Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Post 34 | The Cross Is Not The Gospel

I was chatting with my mom about whatever it is we chat about.  At the East Village and Goshen crossing we had somehow sparked up a conversation about church or last Sunday or caregroup or something or other.  We inevitably go there at some point during a long, good conversation.  I was tracking with her and we were agreeing with each other (in fact, I think the conversation may have been about worship) and then she said something that concerned me.  Real, uncomfortable concern.

"Not to mention that I can't remember the last time I heard the name JESUS! spoken.  It's the gospel the gospel the gospel.  And the cross and the gospel.  By the way, the cross isn't the gospel.  It's part of it, but you're not supposed to 'stay at the foot of the cross.'  Why don't we hear the real gospel?  Why don't we hear about Jesus."

Oh my gosh, I almost felt bad for her (I was an obedient, stuck-up ol' puss).  The poor woman hadn't been listening close enough.  Didn't she know?  I mean, the popular song said it perfectly:

Holy God in Love became, 
Perfect Man to Bear my blame,
On the cross He took my sin,
By His death, I live again

It took the destruction of my assumed and imagined life and a couple of years for me to realize that she was right.  When I was quizzed on "the most important question" of becoming a member in my church: What is the gospel? it took a long time for me to understand how awful my answer was, even though it was wholeheartedly accepted: "The five finger gospel! Jesus. Died. For. My. Sins!"  It took a long time for me to unwrap and then enjoy the real gospel.  To not live a 'cross-centered life.'  To not think "cross" equals "gospel."

Even the recent Chris Tomlin song repeats a bridge cry of "The cross was enough! The cross was enough! The cross was enough!"  I actually like the song, but if I had heard it a few years ago I would have messed it up.  The cross was enough to kill Jesus, send him to Hell and, because of who Jesus was, satisfy God's wrath, but the cross was not enough to save us.  The gospel was enough to save us, however.  Jesus was enough.

This may be obvious to every other person, but in my life it was all mashed together.  What I was hearing and believing then applying was a "Jesus died for sinners" gospel and it made me incredibly guilty, nervous about my sin, harsh towards other folk's sin, and uncompassionate.  My half or part gospel (which is arguably false gospel) would have me, for example, scan for key words when someone was crying and rambling in front of me about something happening in her life.  I was looking for that sin-root to grab a hold of.  I was looking for the "source" of this problem.  I wasn't being God-like, Jesus-like, Gospel-like at all.   I had no idea how to "be God" to someone.  How to just give, be understanding, enjoy our differences (freedoms).  I a bad concept regarding what is "written in blood" and what is "written in pencil, with a good eraser."  Turns out a lot less is written in blood than I thought.  Turns out He is a God of feasting far more than fasting.  A God of indulgence far more than deprivation.  Turns out He thinks of us as dear far more than damned.  Turns out the cross was piece but not adequate to do the whole job.

"If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' 
and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, 
you will be saved."

"Since He raised Him from the dead, never to return to decay...
I will grant you the faithful covenant blessings made to David."

I had crucifixation-centered life.  It was easy for me to call myself a sinner, and difficult to call my self heavenly royalty.   It was easy for me to have concerns/observations/thoughts for my friends, and hard for me to chill out, empathize and listen.  The cross-part of the gospel is a dramatic, chilling, necessary, horrifying part of the story.  It's in many ways unbelievable.  But I'll never forget reading this for the first time:

The Most High God, the Goodly-wise, the Maker of Heaven and Earth loved us before the earth was made. For all eternity He lived in extravagant Joy with His Son, bound together in the love of His Spirit. He needed nothing – not even us. But He wanted us. He wanted a bride for His Son – a bride shaped in His image, glorious in beauty, and birthed through His irrepressible grace.

He wanted to be known for His grace more than anything else, so there was an Incarnation and a Substitution and a Sacrifice and a Resurrection and an Ascension and a breathtaking Celebration; and now all who are known by Him (and therefore love His Son) are His own children and heirs and treasured saints – blameless and faultless before His face. We are priest-kings in His expanding Kingdom and no eye has ever seen or ear has ever heard or dreamer has ever imagined what He has prepared for us – from this moment forward. Without delay.

Because all this (and even more) is the Gospel.

A grave-cented gospel would be dangerous.  A virgin-birth centered gospel would be dangerous.  A cross-centered gospel is too.

Love centered? Grace centered? Heck, celebration centered?  Now we're talking.  The gospel is what God, three-in-one, did for us and gave to us.  What did He do for us?  He loved us, then made us, came to live with us, died a punishment death, endured Hell, triumphed above it, lived again, walked on earth again, flew to heaven, and started the party.  What did He give to us?  Family, Salvation, License, Nobility, Righteousness, Freedom, Hope, Paradise, Feasting, Companionship, Blessing and every other good thing.  Every single one.  

That's the gospel.

If Jesus had only come and died, we could not be saved.  If death had beaten Him we could have no hope.  If He couldn't enter Heaven as our representatives, we couldn't have access.  If the cross was the climax and center of the story, we'd be doomed.  We don't live by His death, we live by his life -- or at least his life, his life, his death, his life.

The five-finger crucifixion? Jesus died for my sins.
The five-finger gospel?  Every good thing from Love. 

The cross and it's events should not be minimized, ignored or misunderstood.  They are a (phenomenal) part of the story, just not THE story.  Mom was right.  On our pilgrimage we should encounter the foot of the cross (after many other events!), and we should crumple in relief as our burden's are plucked off our back, as our rusty shackles are unscrewed, and then we should get up with our perfume and walk to that empty grave, where we can crumple with relief again knowing that Our King couldn't be swallowed.  And then we raise our eyes and follow our Hero like a balloon into the Holy Places where gates are encrusted with jewels, and the streets -- the asphalt of heaven -- is made of gold.  ("What will the gold of heaven be?").  And now we have to rely on our imaginations and a few descriptions, but the celebration of the Prodigal-children-turned-priests commenced, and it's raining down on us here on earth, too.  It's final.  It's complete.  And it's ours.  NOW.

Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim my crown, through Christ my own.


  1. This is so true and so profoundly expressed. Thank you.

  2. Oh, thank God that you wrote this. I agree, it's concerning! The bridge of another Chris Tomlin song says: "we lift the cross, lift it high, lift it high." It bothers me and I'm so glad you came out and wrote it down in the way only you can. Bravo!

    <3 sarah

    1. oh, and by the way, I love YOUR five-finger gospel. :) you hit the nail on the head.

  3. This is so true. Thank you for posting this! I actually have been thinking about this lately and to see it all written out I can finally understand what was bugging me. The cross isn't everything! We have all of Jesus and his love. Not just his sacrifice. :)


  4. Amen! Having grown up in a SGM church as well, I know of which you speak. :) Actually, I've been so encouraged to see that-- at least in our church-- the constant talk of cross cross cross has really changed over the past several years. Now, when our pastors say "the gospel" I know that they mean a whole lot more than "Jesus died." Growing up, I don't think that was the case! Anyway, I'm excited to see that God is changing things here, and opening all of our eyes to the true wonders of His grace... grace that didn't stop at the foot of the cross.

  5. Very well said! Thanks for posting this!

  6. Maura Barry SalinsNovember 5, 2013 at 4:18 PM

    Oh, dearest Kristen, how I love you and your wise, mature faith! You made me weep while reading this. I'm so happy that your generation is finding their voice and rising above the wrongs you were blindly taught. Keep thinking Jesus, Jesus, Jesus and spread His wondrous love.

  7. This is so true - I just want to shake my head at the cross-gospel, "Cross-Centered-Life" discussions, worship songs, etc. Did people stop reading the Bible? The apostles clearly thought the Resurrection was a little more marvelous than the Crucifixion. If anything, the New Testament indicates our faith hinges on the Resurrection (If Christ has not been raised...), and I'm glad I'm not the only person who sees this disconnect in evangelical circles. I love how the traditional liturgy proclaims this mystery so clearly after communion: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is coming again. Blessings!

  8. Man oh man!
    This is supurb; thanks!

  9. I totally agree with you and I am excited that we are now, more and more, celebrating His resurrection and all that Jesus did to change us into the righteousness of God, adopted into His family, destined for eternal life, free of sin, and beloved by our Abba Father!! It makes you want to celebrate!!!
    Thanks for writing Kristin....you need to write a book!

  10. so much to swallow and ponder and think about. thank you so much for this.