“For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” – 1 Corinthians 2:2
Why is the cross of Christ so important to the Christian? Why is it so important that the Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”? (1 Corinthians 2:2). Why is the cross of Christ so exclusively important? Why is it so indispensable to the Christian faith? Why is it so pronounced in what true Biblical Christianity teaches?
Not everyone feels that way you know. Not everyone feels the cross is indispensable to the gospel of Christianity. Some feel it is too barbaric and offensive to people. They feel it’s a real turn off. This sentiment has become more pronounced since the Enlightenment and Age of Reason when world views became more human-centric than God and Christ-centric. When people began seeking more to please people than pleases God, they began turning their back on the cross and Christ. And today’s safe-space-seeking, tolerance-at-all-costs (even at the expense of truth), fantasy-over-reality culture, chooses to turn away from the cross. They love zombies and the walking dead, but they turn away from the cross. They do so to their own eternal peril. Let me tell you why.
The idea of a bloody cross can indeed be offensive. Jesus’ gruesome scourging and then crucifixion was indeed one of the most horrifically graphic and torturous events in human history. It was a truly vicious display. It was the worst that sinful humanity and the hosts of darkness could muster. To know that such an execution was perpetrated on an innocent Man only makes it more appalling. Add the preceding stress of Jesus Gethsemane prayer that caused Him to sweat “great drops of blood” and you begin to see something that even the Creator of the universe dreaded to undergo (Luke 22:44; Colossians 1:16).
Three times Jesus prayed for an alternative. “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me” He prayed. Three times the silence of His Father indicated the necessity of the cross (Matthew 26:36-46). Jesus acquiesced. “Nevertheless not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). This would be no Lord of the Rings journey to Mount Doom. This would be no mere fall into the fiery rivers of lava of Barad-dur by a pitiful metaphor for sinful humanity named Gollum. The cross is more than a ring. The cross is more than anything this world has ever imagined or seen. The cross envelops all the darkness of sin and hell. The cross stands at the center of all human history. The cross is at the heart of everything.
There’s nothing like the cross to portray the devilishness of sin. But at the cross the worst of humanity met the best of divinity. In fact, the Bible comments Jesus followed through with His heaven-sent mission, “for the joy that was set before Him.” It says He, “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus is, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). How could “joy” and “cross” be uttered in the same sentence? How could the cross, and all its bloody, shameful, torture and pain be something associated with joy? Hopefully, this article will help you understand.
In the early 1900s a man by the name of Harry Emerson Fosdick spoke out against the cross of Christ and what he viewed as tasteless “bloody” religious doctrine. Thankfully the Church for the most part resisted and rejected such commentary. However, the diminishing of the necessity of the cross of Christ has been continued in the relatively recent emerging church theology and elsewhere. If the resurrection of Jesus is the power of God in Christianity, then the cross of Christ is its heart. If you cut out the cross from the gospel, you cut out the basis for its good news of forgiveness of sins.
Below are ten aspects of the cross that speak about the absolute necessity of Christ’s sacrifice on it. The cross was not optional, it was and is essential to salvation and defeating sin (See Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42). Meditate on the crux or sum total of what the Bible says about the cross of Christ, and you’ll see why it is at the heart of the gospel, as well as at the center of everything.
First, the cross of Christ is indispensable to the gospel. The New Testament states:
- 1 Corinthians 2:2 – “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
These words of Paul to the Corinthians demonstrate to us just how central and indispensable the cross of Christ is to the gospel. Paul made the cross of Christ his central focus and he explained why he did so as we look at the context of those verses:
- 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
You see, in the cross of Christ we have the embodiment of God’s wisdom and power. Wisdom is the ability to solve a problem. God solved the problem of sin powerfully in the cross of Christ. How did He do this?
Second, the cross of Christ is the means God uses to deliver us from sin. Paul was inspired to write:
- Galatians 1:3-5 – “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
The cross of Christ is the means by which God provided a way for sinful humanity to be delivered from the evil world in which we live. Apart from God, sinful humanity is caught in the clutches of sin and in bondage to sin. Sin causes pain. Sin is like a narcotic that although the user knows it will kill them in the end, they can’t stop in their own strength the using and abusing of it. How does God deliver sinful humanity from this evil world and sin through the cross of Christ?
Third, the cross of Christ is where Jesus became a curse for us. Later in Galatians Paul writes:
- Galatians 3:10-14 – “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”),14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
In our own strength, apart from God’s help, we are under His righteous law. Under this standard, one offense, one misstep in regards to keeping God’s law is enough to put us under the curse or penalty for the law. God is totally just and as a just Judge, He penalizes sin. The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). God’s wrath is on sinners (Romans 1:18). At the Cross of Christ, Jesus took our place on the cross and became a curse for us. Here we see the substitutionary nature of the cross. What is the significance and meaning of Christ’s substitutionary cross-work?
Fourth, the cross of Christ is where Jesus satisfied God’s Holy Justice. In another epistle of Paul’s, he is inspired to write:
- Romans 3:20-26 – “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference;23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
The law of God was given not to make one righteous, but to expose utterly the sinfulness of humanity (Romans 3:20). An early Church father once said, “You cannot prescribe the antidote until you know the poison.” The Law of God helps us identify the poison of sin. The law of God removes all excuses from sinful humanity because it shows that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:1-18,23).
But God sent His Son Jesus Christ to the cross to be a propitiation, or an atoning sacrifice that satisfies God’s holy justice. We cannot do anything that will satisfy God’s just standard. Sin reduces us to wretchedness. “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
God sent His Son and in Him satisfied His own standard of holy justice. On the cross, Jesus took the penalty for sins of the world upon Him. And in so doing, He satisfied the requirement of God’s holy just wrathful penalty for sins. On the cross, Jesus paid the price for all sin, for all humanity, for all time.
Why did the Father require the cross? Why was it necessary? The Father did this to demonstrate beyond all doubt, His righteousness. A Holy God does not simply dismiss sin without dealing with it. An earthly judge may turn a blind eye or take a bribe or act on a whim to deal with an offense. Not so the Holy Sovereign Judge of all Creation. “God is a just judge” (Psalm 7:11). Of God it is said, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face” (Psalm 89:14). The cross of Christ is the culmination and realization of these holy words about Who God is.
At the cross, all sin is forgiven, past, present and future. The basis for God’s forgiveness is Jesus’ propitiation on the cross. And what is even more incredible, what is even more astounding, what is even more magnificent, is that God Himself is the, “just and justifier” of this incredible act of righteousness, justice, mercy and truth.
The central, foundational, heart and soul of the message of the cross is that GOD WAS IN CHRIST RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF ON THE CROSS. Paul was inspired to write:
- 2 Corinthians 5:19,21 – “that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. . . 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
The cross of Christ is the greatest act of justice and mercy. But there’s more.
Fifth, the cross of Christ is God’s greatest and clearest demonstration of His Holy Love. Also, Paul says:
- Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The cross of Christ is God’s greatest demonstration of “His own love.” God’s love held nothing back, not even His Son, not even Himself. Greater love has no one than this, that God laid down His life for sinful humanity.
Through faith in Christ, all the benefits provided by God at the cross can be appropriated and applied to us. But there’s more still. What about after we have been forgiven through faith in Christ, is the cross of Christ useful in living life after we’ve been forgiven our sins?
Sixth, the cross of Christ is the means to live a life of death to sinful self. In the letter to the Galatians Paul writes:
- Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
- Galatians 5:24 – “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
When we accept Jesus as our Savior and exercise God’s gift of saving faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) it’s as though our old sinful self is crucified with Him. From that point we are in a righteous position before God, sins forgiven, slate of recorded sins wiped clean forever. But where do we go from there? The above verses tell us that by faith now in Jesus we put fleshly desires in the wastebasket at the foot of the cross. The apostle Paul was inspired to explain this in the following way:
- Romans 6:4-14 – “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
Practically speaking, after we have experienced the new birth through faith in Jesus and His cross provision (John 3:3,5; Titus 3:5), we will still be tempted. The Christian still experiences fleshly lusts from within us, temptations to sin. These temptations are connected with the “old man,” or old sinful way of living. We are born in sin (Psalm 51:5). When we receive Jesus as Savior, the hold and control of our sinful nature is broken. The war for all intents and purposes is won in Christ. But there are still battles and skirmishes to fight before our coronation and the eternal reign of Jesus.
This is because we have yet to receive glorified bodies (Romans 8:23). A time will come when God will provide us with new perfect bodies suited for heaven and eternal life with Him (1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5). But until then, we have this unwanted tenant within, the sinful nature. There remains a struggle with the “old man” who still rears his head to seek control of us.
But in the cross of Christ there is a means of victory. When the old man attacks with his lusts, then by faith we need to “reckon” or put to the account of, lay, place, those lusts and temptations in the casket of the cross, close the lid, and stand in your right position by faith before God in Christ by the Spirit. This is the sanctifying process of the Spirit in the believer (Ephesians 5:18).
But what about the temptations from the world outside of us?
Seventh, the cross of Christ is the means to gain victory over a sinful world. Read what the New Testament states in this regard:
- Galatians 6:14 – “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Here we see that the same process is used when temptations come from the world. By faith we maintain our position before God and cast the temptations in the casket of the cross and close the lid. We do this by keeping the cross of Christ between us and the world. We gain victory by seeing everything, both within us and outside of us, from the perspective of the cross.
But how do those who are unsaved react to the cross of Christ? Will they joyfully respect the cross of Christ?
Eight, the cross of Christ is a foolish concept to the unsaved, but the power of God to the saved. That the cross is folly to the world is testified to in the following verse:
- 1 Corinthians 1:18 – “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The world views the cross of Christ as foolish. To them the cross is a barbaric notion of an imaginary religious belief system. But to those who have experienced the power of the gospel in the cross of Christ, there is no need to explain, but only receive by faith.
Ninth, the cross of Christ will bring persecution from the religious and worldly. Those who live according to their sinful nature are referred to in scripture as fleshly. To live in the flesh is to be selfish; self-centered; self-absorbed; self-serving. The cross is the enemy of self. Those who prefer to live for self, battle against the cross and those who follow it as we see in the following verses:
- Galatians 5:11 – “And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.”
- Galatians 6:12 – “As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.”
- Philippians 3:17-19 – “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.”
Those who depend on religious works e.g. “circumcision” – Galatians 5:11), fleshly pursuits (Galatians 6:12), and “whose god is their belly” will all persecute those who live by faith in the cross of Christ.
Tenth, the cross of Christ eliminates prejudices and brings peace in the Spirit. Our world is wracked with division, even in the Church. But the cross has an answer to such divisions. Read what the inspired words of the letter to the Ephesians states:
- Ephesians 2:14-18 – “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one [i.e. Jews and Gentiles], and has broken down the middle wall of separation,15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace,16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”
The cross of Christ is the answer to the divisions in the world caused by the sinfulness of humanity. Sin divides and destroys. But the cross of Christ unites. The cross brings us into the presence of the Father, the Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The cross is the plan of the Father, the mission of Jesus, and the message of the Spirit. THE CROSS OF CHRIST IS THE BRIDGE THAT ALLOWS THE SINNER TO CROSS OVER THE CHASM OF SEPARATION FROM GOD CAUSED BY SIN (Isaiah 59:2), AND STEP INTO THE PRESENCE OF GOD AND HIS PEOPLE PERSONALLY FOR ETERNITY.
The cross of Christ is an incredible provision by God and is offered by His grace as a gift to us. The crux of the Cross is that we can be forgiven for our sins (Colossians 2:13), indwelled by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-14), and given eternal life (John 3:16) through faith in Jesus and His cross-work (Romans 10:8-10). We can come into the presence of God through the cross of Christ.
When Jesus endured the cross, He did so joyfully. He had full assurance that He was fulfilling the will of God. He believed this because in His love for you and me, He knew it was necessary if we were to deal with and defeat sin in our lives and spend eternity with Him (Hebrews 12:1-4). It’s really all about Jesus, His cross, not us. When we bring our sin and our fleshy sin nature to the cross of Christ, we find a potent and powerful solution to that which opposes the Christ-life in our lives.
And that brings us back to the first point made about the cross and the gospel. The cross is at the heart of the gospel. The cross is the heart of the gospel. The whole point of the cross is to make a way for people to be reconciled to God. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). The cross makes a way for people to “know” God. What does it mean to “know” God?
The word “know” is translated from the Greek term ginosko. The idea of this word “know” in the original language is to become aware, perceive (as in “seeing is believing”), to understand, to be conscious of, to see something or someone as it/they truly are (not merely opinion or speculation).
When this word is used in the sense of knowing someone it means:
- To know someone personally
- To be personally acquainted with someone
- To trust someone
- To have a friendship with someone
- To have an intimate personal relationship with someone
It is possible to know personally the only true God and His Son Jesus Christ. In light of this the question arises, do you know Jesus?
The Good News is that we can have a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. And entering into such a relationship is as simple as ABC: Admit/Ask, Believe/Receive, and Confess/Call.
First Admit your sins and ask God’s forgiveness for them. Our sins separate us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2). And we all have sinned and fall short of what it takes to enter heaven (Romans 3). We need to admit this truth before God. Once we admit our sin before God, we then need to ask God’s forgiveness for our sins. This implies turning from our sins to God (i.e. repentance). This is humbling but necessary. We come to Him on His terms not our terms. We come humbly before God who is Awesome and Holy. And the cross is the means by which we can come to God. The cross is His terms of reconciliation.
Second, believe in Jesus and His atoning work. Jesus and Jesus atoning work on the cross alone, not our efforts our works, is the basis for God’s forgiveness of our sins. The wages or consequences of our sin is death. Jesus died on the cross in our place, paying our penalty for sin. Because of that, God offers us salvation from our sins freely as a gift of His grace through Jesus’ death on the cross (Romans 6:23). We are saved from our sins because of His work not our work. To believe, trust, or put our faith in Jesus as Savior is not a “work,” it is God’s grace working in us (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our ability to choose and decide is God’s image created in us (Genesis 1:26). Once we believe in Jesus and His atoning work, we appropriate its benefits by believing and receiving the forgiveness for our sins offered by God freely to us, based on Jesus and His work.
It bears repeating, the cross is God’s just basis to forgive our sins. Jesus death on the cross legally makes a way for anyone who believes in Jesus and His atoning work to be justified before God. Jesus paid our death penalty on the cross for us. He’s the only One qualified to do that. Jesus took our sins on Himself on the cross and when we trust in Him and His work, He offers us His righteousness to be put to our account (cf. Isaiah 53; 2 Corinthians 5:21). God did this for us in Christ because He loves us. God is Love with a capitol “L” (e.g. John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:8 and 16).
Lastly, Confess and call. We confess our sins to God and receive His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). But we also confess Jesus to those around us; we tell others about Jesus; we call others to follow Jesus too. These are not works that lead to salvation. This is a fruit or evidence that salvation has genuinely taken place in us. The Bible states, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
So, in light of this, I encourage you to come to Jesus, come to the cross of Christ. It’s really not about what we have to do. It’s about what Jesus has already done at the cross for us. The more we focus on the cross of Christ and meditate on its profound provisions, the more victory we will experience. The cross is the key to unlocking the door to the abundant life Jesus promised. I pray we all open such a door and experience all the Lord has for us. It all starts, at The Cross of Christ.