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“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The cross of Jesus Christ is central to our Christian faith, not only as the exclusive means of our redemption but also the exclusive means through which we live out our Christian lives in the resurrection power of Jesus.
The narrow way in which we walk as Christians is the path of the cross, for Jesus told us:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
“And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
In other words, if you do not daily allow the cross to put your “self” to death, then you cannot be a disciple of Christ.
If we were to literally carry a physical cross around at all times, we would constantly be aware of it. Absolutely everything in our lives would be affected by the huge beam of wood upon our shoulders. How much more should the spiritual cross, which Jesus is speaking of in this passage, heavily bear upon our lives?
Yet mysteriously, the great centrality of the cross of Christ has largely faded into the background of the modern professing church. Many of us have adopted a mentality of the cross as: “–been there, done that for my salvation; now, let’s move onto other things…”
But if Jesus tells us to daily take up our cross, how could we ever possibly move on from it? Should not the cross remain at the forefront of our minds since it is the prerequisite of being Christ’s disciple? Is there any other legitimate path we can walk as Christians if it omits the cross?
Furthermore, since the cross is so central to us as disciples of Christ, should not the cross dominate our speech and our preaching? Even the Apostle Paul professed, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
When we first received Christ, it was on our knees at the foot of the cross. (See “Equal at The Foot of The Cross, Equally in Need of Mercy (Believers’ Road Series)”. Nothing else mattered to us except the cross of Jesus Christ and his blood shed for our sins. As newly born again Christians we esteemed Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as of paramount importance. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was the theme of our praise. (See “Message”).
As we get older in the Lord, we start to learn about many other things in the Christan life. However, we must never allow these things to overshadow the supreme importance and centrality of the cross of Jesus–the emblem of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our redemption. Jesus felt it was so important for us to remember his sacrifice on the cross that he told his followers to regularly commemorate it in communion (Luke 22:14-19).
Just as Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins should remain in the forefront of our thoughts (2 Peter 1:5-9), so it must also remain central in our gospel preaching.
Though the cross is the integral part of the gospel message (“Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2)) I am both appalled and grieved (as many of my other brothers and sisters are) at the over abundance of “gospel messages”, which are really no gospel messages at all because they are completely crossless:
“Give your heart to Jesus, and he will solve all your problems” (Who doesn’t want that??!)
“Come to Jesus and he will heal all your pain” (Oh, thank God–finally!)
“Give your life to Jesus and he will make you happy and rich.” (Oh, goody!)
These “gospel messages” totally omit the cross of Christ and his blood shed for condemned sinners. Yet, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross is the very vehicle of our salvation, for, “…without the shedding of blood there is NO forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22, my emphasis).
The cross goes to the very core of our selfish, corrupt, sinful condition and testifies that we are guilty and deserving of death. The cross is the end of man’s boasting and power because it testifies that there is no human way possible of reconciliation with God; our only hope is receiving grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The cross testifies, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). It is the stark emblem and reminder that, “There is no one righteous, not even one…there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12). The cross declares that there is no one worthy of all the glory but God alone.
The cross is the humiliator of man and the exalter of God.
Dear church, if we edit out the cross from our gospel message–Jesus Christ slain for sinners (2 Corinthians 5:21)–then the byproduct is a congregation of people who are looking to Jesus to fix their problems, heal their pain and make them happy and rich. Though they may encounter Jesus as Healer, Comforter and Blesser, for that is who he intrinsically is, they will never actually come to know Jesus as Savior through a bloodless, crossless “gospel”. These pseudo converts will taste of him yet never partake of him (Hebrews 6:4-8). (Please read Luke 13:22-30).
This is why Paul’s tone is so severe in Galatians 1:6-10. It is a matter of eternal life and death!
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God! Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-10)
May we all fear the Word of the Lord and NEVER preach a bloodless, crossless gospel.
Though I have spoken strongly about the importance of the cross in our salvation and in our gospel preaching, the driving inspiration behind this drawing is actually the importance of the outworking of the cross in the daily life of a Christian, that is, daily taking up our cross and following Jesus.
The cross is the vital instrument in our salvation, and it is also the vital instrument in living a Christian life in the full resurrection power of Jesus.
The Scripture tells us that our “old man” (sinful nature, flesh) was crucified (past tense) with Christ (Galatians 2:19-20). In other words, positionally, the cross has already put to death our sinful nature so that we may live a new life unto God in the resurrection power of Jesus Christ in us (study Romans 6 and related passages).
However, even though the cross has dealt with our carnal self (old man, sinful nature, flesh) in this way, Jesus tells us of a further need of the cross in our lives. The cross must also daily work upon our “soul” as well.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
Though the word “soul” is used in a few different ways within Scripture, the way in which I’m specifically speaking of it is our mind, heart and will. It is the seat of our natural, human desires. Our flesh (sinful nature) only desires that which is sinful. However, our soul desires that which is not necessarily sinful but natural.
For instance, the natural desire of our soul is for our physical and emotional well being. This is not sinful but natural. However, sometimes these natural desires of our souls run in opposition to God’s perfect will, and therefore, to act upon them would be sinful.
The context in which the above verses are set is a great example of this (Matthew 16:21-26). Jesus had just warned his disciples that he must suffer and die at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders. The natural desire of Peter’s soul was for Jesus’ well being. Therefore, Peter responded by rebuking Jesus and telling him that this should never happen to him. However, Jesus correctly discerned that Peter did not “…have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23). That is, Peter was acting out of his human soul (the desires/things of men) instead of acting out of his spirit (which always desires the things of God/perfect will of God).
Satan then capitalized on Peter’s soul’s desire (for Jesus’ well being), which was not in subjugation (through the working of the cross upon his soul) to his spirit’s desire (to do God’s perfect will). Peter had failed to “carry his cross”, the means by which his “soul” (his soul’s desires) were to be “crucified/put to death” and thereby brought into subjection to his spirit’s desire to do God’s perfect will.
If we have not submitted our souls to the working of the cross (daily taking up our cross and denying “self”), then we are always in danger of sinning by carrying out our own human will instead of God’s perfect will. Furthermore, wherever we allow “self” to live, by not taking up our cross and allowing it to subjugate our souls (natural human desires) to our spirits (which desires God’s will), we leave an open door for the enemy to capitalize upon.
The greatest example we see in the Bible of the cross figuratively putting one’s soul “to death” is in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane reveal the subjection of his human soul to his spirit. Matthew records the words of Jesus’ prayers in Matthew 26:39, 42. He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Notice Jesus is not praying, “Father, please, please, please don’t make me go to the cross but, argh, if you say so, fine, I’ll do it.” Instead, his attitude was worshipful. When we study the wording of his prayers we quickly notice that his forceful insistence was upon doing the Father’s will–not his own will. This prayer shows that his soul’s request was in subjugation to his spirit.
Jesus’ second and third prayers are, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). Again, we can see this is not a last ditch effort of his soul to get what it desires; instead, it is his spirit worshipfully presenting the desire of his soul to his Father, but in subjection to his spirit’s desire to do the Father’s will. Again, notice Jesus’ forceful emphasis upon his desire to do God’s will, not his own.
The best teaching on this subject that I have found is in Watchman Nee’s classic book, The Normal Christian Life. It has extraordinarily helped me in my Christian life. You can read it online or download it for free at this link: “The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee
Christ’s perfect example of the working of the cross upon the soul, what it means to “lose” our soul to “find” life is what it means to daily take up our cross and follow Jesus.
I personally believe this is precisely what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3. He says:
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (Philippians 3:10-4:1)
Without going into a lengthy theological discourse about this passage, I believe that in vs. 3:10 (the first verse in the above excerpt), Paul is primarily, if not exclusively, referring to his “death to self” and “resurrection” into a victorious, worshipful Christian life. I personally do not believe he is primarily referring to bodily resurrection here as the context seems to favor a spiritual interpretation.
Notice Paul’s extremely important instructional statement in 3:15-16:
“All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Philippians 3:15-16)
What is the proper “view” a mature Christian should have?
It is the way of the cross.
It is following in the footsteps of Christ through Gethsemane and Calvary, sharing in his sufferings as the cross puts our souls’ desires to death that we may live for the will of God. It is somehow, through that mysterious, figurative “death” of our souls by the working of the cross, that we experience and know the power of his resurrection life manifested in us. (Philippians 3:10).
In Galatians 2:20, Paul states that his old man “has been” (past tense) crucified with Christ. Yet here Paul is speaking of a present experience of “becoming” like Christ in his death. Paul’s flesh (sinful nature) was crucified (past tense), but his soul must, daily, become like Christ in his death.
Paul says this is the proper view a mature Christian should have (3:15). He then goes on to tell us to live up to what we’ve already attained (3:16). That is, if we have learned to submit to the working of the cross putting our soul’s desires to death, then let us continue living that way.
This is an extremely important word of instruction Paul gives us, especially considering our modern church environment.
As most of us know already, many different (and even contradictory) “paths” of Christian progression and sanctification are being preached and taught in the church today. Broadly speaking, many of them follow the human philosophy outlined in Colossians 2:21-23.
The “path of sanctification” that we are usually exhorted to take is: “Keep trying harder to live a Christian life. Get more disciplined and strict with yourself in order to overcome sin. Ask God to bless and help your own human efforts to sanctify yourself.”
Can you see how this human philosophy runs diametrically opposed to the wisdom of the cross?
The way of the cross is to exchange our life for Christ’s: we die, he lives in us (Galatians 2:20), and his resurrection power is manifested in our mortal bodies (Philippians 3:21).
In contrast, most modern teaching tells us to preserve our own human “life” and ask God to bless its efforts to sanctify itself!
But if we lay firm hold of the Word of God, we must acknowledge that the path of the cross—our death to self to gain his resurrection life power–is God’s one, true way. That is pure, Biblical Christian living. The wisdom of the cross is the end of man’s efforts and the beginning of the power of God. Man has nothing left to boast about, and only God can receive all the glory.
After Paul tells us that the way of the cross is the proper view mature Christians should take and that we should always live in such a way (Philippians 3:15-16), Paul then exhorts us to, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Philippians 3:17).
We are to find others who take this mature Christian view of embracing the cross and join with them. Why?
“For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (Philippians 3:18-4:1)
Those who intentionally evade the cross do so because their are serving their own appetites. Their destiny is destruction; their god is their own insatiable desires (figuratively, their stomach). How can we possibly keep company with them if we are walking in opposite directions? Their end is destruction, but our citizenship is in heaven. Dear friends, as the apostle has said, this is how we stand firm in the Lord!
Therefore, let us not be led astray from the narrow way of the cross by sitting under false teaching which fulfils our own desires instead of the desires of God’s heart.
On a side note, I feel to briefly speak about the importance of the cross putting the soul to death when it comes to prophesying.
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you…by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity–for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” (2 Peter 2:1,18-19)
BEWARE of so-called prophets and prophecies that appeal to the desires of your carnal self and to the desires of your human soul. Take careful heed if a ‘prophet’ habitually ‘prophesies’ what peoples’ itching “flesh ears” and “soul ears” want to hear.
Prophesying is a revelation of God’s heart, desire and will to man. However, I have observed numerous prophetic circles where “prophecies” are all centered around the fulfilment of the desires of men’s hearts and not God’s heart. As prophetic worship leader Jason Upton has said, “Prophecy is not about the future, fortune or fame of man; it’s about the feelings of God’s heart.”
Beware! These false ‘prophecies’ may come in total disguise and deceive you, for, “…Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light…” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
We can give up our desire to become a great football player in order to become a great evangelist, but in reality, all we have done is transferred our carnal, human desire for greatness onto a different thing. Our desire for greatness is no longer fulfilled by winning trophies but now through how many people we ‘win’ to the Lord. However, that is only carnality dressed up in a religious robe. It is still pride and lust for self-glorification.
Watch out for so-called ‘prophecies’ that flatter men and center upon them, their achievements, their greatness instead of glorifying God and centering upon the desires of his heart.
Furthermore, I have also observed lying prophetic spirits in operation. The one significant thing I have noticed is that they gain entrance through a person’s uncrucified human desires. If someone wants something badly enough, he or she will gather around themselves a bunch of prophets who will prophesy what his or her itching ears want to hear (Micah 2:11), or the demonic realm may take notice and send someone to prophesy exactly what they want more than the will of God. I have observed them operating exactly how the lying spirit operated in 1 Kings 22.
The way to avoid either being led astray by false prophecies or to avoid becoming one who utters false prophecies is to allow the cross to put both your carnal and soul desires to death. Both the one prophesying and the recipient of the prophecy must have submitted to the working of the cross upon their flesh and soul in order to avoid being swayed by the deceptive power of a demonic lying spirit.
Do an in depth study about false prophecy and false teaching in 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 6; 2 Timothy 3:1-4:4; 2 Peter 2; Jude, and you will soon discover the golden thread that runs through all of them is that false prophecy and false teaching appeal “…to the lustful desires of sinful human nature” (2 Peter 2:18).
In regards to prophecy, remember that a prophetic word from God will never contradict his written Word, either his literal Word or the Spirit of his Word. Remember that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to testify of Jesus (John 15:26), to remind you of what Jesus has said (John 14:26), to guide you into the truth (John 16:13), to reveal what is to come (John 16:13), to bring glory to Jesus (John 16:14) and to reveal to God’s heart to you (John 16:14-15).
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)
My drawing features nothing but a path leading up to the cross and a few nails which are intended for the crucifixion of self. There is not much depth in the background because when God confronts us with the cross, there is no turning aside from it.
Death is the end of ourselves and the beginning of God’s life in us. However, we must rely on God’s grace to take that step in faith. The background of my drawing is dark and blank because God doesn’t necessarily show us what our glorious resurrection life beyond the cross is going to look like. We just have to trust him into the unknown and the unrevealed, for “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). By faith in our God, whose character it is to raise the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9), we have a joy set before us that enables us to endure the cross (Hebrews 12:2).
God will always set our feet on the path that leads to the cross because it is the path of the Christian. We cannot circumvent it. If we get off on one of professing Christendom’s many tangent trails, we will always hear the voice of the Lord calling us back to the cross.
If we deliberately run away from the cross, God will always engineer circumstances to hem us in, lead us back to the point of our departure and confront us with the cross all over again. If we run away again and again, he will only continue to engineer circumstances to lead us back to the cross every time. There is no way we can possibly avoid it because it is God’s narrow way. Whenever we choose to evade the cross we only waste time, and it costs God glory in the process. It also costs us our peace and intimacy with him.
The cross is inescapable because it is the path of the Christian.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate…his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27,33)
“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’” (John 21:18-19)
As Christians, we must all follow in Christ’s footsteps through Gethsemane and Calvary.
As we learn to absolutely surrender our “selves” unto death, the cross becomes the dearest instrument to us. It is the instrument though which we discover the true resurrection power of the Holy Spirit living in us and bearing fruit within us.
As God takes us deeper we discover the cross is also the centerpiece of worship. Throughout the whole Old Testament, God clearly sets down the pattern of worship through sacrifice. This same pattern is carried through to the New Testament, only now, we are the ones who are the living sacrifice:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1)
The cross is the instrument through which God makes us into living sacrifices of worship. At the tabernacle and the temple, the fire of the sacrifice was never to go out. Likewise, may the fire of our absolute surrender and total devotion to God (our “burnt offering”) never to go out. May we daily take up our cross and die to self that his beautiful resurrection life may be manifested in our mortal bodies. (See “Sacrifice: The Fragrance of Worship” (Praise and Worship Series 2).)