The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church that when he was with them, he preached Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 1:23). The cross is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. It’s the means that God uses to secure our salvation. But it’s also so much more than that.
In this episode of the Centre for Christian Living podcast, Peter Orr talks to Rory Shiner about his book, Forgiven Forever: Living in the death of Jesus and how the cross is, to quote Rory, “A vast ocean of spiritual power and liveable truth”.
Links referred to:
- Books by Rory Shiner:
- Our 2024 events:
- Embrace AI and lose your soul? How to think about AI as a Christian with Akos Balogh (13 Mar)
- Casual sex or sacred sexuality? Our bodies and relationships under God with Chase Kuhn (Wed 22 May)
- Affluent and Christian? Material goods, the King and the kingdom with Michael Jensen (Wed 21 Aug)
- Who am I? The search for identity with Rory Shiner (Wed 23 Oct)
- Support the work of the Centre
- Contact the Centre about your ethical questions
Runtime: 30:51 min.
Please note: This transcript has been edited for readability.
Peter Orr: The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church that when he was with them, he preached Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 1:23). The cross is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. It’s the means that God uses to secure our salvation. But it’s also so much more than that.
In this episode, I’ll be talking to Rory Shiner about his new book, Forgiven Forever: Living in the death of Jesus. In this conversation, we’ll see how the cross is, to quote Rory, “A vast ocean of spiritual power and liveable truth”.1 I hope you enjoy the episode.
PO: Welcome to this edition of the Centre for Christian Living podcast. I’m Peter Orr and today, I’m very privileged and happy to be joined by my friend Rory Shiner. Rory, welcome to the podcast!
Rory Shiner: Thanks, Pete! It’s really good to be here.
RS: Rory, could you just tell us a little bit about yourself: tell us about your family, what you do, and also how you became a Christian.
PO: My present family: I’m married to Susan. We’ve got four boys. They’re all in high school as we speak. One of them is about to graduate from high school. I’m from two: I grew up with a sister. My parents are in Albany on the south coast of Western Australia.
In terms of becoming a Christian, I had the great privilege that some of the listeners will also have had: I had parents who both believed what the gospel said about Jesus—that he was our Lord and Saviour; that he was risen from the dead; that he died for our sins—they believed that and then the magic combination is that they really lived it as well. They didn’t do so perfectly, but they did so authentically. There was no question in my mind that, growing up, they believed it. They really thought it was true, and they thought it was true both in public and in private, and they still do. They’re both still alive and they live for Jesus. That was my privilege: growing up with parents who were authentically Christian.
Like lots of people from that kind of background, I couldn’t point to a key moment. But a moment that I often reflect on and look back on was a conference when I was in first or second year as a university undergraduate: it was on the cross of Jesus (which is our topic for this episode). I went there and I’d grown up knowing that Jesus had died for our sins and so on. But there was something about that conference. Maybe it was being away, maybe it was the energy of youth or maybe it was that growing independence; whatever. It was absolutely clear to me at that conference that Jesus’ death had been for me and it had achieved the forgiveness of my sins. I’ve never forgotten that.
PO: That’s wonderful! Before we talk about the book, let’s talk about your day job when you’re not writing books: what do you do?
RS: I am the pastor of a church here in Perth called Providence Church. I’m the particular pastor of our city church, and then we have churches in Midland and Bayswater here as well.
Why a book on the cross?
PO: We’re chatting about your new book: Forgiven Forever: Living in the death of Jesus. Tell us why you chose to write a book on the cross.
RS: It’s become part of an accidental trilogy. I wrote a book a few years ago on union with Christ—about what it means to be in Christ or to be united to Christ. That was followed with a book on the resurrection. I basically wrote a series entirely the wrong way around: you should probably begin chronologically with the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus, obviously, came up in the book on the resurrection, and came up in the book about union with Christ. But I really wanted to write on it itself.
I think there are plenty of good academic books on the death of Jesus. I think everyone probably agrees with this, but the death of Jesus in the New Testament is not just a technical description of how God can be both just and forgive us our sins, and so on; it’s the heartbeat of almost everything in the Christian life. My particular heart as a pastor is to make sure the joy, energy, thrill, stamina and endurance that come from understanding the death of Jesus make their way out into every nook and cranny of our lives.
The subtitle is “Living in the death of Jesus” and that’s deliberate, because I want to think not just “What does it mean?”, although there’s lots to say about that, but also “What does it mean to live it?”
PO: Do you want to say a little bit more about that? That subtitle was quite striking for me: “Living in the death of Jesus”. Do you want to unpack some of the lines you took in the book on that a little bit?
RS: Yeah. There’s obviously a paradox there that lies at the heart of the Christian faith: living in the death of Jesus; by his death, we live; by his wounds, we’re healed, and so on. That as a phrase is capturing some of the way the New Testament helps us to think about our lives coming through his death and what he achieves for us in his death.
In the book itself, I wanted to talk about living the death of Jesus, because—I say this somewhere in the book—there’s almost no practical problem the New Testament raises to which the cross isn’t the solution.2 I list off somewhere marriage, dining habits, church planting, courtships, church growth, spiritual warfare, parenting, industrial relations. Almost everything—all those things, certainly—are things that New Testament authors just habitually think, “Oh yeah, the cross will help with that. The cross will have something to say about how to plant a church or run a marriage or raise a kid or negotiate a tricky dining situation at a restaurant, or whatever.”3 [Laughter]
The “Living in the death of Jesus” thing is me wanting to draw attention to the fact that the New Testament does that repeatedly and habitually: it reaches for the cross as the solution to such a vast array of pastoral and personal challenges.
PO: You have a wonderful quote around the bit that you just mentioned, where you say,
The cross is a vast ocean of spiritual power and liveable truth. Too often we are content to play on that ocean’s shore. My prayer for you as you read this book is that you’ll be at least encouraged to come in up to your knees. Then, once you’ve gone that far, you’ll feel how fresh the water is, and you’ll just keep swimming.4
That’s a wonderful prayer for the book.
How the Book of Leviticus helps us understand the cross
PO: Obviously you spend a lot of time in the New Testament, but you also draw quite heavily on Leviticus. That’s a book that we may not be as familiar with. How does Leviticus help us to understand the cross?
RS: Yeah. Leviticus is fascinating. It’s a very strange book to our ears and eyes. It’s quite possible to be in a Bible-teaching church for a long time and not hear a series on Leviticus. I’m not critical of that; in some ways, it’s genuinely difficult material, and so much of it is describing a situation that’s not our world. Essentially, the whole thing is about how Israel are to manage the sacrificial system in the tabernacle. So it’s even about a situation that Israel were only in for a limited period of time, let alone a situation that’s very diverse and alien to us.
However, Leviticus is the book for answering the question in the Old Testament, “How will a holy God dwell with a sinful people?” In the Bible, and I think as you reflect on it, that’s a genuine puzzle. How is that going to work? How is God going to be with his people?
The Book of Leviticus is not asking the question, “Will God be with his people?” He’s already made that promise: he said, “I’ll be their God and they’ll be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. But Israel has become—and here’s the language of Leviticus—“contaminated”. It’s become, to use a word we use a lot these days, “toxic”. God is determined to be with his people, but in the tabernacle, it’s like he comes in a Hazcam suit: he comes to his people in a way that prevents his contamination, and a lot of the Levitical system is about preventing the contamination of the tabernacle—of the holy space itself.
It’s very strange, but it’s essential, I think, for understanding why the New Testament talks about the blood of Jesus. Why do we talk about that? Why don’t we talk about the death of Jesus? The blood of Jesus frames Jesus’ death as a sacrifice and, again, that’s a really odd thing, because the Old Testament is fiercely against human sacrifice. Human sacrifice is what you do with the Baals. It’s this thing that Israel are completely forbidden from doing (Lev 20:2-5). Yet in the New Testament, they describe the death of Jesus, a human, as a “sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:12). What do you do with that? The Book of Leviticus really helps us to get under those two things—the logic of sacrifice and atonement—and also the nature of sin.
Sin is not just wrong. We have very sanitised language: in workplaces, we talk about the fact that we’ve got values and you’ve got to live in alignment with those values, and we have an ethical code of conduct. That’s a particular type of language. The Book of Leviticus uses much more visceral language of defilement, uncleanness, exclusion, and then re-welcoming into the presence of God, and so on. I think without that language, we miss some of the truths about what sin does—that it’s got this disease-like ability to get in everywhere, like mould—and without that language, we lose some of the resources that help us understand what sin is. I think on a moment’s reflection, it is like that: it is a defiling. If we’ve got this highly antiseptic language to describe a very non-antiseptic reality of sin, we come up short. There are a few of the ways that Leviticus shines some light on the cross for us.
PO: That’s very helpful.
Living in a world without atonement
PO: Going from the Old Testament foundation going all the way to the present day, at one point, you talk about “A world without atonement”:5 we live in a world without atonement. What did you mean by that phrase?
RS: Yeah. It’s an observation that in our particular context in the modern West, we have gotten rid of so many notions of atonement. If you go through parts of the world today, and certainly through the ancient world, you would see attempts at atonement everywhere. You’d see sacrifices to this god and that god, and temples and cults, and all that sort of thing. There’s all sorts of stuff that is really fundamentally broken about that. In the New Testament, in some sense, the death of Jesus and the message of the gospel is a solution to and even a rebuke of human attempts at atonement, which were often cruel and certainly ineffectual.
The comment “We live in a world without atonement” is to observe that we live in a world where we experience sin and guilt, but we don’t know what to do with it. I think a lot of the anxiety and challenge that we face in a modern Western situation is that we all know that we’ve done wrong things—that we have defiled ourselves, and that we’ve brought shame on ourselves and our communities through some of the things that we’ve done. But we’ve got no mechanism for atonement—neither the Christian one or even the broken, pagan versions. So to quote someone (I can’t remember who said this), it’s like we’re building up this vast reservoir of guilt that we don’t know what to do with.
You see that manifest in things like cancel culture and so on, where once the culture or the tribe has decided that someone’s out, they’re out. There’s no redemption narrative about what you can do if you transgressed any of our boundaries; you’re just out of the tribe. Whereas, part of that pagan system in all its brokenness is acknowledging that there are ways there and back, and then in the gospel of Jesus, you’ve got God’s own way of finding atonement.
PO: As we take a break from today’s episode, I want to tell you about the events that are coming up in 2024. Our theme for 2024 is “Culture creep”—the way in which the culture can affect our thinking as Christians and as churches. Paul writes in Romans 12:2, telling the Roman Christians, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2a ESV).
We have four events across 2024 that are aimed at helping us to do that—to not be conformed to the world—to resist culture creep—and to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.
On 13 March, Akos Balogh will be talking to us about artificial intelligence and how we should think about that as Christian people. Artificial intelligence is a relatively new technology, and yet its quick and widespread use means that it is something that we need to be very clear in our thinking about as Christians.
On 22 May, Chase Kuhn will be speaking on the topic of “Casual sex or sacred sexuality?” Sex and sexuality obviously are a real way in which we can express our difference from the world as we live according to God’s word. But it is an area also where we are very susceptible to living like the world. Chase will be helping us to think through how we consider our bodies and our relationships under God.
On 21 August, Michael Jensen will be helping us to think through how we live as Christians in a very wealthy world. The title of his talk will be “Affluent and Christian?” and he’ll help us to think through how we should use our material goods in service of the King and the kingdom.
Finally, on 23 October, Rory Shiner will be helping us to think about our identity. The search for identity in different ways, the question of identity and who we are is such a powerful question that our world is asking. Again, it is very easy for us as Christians to follow the world’s lead, rather than have our thinking on this important topic shaped by God’s word.
That’s an overview of the events that are coming up in 2024. You’ll find more details on the CCL website and you’ll be able to register for the events. Hopefully we’ll see you at some or all the events.
Now we’ll return to our program.
How the cross deals with our guilt and shame
PO: Mentioning guilt and shame, you’ve touched on how the cross deals with those in slightly different ways. Do you want to say a little bit about that?
RS: Yeah. There’s a rough-and-ready heuristic out there that says that Western culture is guilt-based and non-Western cultures tend to be shame-based. That’s not true: there is such a thing as shame in our culture, there is such a thing as guilt in non-Western culture, and that’s a much-too-simplified way of thinking.
But like lots of caricatures, it’s not completely wrong. [Laughter] That is to say, there is such a thing, broadly considered. Guilt tends to be internalised. It tends to be our inner voice—like the inner voice of a lawyer, to quote an Australian missiologist: it’s the inner lawyer telling you that you’ve done the wrong thing. You might do something wrong and no one even needed to see it. The last person behind you left some cash on the counter and you picked it up. They didn’t realise they’d left it and you didn’t tell them. No one saw you, but you feel guilty. Something inside you says, “I’ve done the wrong thing.”
In contrast, shame is a social construct. Shame is where “I have been diminished in your eyes”: there are people who matter to me and those people now think less of me. Sometimes that happens in non-moral contexts: for example (sorry to go there!), if someone walks in on you in the bathroom [Laughter], you haven’t done anything wrong, but you do have this sense of shame: you feel ashamed, like you’ve been diminished in their eyes. That’s the place that shame occupies.
The interesting thing is that the Bible has a lot to say about our guilt and how Jesus silences our inner critic, silences the criticisms of Satan, and silences the criticism of God, the righteous criticism of our sin. It has a lot to say about that. But it also has a lot to say about our shame: Jesus took on himself the punishment for the guilt of our sin. He also took on in himself our shame—our diminishment in the eyes of each other. The descriptions of the death of Jesus are often skewed towards shame in a way we sometimes miss. There’s very little description of the physical suffering of Jesus. I can’t remember now, but as you’ll know, I don’t think any Gospel mentions the nails put in his hands. Is that right?
PO: That’s correct. Yes.
RS: Which is a remarkable thing, right. To me, growing up hearing that story as a kid, I just couldn’t stop thinking about that story in terrible ways. But all four Gospels don’t mention it. You’ll say, “What?” and you’ll go back and think, “I’m sure there’s big descriptions of the pain of Jesus here”, and you look and they’re not there. But what you do find in place of the pain of Jesus is the shame of Jesus: it’s embarrassing to be naked on a cross. It’s a diminishment of yourself in the eyes of your peers—that you said that you were the Messiah and next minute, you end up naked, ashamed, and also humiliated in the sense that Jesus doesn’t answer back his critics. He doesn’t come in as the strong man. He’s humiliated. Furthermore, just as he takes our guilt on himself, he also takes our shame on himself so that we can be called sons and daughters of God. That’s the mirror part of shame: because shame is a social problem, it needs a social solution, and Jesus raises our status by being not ashamed of us. That’s the dynamic I explore in the book.
PO: Very helpful. Just on that point, it is quite striking that the descriptions we have of the crucifixion are very minimal in the Gospels: “They crucified him” (Matt 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:33; John 19:18). As you say, compared to the detail that you might get in the movie The Passion of the Christ, it’s quite reserved. They talk about the scourging and things like that, but it is reserved because the understanding is that this a horrific, shameful thing, and they don’t need to spell it out.
Jesus, our high priest
PO: Thinking about Jesus as crucified—as raised—the picture of Jesus as our high priest is something that you talk about in the book. How does that help us as Christians—the idea that Jesus is our high priest?
RS: Yeah. You get a leg up there in the Book of Leviticus. It’s very helpful there, because you have a whole bunch of priests, who are doing work throughout the year, but then you have the high priest who goes into the most holy place, and he goes in once a year. It’s a two-way street: that priest he represents God to the people, so he stands for God amongst the people, declaring the presence of God in the most holy place. But he also represents the people to God, so he has to come from among Israel and go in. He takes Israel into the most holy place, and then he comes out and presents God to the people. So you’ve got this two-way street. That’s the basic job description of priesthood: to mediate between God and humanity.
Jesus is our high priest—especially in the Book of Hebrews, but I think it’s also behind some of the language of Romans 8 as well. Jesus is our high priest and, especially in Hebrews, he’s better. The whole argument is really easy to get your head around: he’s better than. The high priest in the Old Testament, once a year, goes in for a brief moment, meets with God, and then you rinse and repeat, year after year, whereas Jesus, the great high priest, goes in not to the LEGO temple, but to the true temple, and he goes in there permanently as our representative. He’s permanently at the right hand of God, interceding for us. He got there through his own sacrifice: in Leviticus, the priest has to offer sacrifices in order to make his way into the temple. Jesus himself is the sacrifice, which means that we have with God now an advocate—someone who (it sounds almost ludicrous to say it, but) is on our side. He’s in heaven pleading for us and commending us to God.
One of the many things that does is helps to, in the best sense of the word, externalise our our salvation. Why am I acceptable to God? It’s not because my performance yesterday was better than my performance three days ago. It’s not that I’m going to get my performance up to a certain point. In a sense, it has nothing to do with me, but it’s to do with who is advocating for me and on what basis he’s doing that.
The cross and pastoring
PO: In terms of your role as a pastor, how does the cross shape how you do your job? Also, how does the cross (you hope!) shape the life of the church community that you’re pastoring?
RS: Yeah, thanks. With my role as a pastor, I think it’s particularly in that pastor language is shepherd language. That means that I’m always an under-shepherd to the Great Shepherd of the sheep. Whatever costs I bear in Christian leadership, pastoral ministry and so on (and there are some costs and, again, some people listening will have borne more significant ones than I have, but it is a costly thing), I will never pay anything like the cost that Jesus paid for the sheep that he’s brought me to pastor, because he’s the Great Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Those “mini sacrifices” that the Apostle Paul describes—that ministry is this dying daily (1 Cor 15:31) in its own little way—it’s me, it’s the pastor, walking in some modicum of faithfulness to the Great Shepherd, who really did put himself in front of the wolves and allowed his body to be literally put on the line for our sake. That really shapes how you think about the church—as the sheep that he was willing to die for or, to mix metaphors, as the bride that he washed through his own death. That, to use the language of politicians, puts downward pressure [Laughter] on our ability to speak ill of the people who God has called us to serve, because you think, “Man, he really loved these guys! He died for them. The least I can do is faithfully serve them and not speak poorly of them.”
We were talking about the topics that the Bible thinks the cross is relevant to. Another one is leadership: how we exercise leadership in the church and in other contexts is shaped by the death of Jesus: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).6 It’s not just a generic comparison there that Jesus was gentle, so we should be gentle; but that Jesus led by serving. How do we know that? Because he gave his life as a ransom for many. Therefore, Jesus says, don’t lord it over them like the Gentiles (Mark 10:42; Matt 20:25). So there is such a thing as leadership. Sometimes that message gets a bit lost, and people think that the Bible says that leadership is just getting pushed around and doing what other people tell you to do. That’s not what Jesus did. Jesus didn’t consult me and say, “Look, what can I do for you?” He did what I actually needed, which is for him to die. I’m glad he didn’t ask me, because I would never have thought of it. [Laughter] I wouldn’t have thought that my sins needed that kind of forgiveness, and never in a million years would I have thought that that’s the way their forgiveness would be won. He didn’t ask me and I’m glad. But he did serve me, and serve me faithfully.
So I think, again, it’s a very high-risk operation to raid secular leadership literature. [Laughter] It can be done. There is some common wisdom out there. But the Bible just habitually reaches for the cross as its means of explaining what a distinctively Christian leadership looks like.
The cross and assurance
PO: Rory, it’s a wonderful book. I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years. I would say it’s one of the freshest, most helpful books that I’ve read on the cross. As well as being very fresh and helpful, it’s very pastoral, and people—a number of Christians and maybe even some listening to this—may struggle with their assurance. Something that you do wonderfully in the book is apply the cross to the question of assurance. I’m going to read a quote from the book and ask you to respond. You say,
Among Christians, there is a particular sort of introspective, earnest person who will find a way to steal insecurity from the jaws of assurance, despair from the clutches of joy. Such a person will circle down into unsolvable puzzles and unwinnable internal debates: Have I trusted God enough? Am I actually ‘on the boat’, or am I only imagining it? When I’m told to “hold on” to Jesus, how hard should I be holding? Is there a particular grip he prefers? What if I’m only holding on with one hand? What about when I’m asleep? Or concentrating on my work? What about when an old, seemingly beaten sin comes back to haunt me? What about when I doubt? Can you simultaneously be holding onto Jesus and wondering if God is real? What are the other guys doing? Is their “holding on” different from mine? Do their prayers feel more real? Is their faith more faithy?7
What would you say to a person thinking like that? [Laughter]
RS: As I was pulling the book together, I floated that particular paragraph on Facebook, and it was interesting, because some people responded to that and they were, like, “Oh, what about that person? You might have hurt their feelings”, whereas all the people who are that kind of person were, like, “Yeah, that’s totally what we needed to hear.” [Laughter] Fortunately I am that kind of person as well, so when I talk about a particular sort of introverted or introspective person, that’s an euphemism for myself.
Describing myself there, I definitely have a strong ability to overthink almost everything. I really wanted to reach out there, because I think that, for me, there were probably a few years there where the net result of being a Christian was less, rather than more, joy, if I can put it that way. Because of that introspective tendency of overthinking assurance, you end up not focused on Jesus, but focused on yourself. Then you feel guilty because you focus on yourself, and then you get into these weird little circles of despair. So I really wanted to throw that out there and see if anyone else recognised themselves in that particular description, because if they do, I think there’s really good news
I remember in late high school, I was aware that there was this thing called assurance, and I thought it was a separate thing from Jesus—that there was this person called Jesus who had won my forgiveness, and somewhere, hopefully, between now and death, there was this second deposit, which was assurance, and that would come later. Some people had it and some people didn’t.
But actually, assurance is not different from Jesus, and from leaning into him. Let me read you the second part of that paragraph. Here’s my little response from the book:
Can I speak frankly, one over-thinker to another? [There’s me playing my hand!] This is not rocket science. You’re overthinking it. Just trust him! Hold onto him! That’s all. Look to him. Don’t look at yourself looking to him. Don’t take selfies of yourself holding onto him. Just hold onto him. We are saved by grace, not by intensity. We are saved by faith in him, not by faith in our faith in him.8
That’s an important thing, I think—especially if you’re a particular personality type. The intensity of faith can become a real stumbling block. Is my faith intense enough? The point is not how intense your faith is, but who it’s in.
Back to the book:
In the trenches of everyday life, this looks an awful lot like saying your prayers, reading your Bible, meeting with God’s people, confessing your sins and slowly growing in holiness. It coexists with running out of toothpaste, having a bad hair day and forgetting where you parked your car.
Instead of overthinking, you could simply pray like Sir Jacob Astley (1579–1652): “O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not thou forget me.” That’s a good prayer. Trust him. Say your prayers. And get on with living your life in the love of God. God really does love you. As Paul reminds us in Romans, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Think about that. He loved you, and he sent Jesus to die for you, when you were his enemy. Do you really think he’s going to let you down now that you and God are friends and Jesus is raised to life? You’ll be fine. Trust him. He’s got you. He’s really good at this sort of thing.9
That’s my little attempt at reaching out to that angsty kind of person.
PO: Yeah. Very helpful. I’ve been there myself.
PO: I’m very thankful, Rory, for your time on the podcast today. Thank you for writing this really wonderful book on such a central topic to everything for us as Christians. Thanks Rory!
RS: Thanks Pete! Really good to talk to you.
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2 Ibid, 14.
3 Ibid, 14-15.
4 Ibid, 15.
5 Ibid, 58.
6 Rory said it the other way around in the recording.
7 Ibid, 80-81.
8 Ibid, 81.
9 Ibid, 81-82.
Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.