Christ on the cross is an invitation to death, but also new life

Written by J.M. Bergman

Some Christians sincerely believe that the bargain between us and God is that if we live an ethical life of integrity and worship, God will reward us with worldly goods and protect us from harm. This way of thinking, which I bought into for a season, is often based on verses cherry-picked throughout the Bible.

One of the (many) problems with this theology is that while the majority of Christians on some continents have been blessed with wealth, education, and health care, there are uncountable other God-fearing Christians—now and in the past—who have gone without basic essentials such as clean drinking water and sleeping in safety. 

Further, isn’t the question of living ethically for the sole purpose of receiving good things itself…unethical?

I’ve gone through seasons when my worship and obedience to God seemed misplaced in large part because my obedience didn’t aid or increase the chances of my prayers being answered. Two Bible characters come to mind who verbally expressed this sentiment: Job and Jesus. 

Job was a righteous man, and yet God allowed severe loss and suffering to rip through his life. His family died, his means of making a living was destroyed, and excruciating disease wracked his body. 

His friends, who were religious themselves, reasoned what many of us may consider when faced with suffering: Job sinned, and thus, he was being punished. While many bad decisions carry negative consequences, Job’s friends were wrong. He was not being punished. He was being tested. Job, like many of us, states the obvious: “This isn’t fair.”

God’s response, in short, was: “You need to accept that understanding my ways is not as important as you think.”

I think what Job learned is that choosing to place life’s anchor in the goodness of this world is to choose uncertainty and decay. Instead, reaching beyond this realm, only through the power and help of the Holy Spirit, will result in eternal peace and goodness.

To examine this theory further, consider Jesus and the cross. Crucifixion remains today as one of the most excruciating ways to die, and yet Jesus—who lived a life entirely without sin—died here. 

A.W. Tozer writes in The Radical Cross that, “The cross always dominates; it never compromises, never confers, never surrenders. It cares not for peace, and ends its opposition as quickly as possible.”

Jesus lost every worldly good by establishing the birthplace of our redemption. 

Before this, in Matthew 16:24, He taught, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Follow Him where? Reflecting on this verse against the backdrop of Tozer’s thoughts, I believe we are to follow Jesus into (symbolic) death, the kind which leads to all-encompassing loss. 

Tozer says, “The cross will cut into our lives where it hurts worst, sparing neither us nor our carefully cultivated reputations. It will defeat us and bring our selfish lives to an end.” Only after this can God raise us to new life, with focus beyond this present darkness. 

Tozer went on to say he believes bearing the cross is an image of beauty, but to wear it as a piece of jewelry or other fashion is inaccurate and misinformed, diminishing our sense of the cross’s power. This may be true, but perhaps those of us who choose to bear this emblem can adjust our mindset and purpose to say: I am willing to lose everything this life has to offer, just like Christ did when He died for me.

Once Jesus endured His suffering and was raised to life He never suffered worldly pain again. Now His entire being is in complete unity and peace in the realm beyond this earth—the place where worldly influence no longer has any sway. This is not a place we can reach by living ethically or righteously. Rather it is the overflow of communion with God. 

We are called to reach for eternity, and this can only come after death. We cannot fully grasp it now in our limited humanity, but one day, when the final trumpet blows and Christ forever unites His kingdom with our hearts, then we will finally be free. As Isaac Watts wrote in his famous hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”:

Were the whole realm of nature mine, 

That were an offering far too small.

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all!

J.M. Bergman is an author and poet living in Morden, Man. Read more from the “Body and soul” column.