1) The cross shapes our identity
How does the cross shape your identity?
Let’s review what we are saved from and what we are saved into. In other words, what does the cross or the gospel accomplish in a believer’s life?
In a nutshell, we are a new creation. We are born again. The first birth was a physical birth only, but this second birth is a spiritual birth. In other words, we are given an entirely new identity. Before we believed in God, we had a identity that was determined by what we can get out of this world and what we can get from others. And this mentality fed our gnawing fear that our needs would not be met so we had to always look out for number one. Compare that with a God whose needs are met infinitely and as our Heavenly Father, he offers to take care of our greatest need — he forgives us and he pours out his unconditional love into our lives. So our identity moves from a state of fear of not having our needs met to a state of peace that God has already met our most fundamental needs.
The cross shapes our identity in that we no longer are looking for what we can get from others but we look to what we can give to others.
The cross shapes our identity by moving us from being a person who has to guard himself from what he might lose, to a person who freely sacrifices because God first sacrificed for us.
Our identity before was me, myself, and I. And if you listen to anyone’s salvation testimony before they came to know Christ, it’s the same story. There is a common thread that ties all of our testimonies together. And that common thread is selfishness. The most common expression of human sin is selfishness. We were selfish at the core. Sure, there is an occasional act of altruism. We try to be nice to our friends, but deep down, we are motivated by going out there and getting what’s good for me. Then through the cross, our identity changes and we begin to put other’s needs above our own.
Before the cross, we strove after temporary things because we didn’t really believe that we are going to live forever so we lived for the moment and we sought to do what feels good right now. This mentality stands in stark contrast to our identity as a child of God whose eternal destiny is secure.
Before we met Christ, we valued the temporary, what we could see and touch. Money. And all the things that money can buy. Cars. Houses. Vacations. But as a believer, instead of valuing temporary things, we begin to value eternal things: our relationship with Christ and saving souls. God really doesn’t care about things like earning money, which for many of us, is near the top of our list. To demonstrate how little God cares for money, the Bible describes heaven as a city with streets paved with gold. While the economies of this world are scrambling to shift their investments and trying to buy up as much gold as they can, God says, I’m going to use gold to pave the streets in my heavenly kingdom. Just to show you guys how much I value money up here. To me, gold is about as valuable as asphalt and gravel.
Our identity before we accepted Christ was to avoid suffering at all costs while the cross-centered person knows that we can endure some temporary suffering in this life for the sake of the eternal salvation of souls.
Before our salvation, we were all greedy, we were all power hungry, we all wanted to maximize pleasure while minimizing pain. We wanted to be comfortable. These are the central problems of the human race before we came into contact with Jesus on the cross, these were the things that defined our identity.
Then, at the cross, our identity is shaped into a different mold. Instead of having a need to be admired, we feel no need to define our worth in the affirmation of others. There is no more ego. Instead, we deny ourselves and die to ourselves and we repent continuously. And there is no more self-righteousness, which really is a egotism dressed up in religious garments, self-righteousness is simply a kind of religious egotism.
Has the cross of Jesus shaped your identity?
Sadly, I think as we get older, we stop meditating on the cross. As a preacher, there is always a temptation to preach a new insight. How many weeks in a row can I preach the same message? I mean, seriously. I think, well, people are going to get bored. They are going to tune out. I am going to get bored. So in many ways, we seek after some new teaching or insight or whatever to address our spiritual condition instead of going back to the cross. If only I read the right book about marriage and I got that area settled, then everything would be fine. if only I got out of my dead end job or I got paid a little more, then that will solve everything. So we don’t return to the cross because we are too busy chasing after some other loftier truths. That missing piece that will solve everything. Or we just get uninterested in spiritual things. Or we get discouraged. And we stop believing in the power of the gospel.
It’s like when I was working for a small start-up in W. Hollywood, finances were always tight. We relied heavily on one government contract, but as you have read the news about our national debt crisis, our government finances have not been doing too well in recent years. So the contract ended and then we were back to operating from month to month. And if a customer sent a check and it was late, the boss would be nervously checking the mail several times a day. He was irritable and edgy. Because the company finances were directly connected to the owner’s personal finances and it was a family run business, husband, wife were there running the show and even their son was being watched on the premises. I really don’t recommend working under those conditions.
And I recall those days and I wonder if we, too, are living this way as believers. Do we live as if we are beggars, that are funds are always running low. And so unless we do something, the checks are going to start to bounce and we are going to have to close up shop and file for bankruptcy. Or do we really believe the gospel? The cross says to each of us, God loves you.
Do you believe this? The cross is the ultimate proof that you and I are loved. The cross declares that nothing will separate us from the love of God, not even our sins.
Moreover, God is saying, I have an infinite supply of forgiveness and grace. God’s arms are open wide and He says, come to the cross and you will find that you don’t have to live like a beggar, that in fact your spiritual bank account is overflowing.
When is the last time you replenished your spiritual funds at the foot of the cross? When is the last time you cried out to God because you needed him to touch some area of cynicism or hardness in your heart? When is the last time you marveled that you are saved?
We are not beggars in this world. If you are saved, your identity is secure, you are a beloved child of God. And nothing can change that. You might sin, you might fail, you might totally mess up, but there is always room at the cross for such a person. That means you and me. Isn’t that what we believed when we first accepted Christ? Then, why do we stop believing and why do we stop thinking that we need the cross as we live out our Christian lives?
The Corinthians stopped going to the cross because they thought other truths were more important. And we see the consequences of that departure from the gospel. Their identity became skewed and distorted.
In addition to a distortion in their identity, this departure from the cross also caused a distortion in the area of relationships.
This brings me to my second point. Not only does the cross shape our identity, but it also shapes our relationships.