Talking About The Cross

There seems to be two differing extremes when people talk about the cross.

There are some who speak nothing of the cross. Granted, it is something of an oxymoron to be a Christian and to say nothing about the cross. It is something of a misnomer to assign the title of Christian to someone not be totally constantly in awe of the cross.

Yet, some people exist that are of that disposition, entrenched in either emotionalism or knowledge-ism. A lot of them are so far entrenched in this cross-less Christianity because I believe that they have not experienced what true love and regeneration there is in the cross and how it impacts us daily. Through this ignorance, there is no growth, but further and further retreat away from Christ. The reality is, if really Jesus did die on the cross for the world, then surely we would be changed. Moreover, if Christ did rise again from the dead, this is surely a hope that one day we would all be rescued from the ultimate death.

Charles Spurgeon says of Christ:

The motto of all true servants of God must be, “We preach Christ; and him crucified.” A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching. [1]

We are preaching nothing if it is not of Christ. We are living for nothing, if it is not for Christ.

On the other hand, some people can totally over-emphasize it in a way that the cross is cheapened. I find that the idea of the cross is cheapened when people use it merely as a word, not as a invasive, weighty act that is concurrent with all of your life. People throw around the words “cross” and the “resurrection” with much too ease and care, that it loses its sharpness and offense after a time. Perhaps, it is intentional to not make the Gospel a less painful cross to bear, but it is avoiding the basic commands of Christ. Moreover, what comfort there is in the burdens we carry daily is lost, because we forget that Christ would carry his own cross to death. I think we can speak so much about the cross that we make it something taken lightly–there is a certain flippancy about the way some people would use the word, as if they were not addressing the Most High constantly with every word.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 (English Standard Version)

The song that comes to mind is one by a certain Jeremy Camp, where the chorus goes:

“Sing it out to let all the world know
That Jesus saves
Raise a shout to let all the world know
That Jesus saves” (youtube)

The lyrics are undeniably correct, but the song comes across as just repetitive–how, I think Bob DeWaay termed a “7-11” song, with a chorus of eleven words repeated eleven times. Now that I think of it, the two extremes are somewhat two sides of the same coin. If the cross does not drive us to reverential awe everytime we are speaking of it, then we have failed in our understanding of it. The comprehension of the cross escapes me constantly as I try to contain how much love there is within this act that Jesus accomplished. It is that lack of knowledge of Jesus that leads to these two extremes. The failure to realise that He is neither a weightless Jesus, nor a weighty Jesus that our sins, His love could never cover. It says in Eccelesiates to us:

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” Ecclesiastes 5:2

I think there is some great truth in those words. People often ask, if we were to meet God today, “What question would we ask?”. I am not so sure if we would ever be able to stop being in awe to have time to take out our notebooks from our back pockets and ask questions about creation/evolution. How purely idiotic, I would imagine us to be, to be asking things that utterly pale in comparison to what worship the cross deserves.

I cannot imagine a life without the cross, and though the memory is constantly embedded within our souls, how we show this love is more embodied within what we would do, instead of what we would say. Our life with the cross is marked by the meaningfulness of our worship, not our frequency with which we would proclaim it. 

[1] Spurgeon, Charles. Exposition of Acts 13:13-49. 1904.

[2] I struggle with not pointing fingers at exactly who I’m talking about.

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The Cross Is The Perfect Statement

“The cross is the perfect statement both of God’s wrath against sin and of the depth of his love and mercy in the recovery of the damaged creation and its damagers.  God’s mercy, patience, and love must be fully preached in the church.  But they are not credible unless they are presented in tension with God’s infinite power, complete and sovereign control of the universe, holiness, and righteousness.  

And where God’s righteousness is clearly presented, compassionate warnings of his holy anger against sin must be given, and warnings also of the certainty of divine judgment in endless alienation from God which will be unimaginably worse than the literal descriptions of hell.  It is no wonder that the world and the church are not awakened when our leadership is either singing a lullaby concerning these matters or presenting them in a caricature which is so grotesque that it is unbelievable.

The tension between God’s holy righteousness and his compassionate mercy cannot be legitimately resolved by remolding his character into an image of pure benevolence as the church did in the nineteenth century.  There is only one way that this contradiction can be removed: through the cross of Christ which reveals the severity of God’s anger against sin and the depth of his compassion in paying its penalty through the vicarious sacrifice of his Son. 

In systems which resolve this tension by softening the character of God, Christ and his work become an addendum, and spiritual darkness becomes complete because the true God has been abandoned for the worship of a magnified image of human tolerance.” (1)

I think at every moment there is a tendency to rush towards one or the other. The cross is love poured out; the cross is wrath poured out. Binaries fight out in our mind, and we become ingrained on one side of the expanse. We have tried to create a dialogue between the two extremes, but it is impossible. And it is impossible except through what we have known. Then, we remember that Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for the sins of the whole world–great enough to cover the great expanse, and wash our doubts away.

Enough for my haughty heart, enough for my lifeless soul.

Great enough to cover my lack of love, and my lack of righteousness.

Is the cross meaningful if you remove the wrath of God away from it? Is the cross meaningful if you remove the love of God away from it?

(1) (Lovelace, Richard. Dynamics for Spiritual Life, 84-85) the irony is that both those buildings could readily be defined as modernist.

Effecting Effectual Change

“Grace is what taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”

These words from the famous hymn Amazing Grace  by John Newton was always a curious one for me. The concept of grace teaching our hearts to fear was one of the concepts that I am not familiar with, and something perhaps uncomfortable to modern Christians today. But I think it a lot along the lines of what needs to be relieved must first be revealed. Only when Jesus opens up our hearts to our sin only then, all the same, Jesus will be the one who calms our fears. Maybe there is a tendency for us today to focus solely on the latter, with our fears relieved today, that we forget how what insecurity we have to begin with. If we are taking away only the symptoms, then perhaps we are not curing the sickness.

I am reminded of a story from a sermon from Charles Spurgeon, that I will just recount through memory because I don’t remember the number among thousands, and the text I recall is quite lengthy. There once was a rich prince who walked through his kingdom for a pleasurable stroll. He passed through town and went through to countryside. Down the mighty river which ran through his kingdom, where he spotted a farmer squatting down by a muddy river. The farmer was slowly and carefully sifting out the dirt from the bucket of water for his flock of sheep to drink from. The prince was much agrieved by this because he led the farmer into his palace located at the top of the river. He pointed out to the young farmer, the cause of his problems: a tree fallen over the mouth of the river, dirtying everything in the river. The farmer was aghast when he realised that he had been cleaning out all the dirt from the water when the more effective way was to remove the tree from dirtying the water.

We may have control over what we see in ourselves, but sin manifests itself in a multitude of ways that we could ever imagine. One moment, we could be suffering from depression, while the next we may have the greatest pride in ourselves. There is an importance then, in moving from an abstinence from sin, to an appreciation of God and all his love for us. Because only when we can appreciate God’s extravagant love for us, can we begin to truly repent from our sins, and enjoy God more and more.

If we remove our dependency on sin, we must replace it with something else or we are merely translating our addictions to another idols. Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The context of Jesus saying this is important, the parable is concerning the interaction between earthly and heavenly things, he is talking about holding onto things of this earth, greater than the heavenly revelation that we have been given.

The idea is that if we are to remove ourselves from the world, we would need to replace the world with something else. Where we are broken away from association with earthly people, we must replace it with communion with the Church. Where we crucify our pride, we need to replace it with humility which comes from God lest we grow bitter. Where we crucify our self-esteem, we must replace it with trust in Christ lest we grow spiritually depressed. When we take our eyes aways from idols, we must turn our eyes upon Christ on the cross. Without these things, our change will only be temporary.