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The Preaching of the Cross
By David A. DePra
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (the preaching of the Cross!) For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord. (I Cor. 1:14-31)
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:1-2)
The preaching of the Cross is not simply the proclamation of the historical fact that Jesus Christ died for us. Of course, everything is based on that, and without it as the foundation, nothing else can be preached. But the preaching of the Cross is really all that Jesus’ death MEANS FOR US in the Christian life – in an ongoing way.
The Cross is an instrument of DEATH. And for us, the Cross was, and is, the means by which everything that belongs to the OLD nature and creation – all that belongs to Adam – is severed. The power of the old creation and the realm of darkness is broken through DEATH – the death of Jesus for us on the Cross. All of that sounds negative. But it is actually the best news possible. For if the OLD is broken through death, it means that the NEW is possible through new life in Christ.
Now, if you examine this, you will find two things to be true: First, the preaching of the Cross will leave NO ROOM for the old man. Second, the preaching of the Cross is actually a message of freedom from the old man, and a proclamation of newness of life in Jesus Christ.
The Starting Point
The Cross is the END of the old creation in Adam – indeed the end of OUR old man of sin. But it is also the BEGINNING of the NEW MAN in Christ. In fact, the very shape of the traditional Cross sort of pictures this – it is that of a crossroads, or intersection. This is appropriate because you cannot be delivered from the old, nor can you get started with God in the new, unless you come to the Cross.
If there is one thing we need to see it is this great Truth: The Cross ends the OLD, and begins the NEW. The Cross brings an end to Adam, and to the powers of darkness behind the old creation. But having done that, the Cross leads to resurrection in Christ.
The Cross ENDS THE OLD, but BEGINS THE NEW. I emphasize this once again for a reason – we must see that we cannot have the new without the Cross.
Adam cannot inherit the things of God. God will not rehabilitate Adam. God will not give Adam religion. The Holy Spirit has not come to make Adam pretty, release the potential of Adam, or help us, "discover the champion in ourselves." No. Adam MUST DIE – and this is an absolutely certainty. Indeed, Adam HAS DIED in Jesus Christ. It IS finished. In God’s Redemptive plan, NEW LIFE is only the product of DEATH – it is a product of the death that was accomplished by the Cross of Jesus Christ.
If you really grasp that, you will see why any teaching that suggests that you can have life in Christ without the Cross is heresy – it is a denial of the Cross. But you will also see that to preach such heresy can be more subtle than someone getting up and openly proclaiming that we can have life in Christ without coming to the Cross. No. Actually, all that is necessary to deny the Cross is to neglect mentioning it – just bypass mentioning it, and offer people life in Christ by neglecting the Cross.
Today this is exactly what is happening on such a broad scale that it has become almost normal. Churches and preachers are more and more refusing or neglecting to preach the Cross of Christ because they consider it a negative message. They don’t want to offend people, or say anything that might keep them away from their church. Thus, we have the, "seeker friendly," movement. We have popular preachers like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren, who preach that God loves you, and that God wants to bless you, and that God wants to work out a wonderful purpose in your life – but they neglect and bypass the very starting point from which all of those promises of God must BEGIN: The Cross of Jesus Christ.
Now, take note: When I say people neglect the Cross, I am not saying that they deny that Jesus died on the Cross. Neither am I saying that they deny that Jesus’ death on the Cross is the key for us. No. Jesus’ historical death on the Cross is often mentioned – although even that is being mentioned less and less. But what is NOT mentioned – indeed, it is deliberately avoided – is that the Cross means the death of SELF. The Cross of Jesus Christ means that God has put aside everything that we might otherwise celebrate about ourselves. The Cross is the death of the old creation – indeed the death of ADAM – of OUR ADAM. And this is a Truth that is most definitely avoided today.
Instead, we are being told that Jesus died to release our greatness or potential. The suggestion is that by natural birth we are all diamonds in the rough, and that Jesus died to bring out the best in us. This message is central today, in one form or another. It sounds good to some people, because they have not seen their true nature. And it makes other feel good – which is a big thing today. But it is a subtle, even ignorant, denial of the Cross. Jesus did not die to bring out the best in us. There IS NO BEST in Adam. The irony is that Jesus died to set us free from that which some people think is a good thing – SELF.
For example, Joel Osteen has, as his motto, or theme song, "Discover the Champion in You." Do you believe that there is a champion in you, yet undiscovered, and that the Holy Spirit has come to bring this champion out in you? Did Jesus die to deliver you from your poor self-esteem, so that the real champion in you could be released into greatness? Or did Jesus die for your sin against God? Is new life in Christ about YOU? About YOU coming into the fullness of your dreams, desires, and will? Or is new life in Christ about making you into an expression of God’s dreams, desires, and will? Well, if being an expression of God’s will and God’s dreams sounds negative to you, and hits you the wrong way, and if you instead want to fulfill your dreams and your will, then you need to understand that God is warning you – you have already stepped over the line into deception.
Preachers like Joel Osteen do NOT mean that Jesus died so that you would discover that He is the ONLY champion we have. You’ll never hear that. They mean exactly what they say – that Jesus died so that you could come into YOUR full potential. This gains acceptance because there is a potential in Christ into which God wants to bring us. But once we neglect to mention that all of our potential – that all of who we are in Adam must DIE if we are to come into any potential – we have completely distorted the gospel itself. Instead of making Christianity about the resurrected JESUS CHRIST IN US, this error makes Christianity about the glorification and potential of the Adamic creation. It skips the Cross and applies all that Christ has done through the resurrection to the OLD creation.
Can we see that? To neglect or deny the Cross is to apply resurrection life to the old creation AS a dead creation. It is to give Adam the things of God. This can never be. Adam must die. The old man must die. Only the new creation in Jesus Christ can live and fellowship with God.
Another Modern Example
"I don't think anything has been done in the name of Christ that and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence, counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition." (Robert Schuller, Time, March 18, 1985)
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: (John 16:7-8)
According to Jesus Christ, a primary job of the Holy Spirit is to, "make people aware of their lost and sinful condition." According to Robert Schuller, to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition is, "more destructive to human personality," and has been more, "counterproductive to evangelism" – than anything else done in the name of Jesus Christ, and, "under the banner of Christianity." Who do you believe, Jesus, or Robert Schuller? And what do these statement made by Schuller – which he has repeated thousands of times over the last 50 years, say about his personal relationship with Christ, and about His teaching? Is it possible to say that it is WRONG to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition, if you, personally, have been made aware of YOUR lost and sinful condition, and come to the Cross and been saved? I submit it is NOT possible. For you are declaring foolish, needless, and indeed WRONG – the very essential of the Cross, and of the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and our lost condition. Paul said:
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; (silly and needless) but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (I Cor. 1:14)
According to the apostle Paul, if I think that the preaching of the Cross is needless, then it is EVIDENCE that I’ve never come to the Cross, and therefore, it is EVIDENCE that I am perishing. Do we believe that? Or do we think that Paul was just being petty? Paul also said that to those who are saved, the Cross, rather than be needless, is the POWER OF GOD.
The Bible is literally filled with warnings, proclamations, and teachings as to the Truth of God, verses the errors of Satan. Right here we have one. But what is the reaction of most in Christianity today towards preachers like Robert Schuller? Well, they embrace him. He has his TV show – on which you will rarely hear his real beliefs. Schuller is sent millions each week. His church is one of the biggest and most successful today. And many other preachers today have no problem standing along side of him. In short, we completely ignore the Word of God. And the results are exactly what the Bible warns against: Their word will eat as does a canker. (2 Tim. 2:17) The denial of the Cross is like a disease – and it is spreading everywhere today, in many varied shapes and forms.
As I mentioned, all you need to do to deny the Cross is make another starting point for Redemption. Just offer people LIFE without DEATH. Offer them the things of God – tell them how wonderful God is – but don’t tell them they MUST come to terms with their sin, and must come to the Cross. Preach a message that tells them that God will give them their, "Best Life Now," and that God will give them their dreams. The fact is, the gospel of Satan, indeed, of antichrist, is to do exactly that: To allow ADAM to skip the Cross and possess the things of God. Read the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. This is exactly what Satan offered Jesus, and it isn’t an accident that he did.
The Positive Message of the Cross
The message of the Cross is that through Christ we are delivered from sin, and really, from everything that belongs to the old creation. But you see, if we don’t realize that we are in bondage to sin – indeed, if we are offended by the suggestion that we are – then the message of the Cross will NOT be to us a positive message. Rather, it will be an offense and a negative message.
Let’s go back again to the passage from I Corinthians:
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God….it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
Could we find a greater contrast regarding the Cross than that between those that are perishing, and those that are saved? Those that are perishing believe that the Cross is foolishness, that is, needless and silly. Those that are saved believe that the Cross is the POWER OF GOD. Why the difference in perspective? What affects that? Simple. Those who are perishing think the Cross is foolishness because they have no conviction of sin or of their need. But those who are saved have seen the Cross is their only hope for deliverance from the old creation. It is the only path to life.
Can we see this? If you don’t think you are all that bad, you won’t think you need deliverance from sin. Oh, you must agree with the doctrine that states that you are a sinner. You will probably be religious enough to parrot the doctrine that states you need it. But there will be no conviction. However, if you have been convicted of the fact that you are lost and without hope, you are going to know that the Cross is the POWER OF GOD. You will know that through the Cross you have been delivered from the old and hopeless creation, into resurrection.
If you see what I am getting at, you will see that EVERYTHING pivots on the Cross of Jesus Christ – how I view the Cross is really evidence of my true spiritual condition. Even if I am already saved, I will know that except for the Cross of Jesus Christ I am a reprobate. Only through the Cross was resurrection in Christ possible.
There is something that Christians today need to come to terms with, and come to terms with big time: The preaching of the Cross is NOT optional. Those today who avoid the preaching of the Cross – who avoid all reference to sin and the need for repentance, on the grounds that it might offend people – those who do that are saying that the Cross is THEIR ENEMY! Why avoid preaching it otherwise? Why be ashamed of it? They may not say it in words, but by their deliberate neglect of this essential Truth of Christianity, they are saying that the Cross is a negative and that it is foolishness. And if that is the case, as we have noted earlier, the apostle Paul says that their neglect of the Cross is EVIDENCE THAT THEY ARE PERISHING.
Why? Why is it evidence that they are perishing? Because they are considering needless the very core of Redemption – they are considering needless the ONLY MEANS by which life in Christ is possible. Consider THAT needless and you are admitting that you have no life in Christ. In short, if a person doesn’t think the preaching of the Cross is necessary, indeed, if they consider it to be a liability to their church growth, then it is impossible that the person themselves could have embraced the Cross and been saved. Sure. You aren’t going to think foolish the very means of YOUR OWN SALVATION.
Note again some of the words of the apostle Paul:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:1-2)
As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. Neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Gal 6:12-14)
Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) (Phil 3:17-19)
Notice the terrible, and yet absolutely true indictment of the apostle Paul upon those who neglect, deny, or water-down the Truth of the Cross of Jesus Christ. First of all, he states that he makes the Cross of Jesus Christ CENTRAL to both his message and to the way he lives. We’ll get into that more in a bit. Secondly, he contrasts the preaching of the Cross over and against those who preach OTHER MEANS by which we can be made right with God – such as circumcision. Today we usually don’t specifically use circumcision as an alternative to the Cross, but we do use other things that cause people to, "glory in their flesh," rather than bring their flesh to the Cross for a complete death in Christ. Isn’t doing so the very definition of the gospel of self-esteem?
Of course, preachers today like Joel Osteen have turned this refusal to preach the Cross into an art form, indeed, they have turned their refusal to preach the Cross into something they brag about – as something that they refuse to do, "out of love," for people that they might offend with the message of the Cross. Osteen has stated that he doesn’t have the Cross in his church, or preach about it, because he doesn’t want to offend people. And so much of the seeker-friendly, purpose-driven movements of today have the same mentality. Does it sound like these preachers, and these movements, believe that the Cross is the power of God – the instrument of God’s deliverance? Does it sound like they want to announce to the world that the Cross will save them from everything they are? No. It sounds like they don’t believe that – it sounds like they think that the Cross is needless and negative. For if they saw the Truth about the Cross, the message of the Cross would be front and center – as it is in the Bible. But all of these things are nothing more than evidence that Satan has gained a great foothold in the ministry and lives of those who promote such heresy.
The message of Jesus, the apostle Paul, and of scripture, is that we should NEVER be concerned about whether we offend people with the preaching of the Cross. EVER. First of all, a person cannot be saved – they cannot even get started with Christ – unless they come to the Cross. Thus, if the Cross offends them, as Paul said, IT IS EVIDENCE that they are perishing. Anyone who truly wants the Lord will COME to the Cross when they hear the message.
The fact is, if someone is at first offended the Cross, they can still turn to Christ. But if they do, the Cross is going to be the FIRST thing with which they must deal. It is not going away. You are not going to help people, or love them, by hiding from them this fact, or by putting off the Truth of the Cross.
The real Truth of the matter is that the message of the Cross makes it impossible for anyone to sit on the fence. The Cross makes it impossible for people – as is common today -- to sit in church for years and never repent, and never realize their hopeless condition. Rather, the message of the Cross, right from the start, makes people face their sin and rebellion, or simply their ignorance of the Truth. And that is what God wants. This is not a game. It is not playing church, getting religion, or a matter of tricking people into coming to church, only to later, "spring on them the real Truth."
If you and do not come to the Cross of Jesus Christ as someone who is relinquishing their lives to Christ, we cannot be saved. We cannot be raised in Christ unless we die in Him. We cannot have resurrection life unless we first take our place at the foot of the Cross. The Cross is the dividing line in history. It is the dividing line between the old creation and the new creation. It is the death of the ADAM in us all, and the means by which Christ then comes to dwell in us. It is the doorway OUT of the realm of darkness, but INTO the kingdom of God. We dare not neglect it, belittle it, push it to the back-burner, or become afraid of offending people with the Truth about it. Indeed, without the Cross you do not have Christianity. You cannot have Christians.
Jews and Greeks
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness. But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
In a very real sense, what Paul says here about Jews and Greeks applies to us all. The Jews wanted signs and wonders – as evidence of God. Jesus told them that the greatest evidence and proof that He would give was the resurrection, which is not possible without the Cross.
Today this pension for signs and wonders is everywhere. But the preaching of the Cross is becoming less and less. Millions attend, "miracle services." Many send in money to televangelists in exchange for the promise of a blessing from God. But how many would attend, and how many would send in money, if the preacher invited them to come to the Cross and be set free? Not many.
Another example of how the Cross is avoided is the charismatic teaching of the second blessing, which they say is, "the baptism with the Holy Spirit." Charismatic teachers claim that this is how we receive power from God – power to do signs and wonders, to serve, and power to grow in Christ. But this is error. According to Paul, CHRIST HIMSELF is the power of God. Not an ANOINTING, or a THING, or a MOVEMENT, or a second blessing IN ADDITION to Christ. No. CHRIST IS THE POWER OF GOD.
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God…..For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness. But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
If you read the above passage again, the context clearly is that our identification with JESUS CHRIST CRUCIFIED is what Paul is talking about. Sure. If we take our place at the Cross, the result is resurrection life and POWER THROUGH CHRIST.
Have we realized that CHRIST IN US is the only, "power we have?" That all that we have is found IN HIM, and that there is nothing outside of Him? Thus, we do not receive a THING called, "power," through a second EXPERIENCE called the, "baptism with the Holy Spirit." No. We receive Christ through the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the result is CHRIST IN US. There is no second blessing. There is ONLY CHRIST. How much more power do you think God has for us – that is not found in Christ? None. We are complete in Him. Read Colossians.
The fact is, when people are offered the things of God through a means OTHER than the Cross and the resurrection – such as through a second blessing that can by pass all of that – this is a subtle denial of the Cross. Not a denial of the historical fact, but a denial of what the Cross MEANS FOR US. It may not be a denial in words. Or even consciously on purpose. But people by the thousands are being told they need a second blessing to get the FULLNESS of what God has for them. But they are not being told about death and resurrection in Christ.
Signs and wonders and experiences do not prove anything. But if you come to the Cross, what is raised up from that death is Christ in us – resurrection power in Him. That is real.
The Jews also believed that law-keeping and the study of the law could make you righteous before God – and gain you heaven. But the Cross is evidence that nothing that we present to God about ourselves can commend us to God. It must all DIE IN CHRIST. Only if we are IN HIM – through His Cross and through His resurrection -- have we eternal life.
This is a great stumbling block. To be told that everything you are, and everything you have done, and that everything you want – that ALL of that must take it’s place at the Cross and be completely lost – that is unthinkable to many professing Christians. For today we are being told that God wants to give us our dreams. We are told that God wants to bring out the greatness in us – that we are to discover the champion in ourselves. The message of the Cross is that ALL OF THAT is a lie, and that God desires quite the OPPOSITE.
But you see, we are back again as to WHY people take offence at the Cross, and as to WHY many think of it as a negative, condemning message. For if you do not realize what you are made of in Adam, and have little real conviction of sin, and if you are in love with this world and with this life – then the Cross will be as an enemy to you. You will not think of it as God’s instrument of DELIVERANCE. Rather, you will think of it as God’s instrument of cramping your style. You might even think that the Cross is God’s instrument of CONDEMNATION upon you.
The last thing that a happy, content, and self-righteous person wants to hear is that they must LOSE THEIR LIFE at the Cross if they want to FIND IT. They won’t see any reason to lose it – because they LOVE IT. And today more and more preachers are teaching people that they OUGHT TO LOVE IT, and that God wants them to LOVE IT. The gospel of Satan always, one way or another, denies the Cross by rendering it needless or foolish. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to say that today professing Christians are actually being taught HOW TO BE AN ENEMY OF THE CROSS – all in the name of love, happiness, and supposedly, in God’s will.
Then there is the, "Greek mentality," towards the Cross. The Greeks were the intellectuals. They thought that wisdom, or higher knowledge, was the key to eternal life. One way to do this today is to imagine that knowing the DOCTRINE of the Cross is equal to actually coming to the Cross. Many people make this mistake. We cannot see the difference between knowing facts about Jesus, and actually surrendering to Him at the Cross. But again, the fault here is that the Cross is not preached. People are not shown the difference. If it were, this mistake would be much less possible.
I cannot imagine the thousands of church-going Christians who know that Jesus died for them – they know the doctrine of the Cross – but have no clue as to what it means for them. Many assume that they are saved, but they have never repented, relinquished their life to Christ at the Cross, or come into the knowledge of the Truth. They have never even been told what resurrection life in Christ IS, or what it means to pick up their Cross. The preaching of the Cross would make this ignorance impossible – by saving some and offending others.
One thing that the Truth always does is DIVIDE the true worshippers from the false. Once the Cross is preached – in Truth and love -- all of those who truly want Christ will come to Him, or rejoice in the Truth, because they have already come to Him. But all of those who don’t want Christ will get offended and leave their church, or turn aside into deception. Is this bad? It is not bad at all. For God remains open to accept those who once turned away from Him – they can always turn to Christ through the Cross. But once the Cross is preached, then the church can no longer be fake, and religious, any longer. It will be real – populated by only those who want the Lord.
Engrafted Into Christ
In order to see what the Cross MEANS FOR US, we need to look at a few basic Christian Truths. If we get them straight, everything else will line up.
For example, despite the clear teaching of the Bible to the contrary, many Christians continue to believe that the death of Jesus Christ upon the Cross was God’s PUNISHMENT upon Him for our sins. No. Jesus was not bearing the punishment FOR sin on our behalf, such that once He bore it, God could then life that punishment for sin FROM US, and pronounce us, "forgiven." Does that shock you? Well, understanding the Truth about this is really a key to the entire Truth of the Redemption.
Rather than merely bear our punishment FOR sin, Jesus actually bore SIN ITSELF – indeed, He bore us. Jesus bore the entire Adamic creation, including all of the sin of the human race. He bore our SIN and He bore our SELF. In effect, Jesus did not take away PUNISHMENT. Rather, He took away SIN. Unless we start there in our understanding of the Cross, we aren’t going to get very far:
Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (1 Pet. 2:24)
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Rom. 6:6)
The next day John sees Jesus coming unto him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; (Col. 2:14)
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new….For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor. 5:17-21)
It is certain that
if Jesus bore sin, then He bore the judgment FOR sin – and He certainly did so
as our substitute. Jesus tasted death for every person – He died a death that
Christ will never have to die. But saying that this was nothing more than Jesus bearing the punishment at the hand of a wrathful God leaves us open to great error. It simply isn’t the Truth.
Think about it. If, by His death on the Cross, Jesus Christ bore the wrath of an angry God on our behalf FOR SIN, then we might reason that justice was satisfied. We might say that since the wages of sin is death, and since Jesus paid the penalty of death for us as our substitute – then we might reason that God could then LIFT FROM US the punishment of death. God, having lifted from us our punishment, could then pronounce us FORGIVEN. We would no longer be under the punishment – for Jesus bore it for us.
This is what millions believe the Cross accomplished. But it is wrong in tone, but it is also wrong because it is incomplete. Why? Well the biggest reason it is wrong is this: What I have described does NOTHING to set us free from sin. All it does is set us free from God’s punishment FOR sin. In fact, the redemption I have described actually makes the problem between God and man to be GOD – His anger, His wrath, and His demand for punishment. And it makes Jesus the solution, not as God’s Deliverer FROM SIN, but as man’s deliverer from a wrathful God.
It may shock some people to discover that this false picture of the Redemption is actually one that is specifically WARNED AGAINST in scripture. The passage is found in I Corinthians:
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. You know that you were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as you were led. Therefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. (1 Cor. 12:1-3)
The Corinthians to whom Paul was writing were formerly Gentiles who were steeped in pagan religion. Paul says that. He says, "You were Gentiles, carried away with idol worship." It is evident that Paul is writing to them because he wanted them to see the contrast between their former idol worship and the Truth of the Redemption in Jesus Christ. This is why he says," Therefore – because you used to worship false gods – I give you to understand….."
So the context here is the contrast between the worship of false gods, and the Truth about Jesus Christ. But Paul then gets specific. He says, "No one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed." What does that mean?
Well, in the worship of false gods, it was common for the worshippers to offer to that false god some object, or person, or offering. This offering was made to APPEASE that false god – in other words, the offering was made to gain the favor of the false god, or to appease it’s wrath. Such an offering was referred to as, "accursed." This term means, "to devote to destruction." Thus, the pagan worshipper would give an, "accursed," offering to his or her false god – and in doing so, devote that offering to destruction at the hand of that false god.
In almost all pagan religions the worshippers were afraid of the false god. Sure. We are here talking about demon worship, and the occult, and the depth of darkness. There was no relationship of love possible. False gods were MAD and WRATHFUL. They demanded blood, and sometimes even human sacrifice. And so, as a pagan, you offered an, "accursed," offering – upon which the false god could pour out it’s wrath – instead of YOU. The accursed object, if you will, was YOUR substitute. You appeased the anger and the demands of this false god so that it would once again be happy with you – at least until next time.
Paul is telling the Corinthians that this kind of worship does NOT apply to Jesus Christ. And yet so many of us DO apply this pagan type of worship to Christ – we simply transfer the whole thing over to Christianity and put the name of Christ on it. We think that as the pagan is to God, and as God is to the pagan, so the true God is to the Christian. And we think that as the accursed offering is to God, so Jesus Christ in the real Redemption is to God. But can we see that this is EXACTLY what it means to, "call Jesus accursed?" Can we see that this is EXACTLY what Paul is telling the Corinthians is ERROR?
You cannot escape the Truth that is in this passage. Once I make Jesus Christ nothing more than an accursed offering to God – one who is devoted to destruction or punishment on our behalf, so that God’s anger can be appeased – I am doing exactly what Paul said we must never do. I am, "calling Jesus accursed."
In the minds of many people, Jesus is the parallel equivalent, in the Christian Redemption, of an accursed object in a pagan redemption. To many, Jesus was offered to bear the wrath, punishment, and destruction, at the hand of a wrathful God, so that we would not have to bear it. And once Jesus did that, we imagine that God, being appeased, was then able to love us. He pronounces us free of punishment, and thus forgiven. We are then free to carry on a relationship of love with God.
Paul says NO. But he doesn’t leave it there. Having exposed the possible error in our thinking, he goes on to show the Truth. He says, "No man can say that Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit."
So we have this contrast: Wrong teaching on the Redemption will, "call Jesus accursed." But right teaching will say, "Jesus is Lord." We have already seen how error paints Jesus as an accursed object offered to appease a wrathful heavenly Father. But how will Truth show Him to be Lord?
Jesus is Lord in the Redemption because He bore, not punishment for sin, but sin itself. And through His resurrection, He conquered sin and death – and ushered in newness of life.
One scripture that might be used to illustrate this is found in Romans 6:
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Rom. 6:5-7)
God says that we have been planted together – engrafted – into the death of Christ, and thus, shall be one with Him in His resurrection. But note that this depicts an ONENESS with Christ – which is another way of saying Christ BORE us; bore our old man of sin. Sure. That is why Paul says, "our old man is crucified WITH Him." Paul does not say that Christ was simply crucified FOR us. No. We are crucified WITH Him. Christ BORE our old man of sin – we were engrafted into Him. This is much different than Jesus bearing our punishment for us.
Now, if Jesus merely bore our punishment, then there would be no need for us to be crucified WITH Him. If He merely bore our punishment, He would die in our place, and once He did, then God could simply lift our punishment from us and pronounce us forgiven. But despite the fact that there is some Truth to this as far as it goes – from the legal standpoint – it really leaves us only free from punishment, but nevertheless leaves us IN SIN. Furthermore, it does nothing to birth us anew and give us NEW LIFE through resurrection.
The only way we can be DEAD TO SIN is if we are crucified WITH CHRIST. The only way we can be ALIVE TO GOD is if we are raised WITH CHRIST. This could not be accomplished if Jesus merely died FOR us and was raised FOR us, and we were not engrafted IN HIM. Indeed, being engrafted into Christ in His death and resurrection is the very reason WHY we have freedom from the power of sin, indeed, it is the very definition of CHRIST IN US.
Paul says, "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin." In this we see that the death of Christ does not merely set us free from the punishment of God. It sets us free from sin. And leads to newness of life.
Justification by Faith
Justification by faith is an essential Biblical doctrine. So we need to see how it ties into what Jesus did on the Cross. This doctrine states that God imputes to us the righteousness of Christ if we believe. And God imputes to Christ our sin. God thus legally declares us righteous, solely on the basis of what Christ has done.
All of that is true from a legal standpoint. But legal imputation alone does nothing to set us free from sin. It does nothing to birth us anew. In fact, if justification by faith was ALL there is to salvation, then salvation is nothing more than a new legal classification that results from God lifting from us the penalty for sin – by putting that penalty upon Christ. We remain IN ADAM, and really, as much in bondage to sin as ever – even though we would be free from the punishment FOR sin. In short, if all Christ did was die to set us free from punishment, we would be free only from punishment, but not from sin.
No. Justification by faith – imputed righteousness – is only the legal or moral aspect of the Redemption. But salvation is more than a LEGAL classification. Salvation is LIFE – it is the life of Christ in us. Thus, God not only IMPUTES to us the legal righteousness of Christ, but He IMPARTS to us Christ Himself. This is openly stated many times in scripture:
That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Cor. 1:29-31)
Note that we are IN CHRIST JESUS. In other words, we were engrafted INTO Christ, and always will abide in Him. And if we are, then HE IS RIGHTEOUSNESS IN US. Paul says, "He is made unto us….righteousness." He is also made unto us redemption and everything else. Again – this is not possible if you are just legally saved – just legally imputed with righteousness. No. Christianity is CHRIST IN US. You are IMPARTED with Christ Himself, and His life in you is righteousness. You will spend the rest of your life growing in Him.
Justification by faith would actually be immoral if it was all there was to salvation. For God would be declaring righteous those in whom there is no righteousness. That could never be, and certainly is not LIFE. Justification by faith is legal, moral, and the Truth, because Christ is in us. God declares us righteous because of what Jesus did for us, but because of who Jesus is IN US – He is our righteousness.
So we see that God does not give us a THING called righteousness, or a THING called salvation. NO. He gives us His Son – we are engrafted INTO Him. Jesus is all of those, "things," in us. As Paul said:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)
Freedom and Victory
All of these Truths about the Cross prove that the Cross is DELIVERANCE, freedom, and victory. The Cross shows Jesus as LORD.
These Truths also show that unless we come to the Cross we cannot be saved. There is no resurrection in Christ without the Cross. We have to come to the Cross and renounce Adam, and relinquish our lives. Then we will take our rightful place IN CHRIST – engrafted into both His death and resurrection. Neglect the Cross – offer people life in Christ without it – and you are preaching the gospel of Satan.
The preaching of the Cross brings man back to ground zero. The Cross absolutely wipes away everything having to do with the old creation. But it is only through the Cross that we are a new creation IN Christ Jesus.
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