People in the early church were persecuted and in the discomfort of that, some were tempted to go back to their “works-righteousness” system of worship. That is, instead of relying on Christ alone and trusting in His death and resurrection for their salvation, they were drawn back to rules and rituals. Their idea of earning their salvation was never acceptable to God in the first place, but it was much more comfortable. It satisfied their desire to be “religious” and eliminated the threat of persecution.
One of the rituals of Judaism was circumcision. It had originally been commanded by God, a symbolic mark that they were called to be His people. By faith, they did this to declare that they trusted God and not themselves. However, like many religious duties, it became a means of earning God’s favor and deteriorated into a ritual that they thought made them better than others. Instead of doing this and other commands in faith, they slid backward into that old, “I will earn my salvation, create my own righteousness” mode.
Look, I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. (Galatians 5:2–11)
The bottom line of salvation by faith is that preaching Christ’s death and resurrection offends people. It deeply offended the Jews. They looked for a Messiah that would come in power and conqueror their oppressors. Instead, He came and died. Instead of trampling Rome, He was crucified. This contradicted all they had hoped. In their minds, He could not be the One. What He had done was simply too offensive. Even more offensive is His message that He is God in the flesh and that we are sinners who needed to repent.
People today can be just as antagonistic to Christ and the message of the Cross as those who looked for a different kind of Messiah. Christ and Calvary say death to sin. People today say comfort and pleasure. Jesus says, “I died for you,” but the world says, “I must live for me.”
In our world, success is measured by money and happiness. Anyone will sacrifice if it results in happiness, or wealth, or popularity. However, the Cross signifies that the Kingdom of God is about sacrifice. Jesus gave His life to bring forgiveness, joy and eternal well-being to a world full of sinners who ignore or even hate God. For some, this is an offense, and if it is not offensive enough, Jesus cries out that we take up our cross and follow Him. He asks everyone to die to self and live for God.
The Cross is a stumbling block to Jews and to a pleasure-loving world, even to a dead church that refuses to preach it. Instead, far too many preachers opt for making everything sound easy, interesting, pleasant. As these verses from Galatians say, to do this abolishes the offense of the Cross, and with it the power of the gospel.
My devotional says do not neglect the Cross to avoid persecution and discomfort. God offers Calvary and His Son who died there so that our lives might be a reflection of His, so that His people can declare His power and grace. With Him, we can abandon self-serving and that sinful focus on our own happiness.
I talked with my sister yesterday. She loves Jesus. She was excited that this massive flood in her town is giving Christians a platform for hope. One person told her, “There are no atheists in those evacuation centers.” She said that the flood has opened hearts for revival, a renewed interest in God.
I listen in awe. Her home is flooded. She has lost much of the work she does as a livelihood and faces the huge task of restoring their home so it can be lived in. Yet her focus is on lost souls and the hope that this deluge gets the attention of those who have turned away from the grace of God.
Why trust ourselves and our own deeds when we have a God who rescues His people and can use even disaster to give them a greater desire to build His kingdom, fill His churches, and share the good news of the Cross? This God-given desire surpasses self-serving and being comfortable, going beyond the need to rebuild whatever the disaster destroyed. This is amazing grace.