In a time when crosses are disappearing from churches all over America and a time that the Cross is seen as too divisive to be preached in seeker friendly pulpits, it is important that Bible believing churches make a stand preaching about the Cross of Jesus Christ for it is the Cross that is so prominent in the teaching of the New Testament. It is at the Cross where we find the message of salvation. On this point most Bible believing Christians will agree. However, it is one thing to talk about the necessity of preaching the Cross and to speak of its message but quite another to fully explain what the Cross and its message is.
It is a true saying that salvation (freedom from the penalty of sin) and sanctification (freedom from the bondage of sin) are both found at the Cross. Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18 called the Cross “the power of God to those who are saved.” However, the actual cross was just a piece of wood and a piece of wood and as such can save nobody. It was what was done on that cross that made all the difference for eternity for all who will accept the Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently when we speak of the Cross, we must be clear as to what we mean by this. All through the book of 1 Corinthians Paul explains the message of the Cross. In chapter 15 he leaves no doubt that the message of the Cross is none other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ—His death, burial and resurrection which we must believe and receive.
To mention the Cross in connection with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is of utmost importance. To be sure it is the Truth that Jesus died for our sin paying our deserved penalty and breaking the power of this now cancelled sin. If that is what we mean when we mention the “message of the Cross,” well and good. But if we don’t explain what this message, how would anyone know its meaning? Similarly, to say that the Cross needs to be the central object of our faith leaves one guessing until we explain that it is the now resurrected Christ Who hung on that Cross Who is to be the object of our faith (Hebrews 12: 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.) The point is that the Cross was the means but what Jesus did there needs to be the real focus. From John 1:12 and from Acts 16:31 it is clear that it is when we receive the Lord Jesus Christ into our lives that we receive salvation. This is so crucial that we should never neglect saying it when it comes to any message on the Cross.
Nor should we forget to mention the whole of the Gospel, i.e., the message of the Cross as Paul defines it in 1 Corinthians 15--Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. We must never separate the death of Jesus Christ from His resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:17 explains that unless Jesus rose from the dead we are still dead in our sins. How then can we leave any doubt that the two are vitally connected when Paul was careful not to do so himself?
We may believe all of 1 Corinthians 15, but if we mention the Cross without explaining the meaning of it we are not clearly pointing the way and to salvation and a real relationship with the living Christ.
It is this relationship with the living, resurrected Christ that brings about sanctification as well. To merely say that understanding the message of the Cross does this is once again incomplete and misleading. Romans 6 does tell us that as believers we have been crucified with Christ, but goes on to tell us as He has risen to new life so we are to rise to new life also. Paul repeats this thought in Galatians 2:20 when he says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth 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.” To Paul the Cross meant his old man died there but he now lived by his new man through his relationship with the living Savior. Sanctification is a process described in Romans 7. It is a time of growing and maturing as we develop an ever closer relationship with Jesus. To say that understanding the message of the Cross leads to sanctification, without explaining the need for a closer relationship with the Christ that was on that Cross, can leaves one open to the impression that understanding the message of the Cross is a mystical experience that brings instantaneous sanctification. In truth, There are no shortcuts.
The Bible believing Church of today needs to be clear that message of the Cross is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must never tire of explaining what this Gospel is. We must point to a Christ Who died for our sins and now lives bringing us new life and that only by growing in relationship with Him will we have the power to overcome sin in our lives. We must follow Paul in preaching the Cross, being sure to explain what that message is.