Whoa, there, sweet thing, your cross is a little lopsided.
But so is mine. And so is everyone’s.
How can that be? I mean, drawn on paper, it’s such an easy shape—two simple lines. Ah, but the cross is 3-dimensional, friends, and we all knock it off-kilter in unique ways. (Not that we create a faulty gospel, but we see the true gospel with faulty eyes.)
The shape of your cross determines more than you might guess: how you view yourself, how you view others, how you view God, how you view community, and how you view the world… and how you think God views each of these, too. As a natural fact of life, what you believe dictates how you behave.
If I have a cross that leans more toward justice than mercy, I’m going to be more judgmental than someone whose cross leans in the other direction. If I have a cross that leans more toward right believing (orthodoxy) than right living (orthopraxy), I’ll place less emphasis on applying truth than someone whose cross tends elsewhere. There are a million ways to reshape the gospel. Because we’re fallen people in a fallen reality, we all slant the cross somehow, re-forming it in our own image.
The good news is that being made aware of the situation is half the battle. We’re not doomed to go around wielding skewed crosses at each other (and ourselves). Jesus is still in the business of setting crooked things straight.
As you begin to think about how your own perception might be off, you’re handed a beautiful chance to check your motives and grow in faith-filled dependence on the Spirit. The point isn’t to have the most accurate cross out of everyone you know so you can point out others’ shortcomings; it’s to realign your heart with what is true in order to give and receive love better than you did before. When that shift has taken place, you’re ready for God to show you how you’ve distorted the cross.
Here’s a list of common gospel influencers. Many of these are not inherently bad; we just need to figure out what’s affecting how we navigate this life so we can course-correct where necessary. Note which ones have impacted you the most.
- family of origin
- religious background
- phantom voices (what you think others think)
- education/training/schools of thought
- Scripture (use and misuse)
- socioeconomic status
- the enemy
- strengths and weaknesses
Now get specific. Next to each major item you marked, attach details and amount of influence. (For example, next to emotion, I’d write “fear” rather than, say, jealousy or apathy, and then estimate about 70%. I don’t deal with it nonstop, but it is definitely one of my go-to feelings.) No worries—they don’t all have to add up to 100%. Just get a good grasp on how much input each has. The more precise you can be at this point, the more clearly you’ll notice the warps in your overall gospel.
Take a step back and look at who or what defines the shape of your cross. Where might you need to press in? scale back? turn and run the other way? If I see an utter lack of Christian community in my life, I can prioritize connecting with a small group. Is that traumatic experience from when you were a kid defining how you approach God? Find a good counselor. For someone with all brain and no heart, try taking a spiritual retreat. (I personally need to plan time for fun because the expectations I put on myself are leeching away any faith in the One who called me in the first place.)
As you get a fuller picture of who or what is twisting the gospel in your mind, you can personalize truth for each particular struggle. With the fear thing, I will put up visible reminders of why I can be brave. With the expectations piece, I might benefit from studying and applying sabbath rest. This is independent study at its best—you-shaped help for a cross-shaped life.