The source of almost all spiritual problems is an inappropriate effort to avoid the cross. When we, as the church, turn away from the cross, we miss the path that God gave us—the path to freedom, joy, faithfulness and forgiveness. It’s the only way there.
We think the cross is fine and necessary for those who aren’t saved…but, once we’re saved, it’s no longer relevant to our lives. We, as Christians, forget that the cross is the very paradigm for who we are and everything we do, think, feel and believe. So if that’s true (and it is), then what does the path of the cross look like?
The cross has to do with love. “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2).
We, as Christians, forget that the cross is the very paradigm for who we are and everything we do, think, feel and believe.
Do you want to avoid being hurt and in pain? That’s easy enough. Encase yourself in concrete, have only acquaintances (not friends), never sin, never struggle, be pure, smile all the time and be sure to keep people at arm’s length. Then…you’ll die inside. It takes the cross to penetrate the hardness of our concrete, thus enabling us to reach out to one another.
The fact is, as a Christian, you have to be unqualified in order to qualify. When anyone comes to Jesus and says, “I bring you my gift: I’m rich, articulate, beautiful and athletic. You’re really fortunate to have me!” Jesus then disappears out the side door with tears streaming down his face. So Christians are truly unqualified. Everybody is…we just happen to know it.
It is all a process. Something traumatic happens. We fail big time. We sin big time. We hurt big time. We’re lonely big time. Then someone cares enough to tell us about Jesus Christ, the One who will accept us, love us, forgive us and make us a part of his family. So we receive it, are saved and become a part of the family of God.
Let me tell you something. The traumatic experience that brought most of us to Christ had to do with relationships. Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Past pain. The abuse, anger and trauma from other people.
As a result of all that, Christians don’t have any trouble with salvation. That has to do with forgiveness and acceptance. Most of our problem has to do with being able to love and to be loved by God.
My father was an alcoholic. My grandfather committed suicide and nobody ever talked about it. I have an awesome fear of being abandoned in the middle of the night because it happened so often. When my brother died, I wondered what I did wrong—he was the good one and I was the bad one. I’m driven by guilt. Sometimes I’m so ashamed of who I am that I wear a mask…one that is very religious and spiritual. And that’s the only face I’m going to show to my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I don’t have any trouble with salvation and forgiveness. My problem has to do with love—being loved and being able to love other people.
I’ve chased love and acceptance. I want to be liked. I’m a people-pleaser. The more I’ve chased love, though, the less I’ve received. Remember the principle: Everything of importance comes when you’re chasing after something else. So I went to the cross. There I was loved totally, absolutely and fully. There I’ve discovered that you can’t love until you’ve been loved and then only to the degree to which you’ve been loved.
The problem with most of us—the very reason we don’t love one another, we wear masks and are so dishonest—is that, at the cross, we only got saved…we didn’t stay around to get loved. When you get saved, don’t leave; stay there until you’ve gotten loved as well. It’s at Christ’s cross where we find that kind of love. Then what happens? We very slowly take off our masks, reveal ourselves, and ask our brothers and sisters, “If I tell you who I really am, will you still love me?” If they’ve been to the cross, the answer will be, “Yes.” Then they will very slowly take off their masks as well.
In talking about obeying the commandments of God, Jesus doesn’t talk about obedience and purity, he talks about love: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
The cross has to do with servanthood. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:4-7).
The cross isn’t the world’s way. It isn’t our way for a savior to save, for a warrior to make war or for a conqueror to conquer…but it’s his way.
In John 13, Jesus—who should have taken up a sword—took a towel and a bowl of water, making his way around the table, washing dirty feet. I understand Peter. Peter thought This isn’t befitting of the King of kings, the Messiah. He shouldn’t be doing this! I can see Peter watching Jesus move closer, and grumbling under his breath, “You’re not going to do that…no way.” Then Jesus gets to Peter: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus resumes his place at the head of the table, saying to his disciples, to you and to me: “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
We are the ones who serve others, who pick up the pieces and who clean up the messes…and our model is Jesus Christ.
We’re called to be servants. We learned that at the cross. The greatest act of servanthood ever known to man was when an innocent King—who could have sat on his throne and ruled—hung on a cross for people who didn’t deserve it.
The cross has to do with humility. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves…he [Christ] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:3,8).
Elitism in the heart of a Christian is a contradiction in terms.
This is not a call to become like “Harry and his humble habit.” The fact is, too many of us are walking around, wringing our hands and talking about how horrible we are. May God have mercy on your soul if you do that!
Do look at yourself, however, the way you really are. You’re a turtle sitting on a gatepost and, as one of my friends says, “When you see a turtle sitting on a gatepost, you know he didn’t get there by himself.” Stand on Calvary. Look at the cross. Remember that the King of kings, the Creator God, and the Ruler and Sustainer of all that is, hung on a cross and died. That is where you find true humility.
The cross has to do with obedience (Philippians 2:8). As Christians, we are called to obedience, holiness and sanctification but the question is one of how to get there. Make sure the Gospel is good enough. It is all grace. The principle is this: You get to obedience through freedom…not the other way around.
The law is God’s gift, not his beating rod. Obedience comes from freedom, not freedom from obedience. Whether you are obedient or not is irrelevant to your relationship with Christ. However, the desire he gave you to be obedient—one of the marks of a Christian—is a part of the ongoing process that will be completed when you get Home.
Obedience comes from freedom, not freedom from obedience.
When I’m faithful it isn’t because God will kill me if I’m not. He should have done that a long time ago. When I’m obedient, it has nothing to do with earning God’s love. He’s already given me his love…and it’s unconditional. When I’m obedient, I’m “constrained by the love of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:14). You only get that at the cross.
The cross has to do with death (Philippians 2:8). Jim Elliot put it this way, “When, in the course of God’s plan for your life, the time comes for you to die, make sure that all you have to do is die.”
It is hard to face death. As Christians, though, when we stand at Calvary, we face death before we die. The principle is this: Your death will be hard in direct proportion to how much you have died before you die. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20).
Do you struggle with temptation and sometimes fall? Have you faced cancer? Is your family in trouble? Have you gone through a divorce? When that happens, you die a little in advance. Each circumstance is one less death you’ll have to die when you die.
Your death will be hard in direct proportion to how much you have died before you die. You do that by standing at the foot of the cross.
The cross has to do with resurrection. “Therefore God has highly exalted him [Christ] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).
As Larry Crabb teaches: You don’t get to the resurrection except through the cross.
At that point, all of the pain stops…and we go to see Jesus.
And what a Homecoming that will be.
Time to Draw Away
Read Philippians 2:1-11
What is the significance of Christ’s cross—his death and resurrection—in your life? How do you live your life differently as a result? The path of the cross is the only way to radical freedom, infectious joy and surprising faithfulness. It’s the only way to real forgiveness. And that makes all the difference in the world.