For the better part of my thirty plus years of calling myself a Christian I never comprehended or understood what was meant by the “offence of the Cross.” it seemed to me that this “offence” was an overstatement. Was Christ and His Cross really offensive or just mildly disturbing and controversial? And, all the persecution, couldn’t that be explained as the usual forces of opposing group dynamics; no different really from the varied conflicts we have on any given level? In these thirty years, I have known very, very few who have a deep-seated hatred for Christianity or the Cross. On the contrary; tremendous numbers of unbelievers go to Christmas cantatas, Easter plays, they bow their heads at invocations, wear cross-shaped amulets, give money to missions, and agree with the statement, “In God We Trust.” To be perfectly honest; the Christ and Cross, presented by commercial Christianity, of which I was a part, has never once offended me or anyone I know. The religious buildings of organized Christianity are busting at the seams with the unsaved all across this nation and they are not offended at all.
The big question, at least in this time before Jesus comes again, is, if Christianity and the Cross are offensive, as pictured in Scripture, attested to by early Church history, and sometimes preached, why is it that Christianity, today, is so much in favor with the world, its supposed adversary? This is totally opposite of what we would expect. Is it that Christ has won out over the world and that the 1615 year old dying words of Julian the Apostate, nephew of Constantine, are true, that, “Thou hast conquered, O Galilean”. How can we explain the general lack of offense and persecution that should be part and parcel with Christ and His Cross? Is it conceivable that Satan is the real conqueror? Is it conceivable that the message of the Cross is not being presented or that a different message has taken its place? Is it conceivable that the visible Church has been bewitched and deluded into believing they are preaching the Gospel? Is it conceivable that the true message of the Cross-is still just as offensive as it ever was, but is nowhere being declared? Yes, this must be the answer, but how does the Cross become offensive? What is the “bone of contention” that is the real offence of the Cross?
We see today the beginning again of trouble that has, at its root, the Cross. The Cross has proved to be the means upon which God has caused to rest the full weight of His saving power. A proper understanding of the Cross will always instigate the foaming hatred of Satan against the saints. The Cross is the sole instrument of deliverance to save from the damning regions of darkness, both in this life and the life to come. Why is it that the Cross is behind so much of the renewed turbulence in professedly evangelical institutions, denominations, Christian homes, and individual Christian lives?
Before we can answer that question, it is important to differentiate between: heroics, aesthetics, and romanticism, of which so many in religion are captivated—and the Cross’s deeper meaning. That meaning or implication, which the Bible attaches to the Cross, is the source of inflammation and aggravation, and can be witnessed in the following applications.
The Cross Passes Sentence on the World
The Cross stands at the crossroad, it is a separator, dividing and disuniting two worlds, and it discriminates and disrupts, disregards and disqualifies, and disproves and disputes. The difference is so great that the two cannot be bridged. They are two totally different systems of values, standards of judging, sets of laws; forever antagonistic and irreconcilable.
The Cross is absolute in its distinctiveness, i.e., its interest and objectives, relationships and resources, saved and unsaved, and ultimately between the living and the dead. This absoluteness is a heavy wedge that drives and separates, even between those in the Church, and is offensive to the planned ecumenicism prevalent in today’s congregations, and to the nation building goals of governments.
Paul said that he had been “crucified to the world” and the world to him. God declares, “the whole world lieth in the wicked one.” The world’s ways, motives, purposes, ideas, and imaginations are all opposite of God’s, and the world is utterly incapacitated from receiving Divine revelations, or achieving God’s likeness. Therefore; it cannot enjoy and appreciate real fellowship with God, and cannot be trusted with God’s privileges, or His co-operation.
The verdict, condemnation, and demands of the Cross, are unacceptable and vexing to the world and to token Christians. This “worldliness” in Christian lives and in the Church is the very thing that neutralizes them (keeps them lukewarm) as effective agents in regard to the purposes of the Cross. Consequently; they call themselves Christian, but their lives are full of sin and failure.
The Cross Crucifies the Flesh
The flesh is a lovely, sacred, and cherished thing, and worthy of respect, to the natural man. But, the Word of God declares that by the Cross “our old man was crucified with Christ,” and that “they which live should henceforth live no longer unto themselves, but unto Him.” What we see is that we have tried to bring a big part of that old life over into the new life, but God will not go along with our designs, and the Cross continually torments and frustrates. What we see also is that God allows us to imagine that we can succeed in our plans if we keep trying, and even permits us to manufacture our own gods, our own way. All the living loveliness of the flesh, men have brought into their supposed worship of a God, Who only wants them dead.
At the Cross God kills the conversation of the fallen race. From that time on God’s entire concern and communication is with His new creation. What this means is that God does not deal with us on a human level any longer. All our goodness and badness, our abilities and inabilities, talents or lack thereof, were included in that death. Humanly speaking, we have nothing of interest to God; no credits are given for some superior gift; speaking, art, knowledge, strength; nothing is acceptable to God because we are dead men. The flesh has been cut off; it is diseased. We are called to meet God on an entirely different level, a spiritual level, where the world and the flesh cannot enter. God only see us “in Christ” on the cross, dead; and, “in Christ” in His resurrection.
The paralysis of the spirit life always comes about by the infiltration of the flesh, a human element; be it an assumption, a like or dislike, some personal interest, or ambition. The visible Church exist in these elements and thinks itself alive, when it is dead (condemned). It is not only our sins, but also our “selves” that were taken to the Cross. The only way to see God’s purposes fulfilled through our lives is to see our flesh hanging on that Cross with Jesus; we died with Jesus.
While we are quick to acknowledge that we are, ourselves the trouble with our own lives, we are so very slow to accept our crucifixion with Christ, to have the Cross kill us, so that the life of Christ might be made evident in us. Herein lays the offence of the Cross, both to the world and to Christians.
The Cross Banishes the Devil
The fundamental cause of the offense is Satan’s claim on the world and the flesh as his property and instruments, by which he maintains his controlling force. As Jesus approached the Cross and His execution He said, “now is the prince of this world cast out.” And, Paul, looking back at the Cross said, “Christ stripped off principalities and powers, making a show of them openly, and triumphed over them.” By the Cross every true Christian has the authority, by being in that Cross with Christ (being now dead), to disavow all demands of that now defunct prince.
It is to be expected that, that great source of evil should, by every means and resource, seek to make the Cross of none effect; a mere artifact of history. By our talents, strength, and by the pale cast of thought, Satan will dilute and play down the message of the Cross. By pushing in the world’s methods, means, materials, and spirit, he will sap the vitality of the Church, while allowing it to appear strong. By stirring the flesh, the ego, and the old man, he will divide, stress, and disintegrate; or by the vain institution of the human elements of art, aesthetics, heroism, and humanitarianism, he will blind the eyes to the need of regeneration. Reputations, popularity, bigness, success, are all contrary to the spirit of Christ, but they are the instruments of war to overthrow God’s Kingdom, and to engross the minds of many, even Christian ministers.
Therefore, if the Cross is preached with full freedom, being emancipated from the world, the flesh, and the Devil, you can expect that the forces of evil will leave no stone unturned, and promote every cause of offence, in its quest to put down your revolt.
The fullness of the Cross in our lives, the experience of victory, and the administrative co-operation with Christ, as a result of our realization that His purposes are our purposes, results in the joy of knowing that we are the children of the Most High God and co- regents with His Son Jesus.
“I have been crucified with Christ, henceforth. . .no longer I but Christ.” “They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and they counted not their lives dear unto the death.”