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Cross theology – What is it? What is the theology of the cross?

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Cross theology (theologia crucis) is a system of understanding man's relationship to God. The phrase was first used by German theologian Martin Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, to illuminate the doctrine of the depravity of man and the bondage of the human will to sin. The opposite system of thought is called glory theology (theologia gloriae). The main dispute between these two theologies is that cross theology claims that man is entirely unable to justify himself before God, and glory theology posits that man has some ability to desire and do what is good.

Theology of the cross places all the responsibility for salvation on God's shoulders, while theology of glory places some of the responsibility for salvation on man's shoulders—not all, but some. Glory theology argues that since men must believe in order to be saved, there must be some ability in a man, despite his fallen state, to see the goodness of God and choose to follow Him. Cross theology, on the other hand, says that since man's heart is deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), he cannot recognize what is truly good. People are born into sin, that is, into a sinful state (Psalm 51:5, Psalm 58:3, Ephesians 2:1-5). We are "dead in our trespasses" (Ephesians 2:5), and enslaved by a love for sin (John 3:19; John 8:34) that we cannot deny. Mankind doesn't seek God (Romans 3:10-11), not because he has no opportunity, but because he cannot resist the sin he loves (John 3:19). The human mind is "hostile to God; for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot" (Romans 8:7).

This presents an obvious problem for glory theology. If this is the state of our hearts, how can anyone have faith in Christ and so be saved? The answer lies in a person's nature. Creatures always behave according to their nature—cats do catlike things; bees collect honey, and so on. If a man born in sin behaves according to his nature, he will never choose Christ because it is against his nature to do so. An intervention of some sort must be performed. The word for this is "regeneration." Titus 3:5 says "he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit." Notice that this verse does not say "he saved us after we believed." The first step is God's, when He regenerates and renews us by the Holy Spirit. This is further illuminated in John 3, as Jesus teaches Nicodemus, saying, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3) and then later, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6).

The Holy Spirit regenerates us, and makes us new (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are new creatures, with a new nature that desires God, and trusts Him. God changes the unbelieving heart from stone to flesh (Ezekiel 36:26) and the changed person then has faith in God. This truth is echoed in Romans 5:8, which says "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." He does not wait to see goodness in us, because it is not there. He chooses us, loves us, regenerates us, and then reveals Himself to us. And when we see Him clearly, through regenerated, new eyes, we love Him back and we trust Him. That is saving faith, and is what cross theology teaches.

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