Christianity & Culture

The Offense of the Cross

February 24, 2017

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.’ I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.” Galatians 5:1-11

The Galatian Christians were given a strong warning against wandering off the narrow path of grace through faith by adding even the smallest dash of self-effort or law into the mix of their theology. If they did that, Paul said, they would be walking away from the truth and ruining the message of the Gospel.

The Enemy is working overtime in America right now in an attempt to sweet-talk us away from the glorious pure grace we found at the foot of the cross when we first met Jesus.  What would cause us to veer off the steady course of grace and trust again in our own self-efforts to please God and attain the benefits of salvation?

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There is nothing so precious as the cross.

It rises up against the sky a striking symbol of wisdom, power and incomprehensible love. In its startling humility, the cross stands tall – a resplendent blueprint for all true equality, justice, impartiality and love.

The cross is strong, beautiful and kind. Its message is an invitation of never-ending peace and hope extended with open arms of love to all humankind…to all who believe.

Yet throughout history nothing has proven to be more offensive than the cross. There is nothing more controversial, divisive and cutting in all the world than the cross of Jesus Christ.


The cross is offensive to us because it squarely affronts our human pride. It stands toe to toe against all human effort and annihilates it.

The stark plainness of the cross exposes the ridiculous absurdity of man’s lofty attempts to reach God.

Its blood stains beckon us to accept the secret power of human weakness when we desperately want to believe only in human strength.

The cross, an instrument of death, reveals that the only door to life and peace is through the death of our own effort and our own self-will.

The cross – empty because Jesus rose from the dead! – shatters every illusion of the powers of science and human reason to bring solutions to the deepest questions and longings of our hearts.

The cross, in its willingness to wound so that it might heal, to offend that it might save, to tear down that it might build up, pokes holes in our fluffy and misguided human perceptions of love.

The cross is offensive to the world because it destroys the Great Deception: that we human beings can, in our own power, achieve anything of lasting good.

It uncovers the nakedness of the Big Lie: that we don’t need God.

The cross teaches that it’s only what God Himself does in us, for us and through us – as we depend desperately on Him and yield to His strength one day and one moment at a time – that will have any lasting influence, wield any true power and produce any real change: in our own lives, in the church, in society and in our world.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not My own, but My Father who lives in me does his work through Me.” John 14:10

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The pressure on us is immense – and growing fiercer every day –  to take one small and innocent file, or one tiny square of sandpaper, and smooth away just a little bit of the offensiveness of the cross.

The tide of this pressure is already almost irresistible.

Society is placing heavy, heavy burden on us to make Christianity – and Christians – just a little less offensive and a little more acceptable in the eyes of the world.

To fall in line with the lofty assertions of academia and “science.” To blend in with passionate, moral social activists. To tiptoe around the sensitivities of our neighbors. To flap our own wings in frantic self-attempts to attract a generation quickly falling away.

There’s pressure on us to concede that perhaps – just perhaps – concerted human effort might be able to produce for the world a little something of lasting value after all.

Isn’t that what we’re communicating to our churches when we place at the forefront of our worship – not the precious, plain old rugged cross – but lit-up, neon, larger-than-life church logos we have created for ourselves?

Isn’t that what we’re doing with social justice? To what extent have we taken what is meant to be a powerful outflowing and beautiful result of lives transformed by the message of the cross and turned it into its own means and its own end? Have we moved the good works of social justice to a preeminent seat at the head of the table and pushed the message of the cross far, far down to the foot? Does the cross even still hold a seat at the table at all?

Isn’t that what we’re telling the world when we stomp and cheer “GOD IS BACK” whenever there’s a public prayer in the White House…as if that outward demonstration fixes everything…as if our nation isn’t rotting at its very core?

What exactly is it we Christians in America have come to believe?

To what extent have we already caved in to the Enemy’s schemes?

Are we loving our neighbor if – in all our talk of justice – we forget to mention the problem of sin that stands blocking its way?

Are we loving our neighbor if we grow hoarse cheering him on in all his self-attempts to improve society?

Are we loving our neighbor if we fail to warn her of the very real and fast approaching fires of judgment and hell?

Are we loving our neighbor when we link arms with those working hard to attain world “peace” instead of introducing them to the only Mediator of true peace?

Are we loving our neighbor if we feed and clothe the world and meet all its physical needs but keep all true living bread and water to ourselves?

Are we loving our neighbor if, out of fear and unbelief, we fail to speak out loud the Truth that sets men free?

Every day, all day, I hear voices around me taking up the shouts of the world – ready to stand, to fight and to die for “love,” “compassion”, “freedom,” “justice,” “equality” and “peace.”

How do we think our churches, our communities and our nation are going to reach a place of true compassion, freedom, justice, equality and peace if not through the cross?

I keep listening – straining my ears – for voices firmly proclaiming and lives beautifully demonstrating the mighty power of the cross.

Where are the souls emboldened by God to lift the cross high without wavering and without apology? Who is willing to wear its shame? Who in our culture is ready to stand and fight and die for the one cause that can actually bring true change and make a lasting difference: the offensive, beautiful, life-giving, world-shaking Gospel of Jesus Christ?

This is the Enemy’s lie.

This is his insidious scheme.

He’s luring God’s children away from the narrow path of the cross by convincing us to sand away its roughness. He’s convincing us to take a shortcut to the blessings of compassion, justice, peace and freedom by skipping over the offensive truths of sin, judgment and our own desperate inadequacy.

He’s seducing us to contribute to the Great Deception that our society can achieve by itself something of lasting value – if we all just hold hands and “work hard” together for peace and love.

The moment we touch the cross with our “innocent” little square of sandpaper – the minute we cave into the pressure to spiff it up, to make its message more palatable to our society – in that very instant, we destroy its power.

We strip it of its hope.

We desecrate its beauty.

We cheat our world of the Truth it is seeking, the change it so desperately needs.

We betray our King.

We wonder why the Church has lost its sway. We wonder why our country is slipping away.

We, the Church of Jesus Christ in America, have sanded away at the cross with our own hands until it is nothing more than a powerless, hollow trinket. An idol.

If the message of hope and change we are shouting matches the shouts of the world…if the world is nodding and clapping its approval of our speech…if we are not feeling today the growing heat of the world’s hatred for Christ or tasting the bitter first drops of persecution descending upon the Church of America…then the message we’re espousing is not the message of Christ.

“The offense of the cross has been abolished.”

“We have fallen from grace.”

There is sandpaper in our hands.

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The past few weeks and months have been dark ones for me. God has taken me on a journey I didn’t expect and I didn’t choose. What started as a startling realization of the connections between what I saw and experienced in China and what I see developing now in America turned into an extended walk through various books along the difficult footsteps of German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer and USSR prison camp survivor Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn…and ended with a trip through Revelation.

In the past several months God has asked me to open my eyes to the deep horrors of darkness that lie latent in the depths of the human heart. He’s shown me how very easy it is for even His own children to be pulled aside and led astray by the cunning and sparkling webs of the enemy’s deceptions.

He has shown me, I believe, a foreshadowing of the difficult journey that stretches ahead for those us in America who bear His Name. He’s brought me to an encounter with the rough and heavy offensiveness of the old wooden cross.

The days are coming soon, it seems, when each one of us is going to find ourselves face to face with the particular cross God is going to ask us to carry into the future. And we’ll have a decision to make…whether or not we are willing to lift it up on our shoulders for our King.

We’re going to perceive its roughness more acutely and become more aware of its splinters than we ever have before. This cross is going to appear heavy to us. So impossibly heavy and terrible. We’re going to be tempted to run. We’re going to be tempted to shake free of its burden and hide.

But when we, in overcoming faith, refuse to turn our backs on the cross…when instead of running away we run our fingertips gently over its rough surface…and finger its nail holes with wonder…when we lean into its hardness and press our foreheads against its ridges…when we embrace it…what we discover in the painful cross is the deepest comfort and joy we have ever known. We are flooded with a renewed love for the matchless message of the cross; and a deepening, overflowing adoration for the One who first bore it on His back for us.

This love – itself a gift of grace from Him – is what is going to fill us with the courage we need to hoist the cross up proudly, lovingly onto our backs, and to carry its light boldly into the depths of whatever darkness may meet us on the path ahead.

What we are about to discover is that there is truly no greater privilege or honor on this earth than to be asked to carry on our backs the glorious and offensive cross of Jesus Christ.

The stunning beauty and glorious message of the cross is that where we fall short, Christ stands tall.

Where we are limited, He is limitless.

Where we are powerless, He radiates with power.

Where we stand inadequate, He works wonders beyond our wildest dreams.

Let’s throw aside the sandpaper and files that have made their way into our hands. Let’s go back to where we started. Let’s fall on our faces together once again before the pure, unadulterated, life-transforming grace found in the cross of Jesus Christ.