I have found twenty-eight references to the cross throughout the New Testament. Only twelve of these describe the physical cross that Jesus hung on. Jesus referred to the cross in the context of denying our flesh in His sermons. Paul used the word ten times to describe Jesus’ atoning works. Finally, “crucify” or “crucifixion” is used in the New Testament to describe the atonement.
We have been building a foundation for our study on the cross. The power of the cross is lost today for the most part because so few in the Church today understand its meaning. It has become a religious cliche, and most Christians will talk about it or wear it as a pendant without understanding what it means for their lives.
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. (Galatians 6:14)
Paul is not instructing us to “glory” in the physical cross on which Jesus hung and died. I believe he was referring to the atoning completed at the cross, which is the dominant way that the term “cross” is used throughout his writings.
Many people think of Jesus’ crucifixion as a historical fact. It is much more because the Lord paid the penalty for our sins. The debt incurred by sin is paid. Jesus’ atoning work left no stone unturned, and so there are no “works” left for us to do to be accepted by God.
For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:10)
Jesus’ suffering paid the total price required to satisfy God’s justice. Nothing is left for us to do except enter into His rest. Doing so is an act of humility requiring us to acknowledge our inability to rescue ourselves from sin. Paul tells us to “glory” in the cross because it provides the only path to salvation for humanity.
Paul refers to these principles using various methods. One of these is in his comparison of the Law and grace in the book of Galatians. There are many ways authors referenced the cross in Scripture. We must develop a revelation of the impact the cross has on our lives in this life and eternity.
10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.
11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. (Galatians 5:10 – 11)
The cross is offensive when appropriately understood. Few Christians seem to think of it as anything more than a religious cliche or symbol to draw or form into jewelry. I have heard many sermons over the years, and it was evident that the minister understood its true meaning. They tell their congregations that God will not answer their prayers or move in their lives if they do not “cling” to the cross and live holy lives. Without realizing it, these ministers have perverted the message of the cross.
17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.
18 (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:
19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)
20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:
21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. (Philippians 3:17 – 21)
Paul was talking about preachers he described as “enemies of the cross.” Jesus completed the work on the cross. Any person who tells another Christian otherwise fits in this description. If you start tying God’s goodness and answers to prayer to your good works, you have become an enemy of the cross.
The word translated as “offense” in Galatians 5:11 is “skandalon.” It is the root of our English word scandal and depicts a stumbling block or trap set to close down on an unsuspecting victim.
And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. (Galatians 5:11)
Paul tells us that the “offense ” of the cross ends when we preach circumcision. What did he mean by this?
He first encountered Christ on the Damascus road while on a mission to identify and persecute Christians. Paul had been a legalist and believed in the Jewish rituals as the only means to please God. His sermons did not result in persecution. The reason for this was that he was steeped in legalism. Those are the people who are usually persecuting people who reject their ritualism the most.
Paul persecuted Christians before meeting Jesus on the Damascus road and receiving the message of grace. Grace focuses on the completed work of Jesus. Religion focuses on our works. Scripture tells us that our “goodness” can never achieve any level of relationship with God.
I think this is a vital truth missed by the majority of Christians. God moves in our lives in spite of who we are or our works. His favor and anointing are based on Jesus’ redemptive work alone and cannot be earned. This trust offends religious people who have had it drilled into them that we must do certain things and live holy lives to “earn” God’s favor.
The true message of the cross is offensive to people steeped in religion. I believe that any minister who is not being persecuted cannot say they are preaching the cross accurately. Any person who will be bold enough to stand and declare that Jesus has paid the price for our sins and offers forgiveness with no expectation of “works” from us will be persecuted.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to pastor an old-line denominational church. The congregation had historically opened service with a confession of faith, declaring they were sinners saved by grace. I agree that we were sinners and saved by grace, but I can’t entirely agree that we are still sinners. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:24 that we were created “righteous” and “holy.” I changed the confession to say we were sinners, we were saved by grace, and now we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. This one change opened the door to persecution, and I was even removed as pastor by the district leadership! The only reason for my removal was my unwillingness to maintain church traditions.