At least in part, the theme of this article was occasioned by a full-page national magazine ad for Christian jewelry. Slick color photos offer an enticing display from "The Inspired Cross Collection." The ad boasts "A beautiful line of contemporary designs for women and men in pendants, rings, earrings and tie-tacs in a choice of precious metals with or without diamonds." Credulity is strained in relating this chic indulgent jewelry to Golgotha's blood-stained cross where our Savior hung in agony for our sins!
One is aghast at the shameless commercialization which brazenly makes merchandise of the Cross and perverts it in the process. One is equally perplexed that Christians by the thousands would gladly wear such trivializing misrepresentations of eternity's most solemn and important event. Paul rejoiced that by the Cross "the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal:6:14). Yet these crosses the world proudly wears! What have we done to the Cross!
The shape of a cross has become the universally recognized insignia of Christianity. Multitudes superstitiously imagine some magic power in making the "sign of the cross" and that the mere form of a cross will put demons to flight. However, it is the "preaching of the cross" wherein lies "the power of God" (1 Cor:1:18), not its display. And the power has nothing to do with the shape of the cross but everything to do with the awesome fact that upon it the spotless Lamb of God died for the sins of the world (Jn:1:29).
The biblical preaching of the Cross is "to them that perish foolishness" (1 Cor:1:18), but it revolutionizes the thought patterns and lives of sinners who believe the gospel. With Paul they truly confess that they and all their selfish interests and ambitions have been "crucified with Christ" (Gal:2:20)—and the only life they now desire is that of Christ living within. That was, of course, before we revised the "old, old story" to make it fit contemporary culture.
A mysterious metamorphosis has transformed the "old rugged cross," once "the emblem of suffering and shame," into the trademark of an accommodating apostate "Christianity" whose adherents are increasingly difficult to distinguish from the world. In well-intentioned folly, we have redefined Christianity in order to offer a spiritual package appealing to worldly taste. Tragically, "converts" are often left unconverted and under the deadly delusion that they have become Christians—a misconception to which many will likely awaken only when it is eternally too late.
How did the blood-stained cross, upon which our Lord was nailed and where, hanging naked, He was mocked by those He came to save, become associated with ornate jewelry in one's "choice of precious metals, with or without diamonds"? Pondering that question, I was confronted by another, no less distressing: Why is my own understanding and appreciation of Christ and His cross so shallow and dispassionate? Why is my love and gratitude so seldom and so feebly expressed to Him?
In facing this deplorable deficiency, one easily falls into the error of turning to the physical in order to fill a spiritual void. We focus on Christ's physical sufferings which, far from saving us, would only add to our condemnation because that is what man did to Him. What our Lord endured went infinitely deeper. God's perfect righteousness had to be vindicated, His justice satisfied, the full penalty paid, so that God "might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom:3:26). We need to deepen our understanding and appreciation of redemption.
The shallow, repetitive choruses which are fast replacing the majestic old hymns are inadequate to this challenge. We need once again and much more deeply to contemplate, "O, the love that drew salvation's plan,/ O the grace that brought it down to man,/ O the mighty gulf that God did span,/ At Calvary!" To understand and appreciate what Christ accomplished for eternity upon the cross, we must see beyond the physical into the spiritual.
Paul said, "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor:4:18). Obviously, Paul did not refer to physical seeing. But we have become so materialistic that we have great difficulty seeing beyond the visible. That problem plagues today's church; and there is nothing more pitiful than "worship" which finds its inspiration and expression in physical forms and rituals. It is astonishing how many have come to equate "worship" with loud and fast-paced music where the tragic poverty of the lyrics isn't even noticed because the rhythm excites the soul. Such music is essential, we are told, to attract the new generation. Will they rise to the low level of our estimation of them?
An ad for "Jerusalem 2000" in Charisma offers "The event of the millennium," a "worship experience" available only to the "relatively few" who join this particular tour to Israel. It promises "praise and worship...in dramatic reenactments...of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, Jesus walking on water at the Sea of Galilee...."
The ad continues, "Flexible installment payment plan....Commissioned by The Millennium Council...[a] coalition of Christian leaders including Pat Robertson, T. D. Jakes, and Bill McCartney...."
It sounds so special, but what the ad promises—an exclusive worship experience only for those on the tour—presumes that the spiritual is inspired by the physical. It once was quiet meditation upon the true meaning of Christ's incarnation and Cross which brought tears of inexpressible gratitude and joy. Now we must travel to Israel for a cheap "reenactment."
It is simply not true that being in Israel "at the turn of the millennium" on this particular tour creates true worship. One could have been alive in Christ's day, heard Him preach, been miraculously fed and healed by Him, yet have missed the truth He spoke. Much less will that truth grip the soul by any "reenactment" of events in Christ's life. The Holy Spirit's work of grace and power comes not by any physical stimulus. Yet, having lost the spiritual reality of the faith, and having rejected the enticing pomp, outrageously rich robes and bewitching ritual of Rome, Protestantism seeks its own visible religious arousals.
Jesus said, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (Jn:4:24). True worship is not evoked by physical means. In fact, physical objects and rituals are a hindrance to worship. This is the insidious error of sacramentalism.
Pope John Paul II plans to open a "holy" door at St. Peter's in Rome for the year 2000 and promises special indulgences reducing suffering in "purgatory" for those who pass through it. Common sense unmasks the "God" who offers grace for walking through a physical door most people could never afford to reach. Even a child understands that Christ clearly said, "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved..." (Jn:10:9). The door to eternal life is a spiritual one, and to look to a physical door robs one of the eternal life Christ offers. Nevertheless, millions are expected to make costly pilgrimages to Rome in order to walk through that "holy" door.
Unable to think deeply enough to see beyond the visible, our generation is losing the meaning and value of words. Television, videos, films and computer games have become a way of life today. Medical doctors have begun warning parents not to allow children under two years of age to watch television and to carefully supervise and limit it for others. The American Academy of Pediatrics now considers the child's "media history" to be as important as its medical history because "watching TV can affect the mental, social and physical health of young people...." (New York Times, 8/4/99)
The Bible is written in words, not in pictures. The first of many books written (in words, of course) to refute The Seduction of Christianity criticized us for opposing the growing practice of visualization and insisted that our brains think in pictures, not in words. That simply isn't true. What picture does "simply" or "isn't true" produce in one's mind? What image is evoked by words such as justice, truth, hope, holiness, God? None!
God strictly forbids any attempt to represent Him by a physical or even a mental image. God is a spirit, and man, made in His image, is a spirit living in a body. The "image" of God in which man is made is not visible; much less is it mirrored in man's physical body. We feed our physical bodies but neglect the spirit which God desires to nourish. God told His people Israel through Moses (and Christ quoted the same passage in resisting Satan), "man shall not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live" (Deut 8:3).
God's Word sustains spiritual life. Christ is that Word (Rev:19:13). Jesus said, "...the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world....I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst" (Jn:6:33-35). Obviously, He was speaking spiritually, not physically. Our life now and eternally depends upon understanding and believing what He said!
Boasting that communism was "scientific atheistic materialism," Lenin insisted that man is a physical stimulus-response organism and all he knows is through the stimulus of physical phenomena. Lenin knew that we cannot even think of anything that doesn't exist. (Try to imagine a new prime color for the rainbow.) Then what "stimulus" evokes the idea of God if God does not exist? Lenin couldn't answer that question.
That we are more than our physical bodies is proved by our ability to hold nonphysical ideas of truth, justice, holiness, mercy, grace, love, etc. A man complains, "There's no justice in this world!" How does he even have the concept of "justice" (or of grace, truth, holiness, selfless love, etc.) if it doesn't exist in this world? He judges what he sees on the basis of the invisible standard of justice which he knows innately because he is made in the spiritual image of the God who is perfect in justice and truth.
As spirits made in God's image, yet living in physical bodies and surrounded with the spiritually stifling materialism of a world that has rejected God, we desperately need the nurture of God's Word. Instead of the spirit, however, we are nurturing the carnal man ("And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal... ye are yet carnal..." - 1 Cor:3:1-3) and hardly know we are thirsting and starving. Sadly, these days in popular Christian literature, more froth than substance masquerades as drink for thirsty souls.
We need what Jeremiah experienced: "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart..." (Jer:15:16). Job, too, testified, "I have esteemed the words of his [God's] mouth more than my necessary food" (Job:23:12). Abundant life is produced in anyone who meditates upon God's word day and night (Ps:1:1-3)!
Jesus said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (Jn:7:37:38). What He meant and to what extent each of us has experienced the fullness of which He spoke must be carefully weighed. John explained, "But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive" (Jn:7:37-39). Thus, to drink of Christ means to believe on Him, and the water He gives is the Holy Spirit comforting and empowering within. We clearly understand that Jesus was speaking spiritually, not physically, to the woman at the well: "Whosoever drinketh of this [well] water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (Jn:4:13-15).
When Jesus told Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom of God he "must be born again" (Jn:3:7), He didn't mean physically, but spiritually. The same was true when Jesus said, "He that believeth on me hath everlasting life....Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you...he that eateth me, even he shall live by me..." (Jn:6:47,53,57). When some disciples abandoned Him, offended at the thought of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, Christ explained, "It is the spirit that quickeneth [giveth life]; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life (Jn:6:63). The eating of Christ, who is "the living bread which came down from heaven" (6:51), is no more physical than is the eating of "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God"—and to imagine otherwise robs one of the spiritual truth and life Christ gives to all who believe.
One of Roman Catholicism's most deadly errors is in insisting that Jesus meant we must literally eat His physical body and drink His blood. To that end, the priest allegedly turns wafer and wine into the body and blood of a "Christ" who is still dying for our sins, though He said, "It is finished!" (Jn:19:30; Heb:10:10-18). "Christ" is repeatedly ingested into the stomach to obtain further infusions of grace, instead of by faith once and for all receiving Him and the eternal life He gives.
Even without a belief in "transubstantiation," a similar error can arise among evangelicals. At a "communion service," how many dutifully partake of the bread and cup as though the physical eating and drinking were an end in itself? Jesus said, "This do in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19). How often is there only the ritual, with little remembrance and appreciation of the Cross? May God's Word and Christ the Living Word truly be the spiritual nourishment we delight in and count more necessary than physical food—and may we rejoice continually in the invisible truth and consummated triumph of the Cross! TBC