For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame–who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in Heaven…. (Philippians 3:17-21).
There is a reason each of the four gospels devotes at least a fourth of its chapters to the final week of Jesus’ life on earth. His death-burial-resurrection is the heart of the story.
The cross is not just the heart of the story; it is the story!
In Philippians 3, Paul weeps over church members who claim to be authentic and present themselves as leaders and teachers but are actually “enemies of the cross of Christ.” He does not say specifically what these trouble-makers are doing. Often, when Scripture is silent on something crucial like that, I suspect it means the Holy Spirit does not want us to camp out on what these offenders did, lest we become too narrow in our focus. Enemies of the cross of Jesus can be found across Christendom today and their emphasis may be entirely different from the shenanigans of the First Century.
Scholars think that in context, because of Paul’s indictment of them (their god is their belly, etc) these “enemies of the cross” were probably libertines, forerunners of the Gnostics, or Judaizers. Or both. The first group taught that since they were saved anything they did afterwards did not matter, which brings great shame to the cause of Christ. The second group held that they were saved by their works. In each case, the result was to undermine and nullify the work of Jesus on the cross.
After all, if we go right on in the same wickedness and debauchery after being saved as before, what was the point of the cross? And if we are saved by our good works, why did Jesus go to all the trouble of dying for our sins?
The good-time charlies and the rigid Pharisees are both enemies of the cross and have no place in church leadership. (Let the church pay attention to this! Everyone may enter the church without changing their lives; but only the faithful and godly should be given leadership positions.)
Modern enemies of the cross.
They’re still around. I know churches that have taken all mention of “the blood of Jesus” out of their hymnals and erased the same from their doctrine. They simply do not have any use for “a blood and guts religion.” It’s all “be good,” “do good,” and “be sure to love one another.”
They are enemies of the cross of Jesus.
Those who require people to be good in order to get into heaven are likewise setting themselves up as enemies of the cross. In former days, legalistic pastors would teach that the length of a woman’s hair or hemline, whether a person used tobacco or touched liquor in any way, as well as movie-going and card-playing would all determine a soul’s destiny. Why, we wanted to ask these Pharisees, was the cross of Jesus all about? If all we have to do is refrain from bad habits to qualify for heaven, Jesus went to a lot of trouble for nothing!
Religionists who would add the message of Christ to that of other religious teachers–Confucius or Buddha or Mohammed or some guru somewhere–then mix them all up and claim that this was legitimate and authentic made themselves enemies of the cross of Christ. No matter what they chose from Jesus’ teachings, one thing you can be sure of: There was no place in their poisonous blend for the Savior dying on the cross.
The cross of Jesus is the most controversial but essential fact of history. The most important aspect of one’s doctrine involves this question: “What do you do with the cross?”
The cross is the crux
A great question to put before any doctrine: Where does it fit with the scripture’s teaching of the cross of Jesus?
Faithful believers will not be adapting the message of the cross to fit our doctrine, but using the cross as ground zero, we will take that as our starting point and go from there.
The message of the cross is one of the most consistent themes of all of Scripture, beginning in the Garden, continuing with Abraham, going through Moses and Sinai, and coming down to the Lord Jesus and on to our day. Jesus looked a teacher of the Law in the eye and said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). That man–Nicodemus–must have been stunned. Jesus was referencing a little known incident from Numbers 21 that involves exactly six verses and is never mentioned again in Scripture, with the single exception that much later people turned the bronze serpent into a magical piece. If there were teaching values to that story, no prophet had ever said so. And yet, here is the Lord Jesus giving it great value.
Or consider this…
The chapter that gives us the Ten Commandments also points to the cross. Toward the conclusion of Exodus 20, we read: An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. (20:24). We must not rush past this as though it were unimportant. After giving us His “ten words,” as they are called in Scripture–and we take this as His standard for believers–the Lord as well as admitted they were not going to be able to keep them by giving provisions for an altar. They would be needing forgiveness, a way back into His presence. An altar would be required. The death of a substitute.
Scripture is consistent on this. Modern theology may want to do a bypass of the cross, but anyone who takes Scripture seriously will not play such games.
Friends of the cross
If some people make themselves enemies of the cross, it would follow that some can determine to be friends of the cross of Jesus. I want to be one of those.
Just as enemies of the cross can come in an infinite variety, friends of the cross will do many things. These come to mind…
–We will celebrate the grace of God on display at Calvary.
–We will make much of the blood of Jesus. Scripture does, you know. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood…” (Revelation 1:5). “These are ones who have come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
–We will celebrate the cross in song.
–We will always thank God for what Jesus did on Calvary. We will sing of His love, of His sacrifice, of His death-burial-resurrection.
–We will study and teach Scriptures that make mention of what was accomplished that day on Golgotha. I Corinthians calls the cross foolishness to those who are perishing and a stumblingblock to the know-it-alls, but “to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1:18,23).
–Colossians 3 puts it like this. “…having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” (3:14-15).
Thank you, Jesus, for going to the cross. You are “the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), and we are forever indebted to Thee. Thank you forever!