Maintaining peaceful relations between the church and the world might have been feasible in our grandparent’s generation, when American culture was still somewhat seasoned by the moral flavors in the palate of Christian tradition. But today it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a MAJOR distinction between Christ’s agenda for the earth and the priorities of fallen humanity at large. If the more “forward-thinking” churches do somehow manage to salvage Christianity’s public image so that a few non-believers will be won over by their impressive lack of embarrassment in the eyes of the world, we might be tempted to congratulate them for accomplishing such a difficult feat.
We were never called to invent a way to follow Christ while keeping worldly allegiances intact. If we happen to be found pleasing by the world and all its man-centered mechanisms in the midst of following Christ wholly and without a single compromise in word or deed, it should be cause for great marvel, and would no doubt be an act of the Spirit intended to accomplish a deliberate work of the Father. Jesus was a friend of sinners, but he did not become so by downplaying or denying His uncompromising identity as the Way the Truth and the Life.
Peter’s choice of the upside-down cross was the truest symbol of unentitled devotion because he refused to exalt himself even in imitation of Christ, thus representing His completely self-denying identity. The only response of a true disciple when confronted with the cross of Christ is to lose all sense of pride in your own glory, to release your earthly expectations and take up your cross and follow Him in the pattern of unconditional lay-down-your-life love.
What did Jesus do in response to his equality with God? He laid down his right to be God. Jesus was the only person truly entitled to equality with God, and yet He chose to separate Himself from that reality by literally dying to Himself and thus denying His own right to exert His Godlike power and authority. Our Lord traded His divine entitlement for the will to die. Jesus’ death was a fulfillment of the true character of God, a tangible way to tell the world that the true divine instinct does not rise towards power and preservation but denies the tempting urge to grasp at it. God sent the person of Jesus to be the complete and perfect imprint of His own self-denying identity.