Almost a year ago I wrote articles on what is known as cross-centered theology. Cross-centered theology basically declares that everything that we are called to do as Christians is directly related to the cross. Salvation is our primary benefit of the cross, reconciling us with God again and securing our eternity in Heaven to worship Jesus. The cross offers so much more than this.
First, I want to give two examples of cross-centered teaching in the New Testament. We will look at I Peter 3 in regards to suffering, and consider Ephesians 5 as an example of cross-centered teaching by the Apostle Paul. We will then look at how and why a church can practically teach from a cross-centered perspective each week.
Essentially the importance is that we don’t just love, forgive, give grace, humble ourselves, or take part in many of the Christian ethics just because they are “good things.” We are called to these ethics because Jesus gave us these things through the cross. As we have been given these things by Jesus, we have them in us, and therefore can give, and do them for others. We saw how Paul and Peter taught from a cross-centered perspective in I Peter 3 and Ephesians 5.
Once you are aware of this way of looking at Scripture you will see it throughout the New Testament letters. Think of some verses you might already be aware of that are cross-centered once you understand the theology. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ Jesus forgave you.” Philippians 2:2-11 says that we should humble ourselves, and serve others because Jesus humbled Himself and served us through the cross. John 13:34-35 tells us that we need to love others because Jesus loved us, which He did through the cross. Everything we are called to do, in a general sense, Jesus has done for us through the cross.
Peter writes in I Peter 3:8-22 a passage that is cross-centered. Essentially he tells believers that they should “suffer well.” When persecuted for their faith, they should continue to bless others, serve others, and live holy lives. Why should they do that? Simply, in verse 18, Peter makes the cross-centered transition to the fact that we should suffer well because Christ suffered well on the cross.
The apostle Paul also writes a famous cross-centered passage in Ephesians 5:22-33. This passage is often preached in a wedding ceremonies because it talks about how husbands and wives should treat each other. I also use Ephesians 5 at almost every wedding ceremony. I do it because not only does it speak of marriage, but it also allows me to share the message of the cross and the Gospel with those in attendance.
Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Ephesians 5 tells husbands to love their wives. It seems pretty simple and straightforward. It does not just tell us to love our wives because it is morally good though. We are to love our wives because Christ loved His bride, the church of believers by dying on the cross for them. The cross also gives us a barometer of how much we are to love our wives. We are to love them to the point of death.
Do you see the difference between religious moralism and cross-centered theology? Moralism says, “do good things,” and leaves it at that. Cross-centered theology gives us the reason for the Christian ethic and the motivation behind it. What can that look like practically at a church, or in a sermon? For us, first it means that we celebrate communion weekly . We must weekly be reminded of the cross and the sacrifice that Jesus gave for us in His love through the work of the cross.
For my preaching, it means that I discuss the cross every week. I share the Gospel weekly, reminding people of a perfect God man, Jesus Christ, who came to Earth to pay for our sin on the cross, and that He rose again because He’s a living God and sits at the right hand of His Father. Everyone who puts faith in Him to pay for their salvation will have their sins cleansed.
To speak of the cross weekly comes from a twofold reason. First, for those who do not know the message, it doesn’t matter what the secondary topic I am speaking about is if salvation alludes them. For those of us who are Christians, the message of Christ should never bore us. To hear the Gospel every week should refresh and renew our hearts and minds. It should remind us to continue to pursue holiness, because our sins are paid for and we are no longer slaves to sin. It should also refresh us that when we do sin, our sins are paid for, and we are not under the wrath of God because of sin.
Almost weekly the last point of the sermon, I attempt to make the cross-centered connection. I have been doing this for several years, and it has deepened my understanding and love for the cross. I show people how the topic which we discussed for the day is connected to the cross. Jesus is calling us to do what He did for us on the cross. Because He paid for the sin we talked about that day, so we don’t have to be slaves to it.
As a quick sidebar, we can understand the Old Testament as cross-centered as well. It looks different in many aspects, but is the same in others. Essentially as we look back to the cross of Christ around 2,000 years ago, the Old Testament believers looked forward to the Messiah and redemption. The Israelite’s and Old Testament believers were always in anticipation of the true Messianic sacrifice that would one day come to pay for their sins, so they would no longer have to use the temporal sacrifices of animals in the tabernacle and temple.
What this does is take us past moralism to Christianity? Sadly, some churches have fallen into a Christian version of some afternoon talk show. The sermon is Christian in its ethic and nature, but it boils down to, “don’t do bad things” and “do good things.” Scripture is much deeper than that. It’s not a list of moralistic rules. It’s a relationship. If we are to understand that Christianity is a religion based on a relationship with God through the work of Christ on the cross, then we need to preach and teach the relationship of Christ’s work on the cross in relation to our Christian behavior.
What kind of preaching do you listen to weekly? If it is not cross-centered, don’t be willing to abandon that pastor or church. Study more on the subject and attempt to start a conversation with your pastor. Be patient with Him as this will take time to develop this kind of preaching.If you are blessed to be in a church that is cross-centered, be thankful. The modern church has lost its way from this great truth in Scripture. Come to church and listen to the sermon, and meditate on how the cross applies to the message.
Thanks for taking time to read this Maddening Theology post. If you enjoyed this content you can find Pastor Tim’s sermons at www.cornerstoneforestcity.org. You can also join us at 520 Marion St. Browndale, PA 18421 on Sundays at 10:45 AM. To make following the blog easier you can also register. You can also join us on Facebook at Cornerstone Forest City. Also, don’t forget to download our APP on iTunes or Googleplay.