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How Does the Cross Affect Us?

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.  One of the most basic Christian beliefs is that, in order to be forgiven, in order to be saved, you have to trust in what Jesus did for us on the Cross.  Last week, I talked about the “Objective Atonement”, how the Cross works from God’s side of things, how it affects God so as to enable Him to create, forgive, and love sinners like us.  This week, I’m going to talk about the “Subjective Atonement”, how the Cross works from our side of things, how it affects us.  This is in response to a group of insightful questions someone recently asked about the Cross.

The questions they asked that pertain to the Subjective Atonement run like this: Even after Jesus atoned for our sins on the Cross, we still have to ask for forgiveness to be saved.  So, what difference does the Cross make for us?  If they are truly sorry and ask for forgiveness, why can’t a person be saved (without having to trust in the Cross)?

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

I grew up Roman Catholic.  One thing Catholics are supposed to do is go to a priest for confession.  Prior to my first confession as a child, I heard all the horror stories.  Like priests who would yell at you.  Or about receiving long, painful penances.  Or just about how scary and embarrassing it is telling a priest all your sins.  But when I finally made my first confession, I was pleasantly surprised.  It was a really good experience.  In fact, growing up, I never had a bad experience in the Confessional and most of my experiences with confession were great. 

Through the Sacrament of Confession, Catholics believe that the priest acts in “persona Christi”, in the person of Christ.  Supposedly, when he absolves you of your sins, it is really God who is declaring that you are forgiven.  Since we are incarnational beings--literally, “in the flesh”--having another flesh and blood human being declare your sins forgiven in the Name of God can be a powerful experience. 

Because in confession it was a real, tangible human being speaking these words of absolution to me, I found that it gave me far greater assurance that I was forgiven than if I just asked for forgiveness in prayer.  It made me feel lighter, freer, fully liberated from my sin.  But, more importantly, it actually changed me.  It made me want to be a better person.  It made me want, out of gratitude, to love God more. 

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

When Jesus says this from the Cross, it’s not as if those putting him to death didn’t know what they were doing.  They knew they were crucifying him.  Some, it seems, were even aware that they were putting an innocent man to death.  What Jesus meant is that they didn’t know who they were putting to death, the Son of God.  If they had known they were actually killing God, they probably would have thought twice about what they were doing!

I recently heard someone make a brilliant observation about our modern “Cancel Culture.”  They pointed out that when we cancel someone, usually some public persona, we effectively try to annihilate them, to erase all memory of them and prevent them from having any presence in the public square again.  Canceling someone kills their reputation and removes them from our consciousness, our lives.  Canceling someone does away with them for good.  Even though it doesn’t physically kill them, it’s effectively akin to murder.  Canceling someone is effectively killing them off.

When we think of sin, we usually think of things we shouldn’t do.  Or things we should do but don’t.  But these sins are only the manifestation of our Sin, singular.  The core of Sin is our desire to be god, to be the lord of our own lives.  The Captain of our soul.  The one in control.  We desperately cling to this lordship of our own lives.  And even if we aren’t normally aware of it, even if we don’t know what we’re doing, this effectively cancels God from our lives. 

We may not think this is what we’re doing because we’re fine with having God around--as long as He’s watching from a distance.  Acting as a higher power.  Mainly there for us to call on in times of need.  But we desperately try to keep God at arms length, to keep him from being too involved in our lives.  From intervening.  From interfering.  So, we erase Him from our consciousness.  Annihilate Him as Lord.  Cancel Him from our lives.  Effectively, we kill him.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Martin Luther pointed out that intuitively we know this is what our sin does.  Deep down, we can’t help but know that our sins, and especially the root Sin that drives all these other sins, the desire to be lord of our lives, “cancels” God.  Deep down, we can’t help but intuit that our desire to cancel God is played out in Jesus’ death on the Cross.  Deep down, we can’t help but know that it is our sin which crucifies Jesus. 

As a result, we dread what God is going to do with us.  We dread, that if there really is a God, He will cancel us.  Which, by rights, He should.  He should give us what we deserve.  Which is our worst nightmare--His “wrath” poured out, Hell itself.  After what we have done to God on the Cross, He should turn around and annihilate us.  But instead, He does the complete opposite: Jesus rises from the dead, offering us the gift of eternal life. 

We do the worst thing we possibly could do to God, kill Him.  And in return, He offers us the greatest gift possible, eternal life. 

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

And this, this is the ultimate assurance that God has forgiven us.  In a vivid, concrete, tangible reversal, a reversal that is as absolute and complete and stunning as could be, God gives us the perfect assurance of His forgiveness. 

Without this perfect assurance, we would never be able to trust in His mercy.  We would always have lingering doubts about whether He could ever really forgive the many horrible things we do, uncertainty about whether He really has forgiven us for “cancelling” Him from our lives.  Without this perfect assurance, we couldn’t fully trust Him.  We’d always be suspicious that He held something against us.  We’d always fear that He’s angry at us.  We’d always fear Him.  Without the perfect assurance of putting our trust in what He has done on the Cross, simply asking Him for forgiveness would still leave us alienated from God, no matter how sincere we might be. 

But, because the Cross represents the absolute worst we could ever do to God, seeing such a vivid, concrete, tangible, personal, passionate assurance of God’s forgiveness breeds genuine trust in Him.  It changes us.  It transforms us, and as nothing else can.  It makes us want Him to be the Lord of our lives.  It makes us want to surrender all to Him.  

And surrendering to Him in complete trust is the only way to eternal life, the only way to be saved.  Because the essence of eternal life is a trusting, loving relationship with the Lord of the Universe. 

So, do you think it’s necessary to trust in what Jesus has done for us on the Cross in order to be saved?  I’d love to hear what you think!  You can leave your comments or any other questions or feedback on the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website.  I look forward to hearing from you!  

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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