I have written several times about the Apostle Paul’s doctrine of the Cruciform – the idea that we “do not live, but it is Christ who lives” in us; that Christ is not our example, but our life supply and life for living; that it is a mystical, organic union that we experience with Christ, where we become a new creation when His Spirit mingles with ours; how we must experience the killing power of the cross. Paul found the lifestyle of the Cruciform, and not simply the doctrine, necessary in his life. He speaks of its reality in 2 Corinthians.
In 2 Corinthians 12:1-6 Paul describes revelations that he had received that were, literally, “beyond and above measure” according to human experience. In verses 7-10 he explains that, “To keep me from being proud above measure, there was given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me.” The Greek word translated “thorn” could (and probably should) be translated “stake” (as in, the three “stakes” that nailed Christ to the cross). The “stake” affected his flesh (Gal. 4:13) as they did Christ’s. Thus, it is here that the Cruciform is revealed to Paul. He has an understanding that the enemy injects himself into the flesh (Romans 7 & 8) and, thus, he must experience the Form of the Crucifixion (Rom. 6:3-6; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:10) in the mystical killing of the flesh through the killing power of the cross.
Paul says that he “pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave” him alone. And Jesus’ authoritative and final word to end the argument was, literally, “My grace wards off any danger of harm to the perfect you, for God’s grace is perfected in the weakness of the flesh.” God’s grace brings out and protects the perfectly intended you – that you that God imagined – when the fake you is at its weakest. Conversely, that real you remains hidden and suppressed when the fake you is at its strongest (when you live according to the flesh).
The power of grace lives and is strengthened in a person by the subduing of the flesh (2Cor. 12:10; Phil. 4:13). It is not that by converting to Christ a person experiences a magical change in the sinful flesh (that is why Christ killed it on His cross), but it is by colliding with Christ at the cross that a person experiences the killing of it. It is not that we simply deny our selfish desires (this is based on an improbability, for the flesh will not subject itself to submission), but we kill our selfish desires by nailing our flesh to the cross.
Personally, the Cruciform is not simply a doctrine for me either. I understand the need to live in the Form of the Crucifixion. Certainly my experience is not like Paul’s, but the need is likewise. I know what still lurks in my flesh – my fleshly thoughts, intents, and desires; animal instincts, unbridled, unaffected by grace. I understand that this is not about balancing out (or out-weighing) my flesh with spiritual things; for, according to Paul, and Christ for that matter, we cannot live in and out of both the flesh and the spirit (one will rule the other). Our flesh will not get “better” until the actual death and resurrection of it, but we have been equipped to live (now; today) as the expression of God. Oh, the necessity of the Cruciform!