Why be Cross-centered?

Near the end of His earthly life, Jesus gave His perplexed disciples the precious words now synonymous with the Lord’s Supper: “And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” (Luke 22:19-20).

For the disciples, Jesus’ anticipation of an impending Cross was as comprehensible to them as a toddler flipping through a microbiology textbook. For them the importance of the Cross will remain shrouded until after the Resurrection.

In these words, Jesus reveals the prominence of the Cross in His thinking. The disciples may have been confused but Jesus was fully aware that He would soon be forsaken by earth, forsaken by heaven, and hang alone between them both.

In other words, Jesus had a full awareness of the coming Cross. His consciousness included a detailed appreciation of His own death and an expectation of its painful details. His lonely ‘quiet times’ must have certainly been filled with meditations on Isaiah 53, as His own prophetic biography was laid out in the ancient Hebrew words. “Crushed” and “stricken” were in his immediate future.

So let’s pause right here and ask the question: Why are we Cross-centered? Why are the greatest songs we sing filled with the crucifixion event? Why do our sermons drip with the blood of the Lamb who was slain? Why do we exult in the foolishness of God and endure the rebuke of the world? Simply stated, we are Cross-centered because Christ was Cross-centered.

John Stott in his magnum opus The Cross of Christ (IVP: Downers Grove, IL) writes: “Why do we ‘cling to the old rugged cross’ (in the words of a rather sentimental, popular hymn), and insist on its centrality, refusing to let it be pushed to the circumference of our message? Why must we proclaim the scandalous, and glory in the shameful? The answer lies in the single word ‘integrity.’ Christian integrity consists partly in a resolve to unmask the caricatures, but mostly in personal loyalty to Jesus, in Whose mind the saving cross was central” (p. 43).

Living the Cross-centered life is to strike the dart squarely on the bull’s-eye upon which Christ focused His life, ministry and death. Loyalty to Jesus demands that we see the centrality of the Cross in everything because He saw the Cross as central to everything.

This, according to Stott, is the loyalty expected from all Christians and churches whether or not we fully understand the implications right now and whether or not the Cross-centered life is easy or hard. To aim at anything else is to hit a mere caricature of our purpose in life.

So live Cross-centered with confidence:

– Teach the forgiveness and grace of the Cross when disciplining your children.
– Preach the Cross to yourself when condemnation and personal sin haunt your heart.
– Love your wife as Christ loved the church, modeling the sacrifice of the Cross.
– Build friendships with believers and unbelievers with the Cross as the ultimate purpose.
– Boast and rejoice in the Cross as the heartbeat of your life as its lifeblood flows to warm the lukewarm heart.

Whether we can or cannot understand the full plan of God right now, we can rest assured that living a Cross-centered life is the purpose driving the Christian life!

Simply put: Live the Cross-centered life. It’s what Jesus would do.


9 thoughts on “Why be Cross-centered?

  1. This is my first visit to your blog, and I want to say that it’s excellent. I encourage you to keep up the good work. Regarding this post, let me throw something out here for your comment.

    I agree with the Reformed emphasis on the objective work of Christ on the cross. But shouldn’t cross-centeredness also include the equally prominent emphasis on the subjective aspects of cross-bearing? How can you have one without the other?

    Jesus certainly had a lot to say about his disciples taking up their crosses, and modeled it for us as well. Paul taught us in Phil. 2 to have that same self-sacrificing attitude. It seems a shame to me that (for the most part) you have to turn from Reformed theologians and look to mystics to find that. Is that an inaccurate perception on my part?

  2. Barry,

    Thank you for those kind words!

    You are right in saying the bible emphasizes the subjective cross-bearing of the Christian. And yes, I think that is overstated that the reformed tradition does not emphasize this. The reformers/puritans themselves had much to say about bearing their own crosses. Especially men who were incarcerated (like Bunyan) will have much to say on this.

    The reason the objective work of Christ on the Cross is central in Reformed theology is because Paul makes it #1 in his own priority (see Galatians 6:14 and 1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Everything for Paul centered off the hub of one Man’s death experience.

    It does seem others (like the mystics) have written much on the subjective side but I think this highlights differing soteriology. For those in the reformed tradition, the Cross of Christ is everything we rest in for salvation knowing that any and all pleasure God finds in us comes from a righteousness outside of us (in Christ). So the objective is by far the most important though the subjective is there, too.


  3. Thanks for the reply, Tony. I agree with you on both counts. The objective aspect of the cross is rightly central, and upon further reflection, I realized that I somewhat overstated my concern.

    Still, I have some lingering concern about whether the subjective aspect of cross-bearing is being appropriately emphasized. I guess I think that Jesus made it a more prominent topic in his teaching than we generally do.

    By the way, I consider myself firmly in the Reformed camp (at least a 4.5 point Calvinist!). Keep up the great work.

  4. Barry,

    Yes, I agree there needs to be a greater emphasis on the Christian life as carrying a personal cross. I meet so many Christians who complain when life becomes tough, as if God promised them otherwise. I think the greatest leaders in church history (certainly in Christ Himself) expected to suffer as part of their pilgrimage through this world. I long for a day when all Christians can face trials with a sustained joy in Christ unshaken by the situation around them.

    I guess what I am saying (and I think you are also saying) is that Christian’s often fail to see the expectation that we all must carry a cross. It’s not for only a few Christians to carry, but for all. And after all, God’s grace is perfected in our weakness and our weakness is revealed under a burden.

    Humbly, I know I could benefit from a few more shipwrecks, floggings and a few days bobbing in the middle of the sea.

    Are we on the same page?


  5. We are on the same page, Tony, and you expressed what I feel about much of contemporary Christianity better than I could have myself.

    The Lord bless you, brother.

  6. Sirs,

    The exchange defintely is inspiring but less written about and much lesser preached. Today the common christian gets to hear more on deliverance and prosperity and negligiblly less on disciplined cross-bearing.

    Martin Luther defintely helped our yester generations to re-think on our interpretations of christian faith, that revolutionised the church with Christ-centric doctrine. I strongly believe our present times needs a revolution to further focus towards a cross bearing church.

  7. Tony this blog is wonderful. My wife and I have been looking for a gospel/cross centered church and we found a sovereign grace church here in Richmond, VA we were so happy and we were filled with truth on last sunday. My question to you is. How is John Stotts book on the Cross of Christ. I wanted to purchase it but I think I am going to get D. Lloyd Jones book on the Cross first and then Stotts work. In your opinion how is the Stott book? I plan on reading them both the jone book and the stott book.

  8. Tony,

    I ran across your website I was looking to gather some additional information to support Mahaney’s book “Living the Cross Centered Life.” We are studying this book in our yound adult sunday school class. I enjoyed reading your bio. Would you say you were a christian prior to finding God’s grace you speak of on your website?


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