Jack Graham - The Cross-Centered Life
We live in a braggadocios world today, kind of a selfie-world in which there's allot of self introspection and self aggrandizement and there's allot of pride that we're pushing forward in our generation. And that's why it's so very important that we take a fresh look at the foot of the cross as to how to live a cross-centered life. This is the life of the apostle Paul. I want to invite you to turn in your Bibles to Galatians the 6th chapter, Galatians chapter 6 and we're gonna look at verse 14. Galatians 6:14: "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world".
The centrality of the cross! It's the heart of the Christian faith; it is the strategic theme of all of the Bible! The cross is the essence and the essential of what we believe: that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself; that in His love He has satisfied the righteous demands of the law. That is, he met the demands of a holy God, and bore our sins on the cross, and became our substitute and died for us, and rose again so that our sins could be forgiven, that we might have eternal life. That is why we say the life of the Christian faith is in the blood! It's in the blood! Hebrews 9:22, "For without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin".
The bloody cross of Christ is the life message of the Apostle Paul. He said, "When I came to you, I didn't come with philosophical ideals, I didn't come to you with brilliant schemes or plans, but I came to you in the simplicity of the cross! I came to you preaching Christ, and Christ crucified"! And therefore, he lived a cross centered life. And it is the life that all of us should live, and can live. How do we live the cross? How do we live a cross centered life? One, by embracing the cross. The cross is not an ornament or a religious symbol, but a living reality in the believer's life. This is why Paul said, "I boast only in this cross! May it never be that I would brag about anything else but what Christ has done for me"!
Paul was captivated! Paul was the one who championed and cherished the cross above all else! He spoke about many other subjects. When you read the New Testament, and Paul gives us so many words of God that speak of life and fellowship and all the rest, but ultimately Paul came back to the cross, to the cross of Jesus! The word boast here means to praise or magnify or make large, or even rejoice. We're to celebrate the cross! Why? After all, the cross was an instrument of death and torture. The horrendous cross! It was a symbol of weakness and shame, and common criminals died a shameful death on the cross. But God took a rugged, cruel, a naked cross, soaked with the blood of His darling Son, and transformed it into an instrument of deliverance and salvation to all who would believe. The cross! And it is at the cross that God destroys my sinful pride. Whether it is manmade religion, or any human imagination or achievement that I desire, the cross takes it down to nothing! The cross brings us to the end of ourselves? Why? Because of the One who died on the cross: Jesus!
When we spoke of Paul's message of grace, Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one would boast". The letter to the Galatians was written to a group of Christians who were being challenged to go back to the works of the Law, to go back to the achievements of religion, or to add on to the cross human effort and personal achievement. That's why Paul said, "Away with any effort to save yourself, because there's no way you can be saved apart from the cross, the grace of God"! There will be no boasters in heaven! There will be no strutting in heaven! We're only there by the grace of God!
Paul said in Romans 5:8, let me just give you a little taste for some of these things that Paul said about the cross. He said, "That God shows us His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us"! That's an unpopular word today. People don't like being told that they're sinners or that they have sinned. That's the pride, the arrogance of the human heart. But God shows His love for those that while we were sinners Christ died for us. He died in our place. Romans 7:18: "For I know that nothing good dwells in me". This is Paul speaking. He said, "I know in my humanity nothing good is in me. For I have the desire to do what is right but not the ability to carry it out".
Have you ever experienced that? Sure you have. We all have! Paul struggled with the issue of self and sin in His life. He said, "I know in me, in my humanity, in my flesh there's no good thing". But then he went on to say, "but thanks be unto God who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ". The cross is an act of divine accomplishment that brought to us what human achievement could never have gained. We are incapable and unworthy to stand before a holy God. Romans 3:27: What becomes of our boasting? What becomes of our boasting? It is excluded by what kind of law? What kind of law excludes our boasting? A law of works? No, but the law of faith. Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ destroys any effort to boast! Salvation is by grace alone through Christ alone by faith alone!
And when we come to the cross, when we embrace the cross, it tells us the truth, that we have sinned, that we are totally unworthy and incapable of saving ourselves. Also tells us about the truth of God and His grace and His holiness. In His holy love He has chosen and called us into salvation at the cross! The salvation, the Gospel is be saved, and then do; it's not do and then be saved! God hates unrighteous bad behavior, but He also hates self-righteous good behavior when that good behavior becomes a substitute and a prideful effort to save ourselves. Legalism says God will love us if we change. But the Gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ says God will change us because He loves us! And that's the difference that the cross makes.
So there's nothing you can do to earn or learn your salvation. This leaves no room for pride. Leaves no room for doing the best that I can. When Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, he was broken and blinded by the light of Christ, he was slain by the cross. And the one who bragged of his religious achievements more than any, came to the cross and was transformed. This is the cross centered life. It begins with salvation. Unfortunately there's such a sense of entitlement in our world. We think we're owed a good life, but according to the Bible we stand in view of a judgment that is harsh but that God loves us and gave Himself so that we could be saved by the blood of His cross.
And therefore, Paul made this one single claim in Philippians 3:8: "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and I count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ". Every good thing that I've done, Paul says, all that I tried, every effort that I made is refuse! It is rubbish! And my passion and my purpose is now Christ and Christ along. And he lived and he died for that message. He was unashamed of the simple Gospel message of Jesus Christ! Embrace the cross of Christ because God dare embraces you. He throws open His arms wide on the cross, He dies for you! He says "I love you"! In every drop of blood that flowed from the cross, God was saying, "I love you, I love you, I love you"! And the finished work of Christ, what Christ Jesus accomplished for us at the cross, this is what life is about!
So if you want to brag, brag about Jesus! Boast of His cross and what He has done for you! The prophet Jeremiah in chapter 9 of his book, said, "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom. Let not the mighty man boast in his might. Let not the rich man boast in his riches. But let him who boasts, boasts in this; that he understands and knows Me! That I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth". Boast that you know God! And the way to know God is through Jesus Christ. Some of you are being held back by your pride. Your pride is keeping you from coming to the cross and discovering a new life in Christ. But come to the cross and He will destroy your pride, and you will come in humility and faith to a God and live in submission to Him.
So how do you live a cross centered life? It begins by embracing the cross, and this message of Jesus. But there's something for as a believer in Christ, because you see the Gospel is not only for the unbeliever; the Gospel's for the believer. I preach the Gospel to myself every day. Because as a Christian I want to live the cross! And so that's the second thing, experience the cross! Paul said in the last half of verse 6, chapter 6, verse 14: "He has been crucified to me and I to the world". Jesus said, Luke 9:23, "Take up the cross daily and follow Me". We should live our lives captivated and centered on the cross!
Knox Chamblin said this: "The Spirit does not take us beyond the cross, but more deeply into it". You say, "Well this is just a simple message of the cross". Yes, it is a simple message of the cross, but it will take eternity to plumb the depths of the greatness and the glory of the cross! And so we spend our lives, therefore, centered in the cross, knowing more and more about Him. Because not only did Christ die for us, but we died with Him. That's identification. We are crucified with Christ. The cross included you! I'll never forget that first time I went to Israel and Jerusalem and stood at the place called Calvary. There's a jagged hill there that many believe that's where Jesus died. And I remember standing there, thinking that I'd been there before!
Somebody said, "was this your first time to Israel"? I said, "No! I was here two thousand years ago when Jesus died for me". And there's a sense in which we all were there! "Were you there when they crucified my Lord"? Absolutely, you were there! And we are crucified with Christ. He died for you and you died with Him. Baptism is a picture of this when you are crucified with Christ, buried with Him and raised to walk in newness of life. That's the tremendous testimony of believer's baptism. This speaks of identification and separation from the world. Paul said, "I was crucified from the world and the world from me". When you live a cross centered life, listen to me, you see the world through different eyes.
You're no longer chasing the world-it's passions, it's pleasures, it's pride. But now you've disengaged from the world that you might engage with Christ at His cross. We are now dead to sin which means sin no longer has dominion or power over us! Before Christ, before the cross we were captivated by our sin, but now we are emancipated! We no longer have to sin. Before Christ, we were free to sin. But now that we know Christ, we're free not to sin. We can live in victory over the world. "He breaks the power of canceled sin; He sets the prisoner free". The old person, the old you is put to death, and we give up our rights. What rights does a dead person have? We give up our right to the rule and reign of Christ. To live cross centered means that we dethrone self and we enthrone Christ! To experience the cross is to know the power of God! It's foolishness to the world, but it's the power of God!
So the cross when it comes to saving us is God's work for us, when it comes to sanctifying us, making us more like Christ, it is God's work in us! We are now set free from self. Paul put it this way: "I'm crucified with Christ", Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me". Crucified with Christ but made alive in Him! Paul said in Galatians 5:24, you can look at it, it's right in front of you in your text "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh and it's passion and desires".
Again, Paul said in verse 14, "by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world". The world may have some influence on you, but you're no longer enslaved or dominated by the world's ways. The love of the world is crucified, therefore, you no longer live a worldly life. What does that mean? A life chasing the sinful pleasures of this world, chasing sin, chasing money, chasing applause. You're no longer motivated by that. You're motivated to live for Jesus and make a difference in the world. You don't boast in your personal successes, but you boast in the Lord and what Christ has done for you! So one final thing we do and that is to elevate or to exalt the cross! You want to live a cross centered life? Embrace the cross, experience the cross and then exalt the cross!
Paul said in verse 17: "I bear on my body the marks of the Lord Jesus". He was chained by the Gospel. He was a marked man, branded as a believer. That word marked there means stigmata. It means the stigma of the cross or the Gospel. Sin will mark you, sin will brand you in the wrong way. But the cross will brand you in a right way, for God's glory. And so we are to exalt the cross by our wounds. No hardly any of us have really suffered physically for the cross. But when you take a stand for Christ, you may be ostracized and alienated. You could be put out of your group. You could be called a fool, a freak, a fanatic. No problem. Wear it, bear it. We wear our crosses on our jewelry. I have one on my ring, a cross on my wedding ring that Deb gave me to remind me not only of my commitment to her, but first and foremost, our love for one another in Christ.
So I wear a cross. There's nothing wrong with wearing a cross or putting a cross on a steeple. In fact it can be a fantastic testimony. Put a cross in your home. But unfortunately some people wear the cross but don't bear the cross. And by bear the cross, I mean to stand for the cross and its message. To fight the good fight of faith with the power of the cross. The truth is if you live lone enough you're going to suffer; you're going to get marked up, you're going to get beaten up in life in various ways, and you're going to bear some scars through life. But when we hurt and don't know why, we are strengthened at the cross! Because we know our scars mean something. It's not just meaningless, empty pain! We know there's a purpose in our pain.
Don't focus on your pain when you're hurt, focus on the cross! That He who gave you fully everything, will He not give you more in Jesus Christ! He's going to take care of you. And then in our worship, elevate the cross in our worship. That's what I love about our music in our worship here at Prestonwood. It's focused on Jesus and the cross. We don't sing songs that any Unitarian could sing. We sing songs about Jesus and worship Him. And on a personal level that's something, it's a very practical thing. If you want to live a cross centered life, meditate, think often about the cross and the scriptures. Meditate, memorize the scriptures on the cross, and sing songs of worship about the cross.
Jarrett Stephens on twitter this week invited people to send in their favorite songs about the cross. He got a lot of them. Here's some of them: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, How Deep the Father's Love for us, At the Cross, Calvary's Cry (that's a new one), Jesus Paid It All (that's an old one.) Man of Sorrows (that's both a new and an old one, actually), What a Name!, There is a Fountain Filled with Blood, Lead Me to the Cross, The Power of the Cross, and, of course, The Old Rugged Cross.
"So I'll cherish the old rugged cross". That's what Paul did. And when we sing, when we worship, when we bring ourself to the cross... You want to live a cross centered life? Get up everyday and contemplate the cross, worship the Lord Jesus with songs of praise. It's amazing how when we exalt the cross, we begin to live the cross and experience the cross in our lives. And then one final thing. We elevate the cross through our witness by telling others the story of Jesus. Just bragging about Jesus. Telling people what Christ has done for you. That's what Paul did. His testimony was repeated again and again. He said, "I boast only in the cross of our Lord". The cross is your daily decision to deny yourself, to deny your rights, your wants, your dreams, your personal plans and goals, and submit them to the Lord Jesus Christ, to wholeheartedly and completely give yourself to Him.
When you are centered on the cross, you're love of Christ will be increased and your love for the world will be diminished. When you're centered in the cross of Christ you will be humbled and broken, and your pride will be torn down. When you're centered at the cross you will be called to a life of loving sacrifice and service, rather than selfish individual pursuits and achievement. When your life is centered in the cross your hope is restored no matter what you may go through, no matter what pain you may deal with, when you are cross centered, you're hope and your help is ever present. And when you are cross centered the love of Christ will fill you and pour out on your family and your friends, because Paul said, "The love of Christ is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit". Amen?