The Cross: Death Begets New Life


            Does our view of God really matter?  To many people alive today, God remains a hazy amalgam of human preference and paranoia. Some believe in a grandfatherly, kind, and passive God who sadly shakes His head at the devastation and corruption of this present evil world. Others conceive of God as a powerful yet impersonal force that affects the course of their lives in mysterious, unknowable ways. Still others cringe before a God they believe to be personally vindictive, angry at those He’s created and eager to vent His wrath, zapping away life’s pleasures in a cruel display of His absolute power at their expense.


Contrary to man’s opinions, God does not sit helplessly by, shaking a permissive head at the mess of human corruption He sees spread out before Him on the earth. Nor does He sadistically plot to impose His power on weak and unsuspecting creatures of His own design.  Such thoughts, conceived by mortal men and women whose fallible minds have been corrupted by sin’s deceptive influence, fail to accurately portray the nature of God. Indeed, God’s own account of His dealings with the sons and daughters of men presents a vastly different picture, one far more beautiful and terrible than man has yet imagined on his own.


Our view of God affects how we live in significant ways.  This view, indeed, is capable of altering the course of both our earthly lives and our eternal destinies. Since our concept of God is such a powerfully influential concept, we must ensure that our view of Him is accurate.  In order to have a right understanding of Who God is, we must listen and believe Him as He describes the nature of His divine personality and His disposition towards us in His own words:


            “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers through the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son...He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb.1:1-2a, 3a). Everything we may understand to be true about God is revealed in the person of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and in His finished work on Calvary’s cross for us. In Christ, we see that God is holy and just, yet merciful and loving toward all He has made (Ps.145:9). God the Son, in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, demonstrates to us that God is light (1 Jn 1:5) and God is love (1 Jn 4:8).


God, who is perfect in holiness, cannot tolerate wrongdoing.  His righteous standard demands absolute perfection from His creatures. He commands His people, “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev.11:45).  God’s very nature requires perfection, for He is completely devoid of sin.  In 1 John 1:5, we read, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”  The fact that man falls short of God’s standard presents man with a terrible dilemma, a seemingly impossible situation. The one true God, who is holy, insists on absolute perfection from man, the production of which man, in and of himself, is incapable.


God further explains our predicament to us in His Word, when He says through the prophet Isaiah, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you…for your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken falsehood, your tongue mutters wickedness” (Isa. 59:2-3). Ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, all of us have been born in sin as children of Adam in the flesh. “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  None of us are capable of being righteous, no matter how much we intend to be, and certainly not with the absolute perfection God requires.


We can be most reverently thankful, then, that the full extent of God’s nature is revealed to us in Christ.  While it is true that God is perfect in holiness, He is also perfect in love.  God’s love toward fallen man is expressed in the person of Jesus Christ, His holy and beloved Son. Jesus is, in God’s own words, the whole unveiling of His nature, communicated to man in perfect love. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14).  Jesus Himself assures us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).


God disguised Himself as a human being and assumed a body made of flesh and blood. On the cross of Calvary, He physically absorbed all of God’s punishment for sin on our behalf (1 Pet. 2:24). Hebrews 2:9 invites us, as sinners separated from God, to look upon the cross of Christ and see for ourselves how much God loves us: “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death…that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Christ’s substitutionary death for us on the cross proves God’s love for mankind beyond the shadow of any doubt. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He [or she] who believes in Him is not condemned” (John 3:16-18a).


God is thoroughly satisfied by the righteous offering of His own Son at Calvary’s cross, and has victoriously raised Him from the dead (Acts 13:30). Christ has conquered death to bring us life, paid in full the penalty for our sins, and now sits eternally at the Father’s right hand as a living intercessor for us. In Hebrews 7:25, God’s word says of Christ, “He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” This, a risen Savior, is who God says He is! This is perfect holiness, and this is perfect love!


For those of us who have believed God’s testimony about Himself, communicated in the person and work of His own Son, the implications of this divine revelation are indeed serious.  As we contemplate the debt of gratitude we owe to God, based on the incredible cost of our own redemption, our lives must be forever changed. Our concept of God changes everything about the way in which we choose to spend the remainder of our time in this world. At the cross, a loving and holy God put to death the flesh, man’s sinful nature, and all its deeds.  The Word of God compels us to allow Christ’s own perfect love to now control us in everything we do (2 Cor. 5:14).


As redeemed sons and daughters of God, we now possess new spiritual power to “be holy as [He is] holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). Our grateful response to the cross of Christ ought to inspire us to live holy lives, putting no confidence in the flesh, but submitting instead to the Word of God and the leading of His Spirit to live a new life that pleases Him. We have died with Christ; therefore, we no longer live to please ourselves. “He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:15).


As His new creatures, we must recognize and submit to His claims as rightful Lord and Master of our lives.  When we begin to understand how holy God is, and how much God loves us, such obedient submission to God flows freely from our hearts without compulsion!  He asks us to demonstrate our loving and thankful response to Himself by living for the rest of our lives in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). 


New life in Christ involves surrendering our attitudes and decisions to His control, without any reservation. Such wholehearted devotion to His Lordship will cost us some earthly pleasures, to be sure. The price of obedience is real and sometimes painful, a fact which Jesus Himself did not attempt to minimize to His followers.  Three times in the gospels, He repeats Himself, warning any who believe on Him that receiving the life He gives involves taking up a cross of our own. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24, Mk. 8:34, Lk. 9:23). In Luke 9:23, He emphasizes that this choice needs to be made repeatedly, as often as we are tempted to live again in the old desires of the sinful nature, which He put to death at the cross.  Although we still possess the capacity to sin, we are called as believers to renounce the former nature and “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24).


Cost what it may, we who have been saved from the old self and its desires must choose to renounce its power over us, as those who are now “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).  The fleeting self-gratification we relinquish does not begin to compare to the eternal rewards of willing obedience to the Spirit’s leading in our lives (Rom. 8:18). In laying down our old selves, we find true freedom from the slavery of sin, and experience overflowing joy and peace in loving Christ obediently instead.  Jesus says of the life He gives us, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)!


In his writings to the Galatian believers, the Apostle Paul reveals the secret to abundant life, available to all who have placed their faith in Christ.  Under inspiration of the Spirit of God, he shares this principle with them: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).


Is there anything too great to offer back in thankful reverence to the holy God whose love for us is perfect?  May God’s abundant mercies to us inspire us to “present [our] bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God [as is our appropriate] spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). When we are called to forego certain pleasures, to lay down our wills and accept His own perfect will in return, let us turn our gaze once more to the cross of Christ. As we observe God’s perfect love and holiness, and as we recall all that He relinquished to reconcile us eternally to Himself, let us joyfully lay down our own lives for Him who has so lovingly given us His life (Gal. 5:24).


When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died

My richest gain I count but loss

And pour contempt on all my pride.


Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast

Save in the death of Christ, my God

All the vain things that charm me most

I sacrifice them to His blood.


Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small

Love so amazing, so divine

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

                                    (Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)



Anna Zwicker

July 2004