Why the cross?

 2 Cor 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV)

Have you ever wondered “why the cross?”  If you grew up in a western evangelical church you were probably taught something about a “payment to and angry God” and all that.  The western popular opinion is that Jesus had to die on a cross to protect us from God?!?!  Well, that is a modern concept and not what Jesus intended.  Check out Christus Victor and other posts linked to that one.  Also check out Mel Wild’s posts on “Did God Kill Jesus” and his “Saving Easter” series of posts about the errant doctrine of Penal Substitution.

OK, so if the cross wasn’t a payment to God then how did the cross save mankind?  The answer to that question would likely take an eternity to answer because the cross reveals God’s nature.  The cross shows us plainly who God is.

So what about the verse at the beginning of this blog?  The cross is God becoming our Sin so we could become His righteousness?  What?  Have you ever thought about what that really means?  Want to take a short journey that might stretch your mind and answer some questions?  OK, here we go.

First the “Sin” thing needs to be understood.  We often confuse “sinning” (which is a verb) with the word “Sin” (which is a noun) that Paul uses over and over again in Romans, specifically in chapter 6.  Paul is making reference to a “person place or thing” when he is talking about Sin (in most references).  He is talking about the “power of Sin” and the “slavery of Sin.”  It is almost like Paul is personifying the idea of Sin as some spiritual enemy or supernatural power.  Of course that is true on some level.  Paul talks about how he used to find himself “doing what he didn’t want to do because of the power of Sin working in his body.”  The awesome news is Jesus.  He overcame all the rulers and authorities and powers and more.

The supernatural and mystical impacts of the cross are very important but it doesn’t explain the “He became our Sin.”  Jesus didn’t become a demon or something like that.  So what is Paul talking about?  Here are few more verses to chew on:

 Rom 14:23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (ESV)

John 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me (ESV)

1 John 3:4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (ESV)

Check out this post about “lawlessness.”  Lawlessness is operating outside our identity.  For the Jewish person lawlessness would be operating outside the family, outside the community, alone and against the system.  The lawless would be outcast and not included.  They would be excluded by the very law that was being broken.

As for working outside of “faith” Paul is talking about the same thing as John.  When we are operating outside trusting God we are operating outside our adopted family.  We are living outside of His eternal life in the triune dance of Abba’s family.  We are acting like the excluded when we are actually included.

Jesus is also telling us in John’s gospel that when we are living in unbelief we are living in Sin.  Unbelief, broken identity and not trusting.  Can you see that all of these are products of an orphaned spirit?  OK, maybe that is too “churchy” for this crowd so let me be more clear.

I suggest that the “power of Sin” is our perceived separation from God.  When we think God has rejected us we live like the rejected.  When we believe that God hates us or is angry at us or is ashamed of us or doesn’t like us or thinks we are worthless or despises our nature or all of those lies…we live like rejected orphans.  We live like we are excluded.  In this “independent” place of exclusion, we do whatever we need to do to survive.  That means we do lots and lots of stuff that wouldn’t fall under the “love your neighbor” and “love God” umbrella.  We are raging rage-aholics and angry and selfish and stingy and ashamed and condemned and guilty and hypocritical and unforgiving and un-forgiven (in our minds).  We feel rejected by God so we act like we are rejected by God.

The solution is to know our acceptance by God.  The solution to exclusion-fruit is inclusion trees.  The solution to rejection is unearthly assurance.  Jesus brings us and demonstrates to us and teaches us our inclusion.  Still in our fallen nature we reject the truth of this loving God.  We don’t trust the God that has us hiding in the bushes.

Now maybe we can understand “why the cross?”

What was Jesus on the cross?  Rejected, shamed, humiliated, excluded, condemned, un-forgiven, beaten, whipped, mocked, spit upon, slapped, hated, despised and more.  We humans saw Jesus as the one who claimed to be God’s Son but even the Father didn’t come to His rescue.  We believed that even the Father rejected His Son.  The truth is God never rejected or turned His back on His son, we did.  The Father never excluded His Son, we did.  The Father never beat or hurt or whipped or spit upon or mocked or shamed or killed His Son, we did.  We rejected the God we thought was rejecting us.  We killed the God who we thought had a death wish for us.  We despised the God that we thought hated us.  We saw our SIN in Him and we put it there.  Jesus became our Sin of what it looks like to be living in rejection.

What did He do in return?  He loved us and forgave us.  He was raised from the dead without a death wish.  He was incarnated to save us and remains incarnate while He is still saving us.  The God we assumed was angry and disgusted with us is the God who loved us enough to let us kill Him.  Can you trust a God like that?

That is why the cross saves us.  We can see Jesus, God, our Father, the Holy Spirit there on the cross dying from our rejection of Him and know He forgives us even when we are at our lowest point.  This God who could have called in millions of angels to kill us all instead forgave us while we swung the hammer and pounded the nails.  Can you trust a God like that?

This is why the cross gives us unearthly assurance.  We know that even when we reject our Abba who is Love, He loves us.  Even when we hit Him on His face, He loves us with an everlasting love.  Even when we spit on Him, He declares us as His beloved.  Can you trust a God like that?

Are you getting the picture?  We (as a fallen Adam) had a wrong image of God.  We had a broken and fallen understanding of our Father.  We had a twisted view of our Abba.  We hadn’t seen Him or known Him or perceived Him or believed Him or embraced Him as who He really was…until Jesus.  When Jesus came to reveal the true nature of God and our true identity and our acceptance and our inclusion…we dismissed Him completely.  This is why the cross.  We needed to see that the God of our fallen imaginations was not the God of Jesus.  We needed to know our identity as His children.  We needed to know that we could trust this God with our very lives.  Now we can “take up our cross” and “loose or lives” and “be last” and “die to our old nature” and “live His life” and “know the one true God” and “have eternal life in Jesus.”  We can trust this God.  He died to prove it.

How about an expanded version of 2 Cor 5:21?

2 Cor 5:21 For our sake he made him to be Sin (the power of sin, our perceived orphaned spirit) who knew no Sin (was never ever rejected in His mind or His person or His experience), so that in him we might become (be made a new kind of human who knows our place in the family) the righteousness (the very expression of inclusion and our unearthly assurance) of God (the expression of the triune Family of Love). (LLT)

As a final thought, here is a list of “stuff” we carry when we live as rejected orphans.  It isn’t all inclusive but you get the idea:

Not worthy






Separated from God



Not loved

Not cherished

Not wanted


Not blessed

Not rescued

Not good enough



Can you see that Jesus took on all that list (and more) at our hands on the cross?  Now can you trust Him?  When He was “there” He was loving us.  Now we can know that He has experienced what we feel and we can trust that He is saving us from the list.  We are His kids and He loves us that much.

Yay God!


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