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Lowell Brueckner

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We Have an Altar - Chapter 7


My thoughts are taken up with Christ crucified... His death in our place and how we must identify with it, in order to live our lives to the glory of God. Please study this first chapter in the second section of a new book, "We Have an Altar".


Chapter 7

Identification with Christ’s Cross

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in (or of) the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”                                                  Galatians 2:20

In the second section of this book, we will look into identifying with the cross. Christ has been crucified for us; doing something for us that we could not do. That means substitution, signifying that He took our place. However, here Paul sees himself crucified, as well. He said, “When Christ died, I died.” That is identification with the cross and if we are to live the Christian life, we must also identify with it. 

Paul had much to say about the cross in the letter to the Galatians. In the four Gospels, Christ opened to us the door into the ways of God and the Spirit of God in Paul taught him those ways. He is inspired by the Holy Spirit to share these truths – the high and mighty thoughts of God, which are totally different from all that is earthly or human. Natural man cannot grasp any of these things by His own mental powers and there is no subject so far out of his reach than that of the cross. It is a message that is diametrically opposed to the philosophy taught by the world and its experts. If we need divine enlightenment to see the things of God at all, then that light must shine brightest upon us, if we are going to survey the cross.

Galatians is a book about Christian liberty and it is often misunderstood. When the flesh makes use of it, it gratifies itself, saying, “I am free in Christ. I can do what I please and go where I please. I can take part in the world’s pleasures and still be a Christian. I can have the world and heaven, too.” The Holy Spirit does not illuminate the flesh and therefore the cross is put aside in mere human understanding. However, a new creature in Christ Jesus will see the cross behind Christian liberty.

This may be parenthetical, but I need to say something about questionable teaching and the misuse of Scripture to justify personal opinions and endeavors. Christians must know the tenor of the Bible from Genesis to Revelations. They must know what they are talking about from a scriptural standpoint. No Scripture was ever given, “by act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pt.1:21), therefore no act of human will should be involved in the interpretation of Scripture. How I wish that that principle would be honored today!

Because it is not always so, we may have heard some things repeated many times over a period of years and thereby assume that they are true. They may not be! That is why it is good to hear things from outside our circle of fellowship and why we should read books by proven men of God.  Zac Poonen, a man raised up by God for these dangerous times, believes that many new sectarian groups, with their peculiar doctrines, are forming in our day. He warns us about them: Cultistic groups preserve their members within their man-made cocoons, keeping them all completely ignorant of what God has done through other godly men in other centuries, or even through other godly men in other Christian churches in their own day.”

In Galatians chapter 5, verse 24, it states, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” You see, we are not free to do as we please, we are set at liberty not to do as we please. Our passions and desires have been taken to the cross and we are free to do the will of God. Now, look at chapter 6, verse 14: “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” This is clear identification with the cross of Christ. Because of His cross, my relationship with the world has been cut off. We live in this world as a pearl in an oyster. We are an irritation to it and it constantly exudes a secretion to rid itself of the irritation. That is the means to the beautification of the church.

When my father and uncle came to Christ, their musical instruments were crucified to the world. The violin and saxophone no longer played in the dance hall. They now played for the glory of God and blessed His people. Tears would flow, when dad played sweetly the old hymns of Zion. My uncle and his two sons formed a saxophone trio and their songs were heard on Christian radio throughout the Midwestern U.S.

It is just as true concerning the flesh. Because of His cross, I no longer fulfill the desires and passions of the flesh. We have been set free from slavery to the flesh and the world. The cross has dealt with that issue. More than that, Paul said that because of the cross, he was freed from himself and now was at liberty to live by the faith of another. It was more than victory over tobacco, drugs and alcohol – he was freed from Paul… his will, his ego and his own strengths!  The attributes of Christ were seen through his mortal body – His love, joy and peace reigned in Paul. Likewise, it took Moses 40 years of desert training to rid himself of the ego that was built in Pharaoh’s palace, so that he could become a shepherd of his people.

The only way that we can enjoy the pleasure and privilege of the Christian life is through the cross. We then can have total freedom to partake of all that God has for us. It is all ours! We can live by more powerful principles than law and fear. There is prepared for us a walk in the Holy Spirit in the love of God. No life on earth compares to it. We have the privilege of walking in the Spirit, right into God’s house to feel at home there. Take off your shoes and rest on the couch, if you need to; open the refrigerator and help yourself. He has opened the storehouse of heaven for His children.

Conviction that brings true repentance
Identity with the cross in a human life begins with conviction of sin, brought about through the work of the Holy Spirit, who brings the fear of God into the soul. “And He (the Holy Spirit), when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn.16:8). As he (Paul) was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened… (Ac.24:25). Job saw that a good work would begin in him, if God would reveal his sin to him: “How many are my iniquities and sins? Make known to me my rebellion and my sin” (Jb.13:23).

Someone recently gave me a CD of hymns by Lynda Randle, which I like very much. Her opening song, At Calvary, has been a favorite of the church for many years. Of course, she didn’t sing all the verses and I want to bring one of them to your attention.
By God’s word at last my sin I learned,
Then I trembled at the law I spurned,
‘Til my guilty soul imploring turned, To Calvary.

Hymns of the past sometimes carry a message, in this case an evangelistic message, which has largely been neglected in our day. They reflect a theology from a time that produced better converts than our own. This verse certainly serves as an example. Can you think of a recent song with words like this?

Even though some experience a change on the surface, sometimes a radical change, I have learned to be distrustful of the results of modern evangelism. Many receive the gospel with joy and can sing with eyes closed and arms upraised, but sin only seems to go underground and sooner or later surfaces again and takes control.

As long as there is numerical and geographical growth, people seem to expect travesty and hardly bat an eye over a high percentage of spiritual failures. One leader told me, “People can lose their salvation again and again and continually regain it.” He has adjusted his theology in an attempt to explain and justify the many moral collapses he observes. His statement goes far beyond the issue of Calvinism versus Arminianism. It shows a serious flaw in interpretation of New Testament scripture and borders on heresy. It’s a slap in the face of the One, who suffered and died to obtain for us “so great salvation”.

Jesus taught of the broad way and the straight and narrow. Then He said that we would know the false professors by their fruits, for you can’t gather grapes from a thorn bush or figs from a thistle. He was adamant: “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” There would be those who prophesy, cast out demons and do miracles, who would deceive themselves to the end. He will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (see Mt.7:13-23).

I remember a time, when Christians believed that if God did a genuine work, whether it were physical or spiritual, it would last. I don’t think they were arguing in favor of the doctrine of eternal security. They simply believed that God was expert in His work and would do good and lasting things. That certainly seems to be the teaching in the book of Hebrews, the Gospel of John, and the following verse in Ecclesiastes: “I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it” (3:14). 

Fruits are plain evidence before the eyes, but the problem is below the surface at the roots. The roots of thistles and thorns simply do not produce grapes and figs. Root disorder is caused in great part by a faulty evangelistic message. Notice again the first line of the song’s verse. It expresses an evangelistic effort that does more than share personal testimony and it certainly is not a clever sales pitch. It utilizes Scripture - By God’s word at last my sin I learned.

The word of God comes to the individual and goes straight to the root of the problem. Notice ‘sin’ is singular, not plural. It does not focus only on the sins that he committed, but on the fact that he by nature is a sinner – he is sin. He is not a good person, who did some bad things. He is an evil wretch, who could do nothing right. He is taught and he learns about his sin from the Bible.

Then I trembled at the law I´d spurned. It is done with such power and under such an anointing of the Holy Spirit that I trembled. An older generation talked about being under conviction of sin, as we quoted previously in John 16:8.  It goes far beyond the popular method of using the first of four spiritual laws: “Do you recognize that you are a sinner?” Oh, he recognizes it all right, but it is more than recognition and more than being merely convinced of the fact. He is in conviction’s claws, gripped by the Holy Spirit. He cannot escape by day or by night. He loses sleep and doesn’t feel like eating. 

I trembled at the law I spurned. Like the tender and humble heart of King Josiah (2 Kg.22:19), he is horrified and weeps when he learns that he has despised the law of God.  God’s law had said, “Thou shalt not…” and he had done it; it said, “Thou shalt…” and he had not done it. The law had clearly defined his sin and declared the penalty to be death – eternal death. It was all there, written in plain black-and-white in the Bible and he is guilty. It is not the opinion of men or the definition of society, as to what is bad and what is not. It is the true commandment of God with absolute authority.  

It brings him low and holds him there until he surrenders and repents… my guilty soul turned. He turns from his sin towards God and the cross, imploringly. Webster defines to implore: To call upon in supplication; to call or pray for earnestly; beseech; entreat. The Oxford Dictionary adds: to beg earnestly for; the root is ploro - to weep. It is no light “repeat after me” prayer.  It is not a surface healing.

It is as the publican, beating upon his breast or as the Jews on Pentecost, pierced to the heart. They killed their promised and long-awaited Messiah. See this accusation in the first apostolic, evangelistic message (Ac.2:22-23), then see it again in 3:22-23 and finally 4:10, before the rulers of Israel. There sin was horrendous. We share their guilt in the greatest crime ever committed – the assassination of God, because our sins nailed Him to the cross. Without them, there was no need for His suffering and death.

Clear conversions were the results of a powerful, direct presentation, given by evangelists such as Charles Finney, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley and George Whitefield. The latter accused the English public of being criminals and the worst of their crimes was that they could not see the immensity of what they had done. He called them monsters of iniquity. The pronoun that these men used was not we or they, but you.  It brought the sinner imploringly to the cross.

The Lord Jesus personally takes over the situation at this point and assures the conviction-ridden sinner of His love and pardon. The gospel is all the more glorious after his horrible condemnation. He believes it and gratefully welcomes it, surrendering totally to the lordship of Christ. He is soundly converted and remains a faithful Christian through the duration of his life. This was the common conversion in days gone by and there were few exceptions. The song concludes:
 “Mercy there was great and grace was free,
Pardon there was multiplied to me,
There my burdened soul found liberty, At Calvary!”
We have a sin-convicting altar that brings death to the ego and the world…


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