A Crossless Christianity?

Nov 8, 2016Kingdom Uncaged

Since when did Christianity become crossless?

Jesus said, “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me” Matt 10:38. He tells his disciples about the mystery of the seed, that unless it falls to the earth and dies, it won’t bear fruit. Bonhoeffer reminds us, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

But that’s not a popular teaching these days. Instead, we’ve settled for a therapeutic Christianity where everyone’s goal is to feel better about themselves, giving lip service to sacrifice. Oh we say words like deny and holiness and surrender, but we don’t die to what we want. (I say this to myself. I preach it to me.) We’d rather convince ourselves that our self-absorbed living is not only rubber stamped by Jesus, but heartily endorsed. After all, doesn’t he want us to be fulfilled and happy? Isn’t that the point?

No, it’s not the point. Joy comes in the aftermath of obedience, but surrender is not typically a “happy” act. It involves death–dying to what you want, subverting your desires beneath God’s, choosing to submit rather than to assert. As Richard Rohr reminds us, “the way up is down.” And down is not very splashy. It doesn’t sell Christian books. It’s the Debbie Downer of messages.

But it’s the way to the kind of life that changes the landscape of the kingdom of God.

Calisto Odede said this at Cape Town 2010: “Sacrifice seems to be the last word to describe the Christian today.” Why is this? Why have we become so lethargic when it comes the central message of the Gospel? The cross connotes a sacrificial leaving behind of the way things were, an ushering in of the ways of God.

It’s so unpopular, the cross. Why? Because it involves death. According to the Apostle Paul, it symbolizes foolishness. It pushes against selfishness. It sheds holy light on sin.

We conveniently do away with sin when we lessen it to a misdemeanor or dismiss it altogether. One church wrote about one of their core beliefs: “We believe sin is not that big a deal. That sounds scandalous when you say it out loud—and to be honest, we do that on purpose. Of course sin damages our lives, our families, our relationships, and our futures. But compared to the vastness of God’s grace and forgiveness, sin is just not that big a deal.”

By patting sin on the head as if it were a creepy, but harmless uncle, we completely eliminate the need for Christ to die. If sin’s not that big of a deal, then what’s the point of Christianity? Jesus would become the greatest fool known to man, dying for something so superfluous.

The truth? The cross is where Jesus bore the weight of every insidious sin–mine, yours, theirs. Sin is a big deal. It’s THE deal. It separated us forever from a holy God. Because of sin, Jesus lost His life. But this wasn’t a passive act on His side–it was a decision He made to set us free from sin’s grip. Therefore, sin should never be conveniently redefined by cultural standards, dismissed as no big deal, or glossed over because it’s uncomfortable to talk about.

Sin means a necessary cross. And a cross means a necessary death.

But we’d rather not talk about that. We’d rather think of Jesus as our kindhearted, peace-loving friend who approves of all our opinions–whether they’re biblically-based or not. We’ve become guilty of making Jesus into our own image. As J.D. Greear said at the Right Now Conference last week, “There’s the real Jesus and the one you make up, which is just a deified version of you.” Think on that a moment. Has Jesus become a reflection of your opinions? Or is He the biblical Jesus? The one who overturned tables in the Temple, who told the woman caught in adultery’s grasp to sin no more, the one who agonized over the death he would face.

We have worshiped the created rather than the Creator (Romans 1) because the created is so much like us, it’s comfortable. And besides, isn’t it oppressive to talk about sin? Why all this hatred? Doesn’t Love win in the long run?

We have forgotten that Jesus is both grace and truth in one person. He is love and judgment, the solution to our sin problem and the one qualified to judge our sin problem. Yes, his love compelled him to the cross, but our sin problem made it necessary. I fear we’ve lost the complete picture of God by emphasizing His love more than His holiness. Both are important.

Oswald Chambers writes, “Anything that belittles or obliterates the holiness of God by a false view of the love of God is untrue to the revelation given by Jesus Christ.”

As a speaker and writer, I shake in my shoes, knowing my responsibility to exegete Scripture rightly. The words of James 1:3 haunt me. “Not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” In the space I’m in, I’m keenly aware of the lure of popularity and public opinion. I thank God often that I haven’t “made it.” Why? Because that kind of spotlight emaciates my wherewithal to surrender. Mark Buchanan warns, “We have let ourselves be consumed by the things that feed the ego but starve the soul.”

My soul starves when I’m not in the position of surrender, when I’m not actively dying to what I want and choosing, by the Holy Spirit, to pursue what He wants. We all have crosses to bear, and they all look different. But we still must bear them if we want to live an abundant, Christ-centric life.

Luke reminds us, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22b). I fear we’ve tried to make Christianity palatable. We’ve created lives that circumvent trials and tribulations, thinking that’s the whole point. We can’t imagine God would ask us to subjugate our desires beneath His. Or that we’d be inconvenienced by His truth.

It’s time we hold a high view of sin, the cross, and Jesus’ beautiful sacrifice there. It’s time we repent from the crossless Christianity we’ve invented for our convenience. Because a crossless Christianity isn’t Christianity at all.



  1. Nom Johnson

    Thanks Mary. Deeply appreciated this. Reminds me of dear brother Dietrich’s words about a Christless Christianity. Some summary/introductory words here:

    “Cheap grace is discipleship-less, cross-less, and Christ-less grace. Cheap grace is justification of sin…but costly grace is a grace which causes men to commit themselves unreservedly to a life of cross-bearing discipleship.”
    “To put it quite simply, we must undertake this task [of regaining costly grace] because we are now ready to admit that we no longer stand in the path of true discipleship…We must therefore attempt to recover a true understanding of the mutual relation between grace and discipleship.”
    To this end he labors in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, attempting to show that grace includes a radical commitment of obedience to Christ and is not merely an abstract belief which has no demands on the life of the believer. (via TheoPhilogue.com)

    Thanks for updating for us all a wee bit of Bonhoeffer’s passion and concern.
    How we need this call!

  2. Susan G.

    Amen Mary! Your words are truths here. The Word says this will happen at the end of time…that hearts would wax cold. I’ve witnessed this first hand… We are all responsible for our own repentance of sins (every day is good), and then to pray for the rest of our family, friends and the whole world to come to Him… really know Him and be obedient. I never want to hear the words “depart from me, I never knew you”.
    Praying for Him to draw those who know Him not, with His lovingkindness.
    Bless you Mary, for always telling the truths of His Word!

    • Mary DeMuth

      Yes, very, very true about me being responsible for my own repentance. Well said.

  3. Janet from FL

    I don’t even know what a real Christian is anymore. I am now a Jesus follower, not a Christian. I do not want to be identified with Christians anymore. I do like this thoughtful post, Mary. We do forget the sacrifice of the cross. I definitely see more selfishness in Christians.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Janet. I resonate with what you say. I’ve been wondering a lot about what defines an authentic disciple of Jesus. It’s certainly more than simply saying “I’m a Christian.”