The Centrality of the Cross

by BJ Rudge, Ph. D.

The apostle Paul viewed Jesus' death as being central to the Gospel message (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Despite the cross being one of the central tenets of the Christian faith, many "Christian" leaders are redefining what it means. For instance, one "Christian" leader views the cross as nothing more than a symbol of God identifying with the suffering of humanity. Have we misunderstood what the cross means? Is the cross merely God identifying with our suffering? Let us take a brief look at Scripture to see what the cross actually means for our lives.

According to God's Word, man's problem is sin. At creation, man was given the choice of either obeying or disobeying the command of God. Adam chose to disobey and as a result he fell into sin. This in turn plunged the entire human race into guilt and depravity (Romans 3:23; 5:12, 16). Therefore, in order for man to find forgiveness a sacrifice had to be made that would provide atonement. This is the reason why Jesus came to earth to die (John 3:16-17). Thus, the first implication the cross has for our lives is that it provides the basis for our sins to be forgiven, whereby we can be declared righteous before a holy and just God (Matthew 26:28; Romans 3:23-25; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 7:26, 27; 1 John 1:7; 2:2; Revelation 1:5).

We also find in Scripture that it is the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross that brings about the reconciliation between God and man (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:13-16; Colossians 1:19-22). By dying on the cross, Jesus paid the penalty that resulted from mankind falling into sin. This in turn satisfied the divine justice of God and now enables finite and sinful men and women to go before an infinite and holy God. To those who receive what Jesus did on the cross by faith, they are no longer seen as enemies of God, but as His adopted children (Galatians 4:4, 5). "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!' Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." (Galatians 4: 6, 7).

A final implication the cross has for our lives is that it produces lives that reflect holiness (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). It is through Jesus' death and resurrection that we are no longer bound by sin. While we will in this life continue to wage war with our sinful nature, we now have the ability through God's forgiveness and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to conform our way of living to the image of Jesus Christ. In the words of the apostle Paul, "looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works." (Titus 2:13, 14).

Is God able to relate to our suffering through the cross? Certainly! But as His Word reveals, the implication of the cross for our lives is of a greater magnitude than this. It is through His death that we find forgiveness, reconciliation, and the power to live a life of holiness. Thanks be to God for His grace, mercy, and love: "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation." (Romans 5:6-11).