There Are Two Sides to the Cross

3D Cross CoverI had unanswered questions about the cross until I came to see that there are two sides to the cross. Let me explain.

I was schooled in what theologians sometimes call “the substitutionary atonement of the cross.” This doctrine points to the fact that Jesus suffered for us on the cross in our place. He did the cross so we never have to, and I believe that doctrine.

But I didn’t know how to reconcile that truth with the fact that the New Testament calls us to godly suffering. If Jesus suffered for us, why should we ever have to suffer? In fact, I was taught by some teachers that the only kind of suffering that is legitimate for believers is persecution. They taught that we should exercise faith to believe for immediate deliverance from every other form of suffering.

First of all, I want to emphasize that I believe strongly in the substitutionary nature of the cross. This side contains the most grisly aspects of Christ’s sufferings in which He experienced a living hell so we would never have to. This is the side we usually speak about when sharing the gospel with seekers, or when establishing believers in the fundamental truths of the gospel, or when nurturing faith for healing, deliverance, provision, and answered prayer.

Jesus suffered the wrath of God so we never have to. He suffered condemnation so we never have to. He paid the penalty for sin so we never have to. He bore our sicknesses on the cross so we never have to. This side of the cross is absolutely magnificent, and I’m incapable of speaking adequately of its glory, riches, and meaning. Blessed be the Lamb of God for dying in our place!

But the substitutionary nature of the cross is not our only message. There’s another side to the cross—what I call the identificational nature of the cross. This is the side of the cross where we identify with and share in His sufferings. As Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20). This is the side of the cross He endured in order to show us how. He’s our Olympic Champion and Trainer who ran the race before us and now coaches us to run the same course successfully.

The substitutionary side is by far the heavier side of the cross. On that side, Jesus did all the heavy lifting. In contrast, the identificational side of the cross that we’re invited to share is both easy and light (Matt 11:30). Since our afflictions are both light and momentary, we consider it incredibly dignifying to share with Christ in this side of the cross (2 Cor 4:17).

Both the substitutionary and identificational sides are brought together in one verse masterfully by Peter: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Pet 2:21). Peter first acknowledged that Christ suffered “for” us, which points to His vicarious, substitutionary suffering. But then Peter went on to describe the identificational nature of the cross when he added, “leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” In His sufferings, Jesus charted a path for us to follow.

In one verse, Peter helped us see that the cross is both substitutionary and identificational.

On the surface, these two sides of the cross appear contradictory. They’re profoundly paradoxical. What is a paradox? Two truths that appear, on the surface, to contradict—but ultimately their juxtaposition opens to a more robust understanding of truth.

THE CROSS: Never Too Dead for Resurrection

The contradiction has us asking, “Did Jesus do the cross so we never have to, or did He do the cross to show us how?” The answer, paradoxically, is both. The substitutionary side saves us from suffering the consequences of sin, and the identificational side offers us the privilege of suffering with Jesus in the war zone of this world.

As paradoxical as it seems, the life of faith is a daily participation in both the substitutionary and identificational aspects of the cross—at the same time. Paul explores these truths extensively in his letters to the Corinthian church.

As you grow in your understanding of the two sides of the cross, may you revel more and more in the glory and power and beauty of the cross of Jesus Christ!

This post is adapted from chapter 11 in Bob Sorge’s book, THE CROSS: Never Too Dead for Resurrection. For more information on that book go here.

The Word For 2022

The Lord gave me a word for 2022, and let me begin this post by sharing how I received this word from Him.

I usually set aside a season of fasting and prayer right around the beginning of each New Year, to set my heart for the coming year. This year it started right after Christmas. I was on day six of a water fast when suddenly I received download from above.

When I started into the fasting prayer retreat, I was extremely stuck. I couldn’t see how I could possibly move forward any longer. But here’s the thing about fasting and prayer—it’s a gift from God to help bring fresh release, momentum, and clarity.

I recommend that every disciple of Jesus schedule a ten-day water fast into their calendar every year. Why water only? Because one of the main purposes of fasting is to increase the intensity of our pursuit after Jesus. Why would we want to do that and then do things that take the edge off that intensity? So I recommend water only, or as close to that as your health will allow.
And I recommend ten days. Why ten? Because when you’re on a water fast, you don’t get past the breakwater until around day six or seven. The first four or five days of a water fast are pretty tough—especially day two—while your body is adapting. For the first five days you keep asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Around day six or seven you get past the barrier reef into smooth sailing and go, “Ah! This is why I’m doing this!”

Many Christians have never done a water fast long enough to experience the sweet spiritual momentum that comes right around day six or seven. And once you break out into those breezy waters, why quit then? Enjoy the flow for three more days! So that’s why I’m advocating ten days.

Let me pick my story back up. It was day six of my fast this time around, which happened to fall on New Year’s Eve, and when I awoke early in the morning, download began to tumble. It seemed to come clearly to me: The word for 2022 is in Two Timothy 2:22.

I like how God sometimes lines up numbers. He’s a Poet, and when He gives you something like “Two Timothy 2:22 in 2022,” you know He’s smiling over the poetry.
Here’s the word for 2022: “Pursue faith” (Two Timothy 2:22).

There’s no better time, than during a global pandemic of anxiety, to pursue faith.

Jesus is speaking directly to your heart, “Only believe” (Mark 5:36). When you have hold of faith, that’s all you need. Faith needs no additives, add-ons, hamburger helper, props, or supplements. Faith has got it, all by itself. Only believe.

Don’t be satisfied merely with the levels of faith that fall into your lap. If you want to touch mountain-moving faith, you’re going to have to pursue it. We’re not simply open to receiving more faith; we’re chasing it down.

What are some ways we can pursue faith? Prayerfully consider starting with these seven ways:

1. Draw closer to Jesus because He’s the source of all faith (1 Tim 1:14).
2. Immerse yourself in the word of God (Rom 10:17; John 15:7), especially the Gospels.
3. Be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5; Acts 10:38).
4. Use the gift of fasting and prayer (Matt 17:21).
5. Glean from the biographies of faith heroes such as Smith Wigglesworth and others (Heb 13:7).
6. Exercise the faith you have because He gives more to those who use what they have (Mark 4:24),
7. Pursue faith with other believers (2 Tim 2:22). Take this word to your discipleship group.

This is the word of the Lord to me personally for 2022, but perhaps it’s for someone else out there too: Pursue faith!