We want to make Christianity and the Cross as palatable as possible, like those who put dehydrated fruits and veggies in easy-to-swallow, convenient capsules.
But the Cross doesn’t and shouldn’t fit into a capsule. It is not meant to change form. Just as the splintered beam that Simon the Cyrene stepped in to help the exhausted Christ carry was bulky and blistering, blunderingly heavy and uncomfortable, the crosses Christ bids us to carry are not meant to be comfortable.
The women at our Church are finishing up many months of being camped out in the book of Galatians, a rip-roaring letter from Paul to a young Church to lovingly rebuke them for stepping away from faith in Christ alone for right-standing before God. The Cross and justification by grace alone through faith alone are central themes in his letter.
Paul ends his letter to the Galatians with one last juxtaposition between the false teachings of the Judaizers and the truth of Christianity. The false teachers who had stirred up their newly-rooted faith in Christ had it as their aim “to make a good showing the flesh” (Galatians 6:12). Paul boldly places their desire to make a good showing in the flesh alongside his less-palatable platform to boast in the Cross.
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. Galatians 6: 14.
To Twenty-first century, Western ears, the phrase has certain ring to it. We can be tempted to want to drop “Boast in the cross” into a growing list of Christian catchphrases, just as my son adds little rocks and pebbles to the growing collections he keeps in his pant pockets.
Before we slap these phrases onto shirts and paint them on cute signs to hang on our walls, we would do well to consider what they actually meant to the original audience. To First-century ears, crosses were not religious symbols or icons but were all-too-real shameful instruments of execution.
Death to self that we might live in the pattern of Christ was Paul’s clarion call to Jew and Gentile alike. The cross of Christ and the call of the Christian to follow Christ by boasting in His Cross and taking up our own crosses remained his swan song to the end.
He did not merely preach this cerebrally, he also lived it experientially, with the physical, emotional and spiritual scars to prove it. He called this beloved fledgling Church to do exactly what he had been doing since His conversion to Christ, and he pointed them to real examples of his own real suffering for the sake of gospel of Christ.
Brennan Manning challenges us along a similar thread in his book, The Signature of Jesus.
“There is no genuine Christianity where the sign of the Cross is absent. Cheap grace is grace without the Cross, an intellectual assent to a dusty pawnshop of doctrinal beliefs while drifting aimlessly with the cultural values of the secular city. Discipleship without sacrifice breeds comfortable Christianity barely distinguishable in its mediocrity from the rest of the world. The cross is both the test and the destiny of a follower of Christ.”
When I look at my neighbors who have been fostering two older boys for many years now, folding them into their own little flock sacrificially, I see the uncomfortable Cross of Christ. When I listen to our staff girls crying and praying over college girls who are running to the world rather than running to Christ, I see the uncomfortable Cross of Christ. When I run my hand over my own life, where do I see and feel the uncomfortable Cross of Christ?
Are we making the Cross of Christ our boast? Are our lives becoming cruciform? Are we taking real risks and stepping toward messes, compelled by the love of Christ? Can we point others to the fact that, while crosses are terribly uncomfortable, we carry them by the power of the Spirit, the ever-present, indwelling Comforter?
In the words C.S. Lewis, “But the cross comes before the crown, and tomorrow is a Monday morning.”