The Offense of the Cross

The cross as a logo has lost its brand distinction. So many people with different and contradictory beliefs use the cross, wearing it these days or putting one on your building really specifies nothing. The Bible never envisions its use as an ornament or even as a symbol of Christianity, but it has a great deal to say about the cross in other ways. For instance in Galatians 5:11 Paul mentions the offense of the cross: “And I brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offense of the cross ceased.”

What is offensive in the context of Galatians five about the cross? The cross speaks of God’s remedy for our sin. When it is properly understood, the extreme nature of the cure reveals our horrible spiritual condition and the utter futility of our “home remedies.” If a doctor wants to amputate your leg, you can assume the problem is not an ingrown toenail. If the only way sinners could be reconciled to a holy God is that He would become flesh, live among us, die as the innocent substitute for our sins and then rise from the dead then it means I am a very bad sinner. That’s the offense of the cross. If the cross is true I am hopelessly lost and unable to save myself. If the cross is true I need a Savior. And just as some patients with a gangrenous leg refuse amputation to the end, many people ignore the stinking and rotting effects of sin and refuse God’s remedy. In the end though, this is a poor analogy since the loss of a limb is great even to save the life, but the loss of a groundless spiritual pride is actually a great gain.

How do you remove the offense of the cross? You simply add some human work to God’s requirement of faith. The works in question in Galatians are circumcision and other elements of the Mosaic Law. These are good things, but they are not and never were saving things. Today some would add going to church or the sacraments or trying their best, and any of those will work fine to eliminate the offense of the cross. But “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” has always been the basis of salvation; faith apart from human merit has always been the way to access that salvation.
The cross is the definitive revelation of the great truth: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” The hymn writer said it so well: “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”

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