The Cross and Criticism

Martin Luther famously stated, “the cross is our theology.” He was adamant that all good theology is rooted in, shaped by, and conversant with the cross of Christ. This thesis was rooted in the conviction that God’s decisive self revelation was Golgotha. If we would know God we must know him through the cross for it is there that he has chosen to disclose himself. This line of thinking is rich with opportunity for fresh insight on all biblical themes. In this post, I want to share a helpful article that brings one theological theme into conversation with the cross. Alfred Poirer wrote an article on The Cross and Criticism. Here is a section of the article.

A believer is one who identifies with all that God affirms and condemns in Christ’s crucifixion. God affirms in Christ’s crucifixion the whole truth about Himself: His holiness, goodness, justice, mercy, and truth as revealed and demonstrated in His Son, Jesus. Equally, in the cross God condemns the lie: sin, deceit, and the idolatrous heart. He condemns my sinfulness as well as my specific sins. Let’s see how this applies to giving and taking criticism.

First, in Christ’s Cross I Agree With God’s Judgment of Me

I see myself as God sees me—a sinner. There is no escaping the truth: ‘No one is righteous, not even one’ (Rom. 3:9-18). In response to my sin, the cross has criticized and judged me more intensely, deeply, pervasively, and truly than anyone else ever could. This knowledge permits us to say to all other criticism of us: ‘This is just a fraction of it.’

‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’ (Gal. 3:10). ‘For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it’ (James 2:10). By faith, I affirm God’s judgment of myself, that I am a sinner. I also believe that the answer to my sin lies in the cross. ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live’ (Gal. 2:20). ‘For we know that our old self was crucified with him [Jesus] so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin’ (Rom. 6:6).

If the cross says anything, it speaks about my sin. The person who says ‘I have been crucified with Christ’ is a person well aware of his sinfulness. You’ll never get life right by your own unaided efforts because all who rely on observing the law are under a curse. ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’ (Gal. 3:10). Thus the cross doesn’t merely criticize or judge us; it condemns us for not doing everything written in God’s law. Do you believe that? Do you feel the force of that criticism? Do you appreciate the thoroughness of God’s judgment?

The crucified person also knows that he cannot defend himself against God’s judgment by trying to offset his sin by his good works. Think about this fact: ‘whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it’ (James 2:10). To claim to be a Christian is to agree with all God says about our sin. As a person ‘crucified with Christ,’ we admit, agree, and approve of God’s judgment against us: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’ (Rom. 3:10).

Second, In Christ’s Cross I Agree With God’s Justification of Me

I must not only agree with God’s judgment of me as sinner in the cross of Christ, but I must also agree with God’s justification of me as sinner. Through the sacrificial love of Jesus, God justifies ungodly people (Rom. 3:21-26). ‘But the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20). My goal is to boast in Christ’s righteousness, not my own. ‘No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law’ (Rom. 3:20).’ This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’ (Rom. 3:22). Pride breeds quarrels, says Solomon. Quarrels are often over who is right. Quarrels erupt in our idolatrous demand for self-justification. But not if I am applying the cross.

For the cross not only declares God’s just verdict against me as a sinner, but His declaration of righteousness by grace through faith in Christ. The cross of Christ reminds me that the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. And because of this, God has thoroughly and forever accepted me in Christ. Here is how grace works: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ ‘He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit’ (Gal. 3:13f). What a sure foundation for the soul! Now, I don’t practice self-justification, but boasting—boasting about Christ’s righteousness for me.

If you truly take this to heart, the whole world can stand against you, denounce you, or criticize you, and you will be able to reply, ‘If God has justified me, who can condemn me?’ ‘If God justifies me, accepts me, and will never forsake me, then why should I feel insecure and fear criticism?’ ‘Christ took my sins, and I receive His Spirit. Christ takes my condemnation, and I receive His righteousness.’

Implications for Dealing with Criticism

In light of God’s judgment and justification of the sinner in the cross of Christ, we can begin to discover how to deal with any and all criticism. By agreeing with God’s criticism of me in Christ’s cross, I can face any criticism man may lay against me. In other words, no one can criticize me more than the cross has. And the most devastating criticism turns out to be the finest mercy. If you thus know yourself as having been crucified with Christ, then you can respond to any criticism, even mistaken or hostile criticism, without bitterness, defensiveness, or blameshifting. Such responses typically exacerbate and intensify conflict, and lead to the rupture of relationships. You can learn to hear criticism as con- structive and not condemnatory because God has justified you.

‘Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?’ (Rom. 8:33-34a). ‘Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it’ (Ps. 141:5).

If I know myself as crucified with Christ, I can now receive another’s criticism with this attitude: ‘You have not discovered a fraction of my guilt. Christ has said more about my sin, my failings, my rebellion and my foolishness than any man can lay against me. I thank you for your corrections. They are a blessing and a kindness to me. For even when they are wrong or misplaced, they remind me of my true faults and sins for which my Lord and Savior paid dearly when He went to the cross for me. I want to hear where your criticisms are valid.’

The correction and advice that we hear are sent by our heavenly Father. They are His corrections, rebukes, warnings, and scoldings. His reminders are meant to humble me, to weed out the root of pride and replace it with a heart and lifestyle of growing wisdom, under- standing, goodness, and truth. For example, if you can take criticism—however just or unjust—you’ll learn to give it with gracious intent and constructive results. 

I do not fear man’s criticism for I have already agreed with God’s criticism. And I do not look ultimately for man’s approval for I have gained by grace God’s approval. In fact, His love for me helps me to hear correction and criticism as a kindness, oil on my head, from my Father who loves me and says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone He accepts as a son’ (Heb. 12:5-6).

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3 comments

  1. As I think you know Kory, I love this. I remember your sermon on this topic. I still have the document you sent me on this. I’ve shared this with others. I reposted part of this on Facebook with a link. Thanks.

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