By L.A. Stauffer
“Enemies of the cross of Christ” is a thought that boggles the mind. Unimaginable! How could anyone oppose the most loving and unselfish act of human history?
The “cross of Christ” denotes the purposed, planned, voluntary death of Jesus to bear in his body the sins of the world (1 Pet. 2:24). He died not because he was a criminal, not because he was a sinner – but as a gift of God’s grace to atone for sin (Rom. 5:15).
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 14:13). But Jesus laid down his life for enemies, for ungodly sinners, for murderers, liars, thieves, whoremongers, homosexuals, drunkards, child abusers, wife beaters, con-artists, and every despicable creature who has marred and effaced the God-like soul with which he was endowed (see Rom. 5:6-8).
Jesus did not die because men had the power to arrest him and nail him to the cross. He could have called twelve legions of angels to protect him, lest he dash his foot against a stone (Mt. 26:53; 4:6). He suffered the horrors of the cross because he decided to, because he willed to, because he was compassionate toward a wretched and doomed humanity (Rom. 7:24; 6:23; Rev. 21:8). What an act of selfless concern for others! He became poor that men might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:5-8).
The result of the cross for those in Christ is reconciliation to God. The fellowship with God that was broken because of sin was restored in Christ, through his blood, by the cross (Eph. 2:13-18). “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Does anyone wonder, then, why Paul knew nothing “save us Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2)? The “word of the cross” is unto men “who are saved . . . the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Why, then, should the cross of Christ have enemies? It has enemies because of ignorance, deception, unbelief, and self-indulgence. The life or teaching of anyone who hinders faith in the word of the cross, who perverts the meaning of the cross, or turns men away from the benefits of the cross is an enemy of the cross. This holds true for the first century and for today.
The First Century
l. Self-Indulgence. Paul mentioned enemies of the cross of Christ in the first century when he wrote to the church at Philippi. “For many walk, ” he says, “of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Phil. 3:18,19).
Who these people were specifically is immaterial to the purpose at hand. Whether Judaizers whose confidence was in the flesh (see verses 4ff) or antinomians who were consumed by fleshly passions, they were folks whose citizenship was not in heaven and who looked not to Jesus for salvation (see v. 20). Minding earthly things, serving the desires of the flesh (belly), and glorying in shameful deeds are antagonistic to Christ. The trail of spiritual destruction they leave brings tears to dedicated servants of the cross.
Other enemies of the cross are discussed by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church. Speaking of both Jews and Gentiles, Paul wrote: “Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ cruci/led, unto Jews a stumbling block, and unto Gentiles foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:22,23).
2. Jews. The Jews looked for a Messiah of physical power. To them the cross was a sign of weakness. Even as Christ died, they challenged him to save himself, to come down from the cross if he be the Son of God (Mt. 27:40-43). How could their Savior be captured, bound hand and foot, and crucified as a common criminal? The death of Jesus was a stumbling block for the Jews, who became chief foes of the cross. Jesus is rejected as the anointed one of Old Testament Scripture. Yet, those Scriptures portray the Christ as a lamb led to the slaughter, as the servant of God whose hands and feet would be pierced, as the one whose soul must temporarily be captured by death and Hades (Isa. 53:7; Psa. 22:16; 16: 10). They did not see in the cross God’s power to save.
The Jews rejected Christ, sought by the law to establish their own righteousness, and sealed their doom (Rom. 10:13). Even the Jews who believed in Christ added circumcision, the feast days, and other commands of the law to the cross of Christ. In so doing they became adversaries of the cross, perverted the gospel, made it void, and caused themselves and Gentiles to fall from grace (Gal. 1:6-9; 5:14).
3. Gentiles. The Gentiles, who longed for wisdom, were not better. To them, the cross was foolishness. When Paul preached the Messiah at Athens, they mocked (Acts 17:32). They looked for a more profound system of thought. Greeks searched for the ultimate philosophy and drew men away from the efficacy of the Savior’s death.
Some Gentiles thought they found that philosophy in Gnosticism, an amalgamation of Christianity, Greek wisdom and Oriental speculation. Gnosticism, for example, preached a special gnosis (knowledge). They taught that men by mystical experience could obtain spiritual enlightenment directly from God and be redeemed by absorption of their spirits into deity. The philosophy saw no need for the cross, for apostolic revelation, and the sanctified life. Many were taken captive by it and became enemies of the cross (Col. 2:8-10; 1 John).
The Twentieth Century
The hostile views of both Jews and Gentiles are maintained even in modern times. But beyond these views are a variety of others that can be stated but briefly.
1. Humanist Infidels. The cross of Christ has no meaning to humanistic infidels of today. Christ in their view was just a human being and no such thing as divine revelation exists. Man, they affirm, is the center of the universe; all wisdom emanates from him and for him. Heaven, they say, is a figment of man’s imagination; life is limited to this earth. There is, then, no need for salvation. The highest good is what benefits man here and now. What good, therefore, is death on a cross by a human being some twenty centuries ago? They are antagonistic to faith in God, Christ, the Scriptures, and the power of the cross. The cross, they believe, is meaningless.
2. Modernists. Modernists, despite their avowed faith, are infidels themselves. Jesus, in their thinking, is merely human. Since he is not viewed as God, his death cannot be an atonement for sin. They would accept him as a martyr, but view his death as the gift of himself to principles above self-interest. The atonement idea is theological garbage, arising from superstitious, paganistic religion. Jesus’ death, accordingly, is an example, a pattern of unselfish love in which he sacrificed himself for a greater good. No one is led by them to faith in the power of the cross for forgiveness, but to faith in Christ as an example of self-denial in the interest of others.
3. Millennialists. Dispensationalists accept the cross of Christ as an atoning sacrifice, but it is far from central to their theology. Sacrificial atonement, for “ample, was not the purpose of Jesus’ coming. The spiritual kingdom purchased by his blood (Rev. 5:9,10) is secondary to the demonstration of earthly-kingdom rule, a rule postponed, they affirm, until his return. Jesus’ death, by this theory, was not intentional but incidental or accidental. The spiritual kingdom came only because Christ was rejected by the Jews. Jesus must now come again to accomplish what he really set out to do in the first place: to restore the Jewish kingdom and fulfill the land promise to the Jews. The theory is Judaistic, a perversion of the gospel, and a rejection of the sufficiency of the cross and the spiritual kingdom.
4. Calvinists. All Calvinists do not accept the theory of “limited atonement, ” but some do. The disgraceful view that the Sovereign God particularly selected some to salvation and others to damnation is the basis for a distorted gospel. Christ, they say, did not taste of death for every man and was not a propitiation for the sins of the whole world (Heb. 2:9; 1 Jn. 2:1,2). Such enemies of the cross have turned many from the gospel in disgust. The gospel Jesus taught, is for all and all by their own choice may benefit from its offer of salvation (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk. 16:15, 16).
5. Denominationalism Denominational bodies of every sort have offered salvation to the world by “faith alone.” Since the days of Martin Luther, men have been deceived into believing that the benefits of the cross come to men before and without baptism; this despite the fact that men are not only baptized into Christ, but are baptized into his death (Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27). If man is saved by faith alone, he is saved outside Christ and without the power of the cross. In Christ men are reconciled to God by the cross, and teachers who distort this basic idea are hostile to God’s scheme for redemption.
6. Moralists. A host of moralists who, like the Jews, seek to establish their own righteousness by works have turned men away from the cross of Christ. Being good to one’s wife, doing an honest day’s work for a day’s pay, seeking a neighbor’s good, and giving to charitable organizations are a few of the standards men have set up as the means of justification before God. The cross is eliminated and God’s grace is made void. Need for the word of the cross by men like Cornelius, a just and devout man, has taught them nothing (see Acts 10:1,2,22,48; 11:13,14).
7. Eucharistic Mass. No one seemingly highlights the value of the cross more than Catholicism. Crosses and crucifixes are a ritualistic part of their superstitious paraphernalia. They cling to these wood or silver or gold emblems in every dire emergency. And at each mass is a re-enactment of the sacrifice of Christ. This “unbloody” offering points Catholics to a ceremony concocted and designed by men, rather than to the real sacrifice that was offered “once” for all (Heb. 9:24-26). Any re-offering of Christ is a reflection upon the sufficiency of the sacrifice originally offered. Belief that salvation comes through the priest and his alleged powers to call up the body and blood of Christ for re-offering is faith in the doctrines and commandments of men rather than in Christ and the word of the cross.
Space denies opportunity to speak of sprinkling for baptism, infant baptism, hypocrites in the church, division and a host of other religious conditions and viewpoints. Any system of thought or way of life that draws or repels men from the cross of Christ severs them from the atoning power that God graciously manifested for the salvation of the world. Such views and lifestyles are enemies of God and the cross, and in eternity will reap sudden destruction from the face of God and the glory of his might (2 Thess. 1:7-9).
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 20, pp. 639-640
October 15, 1987