The cross is more than a symbol to Christians. Surrounding it is the representation of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. There is a significant Spiritual meaning behind the cross, of which Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians 15.
The text to study is Romans 3:25-31 and within that passage are 3 things Christians can know about the cross. Firstly, we can know of God’s righteousness through it. Secondly, we can know of God’s grace. And thirdly, we can know of God’s universality and the place and purpose of the Law. What do these things mean to us in today’s world?
Remembering the Cross Returns Our Focus to the Lord
There is one central problem in the modern world which is the self-orientated life. Our culture has taught us to look out for ourselves and to center the world on the ‘I’. Christians are also not exempted from this orientation, and it confines us to our comfort zones. Without realizing it, even in our attitude towards the Gospel, often our focus is not actually on the Lord.
For instance, we often focus on the blessings and on the salvation. We seldom talk about the responsibilities and hard truths of the world, and even if leaders do, such messages are not often easily accepted by their congregation. Self-centralization hinders us from seeing the urgency of the Gospel message and from sharing about it with others.
When we read the Gospel carefully, the focus is always on the Lord. Why did God create us and why did Christ die on the cross? Isaiah 45:6-7 reminds us that material riches cannot save us from our troubles. Matthew 6:33 counsels us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto us. Every good thing that has ever existed or exists today comes from the Lord.
We must realize that we owe our very existence to Him, and one day, everything will either return to God or be lost from Him forever. The cross reminds us of our identity through Christ and that everything we have is through God’s providence. It is the reason why He is truly worthy to be praised and recognition must belong solely to Him. Everything that we do, we must do it for the glory of God. We must return our focus to the Lord.
A primary theme in Paul’s letter to the Romans is the justification through faith in God’s grace. However, so often people like to question God; why is there suffering in the world? If He is really as good as Christians say He is, why does God allow such things to happen in this world?
How often, however, do we really think about what God wants us to do about those problems? People often forget that when sin entered into this world, it corrupted God’s original design for it. This is the nature of sin.
Recently, we read about people smuggling drugs into countries and ending up paying the consequences. Yet, despite the consequences, such smuggling still occurs every day. Why do people keep doing such things despite knowing the consequences? The fact is that sometimes people do get away with it, and the sad thing is that sometimes people get complacent.
We sometimes adopt a self-righteous attitude. We think we’ll never be as bad as these people. But God is holy and sin is abhorrent to Him and every sin is the same in God’s eyes. Have we ever realized that where we are today is due to the covering of God? God had every right to judge us for our sins and yet, when the time came, He had forbearance.
People still struggle to comprehend the sacrifice on Calvary. As Christians, we know that instead of punishing us, Christ took the punishment on Himself for our sakes, and we often talk about salvation but we sometimes neglect one important aspect of it. The sacrifice on Calvary was necessary because our God is righteous. The real point of the Gospel is how to bring non-believers to be forgiven by a righteous God without violating His righteousness.
Reconciling Good Works (Righteousness) with Faith in God’s Grace
One of the central issues that Paul was constantly arguing about was the role of good works. The Gospel tells us that good works cannot save us but only genuine faith in the grace of God. How then do we reconcile good works with faith? How do we know that a person has genuine faith in God? What is genuine faith all about?
Is it about morality or knowledge in God’s word? The Pharisees were always talking about morality and they knew the scriptures. Is it about active service in church? The priests of the Old Testament served in the temple and yet they had to offer rituals after rituals.
Is it about serving under Jesus’ name? Judas was one of the 12 apostles and yet things did not end so well for him. Is it about conviction of sin? Some have fallen into depression and mental illness because of their obsession with their sense of conviction.
Clearly the only way is through the cross. Nothing else can give us salvation but the grace of God. That’s the reason why we must focus on Christ. Yet when the real test of belief comes such as when under persecution would we be able to stand that test? This real test of belief would determine if we have genuine faith or not.
Genuine faith comes out of a person and it would change the whole of the person. Good works no longer is an issue of performing in order to be saved, but would come as a result of love for Jesus. Good works and fruitfulness would come because the person would not be able to help it. That’s the mark of a genuine faith.
The Law and the Universality of God
The third thing that Paul was pointing out to us is that God is a God both of the Jews and the Gentiles. We must love our neighbours and the needy but sometimes people have a deeper love for their possessions. Because of this, sometimes material comfort matters more to people and they become complacent. Some strive their whole lives to find individual happiness. Others try to reach God through personal standards of success.
The reality of the cross also tells us that God’s standards are high, and we cannot reach it through our own self-effort, no matter what it is. Some who realize this consider the Law to be an obstacle. But because the Law reveals us, guides us, lets us know truly about ourselves, where we used to be and where we are now, it is important. The Law helps us by pointing at the work of Christ in our lives.
The moment one encounters Christ, nothing is or ever will be the same. He removes our every layer until what remains is our very core. The ultimate purpose of the cross must be to God’s glory, and whenever we share about the Gospel, He is with us. The only thing we can boast about is God’s righteousness, for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God had prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:9-10).
NOTE: This personal reflection was deeply inspired by a message that was shared by Pastor Mayumi Yamazaki at the Japanese Agape Network Church JCM at Menara 1 Mont Kiara. While the article is inspired by the message, any views expressed in it are the personal responsibility of the writer.
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– by Jason Law CM, 14 May 2015