If you asked ten different Christians what the message of Christianity is, you would likely get ten different answers. In a sense, this is understandable given the diversity of what is considered ‘Christian’. In another sense, though, this is heartbreaking. The fact that the message of Christianity, specifically salvation through Christ on the cross, is so clouded, confused and misrepresented should weigh heavily upon us as ambassadors for Christ. Let’s get back to the basics. I want to briefly consider the centrality of the cross in God’s story and consider what the centrality of the cross means in our story. Let’s start out with a (brief (in fact, extremely brief)) refresher. God created. He spoke the world into existence. He filled it with living creatures. As Genesis opens, we read that God creates man from the dust of the ground, breathing into Adam’s nostrils, granting him life (Gen 2:5-8). He then created Eve to be a helper fit for Adam’s needs. Life as they knew it was perfect.
What happened next, which is beyond the scope of this post, is the Fall. In summary, Adam and Eve disobeyed the commands of God and were booted from the Garden of Eden as sin and death entered the world, cursing humanity from thereon. What we see revealed in the rest of Scripture is a monotonous blur of schmucks trying to do who knows what, coupled with a relentless pursuit by God to claim his prized possession, humanity, for himself. Ray Ortlund Jr. has beautifully summarized this epic from God’s perspective with, ‘I loved you, I lost you, and I want you back.’
Taking a ginormous step forward, we come to the cross. God sent his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, into the world, to live a perfect life, die a painful death and ascend into heaven. In this, Christ’s death secured salvation for all who believe in Him. In His sacrifice, our sins were transferred to Christ, and His righteousness was transferred upon us. Luther famously dubbed this as ‘the great exchange’. In Ortlund’s terms, God won us back. By Christ.
So, in summary, central to not only this post, but also to the biblical account: Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the focal point of God’s story. It is that upon which everything else is leading up to or progressing from. It is the climax of the story. In his book titled According to Plan, Graeme Goldsworthy sums it up well when he writes ‘…his saving work in the world was not an afterthought because of sin, but was the eternal purpose of God. It was the plan of God before Creation and from all eternity. Upon this plan God created all things.’
Paul gets it. In Ephesians, he pleads ‘…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.’ (Eph 1:4-6). The cross was not ‘Plan B’. It was not an afterthought. This is not God’s heroic attempt to fix some epic mistake. From eternity past, God has planned that Christ on the cross would be His means of bringing his people to himself. The cross is the center of the story.
The implications of this truth are astounding. For starters, because of the centrality of the cross, we know that the rest of the Scriptures are a precursor, a foretaste, a sign pointing towards something greater. The OT Scriptures come alive as the story of God’s people struggling through slavery, famine, homelessness, and helplessness all point forward towards the reconciliation brought through Christ on the cross.
This drastically changes how we read, study and apply God’s. Christ must be at the heart of it all. We work from the cross outwardly to interpret Scripture, zoning back in on the cross as the focal point. It is somewhat like a paddleball – either the ball is heading from the paddle, or back to it. But, a lot more profound. The cross is at the center of God’s story. This should lead us to consider how the cross is at the center of our story.
We should see our lives as subplots in the story of redemption. A chapter in the book that is God’s story. In that line of thinking, the theme of our story will undoubtedly fit with, and be defined by the rest of the book. This means that in Christ, we are called to be a people formed, defined, motivated, and dedicated to Christ. To flesh out all the implications of Christ’s work in our lives would be impossible. We will spend the rest of our lives experiencing and learning these truths. However, I want to challenge us to take a brief look at what the cross has accomplished, and what it is continuously accomplishing.
In The Cross of Christ, author John Stott argues that the cross has accomplished three main feats – salvation, revelation and conquest. Regarding salvation, Stott further breaks this down in terms of propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation. If you are not the intellectual-type, this text might not be your digs. Nonetheless, this stuff is gold. In summary, Stott writes ‘The death of Jesus was the atoning sacrifice because of which God averted his wrath from us, the ransom price by which we have been redeemed, the condemnation of the innocent that the guilty might be justified, and the sinless One being made sin for us.’
The cross was a picture of God’s love, perfectly displayed in the work of Christ on the cross and His glory is seen therein. We could talk about this for days, but what I am getting at, is that we are free to be a people of hope. We can be confident that our sin that distances us from God has in fact been cleansed and paid for, enabling a way for us to live in community with God now and forevermore as we long for eternity in heaven alongside Him.
What this means for me, you, and screw-ups everywhere is that we have an out. And it is the cross. We are to view life through the lens of the gospel. Think gospel glasses (corny, but work with me here). Doing this should tint our approach to relationships, our attitude, our priorities, our decision-making, etc. etc. For example:
- The cross enables us to share the grace with which we have been blessed.
- The cross enables us to repent when we don’t.
- The cross enables us to live a life of joy, knowing that the salvation with which we have been blessed is ours, and that it cannot be taken from us.
- The cross enables us to redefine our priorities, making the right things the right things, and living lives oriented and situated around sharing the gospel, as revealed in the cross, with others.
- The cross enables us to make difficult and meaningful decisions with clarity and confidence, as we know our eternal resting place, freeing us to be a people of action.
I could go on and on. Again, though, what the cross enables us to do is live our lives with hope. The focal point of God’s story, the Cross, should be the focal point of our story. We should be a people that are continuously living our lives in response to the cross, making light of the cross, and coming back to the cross. May we never grow numb to hearing the message of the cross, applying it to our lives, nor sharing it with the world.