These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.
What is the attitude we should adopt for ourselves? In society today, secular humanism teaches that we basically worship ourselves, literal self-deification. Jesus said to love God, then others as we love ourselves. Some counselors emphasize loving ourselves before we are able to love others. A song on K-love by Natalie Grant has a line very similar, “you can’t love, when you don’t love yourself.”
Jesus emphasized only one commandment, to love God, and the second is like it. It is a practical guide to loving others since no one ever hated his own body (Ephesians 5:29). This is similar to the golden rule (Matthew 7:12) but we cannot always know how others would like to be treated themselves, so perhaps I would not want to be treated that same way. The love mentioned is the agape love, unconditional, meaning sacrificial love. The problem is elevated by Paul that in the last days, men will become lovers of self (2 Timothy 3:1-5) instead of lovers of God.
Paul also challenges us to view ourselves in sober judgment (Romans 12:3). The cross supplies the answer because it calls us both to self-denial and self-affirmation.
Stott mentions that the cross must be called representative as well as substitutionary.
- A substitute is one who acts in place of another in a way as to render the other’s action unnecessary: a football player off the bench, a soldier in place of a civilian, one is now inactive, and replaced.
- A representative is one who acts on behalf of another, in a way as to involve the other in his action: an agent represents a player and can act on his behalf; he does not speak instead of the player, but for him.
- Jesus was our substitute because we could never do what he did for us. As our representative, he has done what we have also done, by being united with him, have died and risen with him.
Paul writes about the conflict in Romans 6, that we are dead to sin and can therefore no longer live in sin (Romans 6:2). Baptism dramatically expresses our participation in going from death into life. When we speak of Jesus dying to sin, we understand that he died and bore its penalty, since the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It is a fact that we must constantly remember each day.
Self-denial (Mark 8:34): We each must be both Barabbas (he escaped the cross) and Simon of Cyrene (he carried the cross). To carry the cross is to be in a position of a condemned man, on his way to execution. To carry a cross is for no other purpose. A hard life or a handicap is never “a cross to bear.” Self-denial is never depriving ourselves of something we enjoy, but rather disowning ourselves, and renouncing our right to go our own way.
Three deaths and resurrections in Scripture:
- Death to sin and subsequent life to God: this is inherent in our conversion and baptism. This death is basically legal, death to sin by union with Christ in his death to sin.
- Death to self: called taking up our cross, or denying or crucifying ourselves: it is done daily and willfully. This death is moral, a death that puts down the old sinful nature and its desires, and the resurrection which follows leading us into a new life of righteousness.
- Carrying the dying of Jesus in our mortal bodies, so the life of Jesus may be displayed in our bodies (1 Corinthians 15:30-31, Romans 8:36, 2 Corinthians 4:16). This death is physical, death to safety, being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.
This teaching is that we are wholly bad and we need to be totally repudiated and crucified with Christ.
Self-affirmation: Alongside Jesus’ explicit call to self-denial is his implicit call to self-affirmation (which is not the same as self-love).
- Jesus’ teaching about people: he drew attention to the ugly things and evil inside of people (Matthew 7:21-23) but he spoke about the value of human beings in God’s side. Mankind is the crown of God’s creating activity and is made in God’s image. God don’t make no junk.
- Jesus’ attitude to people: he went out of his way to honor those who were dishonored by society; embraced little children, approached Samaritans and Gentiles.
- Jesus mission and death for people: he came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). “My worth is what I’m worth to God.”
Is it possible to value ourselves and deny ourselves at the same time? True self-denial is not the road to self-destruction but the road to self-discovery.
- The self we are to deny, disown and crucify is the fallen self (everything that is incompatible with Jesus Christ).
- The self we are to affirm and value is our created self (the teaching on losing self in order to find self).
We must affirm: our rationality, sense of moral obligation, our sexuality, family life, gifts and creativity, stewardship of the earth, hunger for love, experience of community, awareness of God’s majesty, the inbuilt urge to worship.
We must deny: our irrationality, moral perversion, blurring sexual distinctiveness, lack of sexual control, selfishness which spoils family life, fascination with the ugly, lazy refusal to develop God’s gifts, anti-social tendencies, proud autonomy, and idolatrous refusal to worship the living God.
The next level: we are not just created and then fallen, but rather created, fallen and redeemed: regeneration, resurrection, redemption and re-creation.
Self-sacrificial love: self-understanding should lead to self-giving. The community of the cross is a community of self-giving love, expressed in the worship of God (Mark 10:35-45):
- The choice between selfish ambition and sacrifice: the brothers express selfishness at its worst, which is incompatible with the way of the cross.
- The choice between power and service: asking to sit on either side of Jesus, essentially have their place on throne to rule over others. Zebedee has servants and the boys likely missed having them around. They would follow Jesus for a while as long as there was just compensation at the end of it all. Lust for power is incompatible with the way of the cross.
- The choice between comfort and suffering: they would become vagrants and vagabonds, missing the comforts of home. Insistence on security is incompatible with the way of the cross.
Spheres of service: home, church and the world. There is a paradox that suffering is the path to glory, death is the way to life, and weakness is the secret of power.
The cross lies at the heart of mission. The cross-cultural missionary pays costly family and individual sacrifices, renounces economic security, professional promotion, replaced with solidarity with the poor and needy, repenting of pride and prejudice, and modesty of living and serving under national leadership.
Only the incarnation can span these divides, because it means entering into the worlds of other people, their alienation, loneliness and pain. Incarnation led to the cross, where Jesus took our flesh and then bore our sin.
Love is self-giving (1 John 3:16-18): our most valuable possession is laid down for others. The essence of love is self-sacrifice. Murder is taking another’s life; self-sacrifice is laying down your own life.