“In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time; all the light of sacred story, gathers round its head sublime.”

So goes the opening words of one of the songs we sing. The idea is that Christ on the cross stands at the center of history, and of God’s purposes for the world.

Part of the reason for this is because of the clarity the cross brings. When we behold the meaning and significance of Christ on the cross, we see both ourselves and God with the greatest clarity.

We see that our sin is much worse than we imagined, if it required something so scandalous and costly. We see that we are helpless to save ourselves, and must rely solely on the gracious gift of God.

We see that God is unashamedly just and righteous, and “will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7). And yet at the very same time, we see that God is overwhelmingly and passionately merciful and compassionate, willing to humbly and painfully sacrifice himself to atone for our sin and bring us into relationship with himself.

And yet such clarity feels like a threat to us, and our pride. We don’t want to admit need, and to accept grace.

Theologian Emil Brunner puts it like this:

“All other forms of religion–not to mention philosophy–deal with the problem of guilt apart from the intervention of God, and therefore they come to a ‘cheap’ conclusion. In them man is spared the final humiliation of knowing that the Mediator must bear the punishment instead of him. To this yoke he need not submit. He is not stripped absolutely naked.”

There are a million ways–religious and otherwise–to “deal with the problem of guilt….” And everyone is doing this. And every method–other than Christianity–would have you believe that you can–and must–ultimately do this on your own. It’s all on you. Which sounds like freedom, but is actually a weight we cannot bear.

But when we consider “Christ and him crucified” for sin (1 Corinthians 2:2), we get the clarity to see that our “help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). Our salvation, comfort and hope are in him and him alone, by design. Christ and him crucified is not one option among many, is not something we can break apart and take what we like but leave the rest. This is not a “postmodern” question of figuring out what works for you. As Creator, Sustainer, Savior and Judge, God has said that Christ alone “works.”

And confessing this is, at one and the same time, devastating to our pride and foundational to our confidence and assurance. We are freed from our foolish attempts at self-salvation and self-sufficiency, and freed for love, gratefulness, worship and obedience to our good and humble Savior.