The cross is central to Christianity. People wear it around the neck and it is mounted on church steeples. Without it there is no Christianity. Saying that Jesus was a good man who performed great miracles doesn’t make you a Christian. Saying he had a virgin birth and was sinless doesn’t make you a Christian, even some Muslims believe that! Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in a garage makes you a car! Saying prayers, reading the Bible and fasting doesn’t make you a Christian. Doing good works, caring for others, being a ‘good person’ doesn’t make you a Christian.
There is only one thing that makes you a Christian.
Participating in the exchange at the cross
It costs you nothing
It cost Jesus everything
When Jesus hung on the cross, there was a lot more happening than just another bleeding man dying. We know something extraordinary was taking place. The earth was covered in a supernatural darkness for three hours. In Italy, the Roman Senate meeting at the time was thrown into confusion and adjourned. The darkness was reported as far away as India. It couldn’t have been an eclipse because it was Passover so the moon was on the wrong side of the earth. Besides, eclipses only give total darkness for a minute or two. The huge thick curtain in the temple, suspended by rings was ripped supernaturally from top to bottom. There was an earthquake; sharply localized and highly specific: it rent rocks but didn’t damage the temple, it opened graves but didn’t damage the contents. In fact two days later the ‘contents’ were walking around! No, it’s all too much to be just coincidence.
These physical signs, though impressive, were a mere shadow compared to the violent upheaval Jesus’ death was causing in the spiritual realm. Divine transactions were destroying old accounting systems. A new currency of exchange was being introduced and the uncompromising justice of the old law was finding its counterpoint in the grace of the cross: the New Law or Covenant.
For the first time in history, we could bring all aspects of our fallen nature to the foot of the cross and Jesus would take these and in exchange give us his divine nature. He took upon himself every aspect of our fallen nature and paid the penalty, through his death on the cross, demanded by the absolute unerring justice of the Old Law. Only someone perfect, without any debt to pay himself, could stand in the gap as our representative and do that.
So what was included in that exchange? There were two aspects of the exchange: our sin itself and the effects of our sin. The first aspect has to do with our spiritual salvation, the second with working out that salvation while here on earth. The first is crucial to becoming a Christian, the second is crucial to living out the Christian life. You can accept the first part of the exchange and not appropriate the second part. In this case, you will be saved but live a miserable life here on earth. Unfortunately, many Christians do this. Alternatively, you can embrace both aspects and get the best of both worlds, literally! The greater the extent to which you embrace the second aspect of the exchange, the greater the extent to which you will exercise Christ’s authority here on earth.
The first part of the exchange (the penalty of our sin)
- Our sin and unrighteousness was exchanged for Jesus’ righteousness.(2 Cor 5:21)
- The condemnation and eternal death we all deserve as fallen sons of Adam was exchanged for the justification and eternal life of Christ (Rom 5: 17,18; Rom 6:23; Rom 3:23,24 Is 53:6)
IMPORTANT: Admitting you are a sinner and exchanging your unrighteousness, sin, condemnation, eternal death and separation from God for Jesus’ justification, righteousness and eternal life is all that is necessary to become a Christian. Some examples of sins are: lies, theft, cheating, adultery, not doing what we should, lust, gluttony, pride self-pity, disrespecting those in authority, worshipping false idols such as sports, money, material possessions, family, wife/husband, sex etc.
The effects or consequences of sin are not sin themselves. For example: rejection, sorrow, sickness, shame, loss, being victimized, sadness, false guilt, loneliness, poverty, grief, pain, isolation, etc
The second part of the exchange ( the consequences of our sin)
- The rejection we experience in life due to the sins of others was exchanged for Jesus’ unconditional acceptance of us. (Is 53:3) Jesus experienced rejection by the Jewish Authorities, by the local people, by most of his disciples and betrayal by Peter, one of his closest friends.
- Our sickness was exchanged for Jesus’ health (Is 53:4a,5b; 1 Peter 2:24; Is 1:5b,6) Because of the scourging, the nails, the thorns, the nine hour ordeal of intense suffering Jesus’ body and health was best described by the Is 1:5b,6 prophecy
- The curse of sin in our lives was exchanged for Christ’s blessing (Gal 3:13) Anyone who was crucified was considered cursed (Deut 21:23, Gal 3:13)
- Poverty and financial insufficiency was exchanged for Christ’s abundance (2 Cor 8:9; 9:8) Jesus became utterly poor on the cross. His only worldly possession was shared among the soldiers
- Our powerlessness over Satan and his demons was exchanged for Jesus’ triumph over Satan (Gen 3:15, Col 2:15, Heb 2:14 ).
- Adopting a victim mentality as a result of being victimized was exchanged for Jesus’ grace to lift us out of the passivity and hopelessness that accompanies victim thinking. (Is 53:7). Jesus became the perfect victim so that we need not suffer from victim thinking.
- Our sorrow and grief was exchanged for Jesus’ compassion, consolation, peace and joy. (Is 53: 4a) In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matt 26:38)
- Our enmity and strife, national pride and racism was exchanged for deep reconciliation that can only come through Christ (Eph 2:15,16) Racial prejudice was evident at the cross in that Jesus was put to death by another racial group (Romans) in a manner (crucifixion) they wouldn’t use on their own people.
- Our shame and embarrassment was exchanged for Jesus’ dignity (Heb 12:2, Is 50:7) Hanging partially or totally naked and dying slowly in front of hundreds of people must be one of the most shaming experiences imaginable.