Living the Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney
review by Tony Reinke (4/2/07)
If you chase two rabbits, they both escape. Proverbially, that's to say we can successfully pursue only one main thing in life. So for the Christian, what is the single, main thing we should focus our lives around?
Scripture calibrates the Christian life around the cross. It was in the cross of Christ alone that Paul rejoiced and boasted. When pressed for order of importance, Paul made clear the cross (which comes packaged together with the resurrection) was of "first importance." His religious trophy case was emptied out "because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" and he was now found "not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." But the cross - being the center of Paul's life - was no mere personal preference. The Apostle reminds Timothy (and all pastors by application) to "guard" the gospel, and warns that flirting with a slanted gospel is to flirt with damning lies. Paul's hope for the spiritual transformation of sinners was centered in the gospel, as were his affections, personal testimony, public preaching, priorities, assurances and warnings concerning the church's greatest dangers (see Gal. 1:6-9, 6:14; Phil. 3:2-11; Col. 1:23; 1 Cor. 2:1-5, 15:3; 2 Tim. 1:8-14).
It may sound simple that the cross is the center of the Christian life, but Paul drives this point further by reminding the church that she is always in danger of "shifting from the hope of the gospel" (Col. 1:23). We become easily distracted by secondary pursuits.
To my knowledge, no book better communicates the centrality of the cross in the Christian life better than Living the Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney. This volume is largely a combination of Mahaney's two earlier works, The Cross Centered Life (2002) and Christ Our Mediator (2004). The purpose of this single volume can be summarized with these words:
"If there's anything in life we should be passionate about, it's the gospel. And I don't mean passionate only about sharing it with others; I mean passionate in thinking about the gospel, reflecting upon it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world and all of life" (15).
The title of this book - Living the Cross Centered Life - is a bit misleading by suggesting an exclusive focus on life application. The reader will find it excels in its balance of three important topics: Defining the cross of Christ, defining what it means to live a cross centered life and outlining the three main dangers to the cross centered life.
1. Defining the cross. This book clearly presents the sacrifice of the Son as the atonement substitute for wrath-deserving, spiritually helpless sinners. Chapter three (Searching into the Mystery) is an excellent survey of Isaiah 53 in answering the question: Why did Christ die? The problem is that we face "the righteous threat of furious wrath from a holy God" and our only solution is found in the substitution of Christ (55). The fourth chapter lays out the holiness of God and our need for a Mediator followed by a short chapter explaining why only Christ could fill this position. Chapters six, seven and eight are the darkest chapters, as Mahaney paints the horrors of Christ's agony and our guilt seen through the Passion narratives.
2. Defining the cross centered life. Chapter nine applies the suffering of Christ on the cross to the painful trials of our own lives. Christ understands pain. The tenth chapter reveals how the cross gives the Christian daily joy and assurance. The thirteenth chapter is the most application focused: "A cross centered life is made up of cross centered days" (132). Mahaney gives some very helpful guides for all Christians to remain centered on the gospel each day. But what makes this book so versatile in application is Mahaney's self-restraint to launch into detailed advice on marriage, parenting, relationships and conflict issues. Even the most practical chapter is about reading, memorizing and singing about the cross making its application useful to readers of various ages, struggles and circumstances.
3. Defining the dangers to the cross centered life. This third emphasis is worth the price of the book itself. Mahaney breaks the dangers of the cross-centered life into three categories: legalism (chapter 11); subjectivism (chapter 2); and condemnation (chapter 12). The danger of legalism is thinking God is more or less accepting of me based upon by spiritual successes or failures. Subjectivism is the danger of basing my relationship with God upon how I feel today. Condemnation is "a sustained sense of guilt or shame over sins for which you have repented to God and to any appropriate individuals" (125). The cross reminds us that our acceptance before God is based upon the obedience of Christ (not upon our obedience), our objective hope rests in the complete work of Christ (despite my subjective feelings) and there is no condemnation for believers (despite painful memories of past sin).
Mahaney masterfully balances this trio of themes.
Mahaney is especially gifted to push the reader into the gospel to see that Jesus' cross was my cross, His forsaking from the Father to spare me my forsaking from the Father, His atonement for the guilt of my personal sin, His death for me when I rejected Him. Mahaney writes, "Unless you see yourself standing there with the shrieking crowd, full of hostility and hatred for the holy and innocent Lamb of God, you don't really understand the nature and depth of your own sin or the necessity of the cross" (87). Chapter seven is wholly given to this idea that I - not just Pilate - condemned Christ. It's only when we see our own personal guilt in His death that we begin to understand the amazing grace revealed in Christ's death as our personal Substitute.
To put it bluntly, failing to live a cross-centered is sinful (16). Yet we frequently forget about the cross, either assuming the message of the cross or forgetting the message amidst the busyness of life and ministry. Either way, we are frequently in danger of "shifting from the hope of the gospel" (Col. 1:23). The strength of this book is that it reminds believers, pastors and churches to never move beyond its message.
"If you're single, live a cross centered life. If you're married, build a cross centered marriage. If you have children, practice cross centered parenting. The 'practical' stuff flows from the 'central' stuff ... May the reality of what God has done for you continue to be the most captivating thought in your mind ... and may the truth of Christ's death for you always be the most precious treasure in your heart" (155-156).
By pointing us back to the cross, this small volume will prove useful in helping readers honestly assess their own hearts, in offering a foundation for counseling situations, in concentrating small group discussions and in equipping these groups to offer biblical care towards one another, and even more generally by helping churches stay cross-focused in their worship, prayers and sermons. Living the Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney is a rare treasure every Christian should read and return to frequently.
Title: Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing
Author: C.J. Mahaney, foreword by Albert Mohler
Reading level: 1.5/5.0 > easy
Dust jacket: no
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Price USD: $12.99/$10.00 from Monergism Books
ISBN: 1590525787, 978159052578
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright (c) 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
All content including reviews and photographs Copyright (c) 2007 Tony Reinke