By A.W. Tozer
Nothing weighs heavier on my heart than the subject of this study. If it were not such a crucial Bible teaching, one could ignore the controversies and go on to something else. However, such is not the case. The subject of the crucified life is vitally important to the health and growth of the Church.
The Church is not some impersonal abstract floating around in space. Rather, the Church is comprised of individuals who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The health of the Church is in direct proportion to the health of each individual Christian. If the Church is to grow and be healthy, the individual Christians comprising the Church must grow spiritually. Only a dynamically healthy Church can ever hope to fulfill the commission of Christ to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).
One important thing needs to be understood. Not all Christians are alike. Jesus said in Matthew 13:23: "But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." Too many of us are satisfied to be thirtyfold Christians. But the desire of our Lord is that we press on to become hundredfold Christians. The question then is, how are we to go on to this stage?
This is the focus of this book. I think it my duty to prod the thirtyfold and the sixtyfold Christians to press on to the ultimate Christian experience, being a hundredfold Christian. The path that accomplishes this is living the crucified life. I do not think it would be amiss to say that most Christian literature today is focused on the thirtyfold Christians. Some might venture out and address the sixtyfold Christians, but it is safe to say there are few who focus on hundredfold Christians. This book is dedicated to that very thing. I simply call it The Crucified Life.
With that being the case, it is incumbent upon me to define some elements I will use throughout this study. If I use one term and the reader understands it in a different way from the manner in which I am using it, then communication breaks down. So let me define some of the basic concepts that will be developed throughout this study.
The Crucified Life
I first need to establish what I mean when I use the phrase “the crucified life.” A variety of phrases have been used since apostolic days to define the subject—phrases such as “the deeper life,” “the higher life,” “the wholly sanctified life,” “the spiritfilled life,” “the victorious Christian life,” “the exchanged life.” But after looking at some of the literature produced on this topic, none seems to be any deeper, higher, holier or more Spirit-filled than common run-of-the-mill Christianity. For some, the phrase seems to be merely a catchphrase.
What I mean by “the crucified life” is a life wholly given over to the Lord in absolute humility and obedience: a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord. The word “crucified” takes us back to what Christ did on the cross. The key verse for this is Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
From the natural standpoint, the crucified life is burdened with contradictions. The biggest contradiction, of course, is the phrase itself: “crucified life.” If a life is truly crucified, it is dead and not alive. But how can a person be dead and alive at the same time? Being dead and yet alive is one of the strange inconsistencies of the life established for us by Jesus’ dying on the cross. But oh, the blessedness of these seeming inconsistencies.
This study does not advocate any kind of Christian experience not based squarely on the plain teachings of the Scripture. Everything taught in this study must square with the entire Word of God. Anybody can prove anything by piecing together isolated texts. What is the teaching of the entire Word of God? That is the question that must be considered. Too much of contemporary Christianity is borrowed from the philosophies of the world and even other religions—phrases and mottos that on the surface look great but are not rooted in Scripture or that mostly bolster one’s self-image.
Whatever the teaching might be or whoever the teacher might be, we must strongly demand scriptural proof. If such proof cannot be presented, then the teaching must be rejected out of mind and out of hand. This may sound legalistic, but it is one of the absolutes that is part of the Christian experience. The Christian lives and dies by the Book. I am not advocating in this study anything that cannot be proved by Scripture, and I do not mean just a verse here and there, but by the whole counsel of God. We believe in the whole Bible, not bits and pieces. The whole Bible supports the idea of progressing toward spiritual perfection in our Christian lives. Spiritual perfection is what the apostle Paul longed for and spoke about:"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:12).
The crucified life is a life absolutely committed to following after Christ Jesus. To be more like Him. To think like Him. To act like Him. To love like Him. The whole essence of spiritual perfection has everything to do with Jesus Christ. Not with rules and regulations. Not with how we dress or what we do or do not do. We are not to look like each other; rather, we are to look like Christ. We can get all caught up in the nuances of religion and miss the glorious joy of following after Christ. Whatever hinders us in our journey must be dealt a deathblow.
The Christian Mystics
Throughout this study will be quotes from some of the great Christian mystics going back to the days of the apostles. It is important to define what I mean by “mystic.” This term has been much abused in the house of its friends. Perhaps it would be good to use another term for this, but every time something is renamed, it loses some of its original meaning. Therefore, without any regret or hesitation, I will stick with this old term. I have found throughout my study that these old saints of God, the mystics, really knew God. “Mystic,” then, refers to someone who has an intimate, a direct, relationship with God. In my pursuit of God, I want to know what they knew of God and how they came to know Him on such intimate grounds. (This is not to say I agree with everything they wrote, as I would not agree with everything anybody else would write.)
Back on the farm in Pennsylvania, we had an old apple tree. It was a gnarly, stark-looking tree. A casual glance at this tree might tempt a person to pass it up. Regardless of how terrible the tree looked, however, it produced some of the most delicious apples I have ever eaten. I endured the gnarly branches in order to enjoy the delicious fruit. I feel the same way about some of these grand old mystics of the Church. They may look gnarly and austere, but they produced wonderful spiritual fruit. The fruit is what really matters, not the appearance. It matters not if the man wears a robe or a suit; it is the man that really counts. I am willing to overlook a lot if the writer genuinely knows God and “knows God other than by hearsay,” as Thomas Carlyle used to say.
Too many only repeat what they have heard from somebody who heard it from somebody else. It is refreshing to hear an original voice. Each of these mystics had that original voice. The Church has always had this group of people—both men and women—who had such a hunger for God and a passion to know Him that everything else took second place. Many of them were harassed and tormented by the established Church. Some even were martyred because of this uncontrollable passion for God. Many of them lived prior to the Reformation and had no idea what a protestant or even an evangelical was. For the most part, they were not interested in labels. They were only interested in pursuing God.
These men and women were not protestant, Catholic, fundamentalist or evangelical; they were simply Christians in hot pursuit of God. They had no banner to wave except Jehovah Nissi. They had no honor to preserve apart from Jesus Christ. They gave witness to a life ablaze with love and adoration for God that nothing can extinguish. Not all the years since their death have been able to quench the fervor of their love for God.
Fortunately, for us, some of the great devotional literature of the Church that these men and women gave their lives to write has been preserved. In reading these great works, one is transported out of time and into the mystical wonder of pursuing God. It is as if time has no bearing between the author and the reader. It is hard to read such material for long without feeling the heartbeat of the author’s passion. This, in my opinion, is what is missing among Christians today, especially in the evangelical church.
Pick up any hymnal, particularly an old one, and you will find many hymns by these great Christian mystics. Their pursuit of God is only matched by their desire to share the object of their love with any and all who will listen. Perhaps one of their quotes throughout this study will light a fire in your heart.
It is my observation that the natural man does not understand spiritual principles. The problem has never been the translation. The problem has never been academic. The problem has always been spiritual. One important point many fail to understand is that the Bible was never meant to replace God; rather, it was meant to lead us into the heart of God. Too many Christians stop with the text and never go on to experience the presence of God.
The Bible must be read slowly and meditatively, allowing the Spirit of God to open up our understanding.
The Christian Hymnal
The last thing I want to define is “the Christian hymnal.” My heart aches as I see this increasingly being neglected by congregations. The Christian hymnal is one of the great depositories of the Christian life and experience. The men and women behind these hymns were writing out of deep spiritual experiences. The poetry of some hymns may not be perfect. In fact, some may be very difficult to sing. Pushing the hymnal aside, however, is to forfeit one of the great spiritual treasures of the Christian Church. The hymnal connects us with our Christian heritage, a legacy that should not be denied to this generation of Christians. If we are going to press on to be hundredfold Christians, on to Christian perfection and the crucified life, we need this vital connection to the historic Church.
Show me the condition of your Bible and your hymnal and I will accurately predict the condition of your soul. Our souls need to be nurtured and cultivated, and nothing does that better than the Christian hymnal. I cannot imagine a Christian not spending quality time in the hymnal. Hardly a morning passes when I don’t kneel down with an open Bible and a hymnal and sing comfortably off-key the great hymns of the Church.
I often counsel young Christians, after they have their Bible and their Bible reading established, to get a hymnal. If a young Christian would spend one year reading through and meditating on the hymns of Isaac Watts alone, he would have a better theological education than four years in Bible college and four years in seminary. Isaac Watts and others like him were able to put theology into their hymns. These hymn writers—both men and women—set their generation singing theology. And the theology of the heart bursts forth in melodious adoration and praise.
Pursuing the Crucified Life
Living the crucified life is a journey not for the faint at heart. The journey is rough and filled with dangers and difficulties, and it does not end until we see Christ. Yet though the journey may be difficult, the result of seeing Christ face to face is worth it all.
"Face to Face"
Carrie E. Breck (1855–1934)
Face to face with Christ my Savior, Face to face—what will it be,
When with rapture I behold Him, Jesus Christ, who died for me?
Face to face I shall behold Him, Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all His glory, I shall see Him by and by!
Only faintly now I see Him, With the darkened veil between;
But a blessed day is coming, When His glory shall be seen.
What rejoicing in His presence, When are banished grief and pain;
When the crooked ways are straightened, And the dark things shall be plain!
Face to face! O blissful moment! Face to face to see and know;
Face to face with my Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who loves me so.
(From A.W.Tozer's classic The Crucified Life, Chapter 1)