In 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul told the Corinthians “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus and him crucified.” And later, to the Galatians, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Galatians 6:14. But why was the cross so important to Paul?
His letter to Timothy gives us a clue. In 1 Timothy 1:12 he writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord,” because “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man,” verse 13, but (thankfully) “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst,” verse 15. And what a change that had made in his life, to the point he was now personally experiencing Jesus “giving me strength, considering me trustworthy, and appointing me to his service,” verse 12.
In other words, it was going through the experience of knowing what he was before he understood the cross, and what he’d become because of the cross that had made the cross so real to Paul. The change in him had been dramatic, and there was only one source of it, “The grace of our Lord being poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” verse 14.
And what made this even more real to Paul was realizing “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” 2 Timothy 1:9-10. In other words, this had always been God’s plan, before we even existed as humans, to make Jesus the one who could rescue us from whatever mess we made of our humanity. Jesus, would be our guarantee, that if we broke down we could and would be repaired.
And Paul was the perfect example of that. Despite having the best religious training available he still broke down into a blaspheming, violent man “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” Acts 9:1. If he’d had his way we’d have no knowledge at all of what Jesus came for, or any personal experience of Jesus repairing us.
But Jesus died to “unite us with him in his death,” so that “our old self” could be “crucified with him,” and the messed up “body of sin” we were stuck in “might be rendered powerless,” Romans 6:5-6. And Paul could say that because he’d experienced it. His “evil desires” (verse 12) against Christians and Christianity had evaporated. He’d experienced a literal “dying to what had once bound him,” Romans 7:6.
It was remarkable, and shocking too, to those who’d known what Paul was like before (Acts 9:13, 21). But this is what Jesus accomplished through the cross, so that Paul could now teach through personal experience that we humans can “put off that old self of ours, so corrupted by its deceitful desires” and “be made new in the attitude of our minds, putting on a new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” Ephesians 4:22-24.
God made it possible “in Christ Jesus” to have our old nature and the stuff we hated in it killed off on Jesus’ cross, so that we could experience having a “new nature,” Colossians 3:10, that constantly grows too, “as we learn more about our Creator and become like him.”
No wonder Paul wrote in Galatians 6:15, “what counts is a new creation,” because this is what God planned for us to be. It took the cross to make it possible, but what a guarantee of his love and commitment that he’d go to that length to repair the wreckage in our lives and restore us back to what he created us to be.
Which is why the cross is so important to Christians.