In the shadow of two million coronavirus deaths worldwide (and counting) and the reverberations of an angst-ridden election and insurrection, self-examination and repentance prove essential this Lent, even for Christians who don’t observe it.

Lent draws us nearer to the Cross with practices like self-examination and repentance. This year, Lent calls our attention to specific sins such as nationalism, supremacy, conspiracy, and celebrity. These words denote the exploitation of power and its destruction of deeply held values in our country. They present a pernicious enticement to Christians who eschew the Cross.

In our anxiety, we can bypass the Cross in a rush toward resurrection. Protestants note how our crosses hang vacant to signify God’s finished work and final victory. But our sure salvation in Christ is not permission to do as we please. Crosses must still be carried (Mark 8:34). To participate in Christ’s resurrection requires we share in his sufferings and become like him in his death (Phil. 3:10–11).

Grace is less a goal of the gospel than a goad to spur us on toward cross-shaped obedience. “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:2). The Cross serves as a shot in the arm, injecting us with courage and conviction to live lives of goodness, compassion, sacrifice, and love. At the same time, the Cross that assures our salvation continually indicts us for our failures, forcing us to return and rely on the grace it provides.

The Cross is God’s victory over death. But victory has been swallowed up by those who distort the cross as a symbol of conquest. Throughout history, we’ve misused the cross to sanction hostility toward perceived enemies ...

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