Power of the Cross!
What exactly is the power of the cross? And isn’t the message of the cross only for unbelievers, little children, or those who are new to the Christian faith?
In this writing, we want to examine the power of the cross, and to show that it is most certainly NOT only for unbelievers, the young, or those new to Christianity. In fact, this message is the power of God.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV)
If you look at the cross of Jesus Christ, you see a man dying in weakness. He was hung up in nakedness, dying in shame, having been convicted of absolutely nothing, and yet He died under the judgment of both God and man. The scene looks more like utter defeat. We might wonder how this cross can be “the power of God” for all who believe? Wouldn’t the resurrection of Jesus on the third day be more like the power of God?
Or perhaps you might think, “I already know about the cross, if that’s all this website and these writings are about, there’s probably not much I can learn here.”
This type of thinking permeates much of Christianity today, and it stems from a distorted view of the message of the cross, believing the message of the cross to be limited to the evangelism of the unsaved or for special revival meetings, etc.
So let’s notice together how the Bible teaches us the transforming power of the cross for believers, in hopes that believers will experience the power of the cross themselves, and will return to it as their main message in life.
The Bible explicitly declares the message of the cross/resurrection of Jesus to be the power of God, both for unbelievers (Romans 1:16-17) and believers (1 Corinthians 1:18). Look at how the message of the cross is described as power:
“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NIV)
In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote to believers who were immature, meaning they were living by the dictates of their flesh rather than by the power of God’s Spirit. The church at Corinth was full of divisions and drunkenness, incest and impurity, lust, and lawsuits. Paul wrote to them to address these issues, and he does so by limiting his message to the cross of Jesus Christ. Notice what Paul says about the cross of Christ:
- Paul proclaimed the “testimony about God” (verse 1). This testimony about God is defined in the next verse.
- Paul’s “testimony about God” was “Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” the message of the cross (verse 2).
- This message, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” was accompanied by “the Spirit’s power” (verse 4) and “God’s power” (verse 5). In other words, the message of the cross is accompanied by divine power, supernatural power. The cross is not human wisdom, does not depend upon skillful human oratory (verse 1), can be given in human weakness and trembling (verse 3), and will always be “the testimony about God” that comes with “divine power.”
The Transforming Power of the Cross
When thinking about Paul’s audience to whom he was writing this message of power, we can understand what is meant by “divine power” and “God’s power.” The message of the cross is used by the Spirit of God to powerfully transform hearts and lives, grow people into Christian maturity, and free people from habitual sin.
Or, stated negatively, as long as the message of the cross is left out of Christian’s communication, or a pastor’s sermons, people can remain enslaved to their flesh, in bondage to sin, and immature in their lives. This is because the message of the cross, alone, is the power of God both for salvation and for us who are being saved to grow in faith and mature in Christ.
Notice how Paul used the message of the cross to address every issue the Corinthian church had:
- Division (1 Corinthians 10-12). “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:13). When wanting the Corinthians to be unified rather than divided, Paul runs right to the cross and invites the Corinthians to look up. He asks, “...was Paul crucified for you?” The obvious answer is “no,” so the implication, then, is to not divide into people who are following certain people, for these leaders did not sacrifice their very lives for us. Looking at the cross provides power to remove divisiveness and human cliques. This is the power of the cross!
- Empty spirituality and human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22). “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). Jesus Christ and Him crucified for sins and risen from the dead is God’s power and God’s wisdom, even as the cross is God’s “sign,” pointing to the way of salvation and Christian maturity. The cross is the wisdom of God that is far superior to the knowledge of man. That’s the power of the cross!
- Immaturity and human wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6). “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God's wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). The message of wisdom among the mature is that the Lord of glory was crucified to make people right with God and to let them know God through the forgiveness of their sins, which the wise of this world do not understand. Focusing on the cross grows immature Christians into maturity, enabling them to be strong and stable. God wants us to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-15). That’s the power of the cross!
- Immorality (including incest) and bragging about it (1 Corinthians 5:1). “Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7). When desiring to correct people of immorality, and of glorying in their shame, Paul runs right to the cross. He calls people to remember the Passover Lamb that saved the lives of the Israelites, set them free from slavery, and satisfied their appetites as they fed on it. After the Passover, they were to remove all yeast from their homes as a picture pointing forward to the power of the cross both to save us from God’s wrath and remove sin in our hearts and lives. “Christ our Passover Lamb was slain” not only to forgive our sin, but to remove sin from us. That’s the power of the cross!
- Lawsuits and fleshly living (1 Corinthians 6:1-10). “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Paul reminds these Corinthians of the cross of Christ and the effect of it in their lives. The cross washed them as Jesus took their sin on Himself and gave them His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). The cross sanctified them, setting them apart from their sins. The cross justified them, making them right with God, even as Jesus was made “wrong” with His Father on their behalf. The power of the cross changes hearts and lives, setting people free, growing, and maturing them. That’s the power of the cross!
- Sexual immorality and overeating (1 Corinthians 6:12-18). “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). When addressing the issues of food and sex, overeating, and immorality, Paul runs right to the cross. He reminds the Corinthians that Jesus laid His life down to purchase them for Himself. Paul was encouraging them to look at the cross again and remember the blood Jesus shed and how He wore a crown of thorns for them, how He breathed His last breath for them, how He was nailed to a cross and buried in a tomb for them so that they would be His. And remembering that Jesus purchased them at such a high price, they would then turn from overeating and immorality. That’s the power of the cross!
There are additional issues that Paul addressed with the Corinthians, but even a cursory reading of these issues shows Paul running to the cross for the solution each time. He taught and also illustrated (1 Corinthians 10:1-12) the power of the cross to transform their hearts and lives, set them free, and grow them into maturity.
When Paul said he resolved to “know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2), he didn’t mean that the cross is the only subject he knew, but rather that he had a laser-like focus in dealing with every issue by pointing to the cross. Paul dealt with numerous problems of life by showing how the message of the cross would change the problem by changing the hearts and lives of the people.
The church of Jesus Christ today would do well to emulate this laser-like focus, for then it would once again experience divine power, supernatural power, Holy Spirit power, God’s power.
Remember, the message of the cross brings divine power:
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power.” 1 Corinthians 2:2-5 (NIV)
“So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard (the cross/resurrection of Jesus)?” Galatians 3:5 (NIV)
Oh, that the church would become laser-focused on the cross, that it would live and communicate that message! Let’s unashamedly look straight at Jesus, see His wounds and dying love, that we might live the cross and resurrection of Jesus ourselves!
“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).