The Cross-Centered Life

Believers are engaged in an ongoing battle to stay cross-centered. The problem is most are unaware of the importance of the struggle. Due to our depraved natures, every saint faces the very real conviction that he or she does not measure up.

A pervading sense of condemnation turns like a little dynamo inside of us. It may slow, but it never stops. Law continues to expose our sin after we are saved.

The great paradox is that the better we are at any given aspect of ministry, the more tempted we will be to make that area of ministry production a defining contributor to our relationship with God.

That’s the rub – the law makes its overtures to our strengths. “Do in order to be” is the law’s rationale. It makes its solicitations to our gifts and talents. It promises to invest our gifts and talents into the account of our favor and acceptance with God.

How subtle this is – for the use of our gifts and talents have been a legitimate blessing to the Body of Christ. The saints have been built up through our ministry diligence and exertion. We rightly long for the Lord’s approval. Our usefulness is not the question.

The issue of cross-centeredness focuses upon whether or not we regard our productiveness to be a contributing factor to our favor with God. “Is my work and service central to my interface and acceptance with God?” If so, the law principle may be operational in my life -- EVEN if I am a strong proponent of grace truths!

Certain temperaments are prone to specific departures from cross-centeredness. The “catalytic extrovert” has a personality that makes things happen. He shies away from introspection. He seldom retreats into the “grey castle of self.” He prefers to manage his dereliction (depravity) by performance, production, and by the generation of massive amounts of work.

The extrovert’s problem is harder to see than the person’s who is neutralized by condemnation. Yet the extrovert’s deviation from cross-centeredness is just as real – he may be operating by law, not grace.

By contrast, the person laboring under a yoke of condemnation feels that heaven is staring at him in one large cosmic frown. Thus he retreats into the grey castle of self and attempts to comfort his soul with sensual things justified by self pity.

Having lost sight of the cross, he does not entertain high prospects of the Lord’s desire to meet him and commune with him. Comfort from the Lord seems light years away.

For the person stuck in the castle of self, the sense of divine favor can only be restored by a fresh view of the cross by faith. For the cross alone is God’s answer to our paralyzing depravity and dereliction.

The cross alone can bring the condemned saint out of hiding and back into the joy of communing with his Lord. The cross lifts the believer out of the exasperation of not measuring up. It places the saint back upon the grace plane of abiding and being that constitute the life of sonship.

So also, the cross is necessary for the extrovert (or workaholic – “human doing”) to be restored to a place of communion that rests solely upon the Savior’s work.

Only the cross of Christ can rightly align the workaholic’s motives with God’s purposes of grace.

When the workaholic is in full production mode, he is often blind to his utter dependence upon the cross for all fellowship and usefulness. Busyness is his drug – while in the whirlwind of urgent ministry tasks, he doesn’t have to stop long enough to look in the mirror and feel any guilt for not measuring up. He is so far “ahead of others” in his ability to generate Christian works, he takes solace in his productivity.

But a “small” detail is missing. Paul mentions it in 1 Cor 15:10. In that passage, the Apostle attributes his productivity to God’s grace alone: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain: but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

Paul was careful to stress that his ability to excel in work for the Lord was solely a function of grace. Therefore, he did not see his labors as contributing to his acceptance with God. He regarded his work as an evidence that he was a trophy of God’s grace.

Productive people in ministry who lack Paul’s mindset, tend to use their output of labor as a means of offsetting any feelings of not measuring up.

Those on the receiving end of the workaholic’s ministry may heap praise and gratitude upon him, but his soul is a dry salt waste of a wilderness. If he stopped long enough, he would discover that his heart was no longer a garden.

It is the Spirit’s constant work of grace that teaches us that Christ alone is the ground of all our acceptance, favor, and communion with God. Our greatest works and service do not add a single atom of weight to any of these three. Yet untold numbers of believers live as if their doing is an essential contributor to the three.

No one lives a cross-centered life without an intentional “curriculum” of self-talk. These little “sermons” we preach to ourselves are gospel sermons that reaffirm our utter dependence upon the cross for all favor, acceptance and communion with God.

This self-talk is the necessary way that we “do business” with our souls. All of our thinking and feeling must be rectified by gospel self talk. The cost of not doing so is high indeed.

Without cross-centered living, the law will necessarily dictate the method by which we manage our souls. If the cross is not clearing the way daily for us to receive God’s love and grace in our souls, we will by default automatically gravitate to methods of soul management that are born of law.

These law methods come natural to us – they constitute the “religion” we were born with – a religion of measuring up, of doing in order to be. How many gifted ministers gradually began to support their soul’s life on the husks of their own productivity? The number must be staggering.

One of the symptoms of departing from the cross-centered life is a “law method” of dealing with others. When we abandon the grace-based perspective that flows from cross-centered living, we cannot help but deal with others by the same manner we deal with our own souls. It will “leak out.”

So also, when a person is living a cross-centered life, he cannot help but appeal to the grace of God in the cross for all advancement in work, worship, and sanctification.

The cross alone can lead us out of self (whether a performing self, or a condemning self). The Lord calls us, just as He did the Laodicians, to commune with Him and to receive His love in our spirits. He wants us to come as the beggars we are. He desires that we rest the whole acceptance of our souls upon the grace wrought by His cross and His Person.