Apologetics and the Cross pt.2
How to live a ‘cross-shaped’ life.
As we are ever-more aware, we face a culture that is increasingly hostile to our faith. But we have a mandate: to be “always ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). Jude v.3 – we should earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. If you are to contend for the faith you have to know what you are contending for, and in what way you are contending. But we need to set the agenda.
In the last article, we concluded by looking at wisdom and power of God shown in the preaching of the Cross. The preaching of the cross is what will pierce through to the centre of man’s heart. Yes it is foolishness, it is weakness, but it is the way of the Cross as this old hymn says:
Through weakness, like defeat,
He won the meed1 and crown,
Trod all our foes beneath His feet
By being trodden down.
He hell, in hell, laid low.
Made sin, He sin o’erthrew.
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so.
And death, by dying, slew.
That’s the power of the cross, but it is nonsense to the world. So, what did the world do in all its wisdom? They crucified the Lord of glory. Why would the Greeks want to worship a condemned criminal? And the Jews weren’t looking for a Messiah who was hung on a cross. There’s a piece of graffiti from about the fourth century, and it is subtitled ‘Alexamenos worships his god’ And his ‘god’ is a crucified man with the head of a donkey.2
Wisdom and revelation
That’s the world’s wisdom! In 1 Corinthians 2: 9-10, we discover it is by revelation. “It is written, eye has not seen nor ear heard. Neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them that love Him.”
Most of us stop there, because that’s the quote from the Old Testament (Isaiah 64:4) but why, why, why, do we not carry onto verse 10? “But God has revealed them to us by His Spirit.”
Where is that revelation? It’s in the word of God and it is seen at the cross. Why the cross? The cross is the only solution that God has for the problems of the world. Why is that? Because ultimately we only have one problem: Sin.
Now the Greeks were aware of this. I come back to Matthew Arnold again, in ‘Culture and Anarchy’:
“It’s all very well to talk about getting rid of one’s ignorance and seeing things in their reality, which was a Greek idea, seeing them in their beauty, but how is this to be done when there is something which thwarts and spoils our efforts? This ‘something’ is sin. And the space which sin fills in Hebraism as compared to Hellenism, is indeed prodigious”.
Basically, he’s saying that the Greek way to deal with sin was thinking your way through, thinking yourself into the ‘higher state’. He goes on to say: “The discipline of the Old Testament may be summed up as a discipline teaching us to abhor and flee from sin. The discipline of the New Testament [teaches] us to die to it.”
We have to consider ourselves dead to sin (Rom. 6:11), as when Christ died, we died (2 Cor. 5:14). The Greek mind wants to think its way through it, but God wants to terminate sin’s ugly career in us on the cross, to apply the cross to the root of our pride and our self-sufficiency, so that we no longer live for ourselves but for Him.
The death and resurrection of Christ deals with more than our sin, but that’s often where we stop in preaching the gospel. Your sins have been forgiven. (And most people these days think, ‘Well, so what? We don’t believe in sin anyway, do we? And what’s the big problem with sin? I am just being myself.’) But when we look at the cross we see that God doesn’t just deal with our sin but He deals with – to use the old Anglican phrase – “the world, the flesh and the devil”. It all comes to a head, it comes to its end at the cross. This is brought out in the use of the Greek word katargeo in the context of the world, the flesh and the devil. The word means ‘to render entirely idle or useless, no effect, make void.’
In 1 Corinthians 1:28, Paul says that in the preaching of the Cross, the world is brought to nothing, (katarego) at the Cross its power is broken. How so? He says to the Galatians, ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ Jesus, my Lord, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.’(Gal. 6:14). The world thought they were being clever hanging Jesus on the cross, but actually it was the world that was hanging on the cross. Jesus said in John 12:31, ‘Now is the judgment of the world.’ The world with all its pride, its power, its systems, its way of thinking that we discussed in 1 Corinthians, all exposed on the cross. The world with all its values, with all its fig leaves and ‘virtue signalling’ trying to cover up for all its injustice, all its self-righteous works, all its independence from God, all nailed to the cross. And I’m dead to it. It should have no appeal to me.
But interestingly, in John 12 Jesus goes on to say, ‘Now is the prince of this world cast out.’ Why? Because the cross is the devil’s nemesis as well! Hebrews 2:14.
“By dying Jesus destroyed (katarego) him who had the power of death, that is the devil. And delivered all those who, through their lifetime, were subject to bondage through fear of death”. There’s our word katargeo again – brought to nothing, declared null and void! So the cross marks the point where Satan’s power is broken. Again we ask, how?
In Colossians 2: 14 and 15 Paul says that Jesus blotted out the handwriting of ordinances on the cross. I’ve heard it said that it is the OT law that is nailed to the Cross, but that is not the meaning there. The ESV has ‘the record of debt’ – it’s the record of every time you break the law. At the Cross, all those ‘IOU’s, all the sins, everything that you owed God, all of which is the devil’s legal territory to accuse you – remember he’s the Counsel for the Prosecution and this is all his evidence – Jesus snatches it out of his hand and nails it to the cross, and writes tetelestai (‘PAID’) across it all. Hallelujah!
But further, at the cross Jesus was made sin for us, so that we could be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). Our sins are not just forgiven, but we are declared right with God (the status that Socrates and friends were trying to achieve in ‘The Republic’ all those years ago!).
And it goes further than that. It wasn’t just that our sins have been taken away and we are forgiven. It’s not just that our sin has been dealt with, and we are now righteous, but our flesh is crucified. Galatians 2:20 Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (KJV) Our flesh, our old Adamic life, is crucified. We cannot glory in anything that we have done or we could do.
The NIV translates flesh as ‘sinful nature,’ so we may think, ‘before I was saved my nature was sinful but there was also some good in it.’ But your ‘good (old) nature’ is crucified as well. Everything that we were in Adam has to go, it has to be nailed to the cross. All our gifts, all of our ‘whatever we might think we can do’ is nailed to the cross. Now, just as God gave Isaac back to Abraham, He might give you a gift back but it has to be taken to the cross first, because without it going to the cross it’s the flesh.
Romans 6:6 tells us that the body of sin is destroyed (KJV). That’s our word ‘brought to nothing’ again. Why? That we should no longer serve sin. We are pictured as being under a slave master, but the slave master has been taken away and we are emancipated from the rule of sin. We have been delivered from the realm of sin. ‘He breaks the power of cancelled sin’ as Charles Wesley sang!
What drives you?
Paul goes on to record his struggle with this principle in Romans 7, and cries out in v.24 “Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” The Romans used to sometimes strap the body of the murdered victim to the murderer as a punishment, resulting in the death of the murderer. Romans 8:13 “If you live after the flesh, you shall die.” Are we still being driven by our own will, our appetites, our desires, our habits? Romans 6: 11-13 helps us to understand the process of this deliverance:
■ Never expect to sin. Never go into a situation thinking, ‘I’m going to fail.’
■ Never excite sin, so don’t put yourself in a position where you will be tempted to sin.
■ And never excuse sin. “Well, that’s just the way I am.”
Is this just for advanced Christians, missionaries, pastors, preachers, or whatever? No, it is for all of us. It is basic discipleship. Luke 9:23, “If any man would follow me, let him take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
If our greatest Apologetic for our faith is the preaching of the cross (and I’m convinced it is!), the greatest Polemic for our faith is the cross-shaped life. It’s the nemesis of the world, the flesh and the devil.
George Muller, who ran a number of orphanages over many years and cared for thousands of children in the Victorian era, said on a number of occasions: “There was a day when I died, utterly died, (and as he said this he would bend lower and lower and lower) died to George Mueller – his opinions, his preferences, his tastes and his will, died to the world, its approval and censure, died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends, and since then, I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.”
This is the cross-shaped life. That’s the proposition against which there is no argument – Jesus only. Oh to know the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death – Jesus only!