Martin Luther’s theology of the cross, in contrast to a theology of glory, greatly pervaded many of his other theological systems. This theme is immensely significant because it attacks the very root of all our sinful tendencies—pride. A robust theology of the cross not only draws us to exult in the glory of Christ in his humiliation, but it also calls us to imitate his ‘kenosis’ even to the point of death on a cross. The cross and the crypt must precede the crown. This is the mysterious wisdom of God. However, in our pride and selfishness, we are prone to live out of sync with this gospel truth. A theology of the cross leads us to know the fellowship of Christ in His sufferings. For the sake of knowing Christ, we must be mastered by such a theology of the cross.
Luther’s theology of the cross permeated all of his other theological convictions. Theologians debate as to whether Luther’s theology was chiefly marked by a cross-centered theology, a word-centered theology, and a theology of two kinds of righteousness. There is good reason to suggest a cross-centered theology is the case. Here’s a brief review of how the theology of the cross is central in Luther’s theology. The theology of the cross affects God’s special revelation to us. It is a mystery hidden by the pride and wisdom of man. Too often our understanding of God is that he is a wrathful and capricious God who demands human contribution. But, God has revealed himself through the Incarnate Word, in the Written Word, through the preached Word, and in Sacramental Word. The apex of God’s self-revelation in the Word is always the death of the Son. God’s power is revealed in his humility on the cross. God’s power in the lives of believers is revealed in our weakness. The wisdom of God is revealed in the foolishness of the crib, cross, and crypt, yet the last place human wisdom would look for God is in a manger, on a cross, and in a tomb. Such places mysteriously reveal his amazing love for fallen sinners.
The theology of the cross affects our discipleship. Our personal sufferings (or crosses) don’t save us or others, but they do serve the neighbor. The crosses of daily life convey the love of Christ to others in a world of suffering. We overcome evil by living life under the cross. We must avoid the temptation to think that we are something special for suffering or for success. There can be a false pride in suffering, but if we learn to suffer well, we will know the fellowship of Christ as we make sacrifices to serve others. These crosses are not only illnesses and inconveniences. They arise out of serving in ways that twist us out of our comfort zones for the sake of loving others. Our personal preferences go to the stake for the sake of other people. We should not fall into the temptation that God calls us to be masochists or self-made martyrs. Conversely, we should not fall into the trap that says God wants to bless us with ease, comfort, convenience, and fun. The true Christian life should be one of triumph and power through suffering, not in escape from suffering. In other words, we experience the power of the resurrection through a cross-like life.