Why Does The Cross Matter?
“Our glory, only in the cross. Our only hope, the Crucified.” Such ends the fourth stanza of the George Washington Doane hymn, “Fling Out The Banner, Let It Float.” With these words, Doane defines Christianity much differently than many Christians today. For many who call themselves Evangelicals, the cross is a mere starting point for faith, rarely considered after the sinner’s prayer has been prayed. For more “progressive” Christians, the cross is too bloody to be addressed at all and represents an antiquated system of (ultimately unnecessary) atonement embraced by the ancients, but of no value for us today.
Who’s right? Paul and the rest of Scripture agree with Rev. Doane. Paul says in Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” In these words, Paul advances the usefulness of the cross beyond mere conversion and establishes its absolute necessity for the entire Christian life. So why is the cross of Jesus so important? What does it do for us? What does it mean for our lives?
First, and unquestioned among orthodox believers, the Cross was the event by which our sin debt to God was paid in full, and we were reconciled to God. Peter says in 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” This was the work of the “Suffering Servant” in Isaiah 53, predicted over 600 years before Christ took on human flesh. This was the event where the blood necessary for forgiveness (see Hebrews 9:22, cf. Leviticus 16:14-15) was procured for all of sinful humanity. By this shed blood, not only was the guilt of our original sin paid for, but, contrary to Roman Catholic teaching, punishment for our actual sins was meted out (see 1 John 4:18). The cross of Christ was the means by which our forgiveness was achieved, and it’s received by those who hear its good news and believe. This is called justification. It’s an instantaneous event, subjectively received by each believer when God grants them faith.
But the cross extends beyond justification, and becomes the pattern for the Christian’s entire life. This is why Paul, many years after his conversion to Christ, still saw it as his only glory. Paul said the cross meant that the world was crucified to him and he to the world. The sin broken world was now dead to Paul. He no longer subscribed to the world’s message that he must work to achieve his eternal success. He no longer dealt with the wrongs done against him like the world’s system would require. Suffering became meaningful, as the world’s persistent avoidance of suffering was now dead to him. The world’s doctrine of self-preservation was crucified to Paul, and resurrected in him was a new willingness to be self-sacrificial in service to his crucified Savior. Because of the cross, Paul was able to say that he had been crucified with Christ, and it was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in him (Galatians 2:20). In short, the cross was the power for his entire Christian life.
One doesn’t need to be an apostle to live a cross-fueled life. In fact, if you are trusting in Christ today, it’s the life he’s living through you. On a practical level this means a number of things.
It means, for instance, that you are not judged by God according to your ability to please him. The cross of Christ was as pleasing to him as it gets, and you can’t add to that in any way. I lived a significant part of my early Christian life thinking I needed to please him with my efforts, and crumbled under the weight of guilt as I regularly failed. The cross was my antidote, because at the cross, I found a place for my sins to go. Through it, my debt was paid in full.
The cross also serves as the motivation and pattern for forgiveness you can extend to those who wrong you. The world’s method of dealing with wrongs is to either get even, or hold a grudge. Both are a cancer to the human soul. The cross stands as a reminder that you owed an unpayable debt to a holy God, but that he, in love, paid that debt on your behalf at the expense of his Son’s life. The debts owed to you by others may seem massive, but pale in comparison to your debt paid at the cross. The cross is a great example of forgiveness. But, since through the cross Christ lives in you, it’s also the power through which you can forgive your debtors.
The cross also shapes the believer’s view of suffering. It shows you that even in the face of the most horrific, unjust suffering, like that of Christ’s cross, God works good for those who love him (see Romans 8:28). Because of the cross, Christians possess a unique answer to the ugliness of suffering. Tim Keller in his book, Making Sense of God, notes that the world views suffering as meaningless, an interruption to our purposes, and something to be avoided at all costs. Yet, Christ’s cross showed us that suffering can bring about deep and lasting good. As he lives in us, we can suffer knowing that he lives in us, accomplishing his good purpose in us even in hardship. The need for self-preservation has been crucified to us, and in him we can make the sacrifices and endure the difficult roads down which we’re called. We can serve as he served us, even when that means we suffer for it.
Friends, if you are in Christ today, the cross is your glory, and your only hope is the crucified. Live each day remembering what he did for you on that cross, and let it guide your steps.