Mythologizing the Cross

Dali's mythologized crufixion

Dali's mythologized crufixion

When we inwardly mythologize Jesus’ suffering as a story or as mere theology, our redemption becomes mere theology as well.

33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.
34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.
35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”
36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine,
37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”
38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
(Luke 23:33-38, NKJV).

There has been a huge dialog over the relationship between grace and works for centuries. The general thought is that there is a mysterious something that comes over you and changes you, and you become entirely righteous, except not actually.

When Paul says that Jesus was just, and the justifier, of those who have faith in Him (Rom 3:26), it masks a huge reality of suffering. I believe the various aspects of His suffering were carefully orchestrated so that almost everyone’s lot in life could be represented by His circumstance.

  • He was betrayed by His closest friends
  • He was rejected by the religious and cultural elite
  • He was unjustly accused and executed by the political powers
  • He died a friendless pauper
  • He was cut down in the prime of life
  • He was cut down in the prime of His ministry
  • He was physically tortured and killed
  • He was universally misunderstood though He meant no harm
  • He was forsaken even by God

This is not some insightful teaching. You can even dispute some items on that list. The fact remains, it is real, it happened. these are some flawed ways of looking at different aspects of His suffering. When we inwardly mythologize Jesus’ suffering as a story or as mere theology, our redemption becomes mere theology as well. As long as we do not see Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion as real events which happened to a real person, we do not see the Father’s wrath and jealous anger against sin as real. In other words, we do not loath and hate our own sin when we think the cost of our redemption was only a children’s fairy tale.

Theology is important. The meaning and purpose of Jesus’ suffering and public execution, which Paul explains in his letters, is all-important. However, we tend to look primarily at the logic of the theology of His death, and to downplay the raw visceral empirical truth of His suffering. Doing so, we forget the cost of our salvation, and we open the door to a cheap and meaningless gift, our theology becomes anemic. The power of our justification becomes obscure, and we begin to wonder what relationship it has to our life. Weak Christian living stems from weak grace, and weak grace stems from a weak view of Christ’s suffering for us.

This does not imply that there is a backdoor to the obligation of the law. When Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” I believe it includes me. Our salvation includes that we are forgiven for making light of His suffering. As much as I live in a way that demands God’s good wrath, I crucify Him in ignorance. When I sin I make a myth of His death, I marginalize and anemically theologize my salvation. As much as I come and confess my evil, and recognize the wrath He endured on the cross, I am cleansed. The more I recognize the reality of His suffering, the more questions like “I know I am justified, but am I sanctified?” drop off the radar. True justification bought by Jesus’ real blood and real suffering implies a heart-level sanctification at the same time. It brings to question whether you have understood the truth of the wrath you deserved, the cost of your redemption, and the release of real mercy, when you divide justification and sanctification in this way.

Posted in Scandalous Grace and tagged , , .


  1. Jim

    I replied to you on Tullian’s blog, however it has not been allowed. My comment was along the following lines.

    Jim, if this were your blog or mine or even simply Tullian’s then the expressing of such views would be fine. However, this is not a private website, it is part of the Gospel Coalition. What is written has their sanction and approval. In my view what they are approving is not biblical.

    I agree with you that the verses I quoted are predicated on the gospel. My point is that on the basis of the gospel Paul makes exhortations to live in the light of this gospel. He does not see exhortations as a waste of time. He does not see them as futile. The reason for this is that he does not view the believer as a frog, but as a frog transformed into a Prince. He believes we can grow in holiness and likeness to Jesus and does not consider exhorting a waste of time.

    The post implies exhortations are futile. It does not recognise the new nature with its capacities and the empowering of the Spirit.


    Please feel free to delete this comment. I simply wished to fill you in.

  2. John,

    I appreciate the dialog. I really mean it. The time is gone when we can gloss over important questions in the name of a false unity. These are important matters, the most important. I am unified with you in a search for real truth, for real virtue. I understand that there needs to be a basis for exhortation. I am delving very very deeply into that question. In fact I believe that this post and the next one together represent the beginning of a breakthrough in my own thinking about it.

    I don’t think you or I or Tullian or Steve Brown or any of us have plumbed the depths of this question. However, I smell it, I can almost see it. I am not looking for new or old, but for the orthodox sweet obvious truth of it all. If exhortation is to have its effect it must find true ground in radical grace. It must not transgress Romans 3-8, or Galatians, or the parables of lost coins and pearls and treasures and sheep and sons and chest-beating sinners praying and healings that prove authority to forgive and all of it. It must be an exhortation which says that I am determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. It must be truth that sets us free, a freedom the Son has given us which is free indeed.

    I would never delete your comment, and I appreciate being filled in. I love you man!

  3. John 10:17-18 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

    Many religious songs have those who sing them confess themselves as having murdered Christ on the cross (not in but outside of the temple). But I question this sentimentality.

    First, if we all all put Christ on the cross, then Christ’s died is connected in some way to all sinners. Even when it’s implicitly agreed that the intent is not to save all sinners, this “we killed Jesus” idea says that the death is because of all sinners. Instead of a gospel about the salvation of some sinners, the gospel is changed into a LAW WHICH ACCUSES all sinners.

    I Timothy 4:10 “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

    God (Christ the Redeemer) is the only true Savior in the world. No sinner anywhere can find any other Savior outside of the living God. They have no other Savior but Jesus to turn to. All sinners need this one Savior, but this one Savior only died to save some sinners.

    Since there is only one God who is alive, there is only one Savior for humanity to embrace. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim 2:5).

    Second, nobody but God the Trinity has the ultimate power to put Christ on the cross. If we all are supposed to feel bad about crucifying Christ, then is God also to make an apology? May it never be! Acts 2:23-24, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

    “lawless men” lynched Jesus using Roman power and law to do it. Even though God predestined it, that does not eliminate the accountability of the “lawless” sinners who did it. But it does not mean that all sinners killed Christ.

    But also, God gave Christ up to die for the sins of the elect alone. God and not man determined for whom Christ would die.

    Christ purposed that He would die. The Trinity purposed that Christ would die. God is Christ. Christ is God. This does not eliminate the accountability of “the lawless men”, even if they were soldiers, or the “you” Peter is addressing in Acts 2.

    Specific humans 2000 years ago purposed that Christ would die. This means that not all humans purposed that Christ would die. His mother Mary, for example, did not kill or intend to kill Christ.

    We did not ourselves put Christ on the cross. We also are not the imputers. We do not get to decide when and if we put our sins on Christ. We do not get the opportunity to contribute our sins so that then Christ contributes His righteousness. Neither election nor non-election is conditioned on our sins.

    • I think you can make an opinion on a theological question into law, such as this. Did my suffering specifically send Jesus to the cross, or did Jesus suffer in general for all so that in principle all men had the opportunity to be saved. Either way, He died, and I believe it is sufficient to justify me. God believes it as well. This makes it true however the specifics work. We can’t make understanding this perfectly a barrier to justification.

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