What does the phrase to "nail" something to the cross really mean and is it biblically accurate metaphor?


Clarify Share Report Asked April 15 2019 Mini Robert Banks

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Closeup Jennifer Rothnie Supporter Housewife, Artist, Perpetually Curious
Several metaphors related to 'nailing' things to the cross are sometimes tossed around in the church or used as sermon points: Nailing our sins, temptations, struggles, etc. As well meaning as these sayings are, they are inaccurate.

The reason "nail to the cross" became a saying generally stems from Col 2:13-14, where it says: "When you were dead in your sins and in the circumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."

But note this passage doesn't say it was our sin, trials, temptations, struggles, or past that got nailed to the cross. Rather, it was our 'arrest warrant', the condemnation due to us under the law because of our sin, which was metaphorically nailed to the cross. We also see this in Christ, who was nailed to the cross, being the "fulfillment of the law" for us (Matt 5:17.) 

Some mistake this as the law itself or sin itself being nailed to the cross, but it was not. As Rom 9 states, the law is Holy and Just. But all of us, falling short of God's glory, sin and cannot keep the law. Only Christ could keep it perfectly. For those who look to the cross, Christ's fulfillment of the law is applied to them. They are now under grace, and set apart to be Holy as children of God. For those who reject the cross, they are still under the law and so are subject to the penalty of breaking the law. The law wasn't done away - else no one at all would go to Hell. Rather, those who accept the covering blood of Christ don't approach God through the covenant of the law, but rather the covenant of promised salvation through faith, sealed in the blood of Christ. His righteousness is imputed to our behalf.

And this is why metaphors mis-applying the penalty of lawbreaking being nailed to the cross to sin and temptations and trials, etc. Can greatly distort what was actually done on the cross.

Sin Now, II Cor 5:21 does say that Jesus, who was sinless, was made sin on our behalf. But this is a metaphor in itself - Jesus was made to *represent* sin, He did not become a sinner. Gal 3:13 which shows Jesus becoming 'a curse' is similar. One could say "sin" was nailed to the cross - but this would only be in the metaphorical sense of Christ representing sin in God's eyes for the purpose of fulfilling the law in Christ. It can't be taken to mean our literal present sins. Those haven't been taken away, we can still sin. (I Jn 1:8-10. I Jn 2:1-2.) 

Trials, Struggles  Our trials were not nailed to the cross. We still experience them, and they are for the growth and refinement of our faith (James 1:2-4)

 Sickness  Sickness is not nailed to the cross, Christians may still experience it, and it will not be gone from the world until the New Heavens and New Earth. (James 5:13-16)
[Question: Why did Paul leave Trophimus, a 7-year companion, sick and not heal him?
See Answer: http://ebible.com/answers/10567?ori=167400]

 Temptation  Temptation was not nailed to the cross. We will still face it. Now, we do get everything needed to stand firm against temptation through Christ! (Eph 6)

Scripture does show one other thing being nailed to the cross, so to speak, and that is a believer's old self (Gal 2:20.) We 'die with Christ' on the cross and 'rise with Christ' by His Resurrection to new life. Ironically, one rarely hears a metaphor like "I was nailed to the cross with Christ, and rose with Him at the Resurrection."

Despite incorrect metaphor, what do people actually *mean* when they use these?:
- 'Sin nailed to the cross' means 'God forgave that,' or 'no longer guilty' or 'not a slave' 
- Troubles 'nailed' means God works all things to good 
- Temptation: Christ gives power to resist
- Sickness: Christ won victory over sickness/death at Cross
- Past: I'll see myself through God's eyes not through my past

April 15 2019 1 response Vote Up Share Report

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