Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 1, beginning in verse 19,
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
Why did Paul say this? Why did he feel that he had to contrast the message of the cross with the wisdom and philosophies of men? Because the Corinthians were doing something similar to what many Christians are doing today. They were going near the edge of the cliff. They were bringing the wisdom and philosophies of men into the church. Perhaps they were doing it ignorantly and innocently, but that doesn’t lower the danger. Being of a Greek culture that had a rich history of philosophy, the Corinthians were beginning to replace the pure message of the cross, that many would consider to be foolish, with one mixed with philosophy. We might call it a low-cal, diet, or lite gospel. Just as the religion invented by the couple I mentioned earlier, it was a gospel that was less offensive to the Corinthian’s sensibilities.
Against this weight-watcher gospel, Paul preached Christ crucified, which is both the power and wisdom of God. People do not naturally like the message of the cross. It is rugged, as the old hymn says. It is dirty, and sweaty, and bloody. It shows us just how sinful and evil we are, that Jesus had to go through that for us. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about preaching the law. The Holy Spirit will take care of convicting God’s elect. When other people hear the Gospel of Christ crucified, they are insulted. It stops them from taking sin lightly. It seems primitive. How can God, who is a God of love, require blood and sacrifice? And so they replace this with a lite gospel; something more progressive; a gospel where the Cross is de-emphasized and replaced with a message that God is my friend whom I can put in my hip pocket so He can help me through each day. Salvation for eternity is replaced with convenience of the moment.
But, perhaps more than any other reason, people do not like the message of the Cross because it is contrary to our human tendency to be god. Remember what Satan, in the form of a serpent, said to Eve in the Garden of Eden. God said that if Adam and Eve ate this fruit, they would die. But, in tempting her to eat from the forbidden fruit, the serpent said, “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” And she fell for it, didn’t she? She wanted to be as God. And we have been falling for it ever since, trying to make God over in our own image, and trying to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong.
Don’t tell me about Jesus dealing with sin on the Cross, they say, it’s too negative. Tell me about joy, tell me about love, tell me about peace. Let me tell you something, brother. You will never have true joy, or love, or peace without first encountering Jesus Christ at the cross. You must believe that Jesus shed His blood for you. That He died on that cross to pay the penalty for your sinfulness. You must receive Jesus, and Jesus alone with no self-righteousness included, as your Savior. Then you will know joy and love and peace.
One popular preacher has said that he doesn’t think that anything has been more destructive to the human personality than making people aware of their lost and sinful condition. And a seminary professor says, “If our sin is viewed as causing the death of Jesus on the cross, then we ourselves become victims of a ‘psychological battering’ produced by the cross. When I am led to feel that the pain and torment of Jesus’ death on the cross is due to my sin, I inflict upon myself spiritual and psychological torment,” so says this professor.
And so churches now tell us we are not so bad. They stress our human dignity. They boost our self-esteem. Jesus becomes merely an example of successful living. He meets our felt needs. The focus shifts from the Cross to our family relationships, our finances, and living productive lives free from emotional troubles. Now, I’m not saying that these have no importance. But they must never replace the Gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to justify believing sinners before God. For as much as that humbles us rather than exalts us, that is the Gospel. Reducing the Gospel to a culturally acceptable message, one that makes us feel good about ourselves, one that exalts the individual over God, is creating and preaching a false gospel.
This doesn’t mean that those who are trying to grow their churches with this message have bad intentions. They may sincerely want to reach and help more people. They may want to make Christianity relevant in the 21st century. They know that they will get more people into their churches if they make them feel good, if they promise them help with family, financial, or emotional problems. They know they will attract young people if they give them the music they like and create a “youth culture” in the church. They know people will keep coming if the worship service, instead of seeming like something from the 17th century, gets people up and moving with music and gives them a culturally relevant, and relatively innocuous, message. After all, the reasoning goes, it’s better that they are in church where they can be positively affected, isn’t it? Is it?
A problem with all of this is that it tempts the church to present a false gospel. And such a false gospel will lead us right over the edge. Another problem is that it often confuses emotional and physical good feelings caused by music, movement, and psychological states with the moving of the Holy Spirit. And, also, it contradicts the very words of Jesus when He said, “Enter in through the narrow gate; because wide is the gate, and broad is the way which leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in through it. How narrow the gate, and confined the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it! But beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:13-15 English Majority Text Version). The gate to eternal life is very narrow and leads to the cross. When we artificially broaden it, we bypass the cross and lead people over the edge of the cliff in the way that only leads to destruction. And all of this is due to self-righteousness.
Copyright © 2007-2009 Peter Ditzel