Earlier this summer I was struck by a small phrase in Galatians. Paul was upset that the Galatians were being swayed from the true gospel to a works-based gospel, and in Galatians 5:11 he says,
“But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.”
It was the last part of the verse that caught me: “In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.” The Galatians were being convinced by some people that they needed to do some works (namely, circumcision) to merit favor from God. For these people, the cross was too offensive for them. They were insisting that works were necessary for salvation. And the Galatians were giving in to the peer pressure. Paul, perplexed at the Galatians, wrote his letter to steer them back to the true and only gospel.
The main point I wish to convey here is that the way of the cross is offensive to the self-centered life. It flies in the face of the American mentality that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. “You can do whatever you put your mind to,” says the American mentality. Determination, hard work, and perseverance are admirable qualities, but they will never bridge the gap between you and God. Only the cross can bridge that.
The way to God is the way of the cross, and it involves slaying the self-centered life. It requires humbly acknowledging that we bring nothing to the table to earn favor with God. Often the slaying of the self-centered life occurs after we have come to the end of ourselves, after much effort has been made to make ourselves acceptable before God, after we have exhausted our search for any other way to God. When all personal efforts have failed, our souls will be able to hear Jesus’ words in John 14:6,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
And we will be able to humbly heed the way of the cross as described in Matthew 16:24-25,
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'”
For those who are already believers, growth in our relationship with God involves continually going back to the cross. God will reveal areas in our lives to which the self-centered life still clings; be it status, money, family, career, lingering sin, etc. We will be reminded that the way to life is the way of the cross and that we must slay the self-centered life to live for Jesus and thereby “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).
Living in America, it can be easy for Christians to remove the offense of the cross in their lives. It can be easy to subtly exchange the way of the cross for the American mentality, replacing grace with works. People who don’t know God find the way of the cross offensive and will in some way persecute believers for living out grace. And no Christian is exempt from removing the offense of the cross in their lives. Even the apostle Peter slipped away from the offense of the cross and was rebuked by Paul in Galatians 2:11-14.
In a culture saturated with self, we need to remind ourselves of the offensiveness of the cross. We need to ask ourselves, “Does my life reflect the way of the cross? Are there parts of my life that are still ruled by the self-centered life? Am I trying to find life in something other than in Jesus? Do I really believe that I will find life if I slay the self-centered life?” As a sinner saved by grace, I do not exempt myself from these questions. I pray that both you and I can say with Paul in Galatians 2:20,
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”