A Cross Examination: No Christianity Without The Cross – by Greg Albrecht

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Friend and Partner Letter from March 2022

As they attempt to fill the emptiness in their souls, many citizens of planet earth frantically run after drugs, food, sex, achievements, possessions and entertainment. It’s been said the most frenzied attempts in human history in a quest to find and secure happiness have occurred in 20th and now 21st century North America.

Ironically, the more intense efforts to secure happiness become, it seems animosity, division, hatred, racism and violence increase at the same time. From the beginning of history, humans have measured and weighed success and happiness through things that can be seen, felt and physically experienced. From the beginning of history humans have removed, violently if necessary, anyone or anything that stands in the way of their “success.”

From the beginning of human history, humans have hated and despised those who differ with them …strife, conflict and horrific wars have therefore resulted. History stands as a stark testimony to the fact that life is empty apart from God and our hearts and souls can never be filled without Christ and his Cross. 

It is only through the Cross of Christ that human life might find ultimate meaning, fulfillment and purpose. There is no authentic Christianity without the Cross!

The path to true, abundant and fulfilling life in our risen Lord runs through the Cross and the empty tomb. There is no spiritual new life in Christ unless there is self-sacrifice, suffering and spiritual death. Picking up our own cross and following Jesus means accepting that life will involve self-sacrifice and service of others and that life is more than surface happiness and creature comforts.

It is to the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master: no path of redemption can make a detour around it.—Hans Urs von Balthasar

The Cross of Christ is the Jesus Way—the Cross of Christ means following him and picking up our own respective crosses, whatever they encompass and include. Our cross might include cancer, heart disease, grief and loss of loved ones, physical handicaps and financial struggles. The Cross of Christ involves serving others in the name of Jesus, helping them when we would rather be chasing our own happiness and feeding our own physical and emotional appetites.

He gave himself wholly to you: He left nothing for himself.—Early church father John Chrysostom (347-407)

Real life—meaningful and purposeful life—life in Christ—is only found in following Jesus. Jesus said that we cannot be his disciples unless we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. Life in Christ is cruciform—life in Christ is following his Cross and not denying the cross that we carry.

The Cross of Christ rejects hatred and violence, embracing instead a way of self-sacrifice and service, voluntarily considering the needs of others to be as necessary and important as our own (Philippians 2:3-4).

I recall an old story from back in the day(s) when people who were planning a trip went to see a travel agent. A “good” church-going widow lady had just inherited her parents’ estate and decided to travel the world before she got too old to do so. One of her friends suggested a travel agent whose name was Patrick O’Riley.

She went to see Patrick O’Riley at his office and explained she wanted to take the trip of a lifetime. Knowing her beliefs, Patrick suggested the Middle East and perhaps Egypt, with all of its ancient history. The lady frowned and said, “I don’t think I could put up with the smells of all those animals and those primitive people. And there are lots of Muslims there as well.”

Patrick said, “Well, how about India? It is a world apart, with a rich history.” The lady again declined his offer: “Oh no, from what I understand India is full of diseases and as a Christian I despise those pagan Hindus.”

Patrick then thought this Christian lady might like to visit the Holy Land, where Jesus walked, but she again turned down that idea: “All those Jews! I don’t think I could get along with them. Look how they treated Jesus.”

Patrick then thought, well maybe she would like Ireland, his native land. When he suggested Ireland the lady said, “No, I hear that it is damp and cold and it is filled with Catholics.”

Patrick realized then he wouldn’t be of much help to this lady, but as an Irish-Catholic he couldn’t resist one final thought: “Well then, madam, how about going to hell? From what my priest tells me it is hot and dry and full of Protestants.”

John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world he gave us his Son. What many highly judgmental religious folks miss is the next verse (3:17), where we read that God didn’t send his Son to condemn the world. Sadly, that’s just what Christ-less religion does. Condemn.

The New Covenant places a priority on what the cross of Christ is and what it portends. Paul preached Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Christ followers in the first century suffered and endured persecution for the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:12). The Law of Moses, the old covenant, was “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

Paul of course was not talking in these passages about a piece of lumber. Paul was using what we immediately recognize as a symbol, a figure of speech—a word or term that means far more than its literal definition.

The love of God is fully revealed and demonstrated on and through the Cross of Christ. The Cross of Christ is the crux—the center—the fulcrum—the hinge—of all human history. The story of the Cross is the gospel. There is no gospel without the Cross—indeed there is no Christianity without the Cross!

We understand and come to know, in ever-deepening ways, of the love of God by the Cross of Jesus Christ. That’s how he once and for all, conclusively and forever, demonstrated his love for all humanity. God’s love is the greatest love, and God’s love is best understood in a cruciform way. God’s love values the needs of his children and self-sacrificially serves them, rather than condemning them.

The world takes us to a silver screen on which flickering images of passion and romance play, and as we watch, the world says, “this is love.” God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloodied man hangs and says, “this is love!”—Joshua Harris

From a biblical perspective, everything in the Bible before Jesus leads up to the Cross, and everything after the Cross is understood and interpreted in the light of the Cross. Our faith is cruciform—our faith is Cross-shaped—our faith is Christ-centered.

The love of God, expressed in its transcendent beauty for you and me on the Cross, produces God’s love in our lives. Through the reality and beauty of the love of the Cross of Jesus Christ the love of God flows in and through us:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ has laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.—1 John 3:16

The giving and generous heart of love and mercy, flowing from the Cross of Christ, to, in and through us, is desperately needed by our world today. Anger and bitterness characterize our world, our nations, our states and provinces, and our culture. The young are divided from the aged, black divided against white, men and women are in conflict. With all this strife and rivalry comes name-calling and condemnation.

We live as Christ-followers, caught in the cross-fire between conflicting ideologies and partisan politics, picking up our cross and following him, in the midst of all this division and animosity.

The darkness in our world cries out for disciples of Jesus who will pick up their own cross and allow the Light of Jesus Christ to shine in them in such a way that the love of God flows in and through them into the lives of others. The world-at-large has had enough of violence, hatred and racism. Our world has had its fill of religious not-so-holy wars and feuds.

In the light of the Cross of Christ, in the Light of the love that shines from his Cross, because of and empowered by the cruciform self-sacrificial serving love of God, may we, each of us as we are able, be a committee of one to pass on the love of God.

May we be difference-makers in the midst of the darkness of hatred, racism and antagonisms. May we forsake criticism and judgmentalism and embrace our neighbors, so that we might shine the light of Jesus in the midst of a sad and desperate world and therefore point them to the Cross of Christ.

In Jesus’ name,

Greg Albrecht

Letters to My Friends

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