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The "Foolishness" 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? Has 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. 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. (1 Cor. 1:17-25)
The preaching of the Cross is FOOLISHNESS unto them who are perishing. This is quite a statement by the apostle Paul. Yet let’s be careful that we read his words exactly as he meant them. Paul does not say that if you and I think the Cross is foolish, that God is going to punish us by causing us to perish. No. Rather, Paul says that if you and I think that the Cross is foolishness, that this is EVIDENCE that we are, right now, already in the process of perishing.
Why? Why -- if we think the Cross is foolish -- is this evidence that we are perishing? Simply because if we are saved, WE GOT THAT WAY by embracing the Cross. We came to Jesus and brought all of our sin to Him. We came as desperate sinners who knew that our only hope for deliverance from sin, and for new life through the resurrection, was through the Cross of Jesus Christ. Thus, Paul says, if you think the Cross is foolishness, it is proof that you never came to the Cross. You never saw your need. You never saw you were a sinner, whose only hope was the Cross of your Savior. Thus, your attitude is proof that you are still in your sins and in the process of perishing.
The word, "foolishness," in this passage is, "moros," from which we get our word, "moron." It means, "dull, sluggish." It comes from a root that means, "silly." Jesus used this word in Matthew 5:22, when He warned against saying to anyone, "Thou fool." His point was that we dare not play God by throwing anyone on the trash heap of life, calling them, "worthless, or of no use." We should instead have more redemptive hopes for them. Thus, to call the Cross, "foolish," and the preaching of it, "foolishness," means to take the position that there was really no need for Jesus to die for sin – especially for my sin. To do so, to me, was needless and worthless. The whole thought is silly to me.
Again, there is a fundamental reason why someone would consider the Cross as, "foolishness," in this way. That reason is that they do not see themselves as a sinner who needs the forgiveness of God, or deliverance from sin. Thus, to them the Cross is needless and foolish. And because they don’t see themselves as those who need to be delivered from this old creation, and birthed into the new, they are still in the old. That is why Paul says they are perishing.
Rejecting the Cross
There are more and more people today who outwardly mock the Cross. More and more Christian pastors and leaders are rejecting it outright. This is the spirit of this age – of liberal religion and political correctness. People don’t want a Christianity which confronts them and demands repentance and confession of sin. They want a Jesus who tells them that, "anything goes," all in the name of love. This is, of course, all of Satan.
But let’s not kid ourselves. People are able to reject the Cross in more subtle ways than outright mockery. In fact, most people who view the Cross as needless or silly or foolish don’t usually say so – not even to themselves. Indeed, all we need to do to reject the Cross as foolish is TO NEGLECT it. Don’t even talk about it. Side-step it. Keep it at arms length as something which carries no personal application for YOU.
Many people, when they hear the message of the Cross, immediately put up a, "shield." They feel uncomfortable with the suggestion that THEY could be as bad as God says they are, and that they need the Cross. Thus, they side-step the Cross by any number of arguments. These folks are usually not prostitutes, drug addicts, or those who openly sin. Rather, they are those who go to church each Sunday, and are "respectable," as one might define it.
The bottom line is, if I do not embrace the Cross of Jesus Christ – for ANY reason – I am saying it is FOOLISH. Any reason I give for not taking the Cross seriously is equal to that. And in the end, I am going to perish.
One subtle way people side-step the Cross is by mistaking their assent to the Bible doctrine of the Cross as being equal to coming to the Cross as a sinner. We need to know and believe the Bible doctrine of the Cross. But this is not equal to believing and trusting Jesus Himself. The doctrine can point us in the right direction. But then we must obey what the doctrine says.
Christ drew a big distinction between knowing the Bible, and embracing the reality of which the Bible speaks:
You search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. (John 5:39-40)
There is a huge difference between believing true Biblical doctrines, which is good and necessary, and putting faith in Jesus Himself. Jesus is a Person, not a Bible doctrine. What He did not the Cross was not intended to remain on paper. It was intended to be the power of God to set us free from sin.
Justification by Faith
There is a thread of teaching about the Cross which has been around for almost 500 years, which – if left to itself -- feeds into the error that the Cross has no personal, dynamic application. It is the teaching which states that what Jesus did for us on the Cross was simply to make a payment to God for sin – such that now we are freed from having to make that payment. The results of this for us, we are told, is that God has made what amounts to, "an accounting entry." What WE DID to merit death was debited to Christ’s account – and He died. What CHRIST DID in dying for us, was credited to our account. Thus, we are forgiven for sin.
Now, there is actually Truth to this. Christ did die in our place as our substitute. He did, "taste death for every man." And because of that, all of the just requirements of God’s law are satisfied. Indeed, all of the requirements of Divine justice were fully met through the death of Jesus Christ. Therefore, God is able to pronounce upon us a brand new legal classification. He is able to pronounce us totally FORGIVEN.
The word the Bible uses for this new legal classification is JUSTIFICATION. The word means, "to be made right with God." Justification is a one-time, once-for-all thing. It is not a process. It is not something you can earn. Neither is it something you can "lose." It is based solely upon what Jesus has done, and we receive it, "by grace through faith." The instant you accept the death of Christ as your own, you are justified by faith. This is a cardinal Biblical doctrine.
More Than Legal
But there is a problem here. If ALL Jesus did on the Cross was to give God a just reason to give us a new legal classification – such that God was then able to pronounce us all "forgiven" – we should rejoice. But what does any of that do to CHANGE US? Nothing. What does any of it do to address SIN ITSELF? Nothing. How does it actually deliver the sinner from sin? It doesn’t.
You see, if all Jesus did was PAY for sin – pay GOD for sin by dying for it – then you and I might be free from the punishment for sin. But how about sin itself?
The brutal Truth is, if all Jesus did was bear the punishment FOR sin, then He did nothing to address sin itself. That leaves you and I just as much IN SIN as before – only now we have been pronounced "forgiven." This would not create any possibility for walking in freedom FROM sin, nor would any sort of holiness in the life of the believer be possible. Indeed, if all Jesus did was LEGAL, then there could be NO change whatsoever in the sinner at all.
The misunderstanding here goes back to what is wrong with man. If all that is wrong with those born in Adam is that we are under the punishment of God, then yes, we could say that when Jesus died, God "lifted" that punishment. But is what is wrong with man able to be attributed to the "punishment of God?" No. What is wrong with man is SIN.
This changes everything. It means that Jesus died not merely bear the punishment of God FOR SIN on the Cross – so that we could have that punishment lifted from us. No. Rather, Jesus bore the sin of man on the Cross – so that we could be freed from IT!
Can we possibly see the difference here? Jesus bore SIN – not merely God’s punishment FOR sin! If that is not true, then we have emptied the Cross of it’s power to set us free from sin itself.
What does the Bible say Jesus did on the Cross? Let’s look at a few passages:
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)
What did Jesus BEAR on the Cross? God’s "punishment?" No. Our SINS!
The next day John saw Jesus coming unto him, and saw, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)
What did Jesus TAKE AWAY? God’s punishment? No. The SIN of the world!
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isa 53:6)
What did God lay upon Jesus? His punishment? No. The INIQUITY of us all!
Jesus bore SIN on the Cross. And He died. This not only satisfied all the legal requirements for justification, but it set us free from sin itself. God does not justify us because of Jesus, only to leave us IN sin. He justifies us but makes that justification a completely moral thing by doing what is necessary to turn the sinner into a saint. He makes it possible for us to walk in freedom from the sin which He has already legally forgiven.
What we see here is that, yes, God put all of our sin to the account of Christ, and He put the death of Christ to our account. He is therefore just in pronouncing us legally forgiven. But God did more. God put all of our sin upon Christ Himself, so that by bearing our sin in His Body, we might become the righteous of God in Him. Thus, the legal truths of the Redemption point to a dynamic living transaction which Jesus accomplished for us.
God does pronounce us righteous – justified – but leave us as before. No. Through the resurrection, the very life of Christ is in us. We are not only pronounced righteous, but we are made righteous.
Planted Into Christ
According to the Bible, the sinner is SET FREE FROM SIN ITSELF through the Cross of Jesus Christ. We are set free from the power of the old nature, and given a new nature. None of this can be accomplished by a "legal reclassification." It can only be accomplished by a union with Christ in His death and resurrection.
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. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God. Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield you your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom 6:5-14)
If we would simply read this passage, and others like it, there would be no doubt as to whether the death of Christ set us free from sin or not. Notice Paul’s words, "our old man is crucified." And, "that the body of sin might be DESTROYED." He tells us the result: "That henceforth we should not serve sin." Not one word here about being set free from "punishment" or "wrath." No. We are set free from the power of sin, so that Paul can boldly proclaim, "Reckon yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God," and "LET NOT SIN REIGN in your mortal body."
Now here’s the question: If we are set free from the power of sin, then why do we keep sinning? Paul addresses this is chapter 7. It is because we are not set free from the possibility of sin, or from the presence of a fleshly body that isn’t born again until the physical resurrection. Thus, the sin nature is NOT obliterated. It is still there. But the Cross severs its power over us. Before we were saved, we had to sin. Now, we don’t. The Cross severs the power of sin over us, and the resurrection gives us the power to obey God.
The reason we keep on sinning is that it takes time to learn how to walk in the Spirit. It takes time to learn how to, "yield our members to God as instruments of righteousness." But Paul tells us that to do so – and says that the REASON we can do so is that we are freed from sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Crucified With Christ
The key to understanding the Cross is summarized in Galatians 2:20:
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)
Can we see that this includes the fact that Christ died FOR us – in our place – but that we actually die IN CHRIST? We are crucified with Christ! Sure. Paul told us in Romans 6 that we are, "planted together with Him in the likeness of His death." That word "planted" means to "cause to grow together," in the sense of being ENGRAFTED or made ONE with. What we are being shown is the great Biblical Truth that Jesus Christ, rather than bear our punishment, bore our SIN – bore everything in Himself that merited death.
The fact is, unless this is true, you and I have NO POWER over sin. We have no freedom from it. At best, we have a "new legal classification," but no more. And unfortunately, that is just about all many Christians think Jesus did for them.
Again -- justification, in the legal sense, means that God put OUR SIN to Jesus’ account, and His righteousness to our account. But we are seeing that God did more: God put OUR SIN in Christ’s body, and through His resurrection, His righteousness becomes ours. The result is that we really are crucified WITH Christ, but nevertheless do live, yet not us, but Christ in and through us.
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. 5:21)
What is Salvation?
Do we realize that Christianity is, "Christ in us?" That rather than merely have a new "legal classification," we are actually new creations in Christ Jesus?
Salvation is, after all, LIFE. Salvation is not merely, "getting forgiven." It is not merely having God’s punishment or wrath taken off of you. Salvation is eternal life – which is the result of being raised a new creation in Christ Jesus.
Lots of Christian think that salvation means you are going to heaven. Well, that’s included. But the reason you go to heaven is because you have Christ in you. You can’t get into heaven any other way.
But again – salvation, or new life – is not possible unless the old life is crucified in Christ. You cannot be born again while still IN ADAM. No. You must bring, "your Adam" to the Cross and embrace Jesus’ death. That’s how you, "get out of Adam." You are delivered from that old sin nature through the Cross. And then through the resurrection, you are born again IN CHRIST – a new creation.
God told Adam, "In the day you eat thereof, you shall surely die." Nothing is going to change this sentence of Divine justice upon all of us because of Adam. But God has made a way in which this sentence can be carried out through His Son, and a way we can be delivered. I can see, "my Adam" die in Christ, and I can then be birthed anew, not back into Adam, but in Christ.
This is why Paul always uses the term, "in Christ" to describe those who are saints. We really are IN HIM – one with Him. We are that, every bit as much as He is IN US.
Once we see that the Cross is the key to not only salvation, but to all freedom from sin and death, we see why Paul is able to say that those who belittle it do so only because they are perishing. If you have eternal life in you, it is only because you first CAME to the Cross. And if you came to the Cross, it certainly wasn’t because you thought it was needless. You came because you saw it was your only hope for deliverance out of the old creation. It is therefore impossible that anyone who is saved could ever think of the Cross as foolish or irrelevant.
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. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. (Gal 6:14-15)
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)
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