If January is the month to set new goals and resolutions for the New Year, February is the month to desert resolutions, like the abandoned cars on D.C. side streets packed tightly under the snow tossed from city plows.
Pastor John Newton (1725–1807) was familiar with this challenge of attaining lofty goals, a topic he discussed in a letter written in February 1772 to one of his friends.
Newton writes, “The Lord has given his people a desire and will aiming at great things; without this they would be unworthy of the name of Christians.”
The desire to aspire is very important to the Christian life. We are to aim high in so many great things. Newton notes four of them:
1. We aim to pray regularly. What greater privilege to approach the throne of grace and to cast all our burdens upon the King of Kings?
2. We aim to read and study Scripture diligently. What is more desirable than much fine gold, sweeter than the dripping honeycomb, but God’s Word?
3. We aim to delight frequently in Christ and live in his debt. What greater aim to live daily with a grateful heart for the Savior’s work on the cross?
4. We aim to trust God in all circumstances, whether prosperity or adversity. What events in life are not directed by the infinite goodness and wisdom of God?
… what often happens?
1. In reality, prayer becomes a mere chore. Our lips move, but our hearts are far from God.
2. In reality, Scripture gets neglected. We give our time and attention to other books, and magazines look more appealing.
3. In reality, Christ gets ignored. In an average day we show more gratitude for the people in our life than the Savior who saved our life.
4. In reality, God's providence over life is forgotten. When life gets hard we are quick to “complain, murmur, and despond.”
Alas! how vain is man in his best estate! how much weakness and inconsistency even in those whose hearts are right with the Lord!
Alas, we aim big—but we often miss big. We miss because we are weak sinners.
Divine Designs in the Missing
So is there anything to learn in the missing?
Again Newton writes:
By these experiences [the misses] the believer is weaned more from self, and taught more highly to prize and more absolutely to rely on him, who is appointed unto us of God, Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption.
The more vile we are in our own eyes, the more precious he will be to us; and a deep repeated sense of the evil of our hearts is necessary to preclude all boasting, and to make us willing to give the whole glory of our salvation where it is due.
We mean well and we aim high, but we are sinful, inconsistent creatures. Our aims often fail like a field goal kick that lands on the 5-yard-line. So often we miss low—very low.
The solution is not to aim lower. The proper response is to continue aiming high. Rejoice in the successes and the periods of consistency. And then redeem the misses; let them remind you of your weakness and of your need for Christ, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
By continuing to aim high,
- we honor God in our aims
- we learn firsthand of our feebleness, weakness, and inconsistencies
- we are weaned from self-sufficiency
- we long to see Jesus and to be freed from this body of sin
- and we learn to boast in Christ alone
When a kicker aims high but fails, he hangs his head.
When the Christian aims high but fails, he learns to properly boast.
Tony Reinke serves as the editorial and research assistant to C.J. Mahaney. Reading Newton’s Mail is a series of blog posts reflecting on various published letters written by John Newton (1725–1807), the onetime captain of a slave trading ship, a self-described apostate, blasphemer, and infidel, who was eventually converted by grace. Newton is most famous for authoring the hymn “Amazing Grace,” or maybe for helping William Wilberforce put an end to the African slave trade in Britain. Less legendarily, Newton faithfully pastored two churches for 43 years, a fruitful period of his life when a majority of his letters were written. Reading Newton’s Mail is published on Fridays here on the Cheap Seats blog.
Source letter: John Newton, Works of John Newton (London: 1820), 1:439–444; Letters of John Newton (Edinburgh; Banner of Truth: 1869/2007), 88–92.
I have learned a very important lesson over the years: those I have the privilege to teach are not usually most affected by the general content of my teaching; they are often most affected by what I am most passionate about.
I am still learning this, and it’s all too easy to forget.
When I teach, my passion must be theologically informed, and proportional to the content or point I am making in the sermon. This insight is not original with me (no insights are original with me!), and I have found this point better articulated by Dr. Don Carson in a lecture he delivered last year at the CBMW Different by Design Conference (Feb. 2, 2009, Minneapolis, MN). While speaking of those who are passionate for social justice, he delivered this caution:
There are some wonderful instances of ordinary Christians, not least the young, who are concerned to preach the whole gospel unabashedly and do good first to the household of God and then, as much as is possible, outside as well [Galatians 6:10]. That has got biblical mandate behind it.…
My warning would be to those who are coming along and talking a lot about, “I want to be faithful to the gospel, but I also want to do social justice of good works.” My warning would be: it is not just what you do, it is what you are excited about.
And the implications are broader than social justice. All manner of topics can capture our excitement, like church methodology, parenting style, or any other point of application. Carson continues,
If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel.
If the gospel—even when you are orthodox—becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that—you won’t even mean that—but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.
Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow.
Seminary professors and preachers will transfer to others what they are most passionate about. And those we serve should see a difference between our passion for the gospel and our passion for other issues. It’s worth asking ourselves regularly: Is it clear to others that nothing excites me more than the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified?
This post is taken from C.J.’s chapter in the new book For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper. C.J.’s chapter is titled “The Pastor and the Trinity,” and we’ve posted it in 11 parts.
As we lead our churches to grow in the fellowship of the Spirit, we must remember that the Holy Spirit always glorifies the Son. The primary role of the Holy Spirit is to reveal the Savior and to testify to the gospel. Our pneumatology must never take precedence over—and in fact cannot be understood apart from—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let’s avoid adopting the Corinthians’ erroneous definition of spirituality. They equated maturity with giftedness, spirituality with the spectacular. They thought of themselves as “people of the Spirit,” yet they lacked the primary evidence of the Spirit’s work: love. This is why Paul labors to redefine spiritual maturity for them in both of his letters. D. A. Carson summarizes Paul’s point:
What it means to be “spiritual” is profoundly tied to the cross, and to nothing else. More precisely, to be spiritual, in this passage [1 Corinthians 2:6–16], is to enjoy the gift of the Holy Spirit—and this means understanding and appropriating the message of the cross, “God’s secret wisdom.” . . . Indeed, those who are most mature are most grateful for the cross and keep coming back to it as the measure of God’s love for them and the supreme standard of personal self-denial.
What does it mean for your church to grow spiritually? They must become always more grateful for the cross, always returning to Calvary. Let the glorious truth of Christ and him crucified define maturity for your church. Let us foster an appreciation for the broad work of the Spirit and pursue the Spirit, ever and always with Calvary in view.
The Holy Spirit unfailingly testifies to Christ. Let this be the work of the Spirit that we treasure the most.
The concluding sentence of 2 Corinthians provides a wonderful summation of the pastor’s priorities. Here Paul shows us that it is the character and work of the triune God that define and shape the heart of pastoral ministry.
May this definition of pastoral ministry govern us and guide us. May this triune priority be the increasing experience of each of those entrusted to our care. May the Lord equip us to passionately proclaim the grace of Jesus Christ, faithfully teach the love of God the Father, and consistently cultivate the fellowship of the Spirit. What a privilege we share in caring for, serving, and leading those the Savior “obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Pastor, take this Trinitarian benediction and pray it for your people, desire it for them, pronounce it over them, and labor to see it take root in their hearts. Do everything you can to position them to experience all of this, and nothing less.
This blog post is part of an 11-part series, The Pastor and the Trinity, a reprint of C.J. Mahaney’s chapter “The Pastor and the Trinity” in For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, ©2010. Used by permission of Crossway. For other posts in this series, see the index here.
 D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: An Exposition of Passages from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 62.
Near the conclusion of his Desiring God National Conference message, “The Life of the Mind and the Love of God”, John Piper had this to say about cross-centered thinking:
Where should our mind focus in order to know God most fully and deeply?
We could focus on nature because the heavens are telling the glory of God (Psalm 19:1).
We could focus on the human soul for we are made in the image of God.
We could focus on the history of Israel because God calls Israel “my glory” (Isaiah 46:13).
We could focus on the life of Christ because he is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3).
Or we could come to the event where more of God is revealed than any other event in history, the death of his Son.
All the other revelations of God in Christ are like rays of sun breaking through the clouds. But the death of Christ for sinners was like a bolt of lightning.
If we want to spend our minds to the fullest in knowing God to the fullest so that we can love him to the fullest, this is where we will focus. And when our thinking begins to focus on this event, something strange happens. The light of God’s glory that we meet at the cross is so strong and so bright as to make all self-exalting thinking look foolish.
“God has made foolish the wisdom of the world,” Paul says, “For in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:20–21). The human wisdom that cannot know God—the human thinking that cannot fathom the cross—is self-exalting wisdom, man-centered wisdom, sin-denying wisdom. Of this wisdom Paul says,
• “God has made foolish the wisdom of the world” (1 Corinthians 1:20).
• “God will destroy the wisdom of the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:19).
• “The foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
• “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
But none of that means we shouldn’t use our minds to think about the cross. There is a right thinking about the cross. There is a true wisdom in the cross. Paul said, “Among the mature we do impart wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:6). The difference between the wisdom that the cross destroys and the wisdom that the cross awakens is the difference between self-exalting wisdom and Christ-exalting wisdom. True wisdom sees the glory of God in the cross. False wisdom sees the cross as foolishness because it threatens our pride.
There is no other object of knowledge in the universe that exposes proud, man-exalting thinking like the cross does. Only humble, Christ-exalting thinking can survive in the presence of the cross. The effect of the cross on our thinking is not cut off thinking about God, but to confound boasting in the presence of God. The cross does not nullify thinking it purifies thinking.
Audio and video of the entire message can be found here. And for more on the topic of cross-centered thinking see chapter 11 of Dr. Piper’s latest book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Crossway, 2010).
Let me begin this post by asking you four direct questions about the condition of your soul right now:
- Do you sense that your affections for the Savior have diminished recently?
- Has your appetite for Scripture weakened?
- Does your soul seem dry?
- Does God seem distant from you?
If so, you are not alone. These struggles are common to even the most mature Christians—so common that Scripture anticipates them. But these are serious problems and must be addressed and not ignored. They don’t just go away over time.
So how should we respond?
Tucked away in the short (and often neglected) letter of Jude we find help and hope:
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (Jude 1:20–21)
In these verses we find a command and three practical ways to obey the command.
First, the command: "Keep yourselves in the love of God." This is our responsibility and it requires effort on our part. The good news is that Jude doesn’t leave us guessing. One commentator writes, “Jude did not leave his congregation in suspense about how to keep themselves in God’s love.”
No, he does not leave us in suspense or wondering how to do this. In fact Jude wonderfully provides us with three means by which the reader can keep himself in the love of God.
1. Remind yourself of the gospel (“building yourselves up in your most holy faith”).
The “most holy faith” is the gospel. And the first way we keep ourselves in the love of God is to grow in our understanding of the gospel and to remind ourselves of the gospel each day. There is no more effective way to keep yourself in the love of God each day than to remind yourself of the gospel.
As you meditate upon the gospel, as you preach the gospel to yourself, as you receive the gospel into your soul afresh each day, your awareness of the love of God increases and your affection for the Savior grows.
So how much time do you devote each day to the strategic study, thinking, meditation, contemplation, reflection, and proclamation of the gospel to your own soul as a means of keeping yourself in the love of God?
Review the content of the gospel, rehearse the content of this “most holy faith,” and rejoice in the gospel each and every day. What a sweet assignment! And as we do this we are keeping ourselves in the love of God.
2. Pray in the Holy Spirit (“praying in the Holy Spirit”).
An awareness of God’s love cannot be sustained without prayer. Nor can a relationship with God be maintained or cultivated apart from prayer. So Jude commands us to pray. In dependence upon the Spirit, we pray to God the Father, through the Mediator he has provided in Jesus Christ.
We pray to God at the beginning of the day. We pray at structured times in our day. We pray spontaneously throughout the day. Prayer is not only a discipline it is a means of keeping ourselves in the love of God. This perspective will transform our perspective of prayer and our practice of prayer.
3. Await Christ’s return (“waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life”).
Waiting is not my preference. I don’t believe in lines! I try to avoid waiting in lines at the grocery store and I try to avoid traffic on the road. In fact I’d rather be moving in the wrong direction than stuck in traffic going in the right direction.
On the other hand, I don’t mind waiting 45 minutes for a table when I’m at a restaurant on a date with my wife. Why not? For the next 45 minutes I will look into the eyes of the woman I love with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. There’s a big difference between waiting in line at the grocery store and waiting 45 minutes to be seated when I’m at a restaurant with my wife.
As Christians we wait. But we await the mercy of our Savior that brings eternal life. Think about that! We do not wait for God’s judgment or condemnation. We do no wait for God’s wrath that our sins deserve! No, we are anticipating mercy. We anticipate mercy because Jesus Christ suffered as our substitute, receiving upon himself the wrath we deserve so that we receive mercy—mercy we don’t deserve. That is what we are waiting for.
As we anticipate the future our perspective of present circumstances will be transformed. It will keep us aware of God’s love. On the other hand, "Those who take their eyes off their future hope will find that their love for God is slowly evaporating.”
So are you waiting with eager anticipation? How often do you think about Christ’s return (Titus 2:13)? How often do you think of the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21:1–4)? How often do you think of eternal life? And how often do you think about the mercy you will receive in light of the judgment that we so richly deserve?
This eternal perspective will keep us aware of God’s love.
Reminding, praying, waiting—this is how we remain aware of God’s love.
To be honest my grip upon God is sometimes weak. I don’t flawlessly keep myself in the love of God daily. I don’t. My love for Him fluctuates. But while my love for him is uncertain, His love for me is fixed. We keep ourselves in the love of God because God is keeping us in his grasp.
Both at the beginning of this short letter (v. 1) and near the end (v. 24), Jude reminds us that our safety is in the Father’s hold upon us and his preserving grace. As Puritan Richard Sibbes once wrote, “As we say of the mother and the child, both hold, but the safety of the child is at that the mother holds him.”
His grip never weakens.
When I neglect the means that He has given me to keep myself in the love of God, when my grip upon him weakens and my love fluctuates, His grip upon me does not weaken and never changes.
God promises to “keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (v. 24). This promise is an enormous assurance for our souls, and especially for those who feel as if their love for God has diminished. Receive this assurance provided from Jude: Our hearts may shift and change but God’s love for you is unchanging. May we keep ourselves aware of God’s unchanging love toward us in the gospel.
If we fail to attend to our hearts, if we fail to attend to our relationship with God, if we fail to obey this gracious command to “keep ourselves in the love of God,” the consequences upon our souls are inevitable. The consequences may not be immediately obvious, but a persisting pattern of neglect will become obvious in time.
So have your affections for the Savior diminished? If so, ask yourself these questions from Jude:
- Am I preaching the gospel to my own soul each day?
- Am I praying with any level of consistency?
- Am I eagerly awaiting Christ’s return and am I longing for heaven?
For more on this topic see C.J.'s recent sermon "Jude: A Call to Contend," at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN (Sept. 12, 2010).
 Tom Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (NAC), p. 474.
 Tom Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (NAC), p. 484.
[The following post is part of a series addressing common questions about how Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection relate to each other in Scripture.]
Question 5: With all the preaching and writing about the atonement that we see in evangelicalism, isn’t there a danger that the resurrection will get lost?
I don’t think there is, if
teaching on the cross is handled responsibly. Once again, the cross and the resurrection are two aspects of a unified whole (see for instance 1 Corinthians 15:3-4), and they should never be fundamentally separated. One without the other is meaningless. Attempts to subordinate one to the other are wrongheaded.
This does not mean, however, that we can’t speak at length about one without mentioning the other—an impulse that is well-meaning but often unnecessary. We hear and read a great deal about various facets of Christ’s atoning death for good reason: Scripture reflects extensively upon the death of Jesus in ways that don’t directly apply to the resurrection. Howard Marshall makes a similar observation about Paul’s treatment of the gospel: “The central event in the gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus. These two actions belong closely together (Rom 4:25; 8:34; 1 Cor 15:3–5; 2 Cor 5:15; Phil 3:10; 1 Thess 4:14), but the weight lies on the former” [New Testament Theology
(IVP, 2004), 436].
This is in no way to create a hierarchy among the redemptive acts that make up the gospel. It is simply to recognize Paul’s priority of expounding the implications of Jesus’ sin-bearing death for the spiritual health and nurture of the churches to which he wrote.
Take “propitiation,” for example. By definition, it was in his death that Christ endured God’s wrath in our place. The same is true for “redemption”: the ransom price for our redemption was the giving of Christ’s life. This is clear in texts like Mark 10:45, where Jesus says that he came to “give his life as a ransom for many,” and Ephesians 1:7, where we’re told that we have “redemption through his blood.”
And on the face of it, Christ’s death is itself a sacrifice, fulfilling massive structures of Old Testament teaching and practice (the Passover lamb, the sacrificial system, etc.). Without detailed study of the atonement, vast swaths of Old Testament revelation, which molded the thinking of New Testament writers, remain in the shadows.
In this context it bears repeating: in no way do I want to minimize the resurrection, or to neglect its truth or implications for our lives. Indeed, at least one biblical metaphor for the atonement, Christ’s conquest in Colossians 2, richly illuminates it and has perhaps been neglected in some segments of evangelicalism. But I think Scripture itself leads us to place an emphasis on the cross, exploring as it does the significance of Christ’s death with great depth and richness, and at length. It is our privilege and responsibility as teachers of God’s Word to do the same.
There’s another point that I find missing in such objections about cross-centered language, writing, and preaching. It’s instructive that the one ordinance instituted by our Lord to be observed repeatedly among the gathered people of God is designed primarily to picture and call to mind his death for us. In the Lord’s Supper, we partake of bread, symbolizing Christ’s broken body, and we drink from a cup, symbolizing his shed blood. And in doing so we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Of course, the resurrection and exaltation of Christ are also in view in the Lord’s Supper, for we partake in anticipation of his return, when we will feast with Christ in the messianic banquet (Matthew 26:29; Revelation 19:9). But the primary focus of the Supper is Christ’s atoning death and the benefits that accrue to those who share in it by faith. If Christ calls his church regularly to celebrate such a “cross-centered” sacrament, are we wrong to give consistent attention to the cross in our preaching and teaching and praise?
[The following post is part of a series addressing common questions about how Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection relate to each other in Scripture.]
Question 4: In the book of Acts there seems to be a greater emphasis on Christ’s resurrection than the cross. Shouldn’t we follow the early church’s example and emphasize the resurrection over the cross?
Interpreters of the book of Acts have long recognized the centrality of the resurrection—or better, the exaltation of Christ through his resurrection and ascension—in Luke’s presentation. (So much so, in fact, that some scholars have questioned whether Luke even has a theology of atonement!)
While it’s true that the resurrection is prominent in Acts, those texts must be understood within the larger framework of the book. Luke’s primary focus in Acts is the progress and triumph of the gospel. Within this scheme, we see the apostles time and again in evangelistic and apologetic situations. When one is proclaiming the message of a crucified messiah—particularly within a few years of his death—the resurrection (and, in Luke’s writings, the ascension) becomes the fundamental apologetic point for supporting the claims of Jesus. Here, then, we find a central focus of the theology of the book of Acts: it is through the exaltation of Jesus that God confirms his status as Lord and savior. Far from marginalizing the cross, this focus authenticates its reality.
This very point is made by Mark Seifrid: “In focusing on Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation Luke provides an apology for the claims of the gospel, supporting rather than diminishing the understanding of Jesus’ death as a vicarious atonement” [Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments
(IVP, 1997), 272].
Therefore, an emphasis on the resurrection is precisely what we’d expect to find in such contexts, and it is in keeping with Luke’s overall purpose in writing his two-volume work: to provide assurance to his readers that the foundation of their faith is secure (Luke 1:1-4).
[The following post is part of a series addressing common questions about how Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection relate to each other in Scripture.]
Question 3: It’s through union with Christ’s resurrection that we have been raised to walk in new spiritual life. If we talk about the cross so much, won’t we end up focusing only on sin and ignoring this important aspect of the Christian life? Doesn’t a focus on the resurrection lead us to a more holy, victorious Christian life?
Texts that speak of our union with Christ are precious and should be proclaimed and cherished. The Holy Spirit transforms the believer, providing power for godly living. Absolutely. But as in so many areas of biblical teaching, we must always beware of disjunctive thinking—of separating things that should be kept together.
For example, it is not only the resurrection that provides tremendous hope and motivation for a transformed life; the cross is meant to function this way as well.
It seems that for Paul, one of the primary motivations for living a holy life is that Christ died for his sins: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
We see a similar connection in Galatians 2:20, which falls amid Paul’s argument concerning justification by faith. The indwelling of Christ in the believer’s life is real and true—and Paul will stress this elsewhere, such as Galatians 5:16 and following. But his primary point in Galatians 2:20 seems to be that his new life is lived by faith, based solidly on the truth of justification as a result of Christ’s death for him. For the believer, then, both the cross and the resurrection fuel our motivation for godly living—and it’s best that they do so together.
We should also recognize that the danger of isolating one set of truths from another cuts both ways. To be sure, the new birth, our union with Christ, and the gift of the Spirit decisively transform our lives. But our present existence is not simply one of unbridled glory and triumph. We still battle the flesh, and we do so in a fallen world that awaits Christ’s return before all is set right again.
And so, while we can know “the power of his resurrection,” at the same time we are to “share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). We rejoice that we’ve been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3), even as we trust God in the jaws of suffering, knowing that “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). The Savior himself told his disciples that following him involved a life of cruciform self-denial (Mark 8:34-35; 9:35; 10:42-45).
To isolate either the cross or the resurrection in the Christian life is to distort and impoverish it. The cross and resurrection together shape the contours of our lives as disciples of Jesus.
[The following post is part of a series addressing common questions about how Christ’s crucifixion and Christ’s resurrection relate to each other in Scripture.]
Question 2: Christ has been raised, and so both the cross and the grave are now empty. In light of this, isn’t it wrong to focus on a crucified Savior when, after all, we serve a living Christ?
This question creates a false choice—and a dangerous one—for how we are to view Jesus. The Savior we worship and serve is indeed a risen, glorious Savior, seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1) and upholding all things by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). However, he is also the suffering servant who through his death ransoms many (Mark 10:45; see also Isaiah 53:10-11) and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). A crucified Jesus was central to the preaching of Paul, who emphatically reminded the Galatians that “it was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1). It was precisely because Paul boldly proclaimed “Christ crucified” that the gospel was a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23)!
In fact, we cannot know Jesus rightly apart from the cross, for it is through that gruesome death that his identity is revealed (John 8:28; see also John 12:32, 34).
Something profound is at stake here. To conceive of Christ apart from the cross is to distort his identity and his mission, much as Peter did when he rebuked Jesus for announcing his pending suffering and death (Mark 8:31-33). We can infer God’s greatness and power from his creation (Romans 1:19-20), but it is at the cross that his love and mercy are most fully revealed. In the new heavens and new earth we will undoubtedly worship Christ in hushed silence as we behold his transcendent glory (Revelation 1:12-17), extolling him as the victorious Lion of the tribe of Judah. But we will also forever sing his praise as the Lamb that was slain, whose blood ransomed the people of God (Revelation 5:6-10).
As a result, we are never to move on from beholding Jesus as our crucified Savior, relegating the cross to the past. The cross must always inform our understanding of Christ in the present, for it will indeed do so for eternity.