My dad’s parents worshiped with a church in Freetown, Indiana. When I went there as a kid, I vividly remember that behind the pulpit, behind the baptistery, there was a huge wooden cross. That cross was suspended out from the back wall just a tad and red lights were placed inside the cross. Thus, as you looked up at this cross, there was a red glow behind it. No matter where you were sitting that cross was in sight.
“We focus our lives on the cross.” Have you been able to keep the cross in sight this morning? As you took the Lord’s Supper, were you able to go back to the cross? As we prayed, did you realize the One in whose name we prayed was crucified and raised again? As you gave to the Lord’s work, were you prompted to give generously because God gave so much?
As much as we need to keep the cross in sight as we worship, some brethren have strayed as they have talked about the cross. In the past 25 years or so, some brethren have advocated the idea that we cannot focus on the cross when we talk about doctrinal matters. I read a column in a brotherhood publication a couple months ago about instrumental music that really troubled me. I’m not going to name names and blast my brethren this morning, but one quote in the column bothered me very greatly: “Inevitably [a cappella singing is] the first thing [visitors] notice about us — and it almost always leads to awkward discussions about theology and doctrine that don’t focus on the Cross.” My immediate reaction was to point out that the Savior who died on the cross gets to tell me how to worship Him.
Yet, as I’ve thought about that statement, I think the issue is bigger than that. The cross needs to be central to our lives, not just the way we worship. “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). This morning, let’s think about how the cross is central to our lives and worship.
“We focus our lives on the cross.” Notice that I didn’t say the cross changes our worship or our doctrine; the cross reorients our entire lives. Because the cross reorients our lives, worship, doctrine, and every single area of my life will come into submission to the Christ who died there.
Why Orient Our Lives Around the Cross?
The Saving Cross.
My sin is ugly, shameful, inexcusable, and the reason Jesus died on that cross. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8).
There is only one thing in all the world to cleanse me of that sin: The blood of Jesus Christ poured out on the old rugged cross. As Jesus gave His disciples the cup at the Last Supper, He says, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt 26:28). “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).
Because I have been saved from the torture of hell through that cross, I need to orient my life around that cross.
The Slaying Cross.
When I was baptized into Christ, I died to the world through that cross. Romans 6:3-4. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Because of the cross, I am a new person in Christ.
The Scornful Cross.
To be most accurate, the cross has people who scorn it (Phil 3:18-19).
I want to be very careful here that you do not misconstrue what I’m saying. I don’t wish to imply that every person who worships in error is an enemy of the cross. I have known fabulous individuals who worshiped in error. But, I want you to notice carefully what Paul says. One: “Their god is their belly.” Their purpose in life is physical pleasure; and Two: They “set their mind on earthly things.” What matters to these people are the things of this world.
I want you to think about what Paul says for a moment. Those who scorn the cross love pleasure. I was talking to a very dear lady about instrumental music several years ago. Know what you told me? “I like the instrument.” Anytime we start talking about worshiping according to our likes or dislikes, we run straight out of the will of God.
Those who scorn the cross worry about earthly things. When your mind is caught up in this world, you can easily add to worship what you like or do not like. When your mind is caught up in this world, you can easily ignore what Scripture teaches.
The Splendid Cross.
The cross is splendid, for on that cross Jesus paid an extremely steep price for the church (Acts 20:28). Since Jesus paid such a high cost for the church, does it not mean that He — and He alone — should be the One to tell the church how to live and how to worship? If we claim to be the church of Christ, shouldn’t we live and worship with Jesus as our head? If we are the church of Christ, should we not do things His way and not ours?
“We focus our lives on the cross.”
To focus your life on the cross, you Support the Cross (carry it).
Here’s how Jesus puts it: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt 16:24). We have a very watered-down idea of what Jesus means. You have a chronic health issue that causes pain? That’s your cross to bear. You have a husband who’s grumpy and demands supper be finished half an hour ago? That’s your cross to bear.Do you really think that people in Jesus’ day would have understood cross bearing as some difficulty in life? When they saw people on the way to Golgotha to die, would they really have thought, “My arthritis is bad today; that’s my cross to bear”? When they saw Jesus beaten and bloody headed to Golgotha, would they have thought, “That mother-in-law who is in all our business is my cross to bear”?
Those who heard Jesus would have heard “cross” and thought “instrument of death.” Yes, I believe Jesus spoke metaphorically.
- Sometimes that metaphor still meant physical death. Stephen bore his cross as he was being stoned. James, the brother of John, carried his cross when Herod killed him with the sword. Antipas, apparently a member of the church at Pergamos, carried his cross when he was Jesus’ faithful witness.
- Sometimes that metaphor refers to dying to self. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt 16:24). Galatians 2:20.
How do we go about denying ourselves and carrying our crosses?
- We get rid of our passions and desires. “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). What passions and desires do you need to put away? If you have sinful passions and desires, you must kill them, i.e., get rid of them (Rom 6:1-6). How do you separate yourself from your sins?
- Do the opposite of your sin. Zacchaeus was a big-time tax collector; you became a chief tax collector by taking advantage of poor people. “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Lk 19:8). This week: Think of a sin you need to get rid of — I doubt most of us need to think all that hard. What can you add to your life that is the opposite of that sin?
- Get rid of enticements to sin. The magicians in Ephesus burned their magic books (Acts 19:19). Is there something you have that entices you to sin? Does your television or computer lead you to places you ought not go? Get rid of them! Do you have a friend who leads you into temptation? Find a new friend!It’s highly likely that you have non-sinful passions and desires you need to get rid of. Sometimes we get so caught up in life that we have no time for God. We do all these things which are perfectly fine in and of themselves, but they collectively crowd God out of our lives. Peter, Andrew, James, and John gave up their fishing business to follow Jesus (Mk 1:16-20). What can you give up this week to follow Jesus? Can you skip a show on TV to pray for the sick? Can you skip ten minutes of sleep to spend time in Scripture when you first wake up? Can you do without Starbucks for a day to send a little support to a missionary?
To focus our life on the cross, you Sacrifice to the Cross.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1, ESV). You don’t find the word “cross” here, but the cross is about sacrifice and Romans 12:1 is about sacrifice.I chose the English Standard here because it uses the word “worship.” Some brethren would object, because they’d be quick to tell us that all of life is not worship. They would be correct; all of life is not worship. But, the Greek word for “worship” in Romans 12 is a peculiar word. The word for “worship” primarily refers to the work of a priest in offering sacrifices; so, the word does mean “worship,” but in a very narrow sense. Paul is urging us to lay our bodies upon the altar and to give them to the service of God.
How can you sacrifice your body in God’s service? Can you use your mouth to speak a kind word? Can you use your hands to help someone with maintenance on the house? Can you use your feet to take you to share the Gospel? Can you use your eyes to see the hurt in a brother or sister and then move with compassion to help?
We started talking about instrumental music, and we’ve talked about how to live in light of the cross. What’s up with that? I believe the use of instrumental music in the worship of God is sinful; there is absolutely no authority for it and to act without the authority of God is sin. However, if we’re not living right, it doesn’t matter if there’s an instrument used in worship or not. Worship is not only about having all the externals right; it’s about having the heart right. “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me” (Matt 15:8). The scribes and Pharisees had great externals, but their hearts were not right (Matt 23:2-3). Where is your heart?
Do you need to come to Jesus this morning?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.