Meaning of the Cross
IV. The Cross and the World
Key Thought: "The reproach of the cross is still with us, and there are many that seek to avoid its offense by compromising its meaning. They deny its relation to Law, and misrepresent its relation to sin. The persecutors of Paul did it, that they might fasten upon those saved by grace the yoke of bondage, and there are still those who lay upon the children of God the burden of ordinances but there are those who make the cross of no account in the interests of intellectual accommodation. The whole controversy about circumcision and the law was incidental and temporary, but the principle at stake is vital and universal."
IV. The Cross and the World
The interpretation of the Cross ends on the note of Glory. The final reference in the epistle to the Galatians is in the postscript. The apostle takes up the pen and in a few sharp sentences sums up the question and restates the issue. His enemies did not reject the cross. They would probably have insisted that they were its true interpreters and in it they evaded the reproach of the cross and escaped prosecution. The compromise with the flesh met a popular demand and honored an institution of divine authority and venerable tradition. Paul resisted it with ruthless logic and vehement passion. Almost alone among the apostles he stepped at one stride into the liberty of grace. The cross had put an end to all bondage; therefore he gloried in the cross and exulted in his freedom. The reproach of the cross is still with us, and there are many that seek to avoid its offense by compromising its meaning. They deny its relation to Law, and misrepresent its relation to sin. The persecutors of Paul did it, that they might fasten upon those saved by grace the yoke of bondage, and there are still those who lay upon the children of God the burden of ordinances but there are those who make the cross of no account in the interests of intellectual accommodation. The whole controversy about circumcision and the law was incidental and temporary, but the principle at stake is vital and universal. There remains no question of circumcision, but the world is still with us.
A Double Crucifixion
The motive for insisting on circumcision was "only that they may not be persecuted for the Cross of Christ." Paul has no desire to escape it. He glories in it. He glories in nothing else. "But far be it from me to glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world." We are back again at the passive. "Hath been crucified." By whom? He had been crucified with Christ. They that are Christ's are called upon to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. The first was by an act of faith, the second by the discipline of faith, but here there is no mention of either faith or discipline. The crucifixion by faith and the crucifixion by discipline issue in the double crucifixion in relation to the world.
It is an issue. The result of an indwelling Christ and the crucifixion of the flesh with its affections and lusts must be a double crucifixion in relation to the world. It could not be otherwise. Christ said the world hated Him and we cannot expect it to love Him in us. As He lives in us, we die to the world, just as we die to sin. As the flesh is crucified in us, the world ceases to count. The inevitable result is that the world is crucified to us, and we are crucified to the world.
The World Crucified to the Believer
There is no more difficult task than the adjustment of faith to the world. No one generation can do it for another. The problem is always changing its form. The spiritualities of one age become the carnalities of another. Circumcision and "things offered to idols" no longer trouble us. The points at issue are not always the same in the generation. Geography may make a difference. National customs may influence the Christian conscience. The case must be settled by principles. Rules and precepts may conform life to a letter and be disobedient to the spirit. Few things are more important than a right understanding of what the New Testament means to the world. It is not the world of nature. That is agreed and need not be argued. It is something that cannot dwell in the same heart with the love of God. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (John II. 15.) "Know ye not, that the friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whosoever, therefore, would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God." (James IV. 4). The world in this sense is life divorced from God. It is the realm of unregenerate life. Perhaps the best definition of it is in the words of our Lord to Peter: "Thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men." It is life on the world level; horizontal instead of vertical; lived according to the world standard of values, the world standard of morals and the world ideas of happiness.
The crucifixion of the world does not consist of prohibitions and precepts nor is worldliness a question of arbitrary, capricious and mechanical conventions of piety. There is doubtless some good reason for the absurd distinctions at which we smile, but our Lord deliberately defied the traditions of conventional religion. The world crucified, means that its standards of value and method of life have been judged or condemned by the Cross. They have been renounced and forsaken; crucified unto death. Our citizenship is in another Kingdom; the Kingdom of Heaven. The mind is set on the things that are above where Christ is.