[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 1: Sovereign Grace churches and leaders often use the phrase “cross-centered.” Doesn’t this phrase lead to an overemphasis on the cross and a neglect of the resurrection?
Phrases are no substitute for systematic theology, and I don’t think any of us would want our doctrine diluted down to a single adjective. However, this particular phrase reflects a common New Testament pattern in which “the cross” functions as shorthand for all the various facets of Christ’s atoning work—life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
Paul in particular often speaks this way as he describes what it is that informs and animates his life and ministry: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14), and “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). In 1 Corinthians 1:17, the cross and the gospel are virtually equated. That’s why theologians for centuries have referred to Christ’s “cross-work” in speaking of the whole complex of his redemptive acts. So the use of the phrase “cross-centered” is neither biblically inconsistent nor historically innovative.
I suppose one could deal with “the cross” in such a way as to neglect the resurrection, but I suspect that in doing so one would be preaching a different kind of cross—for the cross and the resurrection are inextricable. The absence of one either drains or distorts the meaning of the other. In our circles, I think the use of this phrase is simply an attempt to keep the gospel central in our thinking and preaching, and hopefully our living as well.
Later in his NEXT conference message—”The Doctrine of Christ's Work Accomplished and Applied”—Mark helped make the connection between Christ as our Savior and Christ as our Example from his text in 1 Peter 2:21–25.
After stressing the atoning work of Christ (as we saw in the previous post), Mark focused on 1 Peter 2:21, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” He said:
Now some of you are going to be surprised to hear talk about Jesus as our example when I am speaking so clearly from Scripture about substitutionary atonement. But he is also our example. That is what Peter says here very clearly.
There is a theory of the atonement that theologians call the “moral example theory” and it emphasizes the example that Jesus is to us. But, friends, this doesn’t make any sense at all without the substitution of Jesus being understood.
Fundamentally, you understand the substitution of Jesus. On top of that understanding of what Jesus did and how he did it—then you understand how his life can be an example for us as we are called to imitate him in giving our lives in loving service for others, in being willing to suffer and even to die for doing good.
In other words, until we fully appreciate the work of the Savior we cannot follow the example of the Savior.
To download and listen to this message—or any of the conference messages—visit thisisnext.org.
“The gospel cannot be preached and heard enough, for it cannot be grasped well enough,” wrote Martin Luther.*
By God’s grace I have been a Christian for 38 years. I agree with Luther—I still cannot hear the gospel enough. Each morning I seek to preach the gospel to myself by my study of Scripture and through the strategic reading of supplemental books about the cross. Over the past several months it has not been difficult to find enough books to fill this role. Six wonderful new books on the gospel have been published in the last five months, and they constitute a portion of my recent reading diet. Here they are:
God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham A. Cole (Dec 2009), 257 pages. This is a technical but reader-friendly addition in the NSBT series (New Studies in Biblical Theology). And not only is it detailed and readable, but I found it to be deeply moving, too. Many times throughout this book as I read about the atoning sacrifice of our Savior I ceased reading, looked up from the book, and broke into song. (In the interest of full disclosure, this often happens when I read. I am a noisy reader and often break into song while reading.)
God the Peacemaker is a wonderful book that explains why God's intention to restore shalom (peace) to his creation requires the death of Christ. Cole writes in the introduction:
We live in a troubled world. As I write, there are reports of a devastating cyclone in Myanmar, an earthquake in China, fighting in the Sudan and Iraq, shooting death after shooting death on the south side of Chicago. The list could go on and on. The waste of human life is enormous....Yet Christians believe in a good God who as the Creator has never lost interest in his world. The key evidence and the chief symbol of that divine commitment is the cross of Christ....Central to the divine strategy is Christ, his coming and his cross. The troubles and calamities will end. (19)
In recent years there have been many books that emphasize God’s restoration of shalom, but too few that highlight the central role of the cross in this plan.
By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me by Sinclair Ferguson (Feb 2010), 118 pages. Few have taught me more about the gospel of the grace of God than Sinclair Ferguson. I was reminded of the profound influence of his ministry in my life a couple years ago when I did this interview with him about the cross. Through his sermons and writing I am personally reminded of grace, affected by grace, and inspired to lead by grace. His latest book on the gospel of the grace of God is a gem—showing us why we should be amazed by it. Ferguson writes,
Being amazed by God’s grace is a sign of spiritual vitality. It is a litmus test of how firm and real is our grasp of the Christian gospel and how close is our walk with Jesus Christ. The growing Christian finds that the grace of God astonishes and amazes. Yet we frequently take the grace of God for granted. (xiv)
Ferguson writes as a man who is himself amazed by grace.
Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus by D.A. Carson (Feb 2010), 168 pages. In the preface Carson writes,
Nothing is more central to the Bible than Jesus' death and resurrection. The entire Bible pivots on one weekend in Jerusalem about two thousand years ago. Attempts to make sense of the Bible that do not give prolonged thought to integrating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are doomed to failure, at best exercises in irrelevance. (11)
This book is not only not doomed to failure but destined to serve readers in their appreciation of the gospel as he expounds on both the death and resurrection of the Savior. As Mark Dever says in his endorsement, "This professor can preach. These are model messages on crucial passages." They are crucial passages, presented as a model of exegesis and exposition. The book is developed around five core passages: Matthew 27:27–51, Romans 3:21–26, Revelation 12, John 11:1–53, and John 20:24–31. Pastors can easily adapt this structure and use these passages to develop a sermon series to serve their churches.
Atonement by various authors, edited by Gabriel N.E. Fluhrer (Feb 2010), 142 pages. This is a compilation of messages delivered over the years at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. Contributors include J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and Ferguson. In his preface, editor Gabriel Fluhrer opens the book with these pointed words: "This is a book about blood and it soaks every page" (ix). And a little later he writes,
Today, along with other great doctrines of the Christian faith, the doctrine of the blood atonement of Christ is under attack. It is derided as “cosmic child abuse” and traded for a grandfatherly sentimentalism that muffles the piercing cries of the Savior being nailed to the cross. The pride of our sin dilutes the simple, clear, and shocking teaching of the New Testament: God killed his perfect Son to save hate-filled rebels from the wrath they deserve. (x)
The messages included in this book were finely chosen.
What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert (April 2010), 124 pages. Gilbert's new book on the gospel is clear and compelling. I wrote in my endorsement that I hoped to place this book in the hands of every pastor and church member. And the only thing I would add is that I hope it finds its way into the hands of non-Christians as well. I agree with Mark Dever: "This little book on the gospel is one of the clearest and most important books I've read in recent years." Help me put a copy of this book into every hand. Buy a case of them and begin giving them away immediately!
It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence (April 2010), 223 pages. This series of sermons was published out of concern over the neglect of the gospel in the life of local churches. In the preface Dever writes,
Have you wondered about the cross lately? Have you wondered where it is in your own church, or in your own life? It's our prayer that these meditations will help you re-center your life on God's sacrifice for us in Christ and join in the celebration that's going on eternally as the saints in heaven praise God for the Lamb who was slain for us. (15)
Like Carson’s, this book can provide a pastor with a sermon series on the gospel. The 14 sermons are presented in canonical order on these texts: Exodus 12, Leviticus 16, Isaiah 52:13–53:12, Mark 10:45, 15:33–34, John 3:14–18, 11:47–52, Romans 3:21–26, 4:25, 5:8–10, 8:1–4, Galatians 3:10–13, 1 Peter 2:21–25, and 3:18.
I am grateful that we have many wonderful (and affordable) books about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need these books because we cannot read enough about the gospel. We cannot read enough about the gospel because we cannot grasp it well enough.
* What Luther Says: An Anthology, compiled by Edwald M. Plass (St. Louis: Concordia, 1963), vol. 2, pp. 563–564.
Video of C.J.’s conversation with Bob Kauflin and Jeff Purswell, recorded at our WorshipGod09 conference, is now online. To watch the 70-minute video, click here: “Lessons Learned from Three Decades of Leading.” Or watch it here:
At the WorshipGod09 conference, my friend Jeff Purswell asked Bob and me the following question:
Many of the songs we sing here, and many of the songs written by people in Sovereign Grace, have the gospel as a key component to them. There are all kinds of themes in Scripture, and there are all kinds of songs in Scripture. Why should we have so many songs about the cross? Why should the cross play such a central role in our singing when there are so many other things we can sing about?
This is an important question. Here was the essence of my answer:
First, since the cross is the storyline of Scripture, it should be the storyline of our corporate worship. The cross is the matter of “first importance” and it should be reflected in our singing on a weekly basis (1 Corinthians 15:3).
Second, we must never leave the impression during corporate worship that we do not need a mediator. There isn’t a moment where I don’t need a mediator. In light of the Father’s holiness and my sinfulness, I cannot approach him directly apart from Christ. It is quite possible for us to sing songs that are accurately extolling the attributes of God. But if the cross is absent, we leave the unintended impression that somehow I can approach the Father apart from a mediator—that I can experience intimacy with God apart from the One who died for my many sins.
Third, cross-centered songs imitate the heavenly model. In Revelation 5:1-14, for example, we catch a glimpse of eternal worship and our heavenly future. Jim Elliff has written, “One is taken aback by the emphasis upon the Cross in Revelation. Heaven does not ‘get over’ the cross, as if there are better things to think about; heaven is not only Christ-centered, but cross-centered, and quite blaring about it.” Amen! Every Sunday should be a heavenly preview as we survey the wondrous cross and as we sing of the Lamb who is worthy of our praise.
Forth, cross-centered songs affect our souls. You’ve heard the Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote about how most of our unhappiness comes from listening to ourselves more than we talk to ourselves. In light of this, corporate worship is a serious gift! Singing in corporate worship is a means of talking to yourself. This provides us an opportunity to stop listening to ourselves, to stop listening to sin, legalism, condemnation, and to begin singing and talking to ourselves. And by the end of corporate worship there is a good chance that we will experience the joy of the gospel. Not very often in our noisy world do we have such an opportunity to talk to ourselves. So what your church is saying in these moments of corporate singing is very important. And what a unique opportunity worship leaders have to transfer the hope of the gospel to people in corporate worship. And to think, you can do this each and every Sunday!
Cross-centered worship songs are vital to the life of the church.
I am so grateful to God that Bob has led Sovereign Grace Ministries into gospel-centered worship music, and has served the church with the writing and producing of many such songs and albums.
You can listen to the full audio recording of our discussion on this and other topics at the WorshipGod09 conference here.
Many years ago I came across a quote from Martin Luther about personal criticism from unfriendly critics. Luther’s point was that no matter how bad the personal criticisms—no matter how accurate, or inaccurate, the accusations—there is more sin in each of our hearts than a critic could ever discover.
Luther’s humbling reminder has been useful when I have been criticized and accused of things that were simply not accurate (although to avoid any misunderstanding, there have been plenty of critics that were right in their observations, too).
Far too often, my initial impulse has been to dismiss the criticism and defend myself, not realizing that this response is simply an evidence of pride.
Luther’s words directly confront my temptation to a prideful response, because he reminds me that, even if the criticisms are inaccurate or exaggerated, there remain in my heart many other sins that go unnoticed by my critics. And had my critics been aware of these other sins, they surely would have put them to use in their cause!
Luther’s reminder of the depth of personal sin has served me on numerous occasions over the years. And recently Luther’s words have served my friend Carl Trueman, too.
Carl is the Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. And he has taught a course on John Owen in the Pastors College. Carl is a gifted, insightful, and witty writer (despite writing with just two fingers). I am a friend and a fan of Carl Trueman.
In his most recent online article, “Thank God for Bandit Country,” Carl explains how Luther’s words have served him in handling personal criticism. Listen as the words of Luther and the words of Trueman merge:
I have learned much (as elsewhere) from the master theologian, churchman, public figure, and normal Christian believer, Martin Luther. It is well-known that in his writings [and] in table conversation Luther would often refer to visits from the Devil, how the Devil would come to him and whisper in his ear, accusing him of all manner of filthy sin: “Martin, you are a liar, greedy, lecherous, a blasphemer, a hypocrite. You cannot stand before God.” To which Luther would respond: “Well, yes, I am. And, indeed, Satan, you do not know the half of it. I have done much worse than that and if you care to give me your full list, I can no doubt add to it and help make it more complete. But you know what? My Saviour has died for all my sins—those you mention, those I could add and, indeed, those I have committed but am so wicked that I am unaware of having done so. It does not change the fact that Christ has died for all of them; his blood is sufficient; and on the Day of Judgment I shall be exonerated because he has taken all my sins on himself and clothed me in his own perfect righteousness.”
Luther knew what temptation looked like; he knew his own wickedness; but he also knew the all-surpassing perfection and grace of Christ. So, in closing, I want to thank my blog critics, the crass, the colourful, the profane, and the plain old crazy, for helping me to understand better my sin and my Saviour. You think I'm arrogant? You should talk to my wife: she could fill you in on just how arrogant I really am. You think I'm ruthless and cold? Believe me, you don't know where half of the bodies are buried. You think I'm a weak and spineless girlyman? Hey, you don't know nearly the extent of my cowardice. You think I'm an inveterate street fighter? Bring it on. If someone will hold my coat, why go out onto the street? We can finish this right here and right now. But you know what? My Saviour knows the full depth of all my sleaziness, my sin, and my moral insanity, and has covered by his blood all these crimes you allege against me. Indeed, he has covered many more and much worse; and your reminders of my sinfulness and my need of him are most gratefully received.
Carl’s words, with Luther’s voice in the background, provide us with a humbling and helpful pattern to follow when encountering personal criticism. When we face criticism, the gospel provides us with an ever-present reminder of the depth of remaining sin in our hearts, the scale of our need for our Savior’s blood, and our unceasing need for God’s abundant grace each day.
Related post: "How to Help Your Husband When He's Criticized"
Cedric Moss was the senior pastor of Kingdom Life Church in Nassau, Bahamas long before he ever heard of Sovereign Grace Ministries. One day, wanting to better understand the gospel personally and to more passionately preach it to his church, Cedric searched online and stumbled upon Sovereign Grace Ministries. In 2004 Cedric attended our pastors conference as a visitor, hoping to observe from a distance.
In reflecting upon the trip Cedric says,
I was a pastor who was weary in the ministry and skeptical about church associations and networks, having been closely associated with a few and having given up on them. However, to my surprise, in Sovereign Grace I found men who were genuinely interested in me as a pastor, not the size of my church, or getting my church’s name on a list.
During our 2009 Pastors Conference
, Cedric shared the rest of the story, which you can hear in this 16-minute recording:
Next week I plan to resume the series on procrastination (unless of course I don’t get to it until the following week).
But today I have the privilege of featuring a recent interview with my friend Jerry Bridges. Jerry is the author of numerous excellent books such as The Discipline of Grace (NavPress, 2006) and The Gospel for Real Life (NavPress, 2003). Last week I invited him to join me in the studio to discuss a very helpful practice for living a cross-centered life, captured in the little phrase “preach the gospel to yourself.”
It was in the writings of Mr. Bridges that I was introduced to this phrase. The interview provided an opportunity to ask him where the phrase originated, what it means, and what difference this practice has made in his life.
The interview also includes some discussion of sports. It’s in this section of the interview that you will hear Jerry Bridges and me deliver a special joint message for all New York Yankee baseball fans. Be listening for that.
As you listen to this short interview I think you will discover for yourselves why I am so thankful to God for this man.
You will find the audio download of the interview here. Or listen to the interview online:
Related: Interview with Sinclair Ferguson
The recording from C.J.’s message Sunday at Covenant Life Church is now avaliable:
Don’t Waste Your Sports
1 Corinthians 10:31
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Covenant Life Church; Gaithersburg, MD
57:34 run time; 13.2MB MP3
Listen, download, or watch the message at dontwasteyoursports.com
June 13, 2008 by Tony Reinke
Categories: Cross-centered life | Joy
The gospel is central to everything in the Christian life, including the cultivation of personal and pastoral joy. In this excerpt from the upcoming Sovereign Grace Leadership Interview Series
(“The Pastor + Joy”), Joshua Harris, Jeff Purswell, and C.J. discuss the connection between the gospel and the fight for joy.
I would love to just hear from you, Jeff and C.J., about what the fight for joy each day looks like in the life of a pastor. What are some key moments for you when it comes to cultivating that kind of joy? How is it expressed?
Your reference to the fight for joy is right—it’s a fight each and every day. So this is not a natural disposition that one possesses. Each day sin will be opposing the experience and cultivation of joy in our lives. I am personally very familiar with weariness and discouragement and, therefore, what I read in Scripture about the priority of joy and the experience of joy is very applicable to my soul.
And each day what I seek to do, from the outset of the day, is position myself as close to the gospel as possible so that I might experience the effects of the gospel. One pronounced effect of preaching the gospel to my soul is joy.
I am the worst sinner I know. And given the countless sins I have been forgiven of, as I contemplate the Savior’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross for my sins, the effect of that contemplation in my life is joy.
So from the outset of each day I seek to “survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died.” I seek to study the doctrines of grace. I seek to prepare my heart to discern evidences of grace throughout the day. And as I devote myself to those practices at the outset of each day and throughout the day, the effect upon my soul is joy.
Yeah, I think, C.J., what you started that with is so important. You quoted Psalm 100:2 a moment ago: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” It is just so critical to have the basis of that joy right.
Paul puts it in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord
.” Without that “in the Lord,” the command to “rejoice” would be an unreasonable command or a superficial command. But when it is rejoicing “in the Lord,” that is really what distinguishes it from mere happiness.
There are theological reasons for all commands in Scripture. There are theological reasons for the command to “rejoice in the Lord.” And in all the times in Scripture that speak of Christians being joyful, even in the Old Testament, they are rooted in God’s character and especially in his activity—his gracious activity towards his people.
And so, as C.J. was talking about staying close to the gospel, the inevitable and natural result of doing that will be a recognition of God’s gracious activity to us. We will be joyful. And that is the only way we can sustain joy.
Yes, if we assume the gospel, or neglect the gospel, or neglect to preach the gospel to ourselves on a daily basis, if we do not review and remind ourselves of the doctrines of grace, if we do not prepare our hearts to discern evidences of grace, all we will be left with throughout the day is an increasing awareness of sin and an increasing awareness of adversity.