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The Changed Centre - through the Cross

By Mrs Jessie Penn-Lewis


“He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him” (2 Cor. 5 v15).


          As we read 2 Corinthians 5 v13-18, we cannot fail to see how deeply the Cross is the very centre of Paul’s life. We are familiar with v14 which reads, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them”. These words teach the identification of the believer with Christ in His death and his emergence into a life where he lives wholly and entirely for Christ and not for self.

          His critics at Corinth were charging him with exalting himself and being ‘beside himself’, but he replies, “If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you”, “For Christ’s love compels us”. Then he points to the Cross as the reason why he could say this. He knew that it was not self exaltation manifested in his zeal and intense abandonment to God because of his identity with Christ in death. ‘Self’ was no longer the dominant centre of his being, ‘self’ was no longer the focal base from which he acted.

          How expressive are the words of the apostle in verse 16, “We regard”, here the pronoun is emphatic, “We regard no-one from a worldly point of view”, as you have viewed me. You call me mad in my zeal, but that is a worldly view.

          I know that I have died with Christ and that I am no longer living to myself. It is the love of Christ dwelling in me which compels me, “if anyone is IN CHRIST, he is a new creation, the old has gone”. You are calling me mad, and saying this and that about me, but I know it is not ‘I’ which is dominating me, for I have seen the ‘I’ on the Cross. I have judged the true meaning of Christ’s death. I see that if ‘One’ died for all, then ‘all died’, so that those who are ‘IN Christ’ become ‘new creations’. Their centre is changed. They have a new centre, Christ, all is new and all comes out of God as the central spring of their lives. It is the ‘love of Christ’ that is compelling me, bursting out of me like a torrent from the central spring of His life, and not the mere zeal and enthusiasm which you judge to be the power at work in me.

          This is in line with God’s way of revealing the meaning of the Cross to His children. The inner knowledge of the Cross can never be grasped by the intellect. The death of Christ at Calvary was something so awesome and terribly real that only they who enter by faith into that death can get even a glimpse into it. The message of the Cross can never be merely a doctrine, for it was something more than a doctrine to Christ. God’s way of revealing truth is to work it into our experience, worked out in the life, before it can penetrate the intellect. We shall only get Paul’s knowledge of the Cross as we get Paul’s experience. 

          We can read of the Cross and death to sin in Romans 6, the Cross and death to the world in Galatians 6 and of the ‘grain of wheat’ and the death-life depicted in John 12 v24. We may get light about all these aspects of the Cross and experience a measure of deliverance through the truth and yet not know, deep down in our innermost being, this change of the ‘I’ centre which the apostle speaks about in 2 Corinthians 5 v14. There is something needing dealing with deeper than ‘sin’ or the ‘world’. It is the ‘self’, the ‘I’.  “I,” said Paul, “view no one in a worldly way”. When the ‘I’ centre is dealt with the outlook is entirely changed. Even the ‘view’ of ‘Christ’ can be in a worldly way, from the viewpoint of the self-centre instead of the ‘new creation’ viewpoint which comes ‘out of God’. It is this bedrock basis of the inner life which we must get down to and examine in the light of the Cross. In no other way can the Lord set free in us His rivers of living water, nor can we be brought into the place of authority over the powers of darkness, for the ‘self’ is poisoned at its source by the fallen nature of the first Adam.

          The inner change which Paul realized through the light he had on the Cross is clearly set forth as three times he affirms this ‘new creation’ as his experience, “I live, yet not I” (Gal. 2 v20), “I command, yet not I but the Lord” (1 Cor. 7 vI0), “I laboured . . . yet not I” (1 Cor. 15 v10).

          In the Church at Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 1 v12, we have a glimpse of a contrast to this. “Every one of you says ‘I’ . . . ‘I’ of Paul, ‘I’ of Apollos”. But Paul did not say of himself ‘I’ in the sense of ‘I’ being the originating and moving spring of his actions. ‘I’, yes, it is still ‘I’ but a new ‘I’, a new personality. A new creation by the Holy Spirit, a new ‘I’, because the old ‘I’ has been nailed to the Cross with Christ (Gal. 2 v20).

          This is something wholly beyond our power to grasp mentally. The new creation work must be done by the Creator as much as in the first creation in Eden. Let us not be deceived and imagine that “not I but Christ” is just a motto, a choice, a purpose. It is that, but far, far more. The Holy Spirit will do His part if we see our need and allow Him to do His deepest work of grace in us.

          Here we need to go back to the most vital passage on the meaning of the Cross which is to be found in the New Testament. It is part of the great epistle to the Romans, in which Paul lays down the foundation truths for the Christian Church, upon which alone the whole of the Christian life must be built.

          Passing over the unfolding of the death of Christ as propitiation for sin, (Rom. 3 v25), and as substitution for the sinner (Rom. 5 v6-10), we come to the very bedrock of the sinner’s death in the death of his Substitute in Romans 6. It is this spiritual fact which lay at the base of Paul’s words in Galatians 2 v20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”. Familiar as we are with the words, and to some extent with the truths of Romans 6, let us take one word and see how deep and real the central fact of ‘I’ crucified is meant to be. It is the word ‘DEAD’ in Romans 6 v2 (A.V.), which the R.V. renders ‘died’, to bring out the aorist tense which is so strongly embodied in it. The Greek word is ‘apothnesko’, which the Greek Lexicon says renders the verb more vivid and intense, and representing the action of the simple verb as consummated and finished. It also gives the meaning as “to die out, to expire, to become quite dead”.

          The same word is used in verse 7, “He that is dead (apathnesko) is freed from sin,” and verse 8, “If we be dead with Christ”. Now it is obvious that if Paul used such language of the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, he meant something more than a ‘likeness’. Some argued that if the sin of man called forth so glorious an exhibition of the grace of God, then the “more men sinned, the more God was glorified”. But, says Paul, the Cross deals not only with the sin, but with the sinner. Then he bursts out in vivid and intense language, “How shall we that are DEAD to sin live any longer therein?” In Christ’s death we have DIED to sin, as an act consummated and finished, and he that is thus ‘dead’ is freed from slavery to sin (Rom. 6 v7). Again let us note that this same word, ‘apothnesko’, DEAD, is used in 2 Corinthians 5 v14, Galatians 2 v19 and 21, Colossians 2 v20, as well as in Colossians 3 v3, “For you are DEAD”. 

          In all Paul’s epistles, with their marvellous unfolding of the life of Christ, Paul’s own personal experience of the ‘I’, the ‘self’ crucified, is where we must get to. “I have been crucified with Christ”, “I live, yet not I”.

          Now, having laid the foundation of the need of a new centre, of a new creation, a new ‘self’, let us look at a few other passages showing that on the basis of having ‘died’ to sin, as shown in Romans 6 v2, Paul uses other words to describe the practical outworking of the Cross.

          In Romans 8 v13 he writes, “But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body”, the margin of the A.V. says, “make to die the doings of the body”. The Greek word used is ‘thanatoo’ and the Greek Lexicon says of this, “to take away the vital principle, the lifelessness of that from which the life has been taken away”. Here is the work of the Holy Spirit with which the believer has to co-operate. On the faith basis of ‘dead’ (Rom. 6 v2), the believer must now ‘put to death’ the ‘misdeeds’ of the body, yielding to the Cross all the activity of the fallen nature and as he does so that activity will cease.

          There is yet another word used by Paul in the same connection, ‘nekroo’ in Colossians 3 v5, in reference to the members of the body. The A.V. says ‘mortify’, the R.V. margin says ‘make dead’, the Lexicon note is “to make a dead body or a corpse, the aspect being toward the corpse and the deed by which it became such”, i.e., the members of the body must be brought in all their actions into harmony with the central fact of “death with Christ”. The members are to be made ‘dead’, in that they are no longer to be energized by the fallen life of Adam, but brought under the power of the Cross. They are thereby made ‘dead to sin’ and alive unto God for His service (Rom. 6 v13).

          These words ‘apothnesko’ (to die out of sin), ‘thanatoo’ (to bring the deeds of the body under the power of that death), ‘nekroo’ (to deprive the members of the body of the activity of the old life), do not cover the whole subject. 2 Corinthians 4 v10-11 gives another word, showing that there will be no time in our life on earth where the need for the application of the Cross will cease. Verse 10 reads “We always carry about in our body the death of Jesus”. The word is ‘nekrosis’, a ‘putting to death’, and the Lexicon says it is “the action being incomplete, being in progress”. The deep work of God at the centre is but the beginning of all that has to be worked in us by the Holy Spirit. How clearly the Greek words used bring out the position of having ‘died’ in Christ’s death, and the progressive ‘putting to death’ perpetually which must of necessity be done day by day. “In my body I bear about continually the dying of Jesus,” writes Paul, and the Lexicon says that this describes the cessation of life of any kind. The ‘putting to death’ of verse 10 to which the believer is handed over by the Holy Spirit is for the purpose of ending the activity of the old life of nature, and this is not once for all but continuously. From centre to circumference the identification of the believer with Christ in His death is the necessity for the growth of the new life to full maturity.


From ‘The Centrality of the Cross’.