The Two Halves of the Cross
In countries where for centuries Christian churches have taught the traditional doctrines of repentance, water baptism, salvation, and spiritual rebirth, parts of the gospel message are spread out within the popular culture.
In its purest form, this message is that the blood that Jesus shed on the cross washes the new believer clean of sin. The resurrection of Jesus creates a new birth in the Spirit, provides the Holy Spirit within a person to enable the living of a new and better life, and grants eternal salvation from the penalty of sin.
These basic, fundamental tenets of Christianity, which many have at least heard of and been somewhat exposed to in Christian countries and in many non-Christian countries, is what I call in this book the first half of the cross.
Through churches, foreign missionaries, family members, friends, newspapers, magazines, books, movies, television, the internet, popular culture, or simple osmosis, many people around the world, except those living in the extreme remotest areas, are familiar with some of the basic outlines of the first half of the cross.
When anyone personally hears the genuine gospel message for the first time, and is convicted in their conscience of a wayward life, that person is moved upon by the Holy Spirit to reconsider their previous life up to that pivotal moment in time.
This process of re-evaluation, leading to believing and accepting Jesus Christ into our lives, is called repentance. To repent means to turn around, to do an “about-face” in military language, or to have a change of mind.
The person who is listening to the gospel message, and thinking about changing their life, is considering discarding their current unfulfilling life-plan in favor of an entirely new life approach.
This new life approach involves the inclusion of God in their lives, who is speaking at that decisive moment to their heart and mind through the Holy Spirit. This person, at the point in time of repentance and accepting Jesus Christ into their lives, is contemplating taking a large step away from their past life and a step forward in a new direction having hope, purpose, and renewal as a Christian.
One of the symbols of making this decision for a new life “in Christ” is the Christian experience of believer’s water baptism (Col. 2:12). When a person lies horizontally under the water in baptism, this symbolizes the old sinful life becoming dead and “buried” under the water. When the person rises to a standing upright position waist deep in the water, this symbolizes resurrection into a new life “in Christ.”
In Christian conversion, produced through belief in the gospel, accepting Jesus Christ into our lives, and in water baptism that comes later, most people understand the part about cleansing from sin and the creation of a new, spiritually transformed person in Christ. The visualization of this concept is easy to grasp through the physical actions of going under the water and then coming up out of the water.
This first half of the cross regarding salvation through cleansing from sin, followed by a fundamental change in a person through spiritual rebirth, is not a deep mystery. It is easily understood, even by children, as part of the basic Christian experience in most traditional orthodox churches, and in world-wide Christian evangelical missionary efforts.
The deeper spiritual part of the concept of believer’s water baptism that is less easy to grasp, not as universally well understood, and the most challenging, is that the new Christian’s self-in-charge nature, which is the root cause of our sin problem, is also supposed to be represented as becoming dead and buried in the process.
This is a powerful part of the Christian conversion experience that is also portrayed through the symbolism in believer’s water baptism. The new person “in Christ” coming up out of water baptism is supposed to have Jesus Christ now installed in His rightful place as Lord and King in our lives, with the “old man of sin” who used to be sovereign and in control, left behind for dead underneath the surface of the water.
This is what I call in this book the second half of the cross.
This is what happens in the Bible when people of faith hear the voice of God’s leading and direction, surrender all of their old ways and plans to God, and head off in the pursuit of their individual and unique callings.
The calling of God in people’s lives in the Bible dislodges and displaces whatever ordinary plans and schemes people might otherwise have.
This is what Paul is saying in Galatians 2:20, cited at the beginning of this chapter. To better illustrate this, see Abraham (Gen. 12:1), Moses (Ex. 3:10), Gideon (Jud. 6:14), Ruth (Ruth 1:16), David (1 Sam. 16:13), Esther (Est. 4:14), Peter (Mt. 4:18-19), and Paul (Acts 9:3-5), among many others in the Bible.
Matthew 16:24-25 reads: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
The second half of the cross is another way of describing the process of abandoning our self-in-control nature. It is not self-hatred. God loves us. He created us. God knows, values, and appreciates our natural attributes better than we do.
We are simply in our highest nature and expression when God is sovereign in our hearts. We are in our most natural state of peace and fulfillment when we are human beings living in fellowship with God, pursuing our unique destinies following the leadership of Jesus Christ.
The symbolism of water baptism is perfect for understanding Christian conversion, the second half of the cross, and a biblical journey of faith.
The symbolism of water baptism illustrates the fundamental change that occurred when Abraham, the father-of-faith example in the Old Testament, stepped into his calling from God. A person during baptism cannot be lying horizontally under water, and at the same time be standing vertically upright out of the water. A person cannot have their old self-will in control of their lives, and at the same time be walking with God in their new life in Christ.
The two opposing things…our old self-in-charge nature that we rejected upon believing and accepting the gospel…and God’s plan and will for our lives…cannot occur at the same time.