The Cross and Its Message

Thursday, December 22, 2016, 10:36 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “As the Deer.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 (NIV).

Divisions and Unity (vv. 10-12)

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Is it possible for all Christians to agree with one another on all things? No, I don’t think so. So, what is this saying? First of all, we need to be in agreement with God in what he says before we can agree with one another, and there are many different thoughts and opinions on what the Word of God says. And, that is where a lot of the problems (divisions) come into play in the church, largely because people are listening to human beings instead of listening to the Holy Spirit. One says he is a Baptist, and another a Presbyterian, and yet another a Pentecostal, or a Lutheran, or an Episcopalian, and still another says he belongs to the C&MA church, etc. And, many claim that their truth is the only truth, and that all others are misguided. Christians fight and argue over interpretations of scripture, some of which fall into the category of disputable matters, and this is just wrong!

From my own experience, I have witnessed many Christians holding on to their beliefs even if scripture is perfectly clear that the opposite is true. Though I agree that some scriptures are not all that clear, and that we certainly need the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, I believe there are many scriptures that cannot be refuted. Yet, I have watched many Christians knowingly choose to follow their denominational leanings over the Word of God. And, this is true of all denominations of which I have been a part, which are several. For the record, though, I no longer affiliate myself with a particular denomination. When asked, I merely state that I am a Christian, and a member of God’s household, his family, the body of Christ.

So, what do we do? How can we be unified? For one, we need to obey the truth that we know, and we need to not ignore the scriptures that don’t fit our lifestyle, or hold fast to what we were taught from infanthood, if it may be wrong. Many divisions are caused in the church because so many people are still living as though they were never delivered from their sin, and so they pick and choose the scriptures that fit their chosen lifestyles, and they will explain away or entirely ignore the ones which don’t fit with what they want to believe. So, if we are to agree together, we have to first of all go into God’s Word with open hearts and minds to receive from the Holy Spirit whatever he wants to teach us, and be willing to be challenged in areas where we are holding fast to a particular doctrine or teaching or belief which may or may not be based in the whole of scripture, comparing scripture with scripture, and interpreting scripture in its full context.

For example, I grew up in the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church, which was begun by a Presbyterian minister, who wasn’t trying to start a denomination, from what I’ve been told, but who was looking to bring people together of various denominational backgrounds with one common goal in mind, which was to reach people throughout the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to minister to the poor and needy of his community. So, the Alliance was made up of people of various denominations. Thus, I came to refer to myself as a religious mutt, i.e. because I was Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Pentecostal, all rolled into one. One of the denomination’s famous ministers was A. W. Tozer. So, his teachings give a flavor of the kind of teaching I was brought up under in my early years, which was good.

Yet, as I began to get into the Word, to read it for myself, and to let the Holy Spirit speak to my heart, I realized that some of what I was taught early on was not what the Word of God taught. Some of the problems arose, I believe, because some of the teaching was based on the experiences of just one man, A. B. Simpson, who founded the denomination, and some of it arose from the practice of taking scriptures out of context to teach more topically, rather than verse by verse and chapter by chapter. Topical lessons are not all bad, mind you, and they have their place, but often people would use a concordance on a particular word, and would thus pull scriptures out of context and would try to make them fit the topic. But, in comparing scripture with scripture, and with reading the scriptures in context, I found that is not what the scriptures themselves were saying. And, so I had to adjust my beliefs to what I knew now was the Holy Spirit correcting what I had learned wrongly, which was not a lot, for I was blessed with much biblical teaching.

The Power of the Cross (vv. 13-17)

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Obviously the early church struggled with the problem of being followers of men over followers of God, but I believe it has reached epidemic proportions in our day and time. To their credit, though, they didn’t all have individual Bibles in their homes which they could read for themselves, as the New Testament hadn’t yet been written, or it was in the process of being written, and probably every household did not have a copy of the Old Testament, either. [I think sometimes we forget how fortunate many of us are to have our own personal Bibles, and perhaps several of them in different translations.] So, they were very dependent on men to teach them the truths of scripture, as the scriptures related to the Christian life and practice. Yet, many of these Christians started to become followers of the messengers instead of being followers of the ONE who sent out the messengers.

In today’s church here in America, I don’t know that there is anyone who could not have their own Bible if they truly wanted one. Many organizations give them out for free, I do believe. The Word of God is readily available, in other words, and probably can be attained even from the library, and from the internet and via various computer software packages or what are called Apps. So, there is no excuse for most of us to not know what the Word of God teaches, or to have to rely on humans to tell us what it says. We ought to be able to read it for ourselves, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak its truths to our hearts. And, yet many, many people who call themselves Christians rely heavily on their pastors or TV evangelists and preachers to interpret scripture for them, and they are not in the practice of testing what they hear, either, against the Word of Truth, and so many are deceived.

Many of these preachers who win the hearts of the people are very smooth, charming, have charismatic personalities, and many of them are performers, too. They are learned in how to manipulate naïve minds, and in how to get people to follow them most anywhere. And, many of them abuse that power, too. They appeal to human flesh, and they give people what their itching ears want to hear, and so the people love them, and they follow them.

Yet, Paul determined he would not be like that, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. And, we need to determine that, too, that we will not teach man’s teachings, but the Word of God, as revealed to us via the Holy Spirit, who will make clear to us what we are to learn from the Word. If we have access to the Word of God, then we need to be students of scripture, and we need to test everything we hear against the Word of God, in prayer, and ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance to lead us into all truth.

The Message of the Cross (v. 18)

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.

So, what is the message of the cross? It is that the Son of God came to earth, was born as a baby to a human mother, yet was conceived of the Holy Spirit. So, when Jesus Christ walked the face of this earth, he was completely God, yet completely man. He was tempted in like manner as we are tempted, yet he was without sin. Although he knew no sin, yet he became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. So, when he died he put sin to death, and when he was resurrected from the dead, he rose victorious over sin, hell, Satan and death. Amen! He did this on our behalf so that through faith in him we might be delivered from slavery to sin, and so we might become servants of his righteousness.

When we come to Jesus Christ, by God’s grace, through faith, which are both gifts from God, we, thus, are crucified with Christ in death to sin, and we are resurrected with him to newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (See: Eph. 2:8-10; Eph. 4:17-24; Ro. 6:1-23; Gal. 2:20). The old has gone, the new has come. We no longer live our lives to please our sinful flesh (in lifestyle), but we live according to the Spirit of God, who now lives within us (See: Ro. 8:1-14; Lu. 9:23-25). This is not to say that we live in sinless perfection (See: 1 Jn. 2:1), but that we have died to sin that we may live to righteousness, and we have been turned from sin to righteousness, and from the power of Satan to God, to now walk in his ways and in his truth (See: Ac. 26:16-18).

Simply put, the message of the cross is death to sin and living to righteousness (See: 1 Pet. 2:24). And, that is why it is foolishness to those who are perishing. The sad reality of it all, though, is it seems it is also foolishness to those who claim to know Christ, and who claim to be ministers of the gospel of Christ, and who claim to be Christ’s church, because what many of them are teaching definitely empties the cross of Christ of its power to transform human lives away from sin and to living to righteousness. They minimize the message of the gospel to nothing more than an escape from hell and the promise of heaven when death comes, but they do not teach death to sin or living to righteousness, because that message is an offense to the people they are trying to get to come to their “churches.”

But, to us who are being saved, the cross of Christ is the power of God to move us away from living for sin and self, to now living for Christ and his righteousness, free from the control sin once had over our lives. Amen!

As the Deer / Martin J. Nystrom
Based off Psalm 42:1

As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after You
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship You

You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship You

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