Rejection of God is not limited to irreligion; it is possible to refuse the grace of Christ through religion. Because the heart of Christianity isn’t morality, the nature of temptation isn’t a draw toward immorality.
The irreligious version of this is obvious: the systematic or categorical rejection of God. Life apart from God through religion is more difficult to see. The religious atheist is observant—even outwardly impressive in his adherence. The religious atheist sees his efforts of living like Jesus as sufficient and acceptable to God.
The cross is perplexing to someone earning their acceptance through works. It seems cruel and vulgar—pointless in affecting daily life and practice. To the faithful—who place their trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ—the cross, while no less cruel, is also beautiful because on it we see the depth of God’s love.
In the late 19th century Edward Monro composed a five-part hymn, The Story of the Cross. In the fifth to eighth stanzas Monro writes:
Follow to Calvary;Tread where He trod,He Who forever wasSon of God.You who would love Him standGaze at His face:Tarry awhile on yourEarthly race.As the swift moments flyThrough the blest week,Read the great story theCross will teach.Is there no beauty toYou who pass by,In that lone figure whichMarks that sky?
Monro wrestles with the weight of the cross, “For us Thy blood is shed, us alone.” Yet he is overwhelmed by the grace of God in this sacrifice. The cross is transformative in daily life because on it we see that God’s acceptance is not based on our work, but on his own—that God’s grace has no limits—that God’s love is sufficient where every earthly affection has failed.
In the final three stanzas Monro reflects on the daily impact of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf:
Yea, let Thy cross be borneEach day be me;Mind not how heavy, ifBut with Thee.Lord, if Thou only wilt,Make us Thine own,Give no companion, saveThee alone.Grant through each day of lifeTo stand by Thee;With Thee, when morning breaksEver to be.