In the March 2013 issue of Christianity Today magazine, Jordan Monge shares her journey, as a student at Harvard, from atheism to faith in Jesus Christ (“The Atheist’s Dilemma”, pages 88, 87). She first came to belief in the existence of God. Then she was confronted with the cross of Christ and the Christian teaching of love.
Jordan writes, “The Christian teaching that ‘love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.’ This theme–of love as sacrifice for true good–struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The message of the cross of Christ is the message of the love of God and of Christ. It is the message of God and of Christ making the willing sacrifice for the true good of those they love, their creation, humankind. In religion and philosophy this message is unique–the Creator, God, the Son of God, moved by love for his creation, came in the flesh for the purpose of experiencing death, a humiliating death. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son…” (1 John 4:10).
Jordan writes that being drawn to the Christian message of love, drawn to the cross as a remarkable act of love, she began to read the Bible. “At the same time, I had begun to read through the Bible and was confronted by my sin. I was painfully arrogant and prone to fits of rage. I was unforgiving and unwaveringly selfish. I passed sexual boundaries that I’d promised I wouldn’t. The fact that I had failed to adhere to my own ethical standards filled me with deep regret. Yet I could do nothing to right these wrongs. The Cross no longer looked merely like a symbol of love, but like the answer to an incurable need. When I read the Crucifixion scene in the Book of John for the first time, I wept.”
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). There is a footnote in niv1984 providing an expanded translation of “atoning sacrifice”: “sent his Son as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away our sins.” “He was delivered over to death for our sins” (Romans 4:25). “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins” (1 Peter 2:24).
The cross of Jesus Christ is an act of love that takes our breath away. Divinity, the Son of God, in the flesh, dying for us, the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate expression of God’s love. Then there is the reason for God’s love, for the love of Christ, acting in such a manner–the sins of humankind. Doesn’t this go against all human reasoning? There was, still is, in the biblical understanding of God, every reason for God to turn his back on humankind, to punish, to destroy–sin, rebellion, unbelief. Instead, God sent his Son to deliberately and purposely take our sins upon himself on the cross! (cf. Romans 5:6-11)
“By (Jesus’) wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). “In (Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:7). Jesus took upon himself our sins and guilt. He experienced God’s just wrath in our place. Christ did this so that we might experience God’s forgiveness and redemption.
Forgiveness–our sins taken away, purged from our hearts, from our accounts, no longer held against us, no guilt, no blame. Redemption–Christ paid the price, the shedding of his blood as the sacrifice for our sins. Forgiven and redeemed in Christ we are freed from the bondage of our sins, given new life and a new relationship with God. In Christ we are God’s beloved children, at peace with God, and one with him.
As Jordan continued her journey confronted by the cross, by the love of God and of Christ, she writes, “I committed my life to Christ by being baptized on Easter Sunday, 2009.” She committed her life to Christ!
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 emphasis mine).
The cross confronts us with our sins, not simply to cause us to ask for forgiveness and to enable God to forgive us. Christ died on the cross to lift us out of the miry muck of a sinful life. He died so that we might die to sins and be healed of the wounds and disease of our sinfulness. Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross to enable us to live for righteousness.
It is easy to slip into the deceptive comfort of resting in the cross of Christ for forgiveness without listening to the call of the cross to live for righteousness. The cross, yes, is the symbol of God’s grace and love for humankind expressed in his forgiveness. The cross is equally the call of God’s grace and love to redemption from the bondage of sinfulness, to freedom in a new life committed to righteousness and to obedience of God in Jesus Christ.
I will use Jordan’s openness and honesty to illustrate. As I write this and as you read it, let us be open and honest with ourselves about our sins. Christ died so that Jordan might be forgiven and that she might die to her arrogance, to her fits of rage, to her unforgiving spirit and selfishness, and to her sexual impurity. Christ died on the cross so that Jordan, forgiven and redeemed from the bondage of her guilt and sin, might learn the way of God and obediently live with humility and a calm, peaceful, and forgiving spirit. Christ died so Jordan might learn the way of God and obediently live unselfishly and in purity.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).