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Living the Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahany: A Book Review

Lent begins on Wednesday, February 14th, Valentine’s Day, this year. As we enter the Lenten season, I wanted to share a transformational little book called Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing by C.J. Mahaney. This book’s title alone can be convicting. This reminder to keep the gospel as the main thing, has helped to ground my faith, taking my attention back to what really matters in my life – the gospel of Christ.

Bringing The Cross Into Focus

Honestly, it is so easy to drift away from the message of salvation. Distractedly we forget the mercy shown and the joy experienced in redemptive grace. The mind-boggling concept of God’s redemptive plan – sending Jesus to suffer and die in our place to satisfy the just wrath of God, to love us back to life and clothe us in his righteousness – it sometimes seems too simple to accept. Maybe like me you’ve spent many years professing to be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, while still striving to attain a good standing with God.

A cross, equals sign, heart sketched into sand beside an ocean.
Ephesians 2:8-9 over nature background with butterfly.

C.J. Mananey’s book brings us back to an intent look at the cross and its implications. Living the Cross Centered Life calls us to bathe our minds in this costly but healing work of Jesus on our behalf. And then invites us to stay there, never straying from this most important message.

Unlike The Cross of Christ by John Stott, Living the Cross Centered Life is a quick and easy read. Both works are amazing and well worth reading. But Living the Cross Centered Life may be more accessible with its short chapters, casually inviting style, and personal stories.

Dive with Mahaney into a thoughtful examination of various aspects of the work of Christ. This book looks deeply into the dilemma of God’s holiness and our sinfulness, God’s plan of rescue, the suffering of Christ, and the freedom that Jesus purchased for us. Grasping all that was required, all that was satisfied, and all that is made available to us in Christ is so vital to a thriving faith and fruitful joy.

Subjectivism, Legalism and Condemnation

But Living the Cross Centered Life goes one step beyond this. In his book, Mahaney explores the human penchants that draw our focus away Christ and his complete work.

“In this book’s introduction I mentioned three main tendencies in particular that tend to draw us away from the gospel and a cross centered life:
1. Subjectivism, which means basing our view of God on our changing feelings and emotions.
2. Legalism, which means basing our relationship with God on our own performance.
3. Condemnation, which means being more focused on our sin than on God’s grace.”

What You Feel vs. What Is Real

I found this book especially insightful on Subjectivism which was addressed in the chapter entitled “The Divine Order: What You Feel vs. What Is Real” 

“If we want our hearts to be moved by the gospel, if we want our emotions engaged, if we want to be truly amazed…we have to start putting our feelings in their proper place. So we need to slow down for a moment and contemplate God’s order for truth-based living and thinking, an order which we have a tendency to disregard.” Let me just state that Mahaney is nothing if not emotionally engaged in the story of the cross! His passion for the work of Christ is very evident in his writing.

But Maheney lays out very plainly in this chapter the dangers of something we often fall into – accepting or rejecting a message depending on how we feel about it. As he shares, and as I am sure you will agree, “Our feelings simply cannot be trusted.” Mahaney goes on to share helpful illustrations on the difference between listening to ourselves and talking to ourselves. He affirms that emotions are in fact good, but shows how they can guide us to God’s Word as our anchor for truth. Such a timely message for our world today!

For more reading on faith-sucking approaches to God, I encourage you to also read With by Skye Jethani and check out my post.

The Message That Never Ends

Reading through Living the Cross Centered Life is a rich, insightful and emotional experience. Your understanding for the cross of Jesus will grow. And your appreciation for all that he accomplished there on your behalf will deepen. 

But I love that Mahaney doesn’t just end his book there. Instead he leaves you with very practical suggestions on how, as he says, to preach the gospel to ourselves daily without moving on from it! He concludes with ideas for personal study and devotion to move you past his own book without laying aside the study and wonder of the cross.

The book, "Living the Cross Centered Life" by C.J. Mahaney, resting on top of an open Bible.

Cross Centered Quotations

I truly love this gem of a book! Though the book and its author may be relatively unknown, the message here is so vitally important, so well expressed. The book is both inviting and accessible. C.J. Mahaney pastored for years, even visiting some churches I attended. His writing demonstrates years of study and reading. He shows his familiarity with other authors’ work in great and thoughtful quotations shared at the beginning of each chapter.

“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.” John Stott

“The gospel cannot be preached and heard enough, for it cannot be grasped well enough.” Martin Luther

“The debt was so great, that while man alone owed it, only God could pay it.” Anselm

“The God on whom we rely knows what suffering is all about – not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience.” D.A. Carson

“How easily we fall into the trap of assuming that we remain justified only so long as there are grounds in our character for justification.” Sinclair Ferguson

“All the love and the acceptance which perfect obedience could have obtained of God, belong to you – because Christ was perfectly obedient on your behalf.” Charles Spurgeon

“The Spirit does not take his pupils beyond the cross, but ever more deeply into it.” J. Knox Chamblin

I feel like I could write a chapter on each of these quotes! But guess what? C.J. Mahaney already did in this wonderful little book called Living the Cross Centered Life. I hope you will pick up your own copy and devour its contents thoroughly. I pray that your own life will transform during this Lenten season as you personally embrace the significance of the gospel. May this season and this study bring you into a better understanding of Jesus’ complete and perfect work on the cross.

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