The Fading Cross

Galatians 5:1-2

“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.”

Now this doesn’t mean that a person who happens to be literally circumcised, that he can’t be a Christian.  But it means if a man goes through this ritual in order to somehow get favor with God, then he’s not going to have the favor Christ brings because he is trying a legalistic approach to God.  There are only two ways to come to God that people try.  One of them doesn’t get there.

1.  Try and approach with self-help, good efforts, turning over a new leaf.  It’s the old covenant of works.  Adam and Eve bombed out literally at that time when they were assigned a plan of life to follow and they failed.  And we were, as the Scripture teaches, in their loins at that time.  So, as Adam fell, we all fell and lost out and we haven’t seen inside Eden ourselves.  So, we are outside and the only way we can get back into favor with God is certainly not trying that approach again, because the Law has brought judgment upon us through Adam and we have all sinned, too.  We are a part of the whole package of the persons on earth.

2.  Now there is only one way back and that is for God to have mercy and say, “I’ll cleanse you.  I’ll take it upon myself to cleanse you.”  And so Jesus is the second man, the new Adam to come, and he delivers us for the last Adam who takes the price of sin in himself.  He is the new man who delivers us and takes us onward.  So Paul says, “if you are going to try as if Adam and Eve didn’t fail, and as if the commandments aren’t broken, you are going to try your own way — Christ will profit you nothing.

Galatians 5:3-11

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 ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.  11 And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.

There are certain diseases that strike tiny babies.  There are other diseases that are more prone to older people.  There are some sicknesses and ailments that hit people regardless of their age.

In the spiritual realm there is a danger that threatens every single Christian.  The moment you are born into God’s family, until you finally go home to glory, there is a danger that threatens every one of us.  I call it the danger of the fading cross;  the danger of letting the cross drift from our view, of letting it become fuzzy and distorted a bit.  Friends, beware of fog and smog between you and Calvary.  Keep Calvary clear.  Beware of the devil’s smoke screen.  Beware of ignorance and misunderstanding, beware of reactions against the cross.  Beware of forgetfulness.  You had better keep the cross clear in your mind and how it relates to you.  And, it should be real and a thing of encouragement to you.

Now, the Galatian Christians did not do this.  They had not held to the truth and the cross was fading, fading from them.  The Apostle Paul says to them, “wake up before you go under for the last time.”  Look toward the cross and be saved.  Be quickened.  Be raised up again.  They are under some kind of a bewitchment, he says in Chapter 3.

Look at verse 2.  He says, if you begin this way (verses 2-4) Christ won’t profit you anything.  If you are going to begin a wrong way, if you are going to believe that somehow, even though you don’t keep the cross very clear and are not very spiritually minded toward the suffering Christ hanging on the cross, you’ve not really repented of your sin and you’re not trusting for his mercy alone, you’ve sort of grown cold toward that.  And, now, you are hoping, “well after all, I’m as good as that or so and so.”  The way you are walking makes more sense than the foolishness of those restrictions.  And the commandments of God have become a very grievous thing to you and so you are going to try your own self-appointed way.  God says if you start that other way, you are going to have to finish that way.  You’ll have to accept the destination at the end that will be destruction.  And he says plainly in verse 3 that a man who goes that way is a debtor to do the whole law.  He has to keep every last thing to perfection if he is going to be saved on his own merit before God and seek to impress God for he has fallen from grace — he has fallen from that way of mercy before God.

Now verse 5 speaks:  The Christian through the operation of God’s Holy Spirit waits hopefully for a full righteousness that is yet to come.  In this present day, you and I who believe in Jesus Christ are credited with righteousness.  God’s righteousness is given and put down to our account — free of charge in mercy the moment we repent before Jesus.  And, Jesus’ wonderful righteousness, his great record, goes to our account.  But, still, we fail a bit in our lives and we don’t have the righteousness in our actual possession in our daily living as much as we would like.  It begins immediately as the Spirit quickens us.  But, one day all we hope for will be ours.

In the meanwhile, the devil attacks — it is right at that point.  He says that all may be true about Jesus dying for you and his righteousness, but look at you…..what a mess!  Then you have to resist the accusations of Satan and point again at the cross and being reminded again that Jesus did indeed die for our sin and that he is our righteousness and we hope to that day when we shall be exactly like him.

Meanwhile the Spirit of God helps us to fulfill the law of God and we don’t just go on our own to fulfill the law of God.  This is something that is good in verse 5.  And, he says faith expresses itself through love at the end of verse 6.  So, it is not a matter of whether you have kept this ritual or that one.  The big thing is that you believe in Christ and you show this faith in works of love.  So your works do follow.  You are not saved because of them but now that you are a believer in Jesus you then show the works in proof of that as an outgrowth.  And, how wonderful that is.  What got you off the track then says the Apostle.  You started out well.

Now notice in verse 7 he says, something has hindered you — cut you out — shoved you back.  You started running the race well and some other runner has cut in front of you and hindered you and got you off the track.  What caused this?  Then he says this influence in verse 8 is called a persuasion.  You’ve been persuaded and you really don’t believe what you once believed.  Verse 9 — this influence is called leavening influence — like yeast — it goes through the whole lump of dough.  This wrong influence in verse 10 is called a troubling, or someone has thrown you into confusion — it could mean.  Verse 12 — it’s an unsettling type trouble is the meaning of that word.  Repeatedly he says something has happened to you and you’ve been disrupted and no longer is there that simple glow about the cross where you settle your sins at the pierced feet of Christ on that cross for you.  What has done this?  Then he says, this evil influence has made the cross offensive to you in verse 11.  He says, then, if you are going to listen to these wrong teachings and wrong inclinations, you are not going to give up your hope of heaven — you are not going to say, I think I’ll go to hell instead of heaven, but you are just going to hope for a little better way.  You are going to be lost.  The danger, the tragic danger of the fading cross.

Some of you can argue, you can resist everything I say.  You can resist what the church stands for as being a little bit outmoded and you know a better way than the leaders and teachers in the church.  You children may feel that you know a better way than your mother and dad.  But, listen, the cross shines best when you are obedient and in step with God’s people and you know it.  The cross begins to fade when you go that other way and it becomes a stumbling to you — an actual offense to you.  Don’t let it fade out into some kind of a vagueness.  You begin to think now.  And, as you begin to study this cross, it will lead you to make a pretty deep self-evaluation.

Let’s look further at the offense of the cross.  There is a reason why the cross sort of slips through some peoples’ fingers.  Like a hot potato, they don’t want to hold it.  You see, the cross is a disturbance.  It’s an actual burdensome thing to a person who is not right with God.  They won’t want to keep it in their mind, because it troubles them.  It irritates them.  You see formalism — being able to go to church and just say I contributed something, I’m OK, I don’t have to have any regulations riding on my back, outside the church, etc. — believing that way, and when you sort of reshape your belief and these troubling influences begin to determine how you are going to believe, well, then, your religion now goes with the actual grain of man.  But, when you believe the message the Apostle Paul teaches, he says then, it offends and bothers people a great deal.  The cross goes against man’s natural grain.  There is a preaching then that pleases people and there is a preaching that angers people.  There is a message of the cross which bothers people.  At the heart of the whole thing, is what a man says and feels toward the cross of Jesus Christ.  The witness of the Apostle Paul was this:  You wouldn’t be offended by the cross, it would have no offense, if I had turned up and lined up with the grain of your natural desires.

But the cross when it is correctly preached rubs men the wrong way.  It says, Repent.  The cross actually says, Look at that — look at Jesus dying..  It took such a tremendous sacrifice to pay for your sin.  Your sin is that bad.  It makes us feel our sin, it makes us repent before God, and that’s why it bothers people.  That is why people let it fade away because they don’t want to keep short accounts with God.  When you start fooling with sin, you start losing the cross.  It sort of becomes a cold lifeless thing, it irritates you, and rubs the wrong way.  The Apostle Paul said, I don’t join you in your teaching.  You are wrong and I am going to stick by how I have been preaching.  And some of them were trying to say, Paul believes like we do.  He said, I do not.  If I did I wouldn’t be getting persecuted.  The offense of the cross would cease.

Now, this word offense is an interesting one.  Scandalous, Scandalous?  Scandal — that’s what it makes.  The cross scandalizes people, it offends them.  It trips them up.  It stumbles them.  A scandal originally was something that stumbled them.  When Paul says men are being offended by this message then they wouldn’t be if I lined up with people and they wouldn’t be persecuting me.  The offense of the cross would cease.  But, he said, I’m sticking with the truth.  Therefore the cross cuts across the grain of natural man and it bothers people if they won’t settle their sin with God.  Now, today, we sort of work up our own little compromise and we put the cross in our furniture, in our jewelry, so to speak.  But the shiny, polished cross is not going to save anybody.  It is a fallacy.  It is a stained cross that saves.  Not the beautiful bejeweled one but the bloody jagged one that causes a man to see God is serious about sin.  He offered up his son to pay for my sin.  This issue over the cross is more than a point of view.  You see, it is so personal and serious that God actually, when the Gospel is preached, charges you and me with the death of his son.  And, it offends a man who won’t repent.  But it is good news to the man who, sick of heart, tired of his sin, wants an offering for his sin.   Then, the cross makes a response come out of your heart.

You hear of the cross of Christ — you either HO-HUM or you are bothered by it.  It is like a watershed.  It divides the ways and men fall on one side or the other.  It’s the acid test, if you please; the touchstone.  It exposes and proves your heart deep inside when you hear Christ died for your sin.  Maybe you here would like to examine your own heart in the light of the nature of the cross.  Let’s use this message just a moment as a touchstone against your life.  Are you where you ought to be with God or not?  As I tell the cross message to you, if it leaves you cold, irritated, bothered — you are wrong with God.  This is the great test — scandalize you or salve you!  Which?

It began like this:  God decided to be the great cause of a mighty creation.  He would make the universe, the planets and stars.  He would make men to expend millions of dollars and years of effort in imagining great things in an effort to scoop up a little bit of earth on one of those planets.  And then that would only be a tiny little speck out of the vast solar system, and that would be only a tiny speck out of the vast galaxy, and that would be only a little speck out of the vast other numbers of galaxies ……. and we know not what is beyond.  And the great cause of all of this is our creator and our God.  And, he decided that on earth that there would be human beings.  He knew in advance that man would sin and turn from him and yet God determined to overcome this and that even our anger against him and our sin and rebellion would be taken patiently by him generation after generation, century after century, until at the right moment he ordained his son would come into this world and taste of that sin.

Now I wonder if you are prepared to think of your sin for a moment.  I want you to picture coming into this world, the Son of God coming in human form and coming so that in that body form he could teach us and talk to us, put human hands on creatures who were sick and show that God cares about our bodies even and that God cares about our spirits and above all he wants people to go in peace and sin no more.  He preached repent for the kingdom is at hand and I am the king.  And he offered himself and the people refused him.  Though he came to his own people, they refused him.  But as many as do receive him, he will give them the right to become the sons of God because this horrible rebellion can be all forgiven as though it had never happened..  For Jesus paid by his blood on that cross the price of our guilt and sin before God.

Imagine a criminal who doesn’t admit he is a criminal.  He says, I am a good citizen, you have no right to charge me with this crime.  Now the offices of the law know this man took a hammer and beat in the skull of one of his so-called friends.  This poor man he victimized is the only son of a man, of a father, who lived alone with him, we’ll say.  He looked at the officers, he denies it, I did not do this.  How dare you charge me with this crime, such a crime as this!  I am undertaking to charge you and me with crimes before God.  But, our hearts don’t feel it — this man wouldn’t feel it — he wouldn’t admit the guilt.  He denied it all!

Finally, these men realizing that he had killed one, who had originally been his friend, in a rage, at the right moment they opened the door and they brought in (the man said, I know nothing about it) and placed on a table in front of him the bloody instrument of death — the murder weapon.  It was bloody — the blood of his own friend.  There was the jacket with the blood just as he had thrown it that day.  They brought in the father who had been almost like his own dad and he looked down, tears dripping on the table.  The man’s face blanches and ashened white he starts to tremble and he cannot keep up the denial any more.  There it is before him.  When Christ was dying, he was not dying for any other reason than our sin.  It says in the Bible that there is the Father, the Son, there were the rulers of Jesus day, and then here we stand.  Who killed Jesus?  It says, the Father gave him up.  Jesus laid down his life.  The Jews turned him over to Pilate and demanded his death and he gave him up to their will.  Guilty in a way, yes, but friend, our sin caused his death.

I would like to bring before you tonight the murder weapon.  Are you guilty of sin against your God?  I will ask you, if we investigate first of all how you handle the material world, you’ve been given gifts, you’ve been given money.  Did you regard it as MY money?  Did you share first with God?  In this material world, have you refused to allow God to rule you as to your material, physical things?

Let’s go on to the Matter of your religious life.  Have you thoroughly submitted to this Scripture and said, Lord, I will have none of these troubling influences, none of these leavenings, I want the trust and I submit in every way to what the Bible teaches.  Have you done that?  Or is yours a partly self-made hokus-pokus with ideas that, O this is the way you look at it.  Are you really repentant before God in the religious way?  How about all of the inner appetites.  Let’s investigate how you handle all of your appetites for food, for sex.  There’s nothing sinful about those, till they are used out of place.  To an extreme or perhaps outside the bond of marriage.  Are you submitted to God within your appetites?  Christ died for something.  Something was his burden.  Something pushed him into the grave.  Let’s find out, let’s investigate your life.  It is the works of the flesh for which he died.  The sin, the works of the flesh are anger, envy, wrong relationships toward others, attitudes of jealousy, strife toward one another, the hateful feelings, the resentments, hostilities, divisiveness that is in the heart.  The refusal to go and make it right with the people where the offense is.

Now we’ve investigated your relationship with the social world about you.  How is it with you?  And, just for a moment, I wish that you could picture in your mind and hear in your ears, the actual sounds of the actual lash on the flesh, the back, bared, of Jesus and hear his cry.  See him nailed there on that cross.  And the Bible says he made his soul an offering for sin.  God determined to put away sin by the sacrifice of him.  Our sin was laid on him — our sins were laid on him.  He did no sin.  He became the epitome of evil for us.  He bore in his body, not just the anger of the Jews or the cruelty of the Romans, he bore our sins in his body.  That’s the murder weapon.  Anybody can say, I don’t care!  Anybody here can say, I’ve no part of that!  I’m going to do better.  My friend, there is nothing you can say when the great judge, the one before whom we are standing right now, examining this weapon of death, that God knows.  Your answer has got to be to God.  There is only one thing to say:  I will not have you to rule over me!  Or else you have to say, O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.  It was my sin you bore on that cross.

Wonder of wonders, the moment you say that, God will say, Go in peace.  I forgive you.  Be healed of your sin.  The death of Christ paid for our sin.  Now no man can come to the Father except the Father who sent me draw him.  He said, If I be lifted up on that cross, I will draw men unto me.  Look to me and be saved all the ends of the earth.  There is none else.  Yet, it pleased God, by the preaching of the cross, to save them that believe.

You’ve read this now.  Believe and you will be saved.  Otherwise, you will be scandalized and lost from God.  The cross is very sharp at this point.  On which side are you?