In our great concern over the growing apostasy and in our zeal to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, we must constantly take heed of our personal relationship with and testimony for our Lord. And to do this, we must always keep foremost in our hearts and minds the Cross.
Scripture makes it very clear that the cross of Christ is the heart of the message we preach, the determinant of our relationship to this evil world, and the secret of victory over the world, the flesh and the devil in our daily lives. Christ reminded His listeners repeatedly that it was not possible to be His disciple and thus a true Christian without denying self and taking up the cross to follow Him. I think the Bible makes it clear what this means, although there is also more depth of truth in the Cross than we will be able to fathom in this life.
Paul wrote, "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor:2:2). This characterized his consistent conduct and the message he preached. For him there was one important rule: "Not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ be made of none effect" (1:l7). We dare not compromise, dilute or try to improve, with man's wisdom, the straightforward simplicity of the Cross. To do so destroys its truth and power to save others and to deliver us from succumbing to daily trials and temptations.
We have a tendency to forget that "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (1:18). One of the greatest problems today is the often well-intentioned attempt to reinterpret the gospel to make it sensible and acceptable to the natural or carnal man. Instead, the unchangeable message must change the thinking and lives of those who receive it or it cannot change their eternal destiny. Let that never be forgotten. That transforming power is missing, both from the gospel preached to the lost and from the Christian's life, when the sharp sword of the Word with its radical message of the Cross has been sheathed in the popular psychologies and self-oriented thinking of our day.
What we are trying to say is illustrated through a man who had the most amazing and unique testimony of anyone who ever lived. A resident of death row, he knew on the day of his execution, as footsteps came resolutely down the corridor, that he was going to die. When the door of his cell swung open, however, the jailor spoke these astonishing words: "You are being set free. Another man is dying in your place!"
Of course, I'm referring to Barabbas, the only man who ever lived who could literally testify, "Jesus died for me, in my place!" But Barabbas was not saved. Why? Simply because the death of Christ had freed him to live his own life. Yet that is often today's self-centered understanding of the gospel: Jesus died for me so that I can live for myself, for worldly success and happiness, and go to heaven when I'm too old or too sick to enjoy earthly pleasures anymore. Against that false impression, A.W. Tozer wrote:
Among the plastic saints of our times, Christ has to do all the dying and all we want is to hear another sermon about His dying—no cross for us, no dethronement, no dying. We remain king within the little kingdom of Mansoul and wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of a Caesar; but we doom ourselves to shadows and weakness and spiritual sterility.
People would come to Christ promising to follow Him wherever He would lead. His reply was simple: "Let Me make it very clear. I'm heading for a hill outside of Jerusalem called Calvary, where they will crucify Me. So if you intend to be true to Me to the end, take up your cross right now, because that is where we're going."
Of course no one did that. Even His closest disciples all forsook Him and fled to save their own lives. Nor would it have saved their souls had they died on crosses erected beside His. He had to die in their place. But after His resurrection they were changed men, no longer afraid to die for their Lord. For then they understood and believed and gladly submitted to the truth: Christ had died in their place because they deserved to die. His death was not to deliver them from death, but to take them through death and out the other side into resurrection.
At last they understood and believed. Acknowledging that God was just in condemning them to death for their rebellion against Him, they accepted the death of Christ their Savior as their very own. They had died in Him; and believing that changed everything.
In Galatians:6:14 Paul writes, "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." As those who have been crucified with Christ, we have been completely cut off from this world. One of the problems with today's Christianity is its attempt to make itself appealing to the spirit of this world and thus to become popular with the world. Christ would no more be popular today than He was in His day; and He said that those who hated Him would hate His disciples. So John wrote, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 Jn:2:15).
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul explained further: "For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you" (2 Cor:13:4). How are we weak in Him? Not in our relationship to sin or Satan or to the temptations of this world, over which we have the victory through Christ. We are weak in the same way that He was weak, i.e., in that He did not fight to defend Himself or His kingdom against the political or military might of this world. His victory (and ours in Him) over Satan also came in submitting to death: "That through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb:2:14-15).
It is not through gritting our teeth and determining by our will power that we overcome temptation, but in accepting the fact that we are dead in Christ. The dead no longer lust, lose their tempers or act selfishly. Our victory is in our being "dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom:6:11). We have given up life as we would live it in order to experience His life being lived in and through us. The life He gives is resurrection life, and only those who are dead can receive that. We cannot know the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ, until we have willingly accepted His death as our death.
These few thoughts scarcely scratch the surface of the meaning of the Cross (which includes, of course, the Resurrection). In meditating upon this greatest event of all time and eternity, we begin to see both the horror of our sin and the amazing love of our Lord—the two chief motivations for holiness. May we abide in His love, that the Cross so fully proved, and become the messengers and channels of that love to the world for which He died. TBC