We all recognize that the cross is important. After all, it’s the only reason we’re where we are today. Christianity wouldn’t exist apart from it. Without the cross all hope of salvation disappears. All of mankind would be condemned. But friends, Jesus did die. He was betrayed, rejected, and nailed to a tree. The death of Jesus Christ is the solid foundation of our faith and the only hope for fallen humanity.
But many of us treat it like Christianity 101. It’s the intro course we forget five seconds after we pray the sinners prayer. The cross gets us in, but there are much better things to consume our thoughts with. We move away from the cross, divorcing the pursuit of holiness and the entirety of Christian life from that which sustains it. This mind set has polluted a startling number of churches. Preaching the cross is reserved for the altar call. After all, isn’t that all it’s good for? Paul strongly objects:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Cor. 15:3-4)
Throughout the New Testament we see the centrality of the cross. No message but Christ and him crucified is lasting good news for mankind. To exclude the cross from our preaching and evangelism is to proclaim a false gospel, leading those around us into a void of despair. So, why must we proclaim the cross? John Stott in The Cross of Christ provides four theological affirmations from Paul’s letter to the Galatians that demonstrate how crucial the cross is.
“First, the cross is the ground of our justification” (Gal. 1:4; 3:13)
A gospel presentation without the cross is a sham. In his rebuke to the Galatians, Paul writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-7). If the gospel we proclaim lacks the cross of Christ, let’s stop calling it the gospel. We can call it “self-help” or “how to be a better you”, but not good news. Such a message doesn’t provide any means of reconciliation with God. Biblical preaching and evangelism will proclaim that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3b). It is in the work of Christ alone that there is perfect atonement for sins and salvation. We are justified by grace through faith, not by anything we bring to the table.
“Second, the cross is the means of our sanctification” (Gal. 2:20; 5:24; 6:14)
All too often we separate the cross from our sanctification. Remember, it’s because of the cross work of Christ that we have been set free from sin in the first place. No progress in sanctification could be made apart from it. We have been united to Christ, and now we are dead to sin and alive in the Spirit. Though we still must actively and diligently make war against the flesh, we share in our Savior’s victory over sin that he secured on the cross. As the war wages on, we can find courage and joy knowing that we are on the winning side. With all of this in mind it becomes apparent that believers need to hear the message of the cross as much as unbelievers. It is the work of Christ and who we are in him that motivates us and pushes us onward to seek God above everything else.
“Third, the cross is the subject of our witness” (Gal. 3:1; 5:11; 6:12).
The cross is to be at the heart of our preaching and evangelism. You’re personal testimony isn’t the gospel. It’s beautiful to hear conversion stories, but they’re not the gospel either. We are to bear witness to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It’s the only message that is good news for all mankind.
“Fourth, the cross is the object of our boasting” (Gal. 6:14).
The cross strips us of all grounds of boasting. At the foot of the cross we realize how undeserving of the grace of God we are. We see that we deserved his wrath but Christ endured it in our place. It is here that God cultivates in his people humility and thankfulness. Let us continually preach the gospel to ourselves, daily boasting in the cross of Christ alone.