Cross-Shaped Christians

The cross is so much a part of Christianity that a cross-shaped emblem or pendent is immediately identified with Jesus and His followers. In a symbolic sense, every follower of Christ should have a cross-shaped life.

In the last chapter of Galatians, Paul emphasized the primacy of the cross in the life of every Christian, beginning with his own: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world….From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:14 & 17). The last verse could perhaps refer to how Jesus also bore marks from His own crucifixion (see John 20:24-29).

These passages present at least three results that are produced by the cross:

FIRST, THE CROSS CREATES A NEW MAN. In his references to the cross earlier in Galatians, Paul’s theme has been that it has the power to generate a new person. It defines our forgiveness (1:4-5), life (2:20) and liberty (3:1ff). In 6:14, he said the cross crucifies the world to him and him to the world. His old life ended and a new one began for him there. This is how the cross-shaped gospel operates: It consists of facts to be believed, commands to be obeyed, promises to be enjoyed and behaviors to be evidenced, that are all tied to the message of Jesus’ death.

When we obey the gospel (II Thess. 1:6-9; I Peter 1:22-23), we are purified and made new in Jesus: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: 6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:4-6).

SECOND, THE CROSS CONVEYS A NEW MENTALITY. Again, in Galatians 6:14, Paul explained that because of the cross, he looked at the world in a different way. An alternative reading for the verse is: “For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate” (The Message). “It is striking how much of the Gospel is involved in this statement. The cross speaks of the atonement necessitated by human sin… The full name of the Savior speaks of the significance of his person and the role he played (lit., “God who saves, the Messiah”). Finally, the pronoun ‘our’ speaks of the personal aspects of Christ’s redemption, for it becomes ‘ours’ through the response of faith.” (Expos. Bible Comm).

Paul wrote in an earlier section: “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:24). Augustine commented on this verse: “The ‘cross,’ the great object of shame to them, and to all carnal men, is the great object of glorying to me. For by it, the worst of deaths, Christ has destroyed all kinds of death.” Jesus taught that following Him would require difficult choices, such as the path of life (Matt. 7:13-14); our associates (Mark 10:28-30); and our possessions (Matt. 6:24-34). The process of making those choices is a function of our decision to believe in the cross and follow the One who died at Calvary and rose again for us.

THIRD, THE CROSS COMPELS A NEW MISSION. In Galatians 6:17, Paul emphasized that he was unaffected by what others thought, because he would continue to emulate the same self-sacrifice that Jesus demonstrated on the cross. As a result of that mission, he would bear the scars of suffering for Him. While Jesus finished the work of redemption by His sacrifice on the cross (see John 17:30), our responsibility to live faithfully to the cross continues. In Colossians, Paul explained: “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in his sight: 23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:21-23). Jesus calls us to follow Him: “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. 24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Notice again that Jesus said we must take up our cross daily and then continue on a daily basis to follow Him. Our new mission will be motivated by His self-sacrifice for us. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. 33 This he said, signifying what death he should die” (John 12:32-33).