There are two primary ways to properly display the Christian cross. The first is with Christ on the cross, with the skull of Adam underneath His feet. In this we see both His willingness to submit as man, being the victim of sinful humanity, as well as His victory over death, that of which He died for: to conquer death’s hold on us.
The second way to properly display the Christian cross is with no Christ on it at all, implying His resurrection (victory over death). Although, if the cross is without Christ portrays a rather dull and rather confusing theology, in my opinion, and this is why I prefer that the ‘Christless crosses’ have additional symbolic/iconic theology with them.
This leaves us with the popular Roman and Lutheran crosses that have only the crucified Christ on them, with no Theotokos, no angels, no skull, usually nothing else at all. This presents us with a very legal and juridical theology; that Christ died for the sake of the Law (sacrifice is all we see in this one).
Most all Western Christianity teaches that Christ died for the Law; that He died to take the punishment that the Law demands from us. But this is not what Christ died for. The Law, as Saint Paul says, was a tutor to show the Jews Christ, and that salvation is not from the Law.
The penal aspect of God’s Law is not the means or springboard of salvation. The Bible does not teach through the Church that the penal aspect of the Law works salvation, but only teaches this through the doctrines of man.
Saint Paul says in Philippians 2:8 that Christ obediently became man to the point of death. This is referring to his obedience to human nature and not to the Law. Christ had to experience all that we would or could experience in order to be the “ransom” and beat death’s hold on our eternal glory and communion with God.
There has never been a “covenant of works,” as some teach, and salvation was never through works, even in the Old Covenant era. Saint Paul attests to this in Romans 4, where he says that Abraham was a part of God’s Covenant not through works but through faith.
A legal transaction, as Western theology supposes, did not need to take place. In fact, it goes completely against the gospel to say that the cross was a part of a legal transaction; that God was reckoning Christ to earn salvation through works! God was not punishing Christ on the cross to end this supposed legal transaction. Christ was fully man and fully God and living this dual nature here on earth found Jesus on the cross! Christ becomes both the victim as well as the victor through the cross, being killed yet conquering death and its stronghold.