jesus.  We have to step down off our throne.  Jesus went before us in this regard, and He gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us along each step of the way.

As with all of the works of God, a journey of faith is perfect in its inception and performance, even factoring in divine grace and forbearance to cover our shortcomings as we grow in Christ.

The second half of the cross creates the space for God to be able to set-up the circumstances by which we can get to know Him better.

Death to self-in-charge is therefore not a negative concept, but the most necessary and natural process when viewed within the context of a life of faith with God.  Without it God has no room to work His higher ways into our lives.  Our ways and God’s ways simply cannot be operating at the same time.

Christians today must come to terms with the pull of the popular culture, and recognize it for what it is.

The goal of the Christian life is to come to love God, and discover His nature and character first-hand through a walk of faith in Him.  The “I did it my way” approach to life is part of the old man of sin that is supposed to be nailed to the cross of Christ.

When Christians mix the worldly approach of self-in-control, with the cross of Christ which requires the death of the self-will, they end up with a middle-of-the-road compromise that robs them of the purity of a walk with God after the pattern of the people of faith in the Bible.

The leading of God for born-again Christians is always in accordance with the scriptures, and always results in morally correct choices, increasingly higher levels of ethical behavior, a better acceptance and performance of responsibilities, a noticeable improvement in personal character traits, and more love towards others.  With time and spiritual maturity, God’s leading eventually results in blessings to a larger number of other people in whatever theater of action God has placed us in.

Once we see the cross within the lives of the people of faith throughout the Bible, and understand this within the context of God composing, setting-up, and orchestrating specific events and circumstances within a journey of faith to lead us to the point where we discover our need of God’s help, then the biblical idea of an individually tailored and personalized adventure of faith following Jesus Christ becomes a rock-solid foundation of scripture that every Christian can stand upon.

Once we see the second half of the cross…the death of our self-in-charge nature (Lk. 22:42), designed to create the space for God to implement His plans for our lives…once we see this within the life-scripts of the characters of faith in the Bible, this then becomes a life reality based upon scripture that we can follow with confidence and commitment.

The second half of the cross is not just a New Testament concept.

The idea that the higher ways of God must completely displace our own ways, according to the cross of Christ, and through the symbolism portrayed in believer’s water baptism, is interwoven into the accounts of the lives of the people of faith in the Bible from beginning to end.

This God-invented idea was hiding in plain sight all along throughout the Bible.  Studying this all-important second half of the cross aspect in the lives of the people of faith in the Bible, as it relates to our own lives as modern-day Christians, is the subject of this book.

The Second Half of the Cross Into 3

A Biblical Adventure of Faith Begins with Abraham

In the Old Testament, after Abraham received his calling from God and left Haran to go to the land of Canaan, from that point onward Abraham was no longer completely in control of his life.

This is a biblically illustrated example of Abraham stepping down off the throne of self-sovereignty.

Abraham cannot stay in Haran and at the same time go to Canaan.  Abraham cannot have a “conventional” life in Haran according to all of the local customs, practices, and social expectations there, and also pursue the promise that God would make Abraham the father of a great nation in the land of Canaan.  Abraham cannot physically and spiritually be in both places at the same time.

Abraham chooses God’s plan and goes to Canaan, and in the process of doing so he also chooses the second half of the cross…the falling away of his old self-will and self-made plans.

Abraham is the first fully illustrated example of the uniquely biblical approach of a person’s free-will purposely choosing the risk inherent in subordinating his self-in-charge nature to the plans of God, based solely upon faith and trust in God’s character.

This is the recipe for a successful human life as defined by God through the stories of faith portrayed in the Bible.

Likewise in the Old Testament, after Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt…he was no longer in complete control of his life.  Joseph cannot be in Potiphar’s house in Egypt being uniquely schooled in business management and leadership according to God’s plan, and at the same time work as a simple shepherd back at home in Canaan in his father Jacob’s house.

Moses cannot meet God at the burning bush, and be sent to Egypt to deliver the Israelites, and at the same time continue to live a quiet life as a shepherd in Midian.  From the time of the burning bush onward, Moses is no longer in complete control of his life.

When God sends the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem, the city where Jesse lives, to find and anoint a new king for Israel from among the sons of Jesse, David’s father Jesse thinks so little of David the youngest son as a potential candidate for Samuel’s review, that he is left outside to tend the sheep while his older brothers are brought before Samuel.

David cannot stay in his father’s house as the youngest, and according to the culture of his day the least valued son, and at the same time grow into the future king of Israel according to God’s unique plan.  After David is finally brought before Samuel, and is selected and anointed to become the next king of Israel, from that time onward David was no longer in complete control of his life.

In the examples of the lives of these people of faith, their own normal life-plans and schemes were entirely displaced by the brilliantly imaginative life-plans God had for them.  These individual callings of God could not actualize without the second half of the cross, without these people stepping down off the thrones of their lives to make room for God to work.

Why is this important?

This is important because we need the one true living God to proactively set-up the precise conditions of our lives to lead and guide us into all truth (Jn 16:13) and thus a true revelation about Himself.  This divinely crafted recipe for a godly life translates into our modern world today just as well as it did in biblical times, no matter our current social, economic, geographical, ethnic, or cultural location.

A journey of faith following God converts precepts and concepts into practice in a way that is beyond our human capacity to actualize.  A biblical quality journey of faith following Jesus Christ today translates theory into practice through the divine means of God-composed, individualized life-scripts to match each of our unique in-born abilities and our singular purpose in life.

The truth that will make us free (Jn 8:32-36) is part of God’s gift of eternal salvation that includes a personal relationship and an understanding of Him.  This is the living faith that God wants to enact in each of our lives, divinely crafted and fine-tuned according to our God-given, in-built capacities and talents to match the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.

The Second Half of the Cross Intro 2

The Two Halves of the Cross

In countries where for centuries Christian churches have taught the traditional doctrines of repentance, water baptism, salvation, and spiritual rebirth, parts of the gospel message are spread out within the popular culture.

 

In its purest form, this message is that the blood that Jesus shed on the cross washes the new believer clean of sin.  The resurrection of Jesus creates a new birth in the Spirit, provides the Holy Spirit within a person to enable the living of a new and better life, and grants eternal salvation from the penalty of sin.

 

These basic, fundamental tenets of Christianity, which many have at least heard of and been somewhat exposed to in Christian countries and in many non-Christian countries, is what I call in this book the first half of the cross.

 

Through churches, foreign missionaries, family members, friends, newspapers, magazines, books, movies, television, the internet, popular culture, or simple osmosis, many people around the world, except those living in the extreme remotest areas, are familiar with some of the basic outlines of the first half of the cross.

 

When anyone personally hears the genuine gospel message for the first time, and is convicted in their conscience of a wayward life, that person is moved upon by the Holy Spirit to reconsider their previous life up to that pivotal moment in time.

 

This process of re-evaluation, leading to believing and accepting Jesus Christ into our lives, is called repentance.  To repent means to turn around, to do an “about-face” in military language, or to have a change of mind.

 

The person who is listening to the gospel message, and thinking about changing their life, is considering discarding their current unfulfilling life-plan in favor of an entirely new life approach.

 

This new life approach involves the inclusion of God in their lives, who is speaking at that decisive moment to their heart and mind through the Holy Spirit.  This person, at the point in time of repentance and accepting Jesus Christ into their lives, is contemplating taking a large step away from their past life and a step forward in a new direction having hope, purpose, and renewal as a Christian.

 

One of the symbols of making this decision for a new life “in Christ” is the Christian experience of believer’s water baptism (Col. 2:12).  When a person lies horizontally under the water in baptism, this symbolizes the old sinful life becoming dead and “buried” under the water.  When the person rises to a standing upright position waist deep in the water, this symbolizes resurrection into a new life “in Christ.”

 

In Christian conversion, produced through belief in the gospel, accepting Jesus Christ into our lives, and in water baptism that comes later, most people understand the part about  cleansing from sin and the creation of a new, spiritually transformed person in Christ.  The visualization of this concept is easy to grasp through the physical actions of going under the water and then coming up out of the water.

 

This first half of the cross regarding salvation through cleansing from sin, followed by a fundamental change in a person through spiritual rebirth, is not a deep mystery.  It is easily understood, even by children, as part of the basic Christian experience in most traditional orthodox churches, and in world-wide Christian evangelical missionary efforts.

 

The deeper spiritual part of the concept of believer’s water baptism that is less easy to grasp, not as universally well understood, and the most challenging, is that the new Christian’s self-in-charge nature, which is the root cause of our sin problem, is also supposed to be represented as becoming dead and buried in the process.

 

This is a powerful part of the Christian conversion experience that is also portrayed through the symbolism in believer’s water baptism.  The new person “in Christ” coming up out of water baptism is supposed to have Jesus Christ now installed in His rightful place as Lord and King in our lives, with the “old man of sin” who used to be sovereign and in control, left behind for dead underneath the surface of the water.

 

This is what I call in this book the second half of the cross.

 

This is what happens in the Bible when people of faith hear the voice of God’s leading and direction, surrender all of their old ways and plans to God, and head off in the pursuit of their individual and unique callings.

 

The calling of God in people’s lives in the Bible dislodges and displaces whatever ordinary plans and schemes people might otherwise have.

 

This is what Paul is saying in Galatians 2:20, cited at the beginning of this chapter.  To better illustrate this, see Abraham (Gen. 12:1), Moses (Ex. 3:10), Gideon (Jud. 6:14), Ruth (Ruth 1:16), David (1 Sam. 16:13), Esther (Est. 4:14), Peter (Mt. 4:18-19), and Paul (Acts 9:3-5), among many others in the Bible.

 

Matthew 16:24-25 reads: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

 

The second half of the cross is another way of describing the process of abandoning our self-in-control nature.  It is not self-hatred.  God loves us.  He created us.  God knows, values, and appreciates our natural attributes better than we do.

 

We are simply in our highest nature and expression when God is sovereign in our hearts.  We are in our most natural state of peace and fulfillment when we are human beings living in fellowship with God, pursuing our unique destinies following the leadership of Jesus Christ.

 

The symbolism of water baptism is perfect for understanding Christian conversion, the second half of the cross, and a biblical journey of faith.

 

The symbolism of water baptism illustrates the fundamental change that occurred when Abraham, the father-of-faith example in the Old Testament, stepped into his calling from God.  A person during baptism cannot be lying horizontally under water, and at the same time be standing vertically upright out of the water.  A person cannot have their old self-will in control of their lives, and at the same time be walking with God in their new life in Christ.

 

The two opposing things…our old self-in-charge nature that we rejected upon believing and accepting the gospel…and God’s plan and will for our lives…cannot occur at the same time.