Changed by the Cross of Christ

The death of Jesus takes many things out of our hands. Christ died instead of me, to pay the penalty for my sinful rebellion against God my creator. He died, so I don’t die. All that is required of me is to sit back and allow Jesus to do it all for me—purchase my forgiveness and qualify me to share in the inheritance God has reserved for his adopted children. It leaves me a passive (but very grateful) bystander.

But there is another way of looking at Jesus’ death in the Bible that has a very different effect. And this way, far from leaving me passive, gets me up and going, motivated to get out there and live life passionately and purposefully. One passage that expresses it is 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, where the apostle Paul says,

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might not live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Here “one has died for all” is understood not as “therefore we don’t die”, but as “therefore we died”. When Jesus died on a cross 2000 years ago, I died. That seems a strange thing to say, both because I wasn’t there 2000 years ago, and because I seem to be alive at the moment. So in what sense did I die back then?

A way of understanding it is to consider God’s reaction to how I have lived. There I was, living for myself. It is the natural and normal way of living. I was the centre of my world, and people around me knew it—in order to get me to do anything they needed to appeal to my self-interest. Politicians offer me more money in my pocket to entice me to vote for them. Charities warn me that one day I might need their help, so give now.

But living for myself is a disaster for those I rub shoulders with. And it is blasphemy against God, because I was made to live for God’s Son, through whom I was created and by whom I am sustained. How does God react to my living for myself? Does he pass it off as trivial? Does he excuse it as normal? No. He rightly passes sentence on me—and the penalty is death. But in an act of love too huge to comprehend, he took the penalty on himself, in the person of his Son. But notice that my sentence was carried out. When Christ died, it was my death and your death he died. The ‘me’ who lived for myself was executed on a cross 2000 years ago. One died, therefore all died.

So I need to see that my old life of living for myself has been crucified. It is dead. And once I recognize that Jesus died my death, I can’t live for me anymore—that would be as stupid as living for Elvis Presley or Jack the Ripper. So for whom will I live? For the one who loved me enough to die my death, the one for whom I was made—Jesus Christ.

Paul explains that it is this conviction “that one has died for all” that propels his life. And if we share that conviction then it will propel our lives, too, to live for Jesus. But what does it mean to live for Jesus? For Paul it meant persuading people (2 Cor 5:11); labouring long and hard for the salvation of those for whom Christ died. He now sees everyone differently (2 Cor 5:16), perceiving them as among the “all” who died when Christ died, under the sentence of death but potentially in a position to be reconciled to God through Jesus’ death (2 Cor 5:17-21). The passion to see any and everyone reconciled to God is how living for Christ works out. And for Paul it meant choosing to live a life others considered completely crazy. A quick read of 2 Corinthians 11:21-29 will help you see why people thought he was crazy—this was a life he chose when he could have had a much more comfortable life as the youth group leader in Tarsus.

In fact anyone who stops living for themselves will inevitably make decisions that others see as crazy. They’ll give money away with no thought of return. They’ll chose to live in places no-one in their right mind would want to live, like the slums of Bangkok. They’ll use their precious holidays to take the gospel to children instead of going on an overseas jaunt. They’ll do it because they are convinced that one died for all, including the children and the slum dwellers of Bangkok.

The allurement of living for ourselves is still strong. But I died, and I need to keep reminding myself that I died. I need to keep seeing that on the cross I died, and you died. It is that conviction that will free me from living for myself and propel me to live for Jesus. Have you understood that when Jesus died, you died?

John Calvert was on the way to Fiji as a missionary. The ship’s captain said to him, “You will lose your life if you go among such savages!”

Calvert replied, “We died before we came here”.

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