I love Martin Luther. The great Reformer and fountainhead of Lutheranism had a way of communicating deep theology in a practical and earthy way. He also had a way of showing the emptiness of any religion cut off from Jesus Christ.
Luther talked about a difference between theologians of glory and theologians of the cross. The theologians of glory claims that if God is glorious, we should expect that his work on earth must be glorious as well. In their view, religion should be full of pomp and ceremony, and Christian living should be filled with victory and triumph.
Theologians of the cross, by contrast, realize that God’s work in this world is often a paradox: that God’s strength is evident in weakness, that he takes the weak of the world to shame the wise, the poor to shame the mighty. And there is obviously no greater emblem of this paradox than the cross, in which Christ gains victory over all through dying.
Do you see that these conflicting views create two different sets of expectations of what Christian living will be like? The theologians of glory want a Christianity that is full of earthly power and success. The theologians of the cross know that following Christ in this life almost always involves difficulty.
Our next passage in Philippians (3:8–11) speaks of the importance of knowing Christ. Paul begins by telling us why we should be so concerned to know Christ in verse 9: in knowing Christ, we gain a righteousness that is not our own. You see, the righteousness that we need does not come by the works of the law: we’ll always fall short of God’s perfect demands. Instead, the gospel offers us a righteousness “which comes through faith in Christ.” The apostle John says it this way: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). If the only way to eternal life is by gaining righteousness, and we can only gain righteousness by knowing Christ, then knowing Christ is of infinite value.
But then Paul tells us what it is like to know Christ: “to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” This is striking language; it is the language of a theologian of the cross, not a theologian of glory. In Paul’s thinking, we come to know Christ most vividly when we follow him through difficulties in this life. This is why Christ tells us that we must take up our cross and follow him. This theme is common in Paul. Consider 2 Corinthians 4:11: “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Or Romans 8:16–17: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Christian, are you going through great difficulties? Take heart in this: your Savior has gone this way before. By following his steps, you are coming to know him more and more.