The Cruciform Mind
What’s behind our interaction with others?
Imagine the simple shape of a cross. Cathedral floor plans, swords with crossguard hilts, aircraft tails, laminin protein molecules, tombstones, earrings, and parachutes, even the Swiss Army watch logo. Objects appearing in the shape of a cross are “cruciform.” Cruciform: cruci = cross; form = shaped.
Now imagine a cross-shaped mind: a cruciform mind. This isn’t a human brain in the physical shape of a cross, but a mind that is spiritually and morally shaped by the meaning of the cross: the self-sacrificing, self-giving attitude that led Jesus Christ to so empty Himself for others that He would take the form of a servant, humbling Himself “to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).1
A Cross-shaped Life
Imagine living a cross-shaped life. Where we choose the way of love, reconciliation, and peace and pour ourselves out unselfishly for the good of others. Imagine “cruciformity” with others: being of the same mind, loving one another, working together with one mind and purpose, in humility and mutual submission one to another, thinking of others first and better than one’s own self. Like Jesus, inside!
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (verse 5, NKJV).2
We stand in awe at the cruciform mind of Christ and the invitation to follow His example. The cruciform mind of Christ is one of the first tectonic shifts that true revival brings to the heart. A drastic change of self in relation to Christ is followed by a change of self in relation to others. The mind of Christ now directs our thought, response, and action toward others. Cruciformity is a profound unseen working behind everything seen in our interaction with others.
A spirit of self and rivalry threads its way through our everyday life. Competition, envy, disagreement, alienation, hostility, and violence of every kind make up human reality. Conflict in some form or another is the stuff of our lives—in our marriages, at the workplace, in the church, with our siblings, in the world. We are against one another and against God living out the great controversy on the landscape of our own heart. It is how we think—a self-gratifying competitive mind-set that’s determined to follow our own will and go our own way. We would win even at the expense of peace, cooperation, and love. Life teaches us that it happens with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Wars of will, power, control, and thought are inevitable. No place is off-limits, no one is exempt.
But the cruciform mind of Christ can break the vicious cycle in our lives.
The Mind of Christ
In Philippians 2 Paul unfolds a “master story” of the mind of Jesus in relation to God and to lost human beings. It’s a powerful narrative: Although He was God, Jesus did not hold onto His divine prerogatives or rights to be exploited for his own advantage, but emptied Himself, humbled himself, and was crucified on a cross (verses 6-8).
Christ’s “way-of-the-cross” frame of mind reaches back into eternity past—before the creation of our world, before the spirit of self and rivalry and conflict exploded in heaven and enveloped our world. He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Jesus acted in life and death according to the will and character of His Father: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9); “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also” (verse 7). The Son’s act on the cross was an act of “family resemblance,” of conformity to God. God is Christlike. Cruciformity is a quality of the character of God. The Father, the Son, and the cross are linked. One way in which God is known is through the cross of Christ.
This “master story” occurs within the context of rivalry among Philippian Christians. Their self-serving, self-seeking attitudes were set against the self-sacrificing, self-giving attitude of Christ. Unity in the body was threatened. Only attitudes and actions reflecting the mind of Christ could restore peace to these strained relationships. And so the appeal: be “of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:2-5).
Paul knew what he was asking. His Damascus road encounter with Jesus Christ took him by surprise. It was an experience of utter grace, which brought conversion—a dramatic and radical change of direction deep within his heart. He had been a willful, proud, and selfish person: cocky, aggressive, opinionated, intimidating, heartless, hateful, unforgiving, punitive, and violent
(1 Tim. 1:13; cf. Acts 8:3; 22:4, 5). He stormed through innocent people’s lives leaving a trail of destruction, sorrow, and death.
The Power of the Cross
Then he met Jesus, who did not hold on to His rights, but emptied Himself, humbled Himself, was crucified on a cross, for him—the proud, willful, selfish, violent persecutor. Paul was shaken to the very core, haunted now with the vision of the mind of Christ. He wanted his own personal life and ministry to tell a story that corresponded to the “story of the cross”: “[We are] always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:10-12). He would re-present in living form the story of the cross.
Our Christian existence is to be transformed into Christ’s image—where nothing is done for self or out of rivalry. Cruciformity is the ongoing pattern of dying in Christ that produces in us a Christlike (cruciform) person. Being spiritual is for us to have apprehended the story of the cross in such a way that it has transformed our entire existence into Christ’s image—a life characterized by self-sacrificing love, in which power is manifest through our weakness; in which we choose the way of peace, reconciliation, unity—love.
Be Like Jesus
Charles (a pseudonym) and his wife were in constant conflict. He was becoming increasingly hurtful and hateful in his response to her words and behavior. Anger and bitterness filled his heart. Love had all but disappeared. Then God spoke, not audibly but deep within: “Charles, if My Son were married to your wife, there would be nothing she could ever do that would cause Him to love her less. There would be nothing that would keep Him from forgiving her, serving her, or putting her before Himself. Charles, if My Son were married to your wife, there would be nothing she could do that would cause Him to be hurtful or hateful in His response to her words and behavior. Nothing. If My Son were married to your wife, He would lay His self down for her in death, as He already has at Calvary.”
Imagine the implications of a cross-shaped mind for our own lives. What difference would it make in our relationships? Our hearts are an important battlefield in the great controversy. Which way will we choose? Will we allow the way of Christ to direct our thoughts, responses, and how we relate to others? Will we choose the way of nonrivalry? Will we be reconciled? Are we willing to lay aside our way or our will for the sake of others—for Jesus?
This cruciform mind cannot be accomplished through our own effort. Only the Spirit of Christ can direct and empower our hearts toward love, peace, patience, self-discipline, and selflessness (Gal. 5:16-18, 22-24). Like the apostle Paul, that work begins as we are seized by the story of the cross and the cruciform mind of Christ. The death of Jesus provides an authentic picture of the real nature of rivalry and the only way any one of us can truly meet it. In the power of the Holy Spirit, live a cross-shaped life.
- Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
- Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.