There is never a point in your Christian life when you move beyond the need for the preaching of the cross.
So crucial is that moment in redemptive history that Paul says that “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”(I Cor. 1:18) We should see the words “being saved” as significant. From beginning to end the “word of the cross” is indispensable to our salvation. Paul felt so strongly about this that he pledged to the Corinthians that the core of all he would teach them would be “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:2)
The preaching of the cross is central to the life of the Christian because in the cross we find both the source of our pardon from sin and the impetus for our obedience, and it is that last point that needs to be emphasized.
Perhaps nowhere else do we see more clearly how indispensable the preaching of the cross is to our obedience to God than we do in 1 John. John presents what I like to call the “golden chain” of our Christians walk. These beautiful links in this chain, when connected, provide a guard against legalism (religiosity) and antinomianism (liberalism). The chain anchors our maturation and growth in holiness solidly in the gracious, once-and-for-all finished work at the Cross.
If you have ever wondered how to avoid legalism, this chain keeps you looking to the cross, fixed on grace. If your ever wondered how to avoid liberalism and license, this chain pulls you inevitably toward holiness.
To see this most clearly in 1 John, it helps to work backwards and begin with the question:
Why do we obey God in a way that is not mere religion?
The answer is that we obey out of love. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) The words “not burdensome” are important. We all know what it is like to comply with a command, even a difficult one, because of love. We will do all sorts of things, costly things, for the sake of those that we love. Begrudging obedience is not the obedience that is supposed to mark the Christian life. This is because obedience to God is not the seed of love, but the fruit of love. We obey God as we ought, inevitably and with joy, when we love him.
Why do we love God?
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Our love for God is the source of our obedience, it is the motivation of our growth in holiness, it is the ground of our righteousness. This link in the chain causes us to see that our love for God does not have its source in us, but in him. The scriptures makes clear that we were, in fact, enemies of God. So our love, leading unavoidably to obedience, has its source in him. This is generally to be expected. Love is an internal force that has an external motivation. A heart beats on electrical impulses, but when that heart stops it must be shocked from the outside. We obey God, because we love God, we love God because he first loved us, now….
How do we know God loved us?
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Understanding what a “propitiation” is, is hugely important in helping us understand why we are motivated to obey. A propitiation is a big but specific word which means someone that “appeases divine wrath”. And where was it that Son acted as a “propitiation for our sins”?
On the cross. On the cross where the Son cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 16:34) It was there that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was forsaken because in love in our place he underwent the judgment of his Father for our sins. In love so deep, in justice so true – he took our place.
We obey God, because we love God, we love God because he first loved us, and we know he first loved us because while we were still His enemies He sent his Son to the cross to be the propitiation for our sins.
Understanding the depth of our sin and the magnitude of God’s holiness is essential to seeing the cross as precious, resulting in love that overflows in willing obedience.
If one link of this chain is missing, the good news is compromised and we slide into legalism or worldliness. If we try to obey without the cross in view any success will be a source of pride and any failure a source of despair. We will tend to look down on others when we do well, because we will have failed to see the fury of the wrath Christ bore for our pride. If we believe God loves us because we first loved him, we have not seen the depth of the sin for which Christ had to atone, which makes our love weak. It would mean that we have come to love God because we saw it as reasonable to, which means it is likely we will only obey when it seems reasonable. If God’s love for us first depended on our love for him, we would never know his love.
The preaching of the cross is not only the way we know how to be forgiven, it is through the Spirit’s work the motivation for our obedience – radical obedience. I could expound more and more on the implications of this, but I will allow the reader’s mind to run with it.
The preaching of the cross is essential to our pursuit of obedience. Preachers must never leave it out, Christians must always keep it in sight. We see there in one moment the dead-earnest justice and holiness of God and the tender and unfailing love of God which moves us to obey not out of duty but out of desire – out of delight.
In your Christian walk, in your fight against sin, in your labor for the Lord, never, ever, lose sight of the cross and all that it means.
“To see the Law by Christ fulfilled,
And hear His pardoning voice;
Changes a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.”