A Cross and Christ of No Effect
"Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God;" (2 Corinthians 3:2,3)
This verse is pretty clear. People who come into contact with Christ's Church should to be able to see the manifestation and presence of Jesus Christ in our life. It is a supernatural occurrence. It is not accomplished by trying to make the presence of Christ manifest, but because we have died to self and to the flesh, becoming an unhindered conduit for the Spirit of God to work through.
As the world comes into contact with us they must be able to experience the compassion of the Jesus of the Gospel, the miracles of the book of Acts, the demonstration of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the love expressed in John's writings and even the correction offered by Paul.
Yet so many of us who claim to be a child of God, lack any recognizable resemblance to our Father. We go to church and use all the religiously correct clichés, but our lifestyle contradicts us. Even our spiritual life seems to disaffirm the mercy, grace and love of the brethren so prevalent in scripture.
I once heard a preacher say that the worst thing some Christians could do was to invite their friends or co-workers to church. His reason was that the people closest to them knew their life style. They were familiar with their gossip, murmuring, complaining and inability to walk in holiness and righteousness.
Their friends have heard their off-color jokes. Sat with them at lunch as they devoured the pastor and his family, as well as those that posed a threat to their being recognized as dedicated church workers. They criticize the boss and make fun of others they work with. What liberty and freedom from a life of following Christ could these people offer others?
While at church they weep and cry, dance and shout, some even claim a calling into ministry. Yet the God they speak of seems to have been ineffective in changing their life. The Holy Spirit that they claim guides them seemingly has failed to bring about the attributes of Christ in their behavior, and the Word they preach does not conform their minds into that of our Savior. We talk about a cross, but our life does not reflect a life at the cross.
We instead propagate a gospel of hype and hoopla, camouflaging our services with new fads and fables in hopes of not offending anyone.
We attempt, through every means under the sun to chase and receive the power of God in our life, yet we have failed miserably in fully surrendering our selves to the God of the power.
It is said that at the height of the great Azuza Street Revival a prophecy went forth that we see fulfilled in many charismatic and Pentecostal churches. It says that in the last days, the Church would trade purity for power, and holiness for hype. In a message entitled A Christless Pentecost by David Wilkerson, he describes an altar service by one of his close friends. During the invitation the evangelist asked for all those who wanted power to line up on one side of the church. Then he asked for all those who wanted purity to line up on the other side. The people lined up ten to one for power over purity. Ladies and gentlemen this is to our shame. We have been blinded and deceived. There can be no power without purity and no purity without a dying to self, sin and pride. Despite the grandeur of choreographed dance, the combined talent of musicians and singers, along with eloquent preaching or teaching, many have witnessed little or no true conversions or repentance of the members in years.
A genuine move of God to challenge and change people's hearts should be common place in all churches and all services. It can be and usually is, when the message of the cross is preached, compelling congregations back to holiness and purity.
An Insufficient Cross
Satan hates the cross. He trembles over the effect it has on his kingdom. He despises those who preach it and uses every trick and deception to keep people from experiencing it's power to live in Christ.
The cross made the ministry of Jesus effective. Without it mankind could not have been reconciled to God. Without the cross there could be no salvation, healing, deliverance or any other blessing we pursue God for.
Since the beginning of time Satan has tried to eliminate or circumvent the preaching of the cross. He has labeled it offensive, old fashion, unnecessary and legalistic. Nevertheless, without it we present a Christ of no effect.
A popular teaching now claims that once you are born-again you have no further need for the cross. Salvation brought about a cleansing of sin and after that the sin issue was settled. Once you are saved you must move on to Pentecost, to the Gifts and ministry. Little do they know that all ministry, Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Pentecostal experience emanate from the preaching of the cross. They also say that now that we are saved our next step is to learn how to live the abundant, successful life of faith. Listen, there is no life, abundant or otherwise outside the shadow of the cross.
As soon as the hundred and twenty emerged from the upper room, baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in other tongues, Peter preached the cross. Three thousand received Jesus as Lord.
If Satan can not down-play the cross he will pervert it's sufficiency by adding other requirements. Paul declares, "As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ." (Galatians 6:12)
"Sure you need the cross," the Galatians said, "But there is something else. You also need to be circumcised to complete your salvation." It says the cross isn't everything, the victory wasn't totally won at Calvary, the blood of Jesus is not sufficient.
Things have not changed that much in today's church. There is a major Pentecostal denomination that teaches although you have accepted Christ, unless you speak in tongues you're not completely saved. Catholicism teaches that certain sacraments and works must accompany the ministry of the cross.
In the next verse Paul explains that circumcision, or anything added to the cross means nothing. It only allows you to glory in the flesh. Don't misunderstand, that does not mean that we are exempt from walking in obedience to the Word of God. That is the objective of the cross in our life. It is a place of death, self-denial and humiliation. That's where Paul gloried. In the cross. In the power of God by walking and living in Him through obedience. In the grace that the cross provides to overcome sin and temptation.
If you ask the average Christian what they were saved from, I believe most would respond, "From hell." But how about since we were born-again? Are we free from lust, adultery and perversion? Does gossip and tale bearing continue to manifest itself through us? Have we been completely delivered of cheating, lying, stealing etc.? This takes a daily walk to the cross.
Satan will not easily give up what was once his. He will do everything in his power to keep you from the remedy of his afflictions and torment.
The teaching that claims the sin issue was settled at salvation has robbed its followers of further forgiveness. In doing so, it has bound people by a demonic chord that never allows them true freedom from sin. They preach that even if you do sin after salvation, it is automatically forgiven without having to repent. There is nothing farther from the truth!
As they plummet further into the slavery of sin, their hearts become harder and harder. Their worship is rejected, their preaching is an exercise of the flesh and they can only glory in what they have accomplished.
Because of their rejection of a continual relationship at the cross, their Christ has become of no effect. "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:17,18)
The real power of God comes from the preaching of the cross. It is not found in formulas or seminars. You can not transmit it through the laying on of hands, claiming it or just believing for it, we must go to Calvary. We must be willing to give up all - to die if need be.
When you add other requirements to the cross, you take away from its power. A another good example is the many para-church programs such as Christian psychology and psychiatry. With all this help from the world of science, why does the Church have more people with more problems than ever before in its history. The reason is we have abandoned the cross as the only solution to man's problems. Instead we mix the elements of the world with the gospel to make it more acceptable to worldly minded church members. But since God will not share His glory with anyone, He will not contribute His power. I don't believe God cares whether we have a type A of type B personality. When we go to the cross He changes our entire nature.
The devil was defeated by the sacrifice of the cross. Jesus destroyed Satan's ability to keep God's people bound by fear, lust, drunkenness, drug addiction, murder, lying, stealing and all the rest. A visit to the cross will allow us to partake of the destruction of the demonic chains that bind us. Daily living at the cross will keep us free.
If Christian counseling is not one hundred percent Word. Jesus is nowhere involved. Our freedom in the emotional, physical, or spiritual realm will not come through psychology, psychiatry, our own will power or anything else and be approved of or accepted by God. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and he leadeth them out." (John 10 1&3) It is the cross, plus nothing.
Eliminate the Cross Altogether
The ultimate purpose for the cross was to destroy the power and wages of sin. Jesus' death accomplished it for all who would acknowledge their sin and receive Him as Lord.
Satan has been successful in deceiving many into thinking man is inherently good. So, trying to make someone believe that they are sinners, hopeless and hell bound would cause irreparable damage to their self-esteem and self-image.
A pastor of one of the largest churches on the west coast spouts, "I don't think anything has been done in the name of Christ, and under the banner of Christianity, that has proved to be more destructive to human personality - and hence more counter-productive to the enterprise of evangelism - than the crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition. ...Man is not basically bad, he is simply uninformed about how good he is. Guilt is a loss of self-esteem."
He not only degrades the preaching of the cross as a remedy for sin, he insults the work of the Holy Spirit's conviction of sin, and drawing to the cross. Multitudes will fall head-long into hell chanting "I'm OK, you're OK."
To deny that man is basically sinful, negates the blood sacrifice of the cross. "Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:28,29 NIV)
His statement is diametrically opposed to this scripture. Yet this man-centered theology is hurled at unsuspecting Christians Sunday after Sunday.
Revelation If You Stay - Deception If You Stray
Behind every teaching that adds to, or takes away from the cross is a doctrine of demons. When our focus is off the Christ of the cross we open ourselves up to all kinds of bondage. Chuck Strong, pastor of Christ Fellowship of Atlanta, made a statement on his radio program recently that was so profound it bears repeating here. "When the Church looks to God, He will always send them a prophet. When they look to man, God will send them familiar spirits." This is so evident in many so-called "spirit-filled" churches.
We have become too lazy to fall down at the cross for our needs, burdens and safety. We want a quick fix, so we run to someone we think can help us and give us the answer that will quite our nerves or ease our guilt.
Man, no matter how we esteem him, is not the answer. "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lonely in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. " (Matthew 11:28-30)
The answer to all our fears, troubles and heart aches, all our guilt and oppression is in our being yoked to Jesus. His yoke can only be received and maintained at the foot of the cross.
Satan hates and fears this. He works quietly, patiently and deliberately to cause us to look for power outside of the cross. He has raised up many false teachers and prophets in these last days who draw people's attention to man for answers, or even to their own power or righteousness.
These are such dangerous times we live in. Just because a man or woman can stand before you and "read your mail" (tell you things that no one else knows), or even delivers miracles of healing, does not by any stretch of the imagination mean they are a prophet of God. "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits..." (Matthew 7:15,16) The fruit of these Godly impersonators, although outwardly look spiritual, will always result in insurrection, confusion and separation of the brethren.
But, the fruits of a true prophet are the characteristics of Christ. They emanate from those whose life is stayed in and around the cross. Their burden for the brethren and church are Holy Spirit induced. They minister truth without fear or favor. These men and women are not the phony flatterers that fill many of our pulpits, their love for those in the body of Christ cause sleepless nights of weeping and groaning before the Lord.
As they stand and thunder "Thus sayeth the Lord," they are a vessel of honor used by the Spirit of God to convict the lost and backslider, urging them to the cross of Jesus. They inspire the righteous to remain, receiving more of the genuine power, compassion and direction from Calvary's crimson flow.
When the Cross is Gone - What Else is There
When ministers and their members reject the preaching of the cross, there is only one way to go - down.
In the churches where Satan has been successful in expelling the basics of the faith (the cross), religious substitutes have been incorporated in order to at least present the organization as a church. They are nothing more than something else to focus on that might draw a new member, or keep the existing ones content. Hence the new doctrines:
Christian Psychology & Psychiatry
Faith & Prosperity
When the cross is removed all theology becomes man-centered. Little or nothing is mentioned about self-denial, death or humiliation, rendering the cross of Christ of no effect.
There are those who say, "Just preach Jesus to us, His love, mercy, grace and blessings. We don't want to hear about suffering, persecution and judgment. Send us prophets that will prophecy to us good news. We're His inheritance, King's kid, we deserve it. We claim it by faith!" Sorry, scripture tells us, no cross - no crown, no suffering - no glory, no trials and testing - no victory.
When we turn our backs on the cross, we leave behind any and all hopes of grace and mercy. For from it flows all blessings.
When we reject the message of the cross we literally and willfully reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul describes it in first Corinthians fifteen. It is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. All doctrines and theologies must be centered in this message or it is a false gospel - a doctrine of demons.
If we fall into the seduction of the many false doctrines so prevalent today, we present an unbalanced Godhead. Particularly in Pentecostal and charismatic fellowships. What I mean is, we put the emphasis of the service on the Holy Spirit rather than where it belongs - Jesus Christ. Years ago I used to get a monthly tape from a local evangelist. In one of the messages, the host pastor introduced the evangelist and told his congregation to, "Give him a great 'Holy Ghost' hand clap, but if you can't, just give him a Jesus hand clap." This is completely opposite of what scripture teaches about the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, but the focus was on the lamb not the dove. Jesus told His disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they be endued with power. That power, according to Jesus would make them witnesses unto Himself.
You see, the entire function of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus Christ. To lead the multitudes to the Messiah. The Spirit of the Lord is not another God to be worshipped. His job is to prepare the masses to receive Christ, glorify Christ, and to do the works of Christ.
We boast about our 'Holy Ghost' meetings. But what is a so-called Holy Ghost meeting? Is it where the saints dance and shout? Is it where they speak in tongues and prophesy? No! It is where Christ is glorified and the Holy Ghost is allowed to search the hearts of those in attendance, convicting them and bringing them to the cross of Jesus Christ. It is where Jesus has preeminence. A Holy Ghost meeting is one where the Word of God is exalted above the music, and where the love of Christ is shed abroad in our hearts, destroying unforgiveness, hate, gossip, bitterness and guilt. Anything else is sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.
It does not matter how high we jump or how loud we shout. If our services do not change the nature of those in attendance, and create in us a burning desire to walk in the holiness and purity of Jesus, we have not had a Holy Ghost meeting! It is rather a meeting that has grieved the Spirit, despite His attempt to lead us in glorifying Jesus. We have presented a Christ and cross of no effect.
Don't Run From the Cross
"And he said to them all, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:23) "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple." (Luke 4:27)
The basic requirement in being a disciple of Jesus is denying oneself and taking up their cross. But yet many Christians, although outwardly they seem more spiritual than the apostle Paul, have never fully surrendered and taken up their cross.
At the betrayal of Jesus, as the guards laid hold of Jesus, Peter attacked with the sword, cutting off the ear of one of the guards. Jesus' response was that He could have called twelve legions of angels to deliver Him of that fateful hour. Yet He did not. He had come to do the will of His Father. He had surrendered His own will to follow God's wishes in complete obedience. This is denying self.
No longer will our agenda be approved or honored by God. Our ways, methods, motives etc. must be put aside. We must, at Calvary find out what His will is for us and follow it to the letter. We may believe we have some great ideas for His kingdom. We may think everyone of them has been sent by His Spirit. But, a life that has been nailed to the cross knows that it knows it has heard from God. The proof of this is in the anointing that guides the work and the fruits that follow it. If the fruits do not bring glory to God, we have missed it and must return to the cross.
A life at the cross is not pleasant to the flesh. It is one of complete surrender, of total sacrifice. It is painful and bloody. When at the cross we literally say, "Lord cut out and take away all that is offensive to you. Reveal my sin and deal with it. I'm not my own, deal with me as a dead man." Carnal church members hate this, and Satan does everything he can to keep us from it. But Jesus is very serious when He tells us that there can be no other way to be identified with Him.
When we leave the cross to go on to the "bigger and better" things in the realm of the Spirit, we reject the sacrifice demanded by obedience, and replace it with pseudo-spiritual works. If we do not return to the only true source of spiritual life, we will become hardened, even becoming the enemies of the cross.
As Paul describes his relationship with Christ to the church at Philippi. He describes a life which is free of self and filled with Jesus. He informs them that all that he possessed and all that he had become, he considered as dung just to know the Lord. He suggests that they follow suit in his example. "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.)" (Philippians 3:17,18) There are multitudes who say Jesus is their Lord. This Sunday there will be churches full of people declaring this fact. Outwardly they will be singing songs about His Lordship and resurrection. And yet Monday morning where is their victory? Rather than choosing the cross they will avoid it, they will get away from it. It will be reflected in business deals, in relationships, in secret sins and yet they come and cry, "He's my Lord." Then they wonder, "Why don't I have the victory? Why can't I overcome these things?"
The cross must be carried every day. We must make a conscious effort, a committed and deliberate action to mortify the flesh in order to live for Jesus.
If we live at the cross, when the enemy attacks he is addressed by God Himself. Peter and Job witnessed this divine intervention. But so many reject His protection and covering for the pleasure of sin.
David Wilkerson's recent Pulpit Series newsletter talks about losing your destiny. He describes great men of God like Samson, King Saul and Solomon who died wretched, miserable lonely deaths. Once anointed and powerfully used for the divine commission, but left the cross to pursue their own pleasures and agenda and were cut off from the divine flow.
How many ministers have we personally known, who started out dedicated to the Lord, but got lifted up in pride, or preoccupied with being accepted and recognized by man. Evangelists who book meetings just to keep up their budget, rather than a life committed to the cross and being supernaturally dispatched by the Holy Spirit.
You see, every Christian, whether involved in ministry or not is called to the cross. Understandably, the cross is many times painful. But to everyone who walks the way of the cross, there is open to them a supernatural window. From this window flows all the blessings, direction, power, instruction and correction we must have in order to fulfill our God ordained destiny. It can only be found and maintained at Calvary. It is a dwelling place with God. A place where all our enemies are dealt with, all our sin is forgiven and all our fears are destroyed.
Has God seen in us a willingness not to come down from the cross to such a degree that He can open this window to us? Or does he see us as one who gives up at the first offense of a friend, mockery by the devil, or the slightest temptation to sin? Can we say, "God I would rather you take my life, than to be a shame or embarrassment to you." You can only say that as you look upward at the cross. As you realize that the pain and agony was suffered by someone who did not deserve to be there. We need to understand that you and I are responsible for His pain and death. Our sin put Him there, our sin debt was settled there and our life in Christ was planted there. When we see the cross as the only place of life, as the only place of safety and communion with Jesus, we would rather die than to leave.
If we are willing to stay on the cross, regardless of the pain, regardless of the cost or the shame. If we are willing to let God do a surgery on our life, willing to stand in the face of temptation, He says, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness." (Zechariah 13:1)
If we surrender ourselves to the cross He will open the fountain of forgiveness, healing and deliverance. Cleansing us of all sin and iniquity. Removing all imperfections and impurities that we may walk before Him in holiness and righteousness. This must be the primary focus in our Christian life. Everything else is secondary, and without this walk of holiness everything else in our spiritual life will become a contradiction. Our life in Christ is found only at the cross. "All other ground", as the song says, "is sinking sand."