If we were to meet and I asked you what the cross of Christ means to you, what would be your answer? Many Christians have never taken the time to think about this subject. I believe it is critical to our spiritual growth for us to develop our understanding of the cross.
I was raised in a denominational church that never discussed the cross outside religious tradition and confessions. The pastors never taught on the cross, and I doubt few people in the congregation ever gave it much thought. You may have had a similar religious experience to mine.
Many hymns reference the cross. One of these is “The Old Rugged Cross,” which has a phrase that I only recently began to think about. It states that I am “clinging” to the cross. Have you ever sung this song or wondered what this means? Many interpretations of this phrase exist, but few of them are based on Scripture.
For the most part, the cross has become a religious cliche. Few Christians understand what the Bible teaches about it. We are using religious terminology with little comprehension of its meaning and then wonder why the power of God is not manifesting on a much greater level.
If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:14)
We do not see God’s power in greater manifestation due to a lack of understanding of the cross or the Name of Jesus. Both have very little meaning to the average Christian, even though there are a lot of Scriptures referencing each subject.
In one sense, it seems as if the name of Jesus is nothing more than an accepted means of closing our prayers. Religious tradition has robbed us of the power behind the name resulting from the cross. To understand it, we must first understand the redemptive work of Christ.
Our ignorance of God’s Word has led to us commonly using the Name of Jesus in vain. I know this must shock you, but it is true regardless of whether you or I think otherwise. Using the Name in vain does not mean it is being used as a swear word or as profanity. My point is that we use it to close our prayers or throw it around in our conversations without understanding why and this is equivalent to using it in vain.
The cross of Christ means many different things to different people. Consider the following interpretation of the Greek from Strong’s Concordance.
stauros (Strongs 4716): A stake of post (as set upright), i.e., (specially), a pole or cross (as an instrument of capital punishment); figuratively, exposure to death, i.e., self-denial; by implication, the atonement of Christ.
Indeed, there are twelve Scriptural references to the cross as the instrument to facilitate Jesus’ death. Jesus also referred to the cross as an instrument of self-denial six times.
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:38)
Jesus was not instructing His followers to physically pick up an actual cross to follow Him in this verse. He used the cross to illustrate the need to deny our self-nature and surrender our desires to His plan and purpose.
There are several other examples in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John where Jesus used the cross to illustrate the same thing. Paul is the only author who used the cross to describe the atoning work of Jesus in his letters. Consider the following passage as an example.
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. (1 Corinthians 1:17)
We will expand on this later, but I want to introduce a thought. Some people preach the message of the cross in a manner that mitigates its power to liberate those held captive by Satanic bondage.
I have heard ministers use fancy words to deliver the Gospel message in ways that most audiences cannot understand. These men and women essentially do what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:17. They present religious tradition versus the good news of Jesus’ redemptive work.
Paul’s statement was not referring to the wooden cross on which Jesus hung. He instead is referencing His redemptive work that was the reason for the crucifixion. I’m trying to make the point that we can void the power of Christ’s atoning sacrifice with our religious traditions.
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:21)
Frustrating the grace of God is equivalent to what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 1:17. Both phrases describe ways we rob ourselves of enjoying God’s provision in our lives.
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:4)
Many Christians believe that Jesus’ death was to set us free in the emotional realm. Emotional freedom is one benefit of His atoning work, and so we have to ask why so many in the Church today suffer from depression, fear, and anxiety? I struggled in this area many years ago. The message of the cross did not affect my life as a result of the wrong teaching I’d heard.
In the same way, most believe that Jesus provided healing for their physical body. Few seem to enjoy His healing power, though, and suffer from many sicknesses. They will respond with hearty “amens” when a minister describes the miracles they have seen but stop short of believing one of these could manifest in their body. The message of the cross does not affect their lives in this area as a result.
So, we must ask ourselves how it is possible to believe without an associated effect on our lives? I think we see the answer to this question in Galatians 5:4, where Paul references those who are “justified by the law.”
Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. (Mark 7:13)
Religious traditions are the greatest enemy we may face in our Christian walk. They rob us of the freedom found in Christ and place us back under the bondage of the Law.
Paul tells us that people who have been “justified by the law” are “fallen from grace.” I do not think he told his readers they had lost their salvation with this statement which is how most of us would interpret it today.
I believe Paul was telling us that it is possible to not benefit from the redemptive work of Christ if we are trusting in our efforts more than in Jesus’ atoning work. It will never be possible to “earn” the blessings of God as He provided them more than two thousand years before any of us were born.