Over the past month, we’ve been on quite a journey through Scripture: seeking Christ in the Old Testament, discovering the significance of the events around His death and resurrection, and understanding what those things mean as a continuous story. It’s been a historical and intellectual journey so far, and it is always good to travel through God’s Word that way. However, knowing what the Bible says and letting it change us are two very different things.
With that in mind, we’re finishing our journey today and arriving at our final destination of this study: how should our hearts respond to the cross of Christ and the empty tomb? How should it all affect us today?
To begin this final leg of the journey, let’s remind ourselves of the purpose of the cross. Until we understand why it had to happen, we’ll never understand why it matters to us.
Read Isaiah 53:6. These are the words of the prophet Isaiah, written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, but who is “He” that carried the blame for what we did wrong?
What is it that we did wrong? (Using a concordance to discover more about the words “astray” and “iniquity” may give you an even deeper understanding!)
I always think it’s interesting that we are referred to as sheep throughout Scripture. Given what you know about sheep, what is this saying about us? (I realize not everyone has a lot of experience with sheep, but that’s okay. You don’t have to go really deep with this one.)
Read 1 Timothy 2:5-6a. Why do we need a mediator – someone to stand between God and mankind?
If Christ became a “ransom” for us, what does that imply about our situation without Him?
How does this idea – that without Christ, you are a prisoner (or even a hostage!) – make you feel?
Read Romans 7:14 – 8:1. Paul sounds a lot like my internal voice here, so this passage resonates in a particularly powerful way for me. Is there a verse or phrase in this passage that hits you harder than the others? Why is that?
Paul gives us two descriptions of our condition apart from Christ. What are they? What changes that for us?
Use a concordance to find other possible interpretations of the word “condemnation,” as found in verse 8:1.
Those are God’s words about why the cross was necessary, but it is entirely possible to know the facts without allowing them to sink in and change us. It has been said that the longest distance on earth is that between the head and the heart.
Because the cross of Christ was God’s method of accomplishing His ultimate goal of winning back our hearts, this is a critical turning point in our study. In order to go any further, we have to stop and make a decision: will we accept the cross and all that it means? Will we let ourselves become humble before God, admitting our great need for Him? Will we accept the gift of gracious forgiveness He offers us? Will we believe the truth of who He says we were without Jesus, who Jesus is, and what the cross was meant to accomplish? Take a moment to pray and submit your heart again to God. Ask Him to prepare you for what He wants to do in you today.
We still have a lot to cover, so this might be a good time for a break. Go get a fresh cup of coffee and maybe move those clothes over to the dryer before they get gross again. Stretch your legs and come back ready!
Only once we have made that decision can the cross’s impact move from head knowledge to heart response. Now we can begin to discover what our response ought to be to God’s free gift of salvation.
To begin, read Ephesians 4:22. Paul is writing to relatively new Christians in the city of Ephesus. They have heard about the cross and what it means, so what three things does Paul insist they must do?
I think those three things pretty well sum up how we ought to respond to the cross: put off our old selves, be made new in the attitude of our minds, and put on new versions of ourselves. Let’s look a little more closely at what that might look like in practice.
Put off our old selves:
Read Ephesians 2:8 and fill in the blank: _____________ saved me.
You may have heard it said that grace is receiving what we do not deserve. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people had no choice but to rely on their own efforts to find God’s favor. They had rules to follow and laws to obey; in essence, everything was up to them…but in reading their story, we see that on their own it couldn’t be done.
With grace, though, and the free gift of forgiveness God offered them, they no longer had to rely on themselves. They had only to trust God and His Word, placing their lives in His capable hands. It simply wasn’t up to them any longer.
Using your imagination and putting yourself in their shoes (sandals?), what emotion do you think the people felt on hearing this news?
Our culture places such a strong emphasis on achievement and accomplishment, so pride can make it hard for us to accept something we haven’t worked for. To the early church, this was no less true…but the thing they were accustomed to working for was a right relationship with God. Suddenly, this was no longer a requirement for them….and it isn’t for us. Our old way of doing things – working for God’s approval – is irrelevant. We can put off that entire way of life.
Is there something you feel constant pressure to do or to be?
How would you feel if someone told you that was no longer a requirement? Would you find it easy to shift your thinking and behavior?
The good news is you are free from those requirements! The only ones that matter are those placed on you by God, as we’ll discover next.
Be made new in the attitudes of our minds:
Read Ephesians 4:17-19. According to Paul, something specific separates those who don’t follow Christ from God. What is it?
There is a clear sequence of events listed in these verses: ________________________leads to ________________________, which leads to ________________________ and ________________________.
Clearly, those things do not please God, so something has to be done. Fortunately, Paul was never one to mince words or beat around the bush, so we are told exactly what that something is. In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth (what is now 1 Corinthians), he confronted the people about their sins and many of the things he had heard they were doing wrong. He wasted no time in telling them where they were going astray from the message of the cross. Then in his second letter (what we know as 2 Corinthians), Paul explains his motives behind his straightforward approach.
Read 2 Corinthians 7:8-11. Why did Paul initially feel regret over his letter, and what changed his mind?
Because Paul had been so direct with them, what emotion did he assume they felt?
When you have been confronted with your sin – either by another person or by the Holy Spirit – how did you feel? How did you feel toward the person who confronted you?
Fill in the blanks: ________________________sorrow leads to ________________________, but ________________________sorrow leads to ________________________.
Because of their sorrow they felt as a result of Paul’s letter, what did they do?
The Greek word Paul uses – which we translate as “sorrow” – is lýpē, or “grief, emotional pain, or distress.” When the people of the early church were corrected, their response was grief. Sorrow. Deep, emotional pain. They literally suffered.
Think back over your life and recall a time when you suffered as a result of a choice you had made. Facing the difficult consequences of your choice, did you make any promises to yourself? Did you possibly resolve to do anything?
Using a concordance, find out what “repentance” actually means.
Why is Paul glad that his letter made the Corinthians sorrowful?
Sometimes other people can see things in us that we cannot see – or refuse to see – in ourselves. It can be hard to receive their correction, but with humility (from both parties!) those conversations can ultimately lead to the change of mind and heart that God desires.
So that we don’t forget who is behind all of this, read Romans 2:4. Though a person may have been the one to deliver the message to us, who and what are actually leading us to this changing of our minds?
Put on new versions of ourselves:
If we turn our backs on one thing, as repentance requires us to do with our sin, we must naturally be turning our faces toward something else.
Read Acts 3:19. If we turn from our sins, who or what will naturally be in front of us?
Only once we have trusted ourselves to God’s plan for our lives and repented of our sinfulness can we face God in righteousness and pursue Him. We cannot choose both God and our old lives. They cannot coexist.
New believers often cling to 2 Corinthians 5 – especially verse 17 -because of its good news for those who have turned to God in Christ. Read 2 Corinthians 5:14-21.
Sometimes we need to do more than simply read a verse for it to sink into our hearts. Write 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Some translations say that “old things have passed away.” In our culture, what does it mean for something to “pass away”?
Read Galatians 2:20. Remembering what we have learned about the reason for Christ’s death, what does it mean that we, too, have been crucified?
Turning back to 2 Corinthians 5, how is it possible that we have died and yet are alive?
If you became a follower of Jesus later in life, think back on your life before Christ. What aspects of that life have died? What has replaced those things in your new life?
If you have been a follower of Jesus for as long as you can remember, I’m envious! You’ve probably avoided a lot of heartache because of your life in Him. However, you can probably think of a few situations in which you were tempted to go another way besides that of Jesus. Had Christ not brought you into a new life, what might have happened? How might your life be different today?
Now that we understand the internal changes that must happen – and will naturally happen when we surrender wholeheartedly – we can better grasp what Marissa taught us about the Great Commission. This gracious, love-driven change we have experienced in ourselves ought to compel us in our mission to introduce others to our Jesus.
Friend, you are a new person. You are not who you used to be, and you do not have to live like you used to live. Your thoughts, your behaviors, your dreams, your relationships….it can all change in the light of Christ.
To summarize our new purpose in life, read 1 Peter 2:9-12. If the job set before you sounds intimidating, take heart. You aren’t expected to do it alone, and we’ll look more deeply at that in our next study.
Thanks for sticking with me through today’s extremely long lesson, and thanks for taking the journey to and beyond the cross with us. It’s been a pleasure.