One complaint lodged against Christianity is that it traps people in guilt and shame (you are so sinful you killed innocent Jesus, you terrible person!). Another complaint (when Christianity goes to the opposite extreme) is that Jesus is so powerful and victorious over our sin that we are now free…so free that we’re not responsible for sin anymore, creating reckless and unthoughtful Christians. But the WAY Christians live cannot and should not be separated from the WAY Jesus saves us…
Kenosis is the self-emptying of Jesus Christ, after Philippians 2:7 – “He emptied himself, by taking the form of a slave, and by becoming like humans.” For centuries, theologians have tried to explain what this means…useful work, but perhaps going overboard with assumptions beyond the text itself (see Kenosis.info for one example of how much thought has gone into this!). When you take kenosis at its face value in context, it means this: Jesus “did not consider being equal with God something to exploit” (Phil 2:6), and “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Christianity does not go into deep scientific explanations on how the emptying of Jesus saves us, but explains the mystery like this: “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). This king’s crown is made of thorns. Why should we think our victory would look remarkably different than the God whose glory was revealed in the cross?
As we continue to explore Charles Wesley’s hymn, And Can It Be That I Should Gain?, verse 3 focuses on Christ as the infinite God, emptying himself “of all but love.” The emptying of Christ means the infinite God leaving behind a place of power to search for Charles himself, revealing God’s mercy for all humanity through the death of Jesus. The way Christ saves is at once both intimately personal, and universal in scale. The way Jesus saves is at once both humble, sacrificial and victorious. Any Christianity that is not grounded in self-emptying humility is not the way of Christ. At the same time, any Christianity that immobilizes people with guilt and shame is not the way of Christ.
Usually, the way of Christ is difficult, thorny, and you look like crap, but it’s the most rewarding experience to see others as people for whom Christ also died.