Living the Cross Centered Life by CJ Mahaney – a book every Christian should read

Every now and then an author writes a book that so hits the mark that I conclude that in my humble opinion every Christian should read them at least once in their life. This year Mahaney has gone and written two.

Regular readers of my blog will remember my review of Humility and my interview with CJ. Today, I will review his new book Living the Cross Centered Life.

The cross is so central to CJ’s ministry that up until now two of his books were about it. This new volume combines the material in both of these books and incorporates new material to make what is arguably the definitive introduction to the doctrine of the cross. Certainly as a practical book which applies the doctrine to our daily lives this has no equal in any book I have read.

CJ begins his book by quoting Stott The Cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough for its sparks to fall on us
He then challenges us to consider what is the main thing in our lives- what defines us? CJ then reminds us that according to Paul that which was of first importance was simply this Christ died for our sins.

If there is anything in life we should be passionate about, it’s the gospel. And I don’t mean passionate only about sharing it with others; I mean passionate in thinking about the gospel, reflecting upon it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to colour the way we look at the world and all of life

Perhaps like many Christians you feel that you have grasped the implications of the cross and are looking for fresh insights elsewhere. Mahaney shares one of his favourite quotes with us We never move on from the cross, only into a more profound understanding of the cross.

CJ is not at all embarrassed to stand with Anslems view of the cross:- The debt was so great that while Man alone owed it only God could pay it. Not for him any modern doubts about substitutionary atonement. CJ is clear about the implications of a wrong understanding of the gospel of the cross he quotes a friends letter which says of his pastoral experience very small errors in a person’s understanding of the gospel seemed to result in very big problems in that persons life.

For Mahaney, a proper understanding of the gospel begins with a proper understanding of our sin. For when you are deeply aware of your sin, and of what an affront if is to God’s holiness, and of how impossible it is for Him to respond to this sin with anything other than furious wrath- you can only be overwhelmed with how amazing grace is.

But don’t think that pastoral sessions with this father in the faith are all doom and gloom. CJ is clearly eager to point out the love of God to people: As a pastor few things affect me more than interacting with those who are unaware of Gods personal love for them. Normally there isn’t a week that goes by where I’m not talking with someone who hasn’t understood this truth Christ loved me and gave himself for mein personal experience

Our personal experience is a vital part of being a Christian. CJ describe the ways we can lose our focus on the cross and hence lose our joy. One of the chief of these is legalism which he defines excellently

Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and justification before God through obedience to God. A legalist is anyone who behaves as if they can earn Gods forgiveness through personal performance It says to God in effect Your plan didn’t work. The cross wasn’t enough and I need to add my good works to it to be saved legalism is essentially self-atonement for the self-glorification and ultimately for self-worship.

CJ shares as part of the antidote to legalism a wonderful quote from the prince of preachers All the love and acceptance which perfect obedience could have obtained of God, belong to you because Christ was perfectly obedient on your behalf

CJ is keen in this book not to merely teach theology but goes on to explain how to live a cross-centred life one day at a time. This little book is a wonderful, wonderful book that can only benefit the reader. Buy yourself a copy, buy your friend a copy, buy your pastor a copy. I suspect this is a book that I shall read many times over the next few years.

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