“For the word of the cross to those perishing is foolishness but to us, those being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
What is the word of the cross? It is that every human person deserves death; they are an affront to the holiness of God and He cannot even look upon them.
It was necessary for God to send the Son to earth to die for us because there is no way that a human person can atone for his sin. God’s mercy keeps us alive for a time in the divine hope that we might find the grace to understand that we are totally degenerate and without any hope except that Christ has paid our penalty. When we find the grace to receive and understand the word of the cross, the first thing it tells us is that we must take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 10:38 Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34 Luke 9:23); in the Greek text, the verbs “take up” and “follow” are in the imperative mood, signifying that this is a command. Moreover, Jesus had this to say;
“And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me; the one finding his life will lose it, and the one losing his life on account of Me will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).
The Greek word for “losing” is apollumi and is a compound of ollumi meaning to “destroy” and apo, the force of which is “wholly” or “away”. The word, as used here, speaks of eternal death, future punishment and exclusion from the Messiah’s kingdom.
The word of the cross can convict us of our utter unworthiness if we will allow it and if we are enabled, by the Holy Spirit of God, to receive it and make it our own. It is only by this conviction that we can be led to true repentance and thus, be regenerated, or born again, and go on to true sanctification, or holiness. There is the power in the word of the cross.
But there is another word, which Paul described as a different gospel (Galatians 1:6), which is preached by the “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). It is a gospel that diminishes the truth of the cross; in this gospel, the cross is just something that Jesus died upon so that our sins can be forgiven; it is historical and symbolic and serves to benefit Christians. This gospel is not received by the conviction of sin, but by the persuasion of men; it is not received by the demonstration of the power of the Spirit but by the wisdom of men using persuasive words (1 Corinthians 2:4). In this gospel, there is no demand for the crucifixion of self; that is why it is so popular and that is also why it is so powerless.
The cross of Christ must lead us to our own cross, upon which the old man, the natural self-centred, vain and worldly man, must be crucified. Our cross, while it does not end our biological life, is meant to produce a death as real and as painful as that; the death of self. It is a cross like His in that we, like Him, take it up in obedience to the will of God. If we refuse to take up our cross and follow Him, the cross of Christ cannot avail for us.
Crossless Christianity is powerless; it seeks to make the old man better; it tells you that you can still have your life, that it can be improved and be acceptable to God. Crossless Christians seek to save their lives, but the word of the cross tells us that they will, instead, lose them.