Cross Connections

1-11

I think that there’s a reason why we tend to not see these cross connections; it’s the reason why it took me eight years of my Christian life to start seeing them. It has to do with how we read the Bible.

Most of us have the tendency to “pluck” Bible verses out of context and to think about them divorced from how they relate to the text from which they come. It’s understandable; after all, our Bibles come to us pre-divided into convenient chapters and verses. This makes it easy to find our way around in a relatively thick book. But it’s practically begging for us to pull out verses and say, “Here’s what Ephesians 4:31 says,” without bothering to think about what Ephesians 4:30 or 4:32 say, or how they might relate to Ephesians 4:31.

John Piper, one of the preachers and teachers that God used to deeply shape my Christian walk, once compared this style of Bible reading to a pearl necklace. We tend to look at verses in the Bible like a string of pearls; this one is pretty, this one is shiny, this one is helpful, and so on. We memorize verses like John 3:16- “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life,” but we don’t stop to consider the context. You see, John 3:16 wasn’t written to be a single pearl. It connects to John 3:15 and John 3:17. In fact, when John wrote it, there weren’t any verse numbers- those were added hundreds of years later to help us navigate the Bible.

Do you see the little word at the beginning of John 3:16? “For.” I’m willing to bet that every time you’ve ever heard John 3:16, you’ve never thought about the first word in the sentence. What does “for” mean? It’s a logical word, a connecting word. It means “because.” It connects one sentence or clause logically with the sentence or clause that precedes it. For example, I might say, “I ate an entire pizza today, for I was very hungry.” “I was very hungry” is the reason that I ate an entire pizza.

Memorizing John 3:16 without giving a thought to that first word “for” is like focusing on the second half of my example sentence, “for I was very hungry.” “For I was very hungry”- by itself it hardly makes sense. You need the first half of the logical argument to get the whole picture. In the same way, you need to see what comes before and after John 3:16 for it to fully make sense. Here’s the whole thing in context:

The Son of Man must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life, for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The word “for” is often overlooked by us, because we tend to not use it in everyday conversation. We tend to use the word “because” instead. That’s fine; they mean the same thing. I probably wouldn’t say, “I ate an entire pizza today for I was very hungry.” I would probably say, “I ate an entire pizza today because I was very hungry.”

So here’s my first suggestion: every time you see that logical connecting word “for” in the Bible, substitute the word “because.” That will make you see it more clearly. Do that in John 3:15-17, and the meaning suddenly becomes clear:

The Son of Man must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life, because God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life because God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Do you see how the argument builds? Everyone who believes in Jesus gets eternal life, because God loved the world in this way: that he gave his only Son, so that we could escape perishing, because God sent his Son not to condemn but to save.

These logical connections are especially prevalent in Paul’s epistles, because he tends to build long arguments with premises and conclusions. You don’t see the arguments unless you see the connecting words. But it’s crucial to see those connecting words, because the real power of Paul’s letters, and the real power of the gospel, lies in the arguments that he makes. One more example:

In Romans 1, Paul tells the church that he is eager to visit Rome so that he can preach the gospel to them. Preaching the gospel is a good thing. We should want to preach the gospel too. And Paul is really helpful here, because he doesn’t just tell the church he wants to preach the gospel; he tells them why. The problem is, we’ve broken up his argument into nice, tidy, little verses and paragraphs, so we hardly ever see it. Look at Romans 1:15-17:

I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.

Now take out each “for” and put in “because.”

I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome, because I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, because in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.

Those “becauses” are the key to evangelism. Paul is eager to preach the gospel, because he’s not ashamed of it. And he’s not ashamed of the gospel, because he knows that the gospel is God’s power to save everyone who believes. And the gospel is God’s power to save, because in it God’s perfect righteousness is credited to those who believe (that’s what he means by “revealed from faith for faith”). The foundation of Paul’s desire for evangelism is the doctrine of justification by faith. The gospel is at the bottom of his explanation for why he loves evangelism. Simply put, if you struggle with evangelism, it’s because you’ve missed Paul’s argument; you haven’t connected the power of justification to the command to evangelize.

One of my Bible professors opened my eyes to biblical arguments in a simple, life-changing way. He said, “Every time you see a ‘therefore’, ask, ‘What’s it there for?'” Each of those logical connecting words serves a purpose- and its purpose is to transform you.

The simple observation that the Bible argues changed my life. No longer was the Bible a string of pearls, with each verse disconnected from the others and made to be examined and appreciated independently. No, the Bible was a chain- a chain of linking, building arguments, one thought leading to the next thought leading to the next thought. If the translation you use to read the Bible doesn’t have these logical connecting words (the NIV is particularly notorious for dropping “for,” “so that,” and “because”), throw it out and get a more accurate translation that preserves the flow of thought (like the ESV or NASB). That might sound extreme, but it is absolutely critical that you see these in the Bible. Those logical connections in the Bible will unlock a world of gospel power as you start to see biblical authors talking about the cross and then drawing logical inferences and conclusions to your life. Most of the cross connections that follow are simply observations of this phenomenon. Once you start to read your Bible like this, you’ll see them too.

Pearls are pretty. But chains are strong. Don’t build your life on the prettiness of pearls; build on the strength of chains.

God’s design for these Cross Connections is that the power of the gospel would connect to specific areas of our lives and transform them. But just as there are myriad ways that God calls us to obey him, and just as the gospel is like a glorious, multi-faceted diamond in all of its perfections, so Cross Connections do not all function the same way. God knows that different circumstances call for different motivations, and he is kind to condescend to our weakness by giving us exactly what we need in the gospel to empower our obedience to him.

Cross Connections motivate obedience in three ways: by logical argument, by the power of example, and the offer of promise. These three categories are not mutually exclusive, but seeing them clearly and understanding them will help us press further into the power of the gospel to transform our lives.

A word of explanation is in order here. You might be wondering why this introduction is going on and on- you might be thinking, “Get to the Cross Connections, already!” But since I believe that the power of these Cross Connections lies in specific Scriptures connected to specific acts of obedience, I want to be as specific as possible in our study of them. Too many Christians settle for a shallow reading of God’s Word, and shallow lives are the inevitable result. If you want to go deep with God- a deeper fellowship with him, deeper intimacy, deeper love, deeper joy, deeper obedience- then a deeper, closer study of his Word is a necessity. God has chosen to reveal himself in a book; we would do well, then, to study it. “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2).

LOGICAL ARGUMENT

You’ve seen how this type of Cross Connection works already in Romans 1:15-17, which we looked at previously, but I want to unpack it a little further. The power of biblical arguments- a series of logical steps leading to a conclusion- lies in their ability to change the way we think. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Paul admonished in Romans 12. The main practical way that our mind is renewed is by pressing the Bible’s logic into the way we reason and weigh options and make decisions, until the way the Bible thinks becomes the way we think.

Let’s revisit Romans 1:15-17 to unpack this a little further. Remember how we changed each “for” to “because” in order to see the logical steps more clearly?

I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome, because I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, because in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.

Paul’s reasoning starts at his conclusion and moves down to the foundation of his argument. “I am eager to preach the gospel” is his conclusion, the point he is trying to make and defend. The rest of the argument explains why he’s eager to preach the gospel, and each “because” moves down to a more fundamental reason.

Here’s what I mean, by way of example. Recall my logical argument, “I ate an entire pizza today, because I was hungry.” That’s a simple two-step argument– conclusion and one reason. “I ate an entire pizza today” is the result of me being hungry. But let’s suppose that you really wanted to press into why I would eat an entire pizza in one sitting. (This, of course, is a silly example; no one cares why I would eat a whole pizza. But Paul’s argument is of vital importance; it is crucial that we not only know that he was eager to preach the gospel, but that we know why, so that his inspired reasons can become our reasons).

Let’s flesh out my example argument a little. “I ate an entire pizza today, because I was hungry, because I went to the gym this morning.” Now we know a little more; I ate a whole pizza, ultimately, because I went to the gym this morning. Going to the gym was the foundational reason for my gorging on pizza. You can unpack it like this:

1. I ate an entire pizza today, because
2. I was hungry, because
3. I went to the gym this morning.

If you want to see it even more clearly, you can work the argument in reverse, and change each “because” to a “therefore” (you can think of “because” as a logical word that works from conclusion to foundation, and “therefore” as a logical word that works the other way, from foundation to conclusion). Observe:

1. I went to the gym this morning, therefore
2. I was hungry, therefore
3. I ate an entire pizza today.

Now let’s apply this silly example to the inspired, life-changing logic of Romans 1:15-17.

1. I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome, because
2. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because
3. It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, because
4. In it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.

Now work the argument in reverse by substituting “therefore,” and you’ll more clearly see how the gospel is supposed to function in empowering our evangelism:

1. In it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, therefore
2. It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, therefore
3. I am not ashamed of the gospel, therefore
4. I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Paul connects the objective, glorious truth of justification– that in Christ, God’s righteousness is credited to believers through faith– to a specific, subjective result: being eager to preach the gospel. It’s all well and good to say that, but the logical steps make that connection come to life and give it power. God’s righteousness is credited to believers in the gospel; therefore the gospel is God’s power to hold those believers all the way to final salvation (that’s how Paul always uses the phrase “unto salvation”). Because Paul knows that it is the gospel of God’s free gift of righteousness that will preserve him as a believer, he is not ashamed of that gospel (how could you be, when free access to God’s presence and never-ending joy and life is promised to you?). And because Paul is confident and unashamed in God’s grace, that unashamedness manifests itself in eagerness– eagerness to preach the gospel.

Knowing those logical steps– not just in your head but in your heart– is the key to eager evangelism. This is how eager evangelism comes about, not by efforts or programs or classes or books, but by the Holy Spirit taking the truth of justification and its logical inferences and setting fire to it in your heart, so that God’s revealed righteousness burns in your life with flames of eager gospel preaching.

So every time you read your Bible, take my professor’s advice. When you see a ‘therefore,’ ask “What’s it there for?” Follow the argument from foundation to conclusion, and pray that the Holy Spirit will ignite those logical chains into life-changing transformation.

THE POWER OF EXAMPLE

The second way that Cross Connections function is by holding up Jesus in the gospel as an example worthy of our emulation. Many, perhaps most, of the Cross Connections in the New Testament work on this principle.

One of the most obvious examples of this type of Cross Connection is in 1 Peter 2. Peter wrote this epistle to a group of Christians who were struggling under persecution, encouraging them not to give up.

The issue at hand is enduring faithfully under persecution and suffering. Perhaps you take a stand for truth at work and get passed over for a promotion. Perhaps the other students at school know you’re a Christian and subtly (or not so subtly) put you down and deride you. Or perhaps, as is happening even while I write this, you’re one of the Christians in Iraq forced to flee from the threat of imprisonment and beheading. In the face of such persecution, whether it is mild or life-threatening, how are you supposed to endure? In 1 Peter 2:20-21, Peter connects this experience to the cross:

“If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” ~1 Peter 2:20-21

One way that God intends for you to endure is by seeing the example of Christ and imitating him. The gospel is a powerful story- a story of a King who, in response to our rebellion, steps off his throne, trades places with the rebels, pays their penalty, and then gives them his entire kingdom. There is much in this story worthy of emulation.

One important word of caution is in order, however. Some people, in seeing these “example-type” Cross Connections everywhere in the Bible, make a tragic and fatal error. Rather than seeing the gospel as the power that makes our imitation of Jesus possible, they make his example into the gospel itself. They say, “Jesus came as a good teacher to show what life with God is like; he healed and taught and did good and stood for righteousness and finally submitted nonviolently to oppression. We should be like that.” Well, yes, that’s true. But too many people make his example into the gospel itself- the gospel is boiled down to “Jesus gave us an example so that we would act like him.”

Let me say emphatically that, while that sentence is true, it is not the gospel. If all that Jesus’ life and death accomplished was to give us an example to follow, there is no good news and no gospel. Having an impossibly perfect example to follow is not good news; it is bad news. Seeing Jesus’ love for others and being expected to imitate him is bad news because I can’t do it. Unless Jesus’ love for others in the Bible is an expression of His saving, redeeming, transforming love for me, His example only adds to my guilt– it’s just one more thing God requires of me that I don’t do well enough.

So when you come to an “example-type” Cross Connection in the Bible, don’t make the fatal mistake of confusing the gospel with the example. The gospel is the good news that in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, eternal life and forgiveness of sins is offered to all who will repent and trust in him. There are numerous examples in that gospel for us to follow, but they are not the gospel in themselves.

But there’s another mistake that’s easier to make when looking at these types of Cross Connections, one that is more subtle but perhaps just as destructive. It would be easy to look at an “example-type” Cross Connection and be discouraged by the seemingly impossible duty it lays on you. You might read 1 Peter 2:21 and think, “It’s great that Jesus did that, but how am I supposed to be like that? I get bummed out when I stub my toe; how am I supposed to endure real suffering like he did?”

The reason that we can so often get discouraged by the example of Jesus is because we’re mistaken on how those examples are supposed to function in our lives. Simply put, we’ve been approaching the example of Jesus as duty; i.e., this is what we’re supposed to be like. But what if, instead, we’re supposed to see in the example of Jesus, not just duty, but delight?

I believe that seeing these “example-type” Cross Connections as primarily delight instead of duty is the key to their power. They’re not in the Bible to shake their finger at us and say, “Now you’d better be like this!” Rather, they stand in Scripture as a shining light saying, “Look at what your Savior is like! See his beauty! Know his kindness! Feel his love! Stand in awe of his glory! Be amazed by his grace! Look and live!”

I know that this is how these Cross Connections are intended to function, because 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that this is exactly how transformation happens in the Christian life: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” As we behold Jesus’ glory in the gospel– the glory of his love, the glory of his humility, the glory of his patient suffering– the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see his glory for what it really is– compelling, beautiful, valuable, worthy of imitation. It is that spiritual sight of glory in the gospel that changes us to be more like him.

Take our example from 1 Peter 2:21 for instance. If you only read 2:21 (“To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps”), you might only see duty. But keep reading, and it becomes clear that the Holy Spirit’s goal is for you to see glory, and delight in that glory, and ultimately be transformed by that glory. Seriously, keep reading:

To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

The note of emphasis in this passage falls, not on duty, but on delight. See who your Savior is, and what he has done for you! He is the utterly sinless One, perfect in holiness, ever-truthful and righteous. And yet see his response to the treacherous, blasphemous revilings of his enemies (treacherous, blasphemous enemies like you!): he did not return evil for evil or mocking for mocking. Instead, he prayed “Father, forgive them”– he prayed this for you. He entrusted himself to the Father whose perfect justice will ultimately hold sway in every heart and every corner of the universe, the same Father who loves you, adopted you, and watches over your way. And in doing this, he displayed far more than an example to be followed; he accomplished your salvation. Every sin you have ever committed, each of which merit an eternity of punishment, were laid on his shoulders and paid in full by the priceless blood of Jesus. He stood in your place that you might stand in his place– dead to sin and alive to righteousness, full of joy and peace forever. His wounds, more terrible and painful than you could ever know, have bought full and complete healing for you, which has begun now in part and will be fully yours in the new heavens and new earth. You were the lost sheep that he left to find– you and every other person who will turn from their sin and embrace the Savior, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for you.

God intends for this portrait of the Good Shepherd to sustain the suffering of his sheep. The way these “example-type” Cross Connections work to motivate is to hold before you a picture of Jesus, exactly the picture that you need to empower the obedience he is calling you to in that moment. If you are suffering unjustly, as in the above example, you need the glory of the suffering Savior to sustain and transform you so that you can bear up under it. So when you come to these kinds of Cross Connections, don’t meditate on the command in view; meditate on the cross in view, until the glory of Jesus presented there fills your mind and heart, giving you the strength you need to move forward in obedience.

THE OFFER OF PROMISE

The final way that Cross Connections motivate is by the offer of promises. In the gospel, God is holding out indescribably wonderful promises to the believer- promises of forgiveness, eternal life, fellowship with himself, all-sufficient strengthening grace, the work of the Spirit in your life, answers to prayer, peace in trouble, security in his care, reward in heaven, and the list goes on. God intends for these promises to sustain our obedience, especially when life gets hard.

Jerry Bridges says it this way: “The best kept secret among Christians is this: Jesus paid it all. I mean all. He not only purchased your forgiveness of sins and your ticket to Heaven, He purchased every blessing and every answer to prayer you will ever receive. Every one of them- no exceptions.”

Every promise holds out hope for something in the future. In the gospel, these promises of future grace are secured and guaranteed by God’s acts of past grace– the cross, where every blessing you will ever receive was purchased for you. In response to promises, faith looks back to the cross and says, “Yes, God bought this promise for me, and proved his love for me there,” and then faith looks forward to the time when God will them as he has said. Looking forward, faith says, “Yes, God will surely do this for me,” and then proceeds to live as if God really will do what he says.

Let me give you an example. In Romans 8, Paul has reached the pinnacle of his unpacking of the gospel. Some of the biggest, deepest promises in the Bible are here. After 8 chapters of gospel, Paul responds in 8:31 with a rhetorical question brimming with amazement: “What then shall we say to these things?” What response could there possibly be to grace like this? He continues:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

This has been called the biggest promise in the Bible- bigger, even, than Romans 8:28 which precedes it. It reaches back to the cross to provide the strongest possible foundation– God did not even spare his own Son in his love for us; and looks forward to the widest possible promise– this same God will give all things, everything, to those who trust his Son.

Do you see how the promise of future grace is grounded on the assurance of past grace? This Cross Connection actually uses two different kinds of motivation at once; it’s both a logical argument (an argument from the greater to the lesser), and an offer of promise. It argues that if God did the comparatively harder thing– in this case, giving up his own Son to death on a cross– then we can be confident that he will surely do the comparatively easier thing– give everything else to those who trust Jesus. And the offer of promise looks into the future– a future where God has given the believer everything– and brings that back to the present for motivation: don’t worry about those who might be against you, because God is committed to giving you everything in Christ.

These gospel promises are everywhere in Scripture, and we’ll see some of them in our study of Cross Connections. As you read the Bible, look for promises, and pray for grace to believe them. This is one of the primary ways to fight sin in your life. For an excellent resource on this topic, I suggest Battling Unbelief by John Piper.

With these introductory lessons under out belts, we will now move on to examine eighteen Cross Connections in more detail. This book is intentionally broad in its scope; part of my aim is to show that absolutely everything in the Christian life is directly connected to the cross, and the best way I can think of to show that is to deliberately walk through a wide variety of biblical virtues.

Each chapter unpacks how the gospel relates to one virtue that God calls Christians to walk in, and includes application questions and an accompanying Bible study. The first nine chapters center on the fruit of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s fitting to start with the fruit of the Spirit, since these are the central virtues of the Christian life, and the proof of new life that Jesus said would be in every disciple. These fruits, as we will find, grow best in the blood-soaked soil at the foot of the cross. The next nine lessons are a sampling of other various cross connections, to give you a taste of just how deep and pervasive this theme is in Scripture.

Each fruit and virtue of the Christian life in this book is associated with an icon, a picture, that relates to how the gospel connects to it. Love, for example, is depicted by a mirror, since the Cross Connection verse we’ll be looking at is Ephesians 5:1- “Be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live a life of love.” Kindness is shown by a dollar sign since, as we’ll unpack in that chapter, kindness is costly. Joy is depicted by a drop of water, since our Cross Connection verse is Isaiah 12:3- “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Each of those icons is intended to be a pictorial representation of each Cross Connection to help you more easily remember them.

My hope and prayer is that through this study of Cross Connections, you will grow in your grasp on grace, the cross will become more central and precious in your eyes, and that Jesus will become more and more real as you see his grace in your life.

Soli Deo Gloria

NAVIGATE CHAPTERS: