The Cross, the Gospel, and Your Church
Author: Richard W. O’Ffill
(This sermon is part of a series entitled ‘Contending for the Faith’)
All of my life I can remember them talking about the last days. I was born in 1940. In my very early memory I can recall the people saying that we were in the last days and that Jesus was coming soon. Of course I think the urgency was around the things that were happening in the world. It seems like war or the threat of war will tend to make people get real serious about the possibility of the coming of Jesus. Another thing that will have the same effect is natural disasters, to say nothing of moves toward the union of church and state.
But though all of these things are verily signs of the end, could it be possible that, even as we look for the signs, we have somehow taken our eyes off the road, and in some places may be in danger of running off the road?
I am more and more convinced that the thing we have to fear most is something that might happen internally in the church and in our personal lives that would, even in the midst of increasing signs of the end, cause us to become less and less sensitized to spiritual truth. Let us not forget that we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. You remember the text. Ephesians 6:12: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
The physical persecution and all the rest at the end of time will be after a successful campaign has been waged to make the gospel of Christ null and void and/or unworkable in the lives of professed believers. I say it will have been successful because the Scripture tells us that there will be a deception that will deceive if possible the very elect.
Don’t forget the enemy has the majority of this planet already in his grasp. The final move will be to eliminate the truth that remains, and he will try to do that by diluting it and corrupting it to the place where he will have exchanged the truth for a lie. The awful thing is that the majority who had believed the truth will not know that it has been replaced with a lie.
This sermon is about the cross. The Evangelicals say the one thing that all we Christians have in common is the cross. This sermon explores that premise to see if it is true. I am greatly suspicious that all of those who claim to be preaching the cross may not really be doing so at all. That is the reason that I decided to do this sermon.
The text that we will begin with is the one in Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
I am sure that you are aware that the Scripture warns us that ministers will come in the last days who will appear as it were as angels of light but who are actually ministers of Satan. These men will be intense, articulate, pleasant and very resourceful. But they will be manipulated by a spirit that is not of God. Listen to this text:
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is not great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works”. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
Paul warned that these false ministers would come “preaching another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted.”
2 Corinthians.11:3-4: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received or another gospel which you have not accepted…”
Think of what Paul is saying here. In the last days preachers will appear who seem to be men of honesty and righteousness but who are actually ministers under the influence of Satan himself. They will be of another spirit entirely. They will introduce another Christ, another spirit, yes, even another gospel.
You may have heard the expression, “What you see is not what you get.” Surely this can be true, and nowhere can it be truer than in the arena of what may be called spiritual revival, and there seems to be a revival going on in many places right now. Now I am not against revival and renewal. I am sure that that is exactly what we are all praying for. Inspiration has told us that there would be a great revival among the people of God just before Jesus comes. It would only stand to reason then that the devil would at the same time try to pull off a revival of his own, just to muddy the waters as they say.
Of course, to do that you would have to craft a revival that would be as nearly as possible like the true one. Who in the world among God’s people would choose the devil’s revival if they could know the difference? It is for this reason that the Scripture tells us that in the last days there would be a big religious deception. I believe that we are, in fact, in the very time that was prophesied when there would be a great deception. I am surprised that we haven’t detected it before now. On the other hand, if we had it wouldn’t be the deception that Scripture speaks of when it says that if possible the very elect would be deceived.
I don’t know what we were thinking when we read that there would be a deception. Maybe we thought of miracles and the like. I am convinced that, although the deception may ultimately have a lot to do with miracles, at this important stage it has more to do with the preaching of error. Listen to this text:
“I marvel that ye are so soon returned from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel; which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed”. (Galatians 1:6-8)
The warning here is clear. And that is that there would be those who would preach a false gospel. Notice the text is speaking of a gospel. We expect to hear the gospel preached. We expect to hear them sing about the gospel, we expect to read about the gospel. What we don’t expect is to hear or read a gospel that is, in fact, a false gospel and so not the gospel at all. Now I suppose that some might think that a false gospel would use words like séance, drugs, sex, or the like–maybe Buddha or New Age. But notice that Paul says that there would be a preaching of a false gospel. That means it would sound like something that we are used to hearing but that it would be twisted or distorted, or would omit something important in such a way that, because it used all the right verbiage, it wouldn’t be what you expected a false revival would be. Yet it would be something that would be “fatal if taken according to directions.”
I hope you are ready to hear something a little mind-boggling about now. All along I have suspected that something was rotten in Denmark, as they say, but then one day there it was. I could see it as plain as day. Hold on now. I am going to tell you what the other gospel that Paul was referring to is all about. Are you ready?
Beloved, this “other gospel” that Paul mentions is a message of salvation without the cross of Christ. I don’t know if you are aware of it or not, but there is a great number of preachers out there these days who have literally thrown out the message of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Now I know that in many places it seems that there is a great revival going on. But look out. It doesn’t matter how many people are involved or how famous the preachers are. It doesn’t matter how “successful” a particular ministry may appear to be. If the cross is not the door through which people come, you can rest assured that the revival or the success of the ministry is not a work of God.
The cross–including its demands and its hope–is the very heart of the gospel. Any worship, any fellowship, anything calling itself church is false if the cross is not at its center. Such worship is entirely of another spirit and God will not accept it. Without the cross, all that is left is chaff–a perverted gospel. Be warned now. It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you about a great “revival” or moving of the Spirit that seems to be taking place; it doesn’t matter how many people are involved or how loud their praises are; it doesn’t matter how “successful” a particular ministry may appear to be. If the cross is not the door through which people must pass, it is a false gospel and so a false revival.
Listen now. In most churches where this “other gospel” is being preached, the pews are packed. All the right words are sung and spoken. The theological terms, such as holiness, Holy Spirit and the cross are mentioned. Everything looks good and sounds right. But the reality of the cross is not presented. In these places the crisis of the cross–the confrontational aspects of the cross–are completely avoided. Friends, if a sermon about the cross is preached and it does not include a confrontation with sin–by that I mean if a preaching of the cross does not bring a person face to face with the problem of sin in their own lives–it is not the preaching of the true cross.
I don’t know if you have thought of it before, but the cross makes demands on us. It demands that we die to all lust and worldly pleasure. Because this is true, when the true cross is preached people don’t flock to it–in fact, just the opposite. The majority tends to run from it, just as they did when Jesus told the people of the cost of following Him.
I was talking a while back with a minister friend of mine. He is in charge of planning some very large meetings for the conference. I asked him if he had thought about inviting a powerful evangelist. He told me, “You know, Dick, some of the ministers say that certain man has a problem. He preaches too much about right and wrong.”
That is where many are in the 21st century, ladies and gentlemen. Preach the cross but not the crisis of the cross. The crisis of the cross, my friends, is the part that has to do with right and wrong.
There are many churches that rarely even mention the cross these days. Instead, they put their energies into producing meetings–meetings full of showmanship, dramatic illustrations, and sermons on how to cope with life’s problems. These days we are seeing in the evangelical world a whole new generation of smart, young ministers. They are bright, diligent and capable men who build huge complexes. They offer people everything from daycare to spas to bodybuilding classes. Now their church members can center their church involvement on recreation, entertainment, family events and musicals. It is all high-tech, contemporary and non-threatening.
I visited one of these churches. It looks more like a shopping center. Its place of worship looks like a theater, and one of the first things you see when you come in the door is a food court. I believe God must weep at many of these frail attempts to attract souls. God help the ministers of these churches if they refuse to warn the people to forsake their sins.
Friends, when we fail to preach a message that calls for repentance, we are actually strengthening the cause of evil in the world. Listen to this:
Jeremiah writes, “They strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness”. (Jeremiah 23:14)
“But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings” (v. 22).
Oh, my brother and my sister, we must bring back the preaching of the cross–the true cross–or the people’s blood will be upon our hands. The only thing that can truly save sinners is the preaching of the true cross. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me”. (John 12:32)
As God looked down upon a sin-sick world of people bound in the prison house of sin, full of fear and despair, full of doubt, He saw a world without peace, hope or rest, groping in darkness and confusion. And to this kind of world He sent His only begotten Son. So Jesus came to earth. He took on Himself the fragility of human flesh, and He told all who would listen, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. (Matthew 11:28)
This is the invitation of the cross. It is a call to everyone who is sick of sin. Jesus was calling out to all who were tired of the binding chains of powerful evil habits and besetting sins. Jesus was calling everyone who was tired of the lying, the cheating, the adultery, and the depression of a selfish life. He was saying, I know you’re weary from dragging your chains around; you are tired of the sleepless nights.
Friends, I don’t need to tell you but sooner or later a life of sin is a heavy burden and will come to naught. Jesus invites us to come to Him now with all our heavy burdens, but there is no other way to come to Him except through His cross.
Listen to me now. Jesus died on the cross not only to forgive sin, but also to break its crushing power in our lives. Sin destroys our bodies. It makes us weak and sick. It saps away all that is good and kind and precious. It hardens the heart. It destroys peace and causes guilt and sorrow and shame. It consumes our thoughts. It weakens and darkens the soul. It brings on fear. It leads to scandal. It breaks up families. It hardens the hearts of children, and it leads to death. Worst of all, sin shuts off all communion with God.
Listen to this text in Isaiah 59:2: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”
Beloved, the church of Jesus Christ is not a supper club, nor is it an entertainment complex. It is a hospital for sin-sick souls. But when sin-sick people come in and are comforted in their sins, when they are not made to confront the cross, that is a betrayal of the gospel.
I realize I am making some very serious charges in saying that many have done away with the cross. I realize that it is serious to say that multitudes of Christians are worshiping in churches where a false gospel is being preached. But the truth is that there are many who represent themselves to be preachers of the gospel who are not preachers of the true gospel at all. Jesus Himself said that it would be that way in the last days.
You may be thinking to yourself about now, “But, Pastor O’Ffill, I am not sure that I agree with you. You are saying that there are many out there who have taken away the cross. What do you mean? I don’t think I have heard any ministers not refer to the cross.”
Friends, I don’t mean that these ministers no longer refer to the historical Jesus and His actual crucifixion. They may even sponsor an Easter pageant in their churches. It is possible to preach masterful sermons about Christ’s cross and even go into vivid detail. Many tell about Christ’s suffering, of the blood flowing from His pierced side. They may to do so in tears, tenderly and lovingly and yet they still may not be preaching the cross. False angels of light can say all of these things.
Listen, if in all of that dramatic description there is no confrontation with the cross–if its demands are not mentioned, if its crisis is never preached–then I repeat, it is not the preaching of the cross at all.
You see, my friends, the cross is essentially a confrontation with our sinful lifestyle. That is why the cross, in its true sense, is an offense to every person who enjoys sinning or has rationalized that sinning is par for the course. I don’t need to tell you that there are many people out there who want to have Jesus, but they want to have a little sin here and a little sin there at the same time.
You can recognize the mindset. These people will usually say, “Jesus paid it all. Now that I have accepted Jesus I can enjoy myself in my worldly lifestyle.” These people say that now they have peace in Jesus because He has paid it all.
The so-called “peace” that comes from the preaching that “Christ has done it all” can be a false peace, even a damning peace. Unless we explain what it means that Christ has done it all, a person may come to the conclusion that their sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus, even though they have refused to forsake them, and, in fact, are still living in sin.
Friends, the Scriptures tell us that the blood of Jesus Christ the Righteous cleanses us from our sins. That means that the sins that we take to the cross are taken away from us. When Jesus says “I am the way” and “I am the door,” He is speaking of the cross. He is saying, You cannot be saved, you cannot enter heaven, unless you enter by the way of the cross. You remember, He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber”. (John 10:1)
The thief and the robber will tell you repentance is not necessary. They say all that we have to do is believe. The thief and the robber will tell you little of the importance of godly sorrow for sin. They will tell you that loving your neighbor is what it is all about. The idea is that we don’t need to worry about our sins. They are telling us that God loves us just the way we are.
The other day our newspaper carried a front-page article entitled, “Catholics Launch Ministry for Gays.” The article started out, “The Catholic Diocese of Orlando has launched a special ministry to gays and lesbians, joining a national movement to reach out to the spiritual needs of the homosexual community.”
The article went on to say, “This effort by the Catholic Church to reach out to gays and lesbians is not unqualified and has had a mixed reaction in the homosexual community because the church does not approve of sexuality in gay relationships.”
Then followed the reaction of a lesbian who said that the ministry does not go far enough to encourage her return to the church. And I quote, “It’s progress, but what kind of progress is it? I’d rather go somewhere where I’m welcome for what I am than have to go somewhere where I’m expected to change.”
A recent radio report said that a church in Los Angeles had just appointed two homosexuals as pastors. The pastors said that everyone who comes there enters into a wonderful fellowship of love. Friends, we had better wake up before it is too late. The love that the world is talking about so much these days is not love at all.
We must not forget that the door to heaven is not love, but the cross. A person that has not gone by the way of the cross will manifest a love that is not love at all but self-indulgence and selfishness which masquerades as love.
Jesus says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). In another place He says, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
Jesus tells us that if we are going to be His followers we must first take up a cross. It doesn’t matter how much or how deeply our theology tells us to love. Jesus says that unless we deny ourselves and enter by the way of the cross, we cannot be His followers.
When Jesus says that we must take up our cross, He is calling on us to die because that is what crosses were for. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
These days what is missing in much of the preaching about the cross is that the sinner who comes to the cross of Christ must be prepared to die to sin. Christ did not die that we might continue to live in our sins, be they big or small. This is why the preaching of the cross must be always accompanied by a call to repentance and self-denial. I don’t need to tell you that by and large the emphasis in preaching these days is not repentance but acceptance. The matter of self-denial is basically out. Self-enhancement is in!
I would like to make something clear about repentance. Repentance is something that the Holy Spirit lays upon our hearts. We do not generate our own repentance. Our part is to respond.
What is repentance? First of all, repentance is a recognition that we have sinned against God. Let us not forget that sin is against God before it is against anyone else. We can negotiate our differences between ourselves. But we cannot negotiate our differences with God. We have only one option, and that is to repent and to die to the sin.
So repentance is first a recognition that we are sinning against God, and then secondly, repentance always brings with it, if it is true repentance, a turning away from sin. There are a lot of people that realize that they are sinning against God; they will even admit it. They may even go to the altar. But the true proof of repentance will be what happens when they get off their knees and go home.
You are aware of the word “willpower”? When it comes to matters of sin and righteousness there is no such thing as “willpower”. We only have the will, but the power for a change of heart must come from outside ourselves, and we are talking about from the Holy Spirit. So a person may recognize their sin, they may feel sorry for it, but that person will not be able to, as they say, pull off a change of heart unless they submit to the power of the Holy Spirit.
Many people respond to the call to repent, but they resist the work of the Holy Spirit who must follow through. Other people will respond to the call to repent and then they try in their own power to get on the right track.
We must understand from the beginning that the whole process of salvation is very humiliating. The whole process of salvation is not about self-esteem and self-acceptance. In fact, the whole process of salvation is about the denial of self. Jesus calls for it. Jesus demands it. The plan of salvation simply will not work without it.
It is impossible for us to come to the true cross and find forgiveness and victory over our sins without self-denial. Until a person understands this and puts it into practice, that person’s spiritual life will be in gridlock at best, or even worse, they will deceive themselves into thinking that they have the real thing. I am afraid that that is what is happening in the majority of cases these days, because the Scripture tells us that in the last days people would have a form of godliness, but their lives would be lacking in real spiritual power.
A person who persists in affirming themselves and feeling good about themselves and looking out for number one will not be able to see the kingdom of heaven no matter what their favorite gurus are telling them. This is because Jesus Himself said that to be His follower you had to deny yourself.
Contrary to what people are being told these days, self must be crucified. The true cross of Christ not only caused the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, but, when rightly understood, it also kills us.
The apostle Paul tells us that we are to consider ourselves to have been crucified with Christ. But hang on now. The gospel is much more than being crucified with Christ. Listen to this text: Romans 5:10, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”
My brother and my sister, the wonderful truth of the cross is that if we die with Jesus, then we also come into the glory of His resurrection and into newness of life. His cross is our cross, His death is our death, and His resurrection is our resurrection, through our union by faith with Him. And I am not talking about someday, but now. This then, beloved, is the true meaning of the cross.
Yet this is the cross that many ministers have done away with these days. The real cross isn’t about lovely words describing our Savior’s suffering and bleeding on Calvary. No. The true meaning of the cross is that Jesus bled and died to bring our sin-sick souls into glorious liberty and freedom. He died to break–did you hear me?–to break every chain of sin that binds us.
There is a great movement out there these days that is asking, What are we doing to save the unchurched? My friends, the issue is not who comes to church and who doesn’t. The issue is, who have come to the cross and been crucified with Christ and who are now living the new life of His resurrection, being set free from the world and from its sinful ways, and who have refused to come. There are great numbers of people who go to church every week that have not come in by the way of the cross. They may be churched, but they do not have salvation. The issue is not the churched and the unchurched, but the saved and the unsaved.
Because there are so many people who come to church regularly who have not been converted and had a confrontation with the true cross of Christ, it seems to me that we should not be satisfied with bringing people to church, but in bringing people to the cross.
You can bring the unchurched to church and they can still be dead in trespasses and sins. The issue in the 21st century is not, how shall we bring people back to church, but how shall we bring men and women, young and old, to the foot of the cross.
What is the good in filling churches with people who were never confronted about their sins and who are trying to come into the kingdom some other way? Yet this is the case in many of our churches. Sin is never preached to them as being exceedingly sinful. It is merely a word with no power or conviction behind it.
This generation is so selfish that it can’t stand to criticize itself or to be criticized. They tell me that in some places in the school systems they have all the children read out loud together so that the child who can’t read will not have to feel embarrassed in making mistakes that the others can hear.
Now when we get sick and go to the doctor, we seem to have another attitude. In fact, we will even sue the doctor for malpractice if he misdiagnoses us and gives us a wrong treatment. We insist that the doctor tell us the truth about ourselves. Come to think about it, we have the same attitude toward our auto mechanic. We want the truth, and we then want them to fix what is wrong.
Too bad we can’t see the enormous mistake that we are making in not coming to the cross with the same attitude. The cross does not put us down; it is sin that has put us down. We don’t lose at the cross. Sinners are already losers. It is at the cross where the Holy Spirit wants to diagnose our problem and cut it out and then recreate our hearts in the image of the resurrected Christ.
The cross is not a put-down to anything but pride, selfishness, bitterness, resentment, lust and lack of self-control. These attitudes are what got us into the mess that we are in, and a person who persists with and defends these ways of thinking will not be allowed into the kingdom of God. We must get off this thing about having to be positive about everything. Forget whether it is positive or negative, and ask if it is true or false.
Jesus did not come into this world to cause it to be lost. It already was. He came here to save sinners. But a sinner who will not admit they are wrong and take the cure cannot be saved. Jesus healed the lepers, the blind, the deaf and raised the dead. In the same way Jesus insists on healing pride, selfishness, lust, bitterness and resentment and the lack of self-control, and a person who refuses to be healed at the cross will be lost no matter what delusion they happen to be under at the time.
There are many people who are completely spooked or go ballistic when they hear the words “victory over sin.” I don’t get it. Some of this same crowd is hoping that they will find a cure for AIDS. You know, I can’t read hearts, but sometimes I have wondered if some who are most active in trying to find a cure for AIDS are somewhat less than enthusiastic about getting the victory over sexual sins, and that victory already exists and it is the cross of Christ.
Jesus wishes that we hated pride, selfishness, lust and all the rest as much as we did cancer or some other fatal disease. Jesus Himself said that we ought to be more afraid of the things that can kill both body and soul in hell than we are of those things than can kill only the body.
You might be thinking, But the sermons that I am hearing these days are comforting and reaffirming. And so they may be. Yet think about it for a minute. What nature is being comforted and affirmed? Could it be the nature that Jesus said must be crucified with Him?
I greatly suspect that something is wrong. There are certain churches that are attracting large crowds. I am not saying that just because a church is big that something is necessarily wrong, but history teaches us that when a true message of revival and repentance is preached, it is possible that fewer people come to church rather than more.
I was reading someplace one time that when the Methodist Church was just getting started, John Wesley, who was its founder, used to go around visiting the groups. Funny though. He would visit a group that had 75 members, and when he finished preaching, there would only be 40 left.
History will bear out that people have never lined up to do the will of God. You remember the text that says that many are called but few are chosen, and in another place it says that the way to heaven is narrow and there would be few who would find it.
That doesn’t mean that God is purposely trying to see how many people that He can keep out of heaven. In fact, it is just the opposite. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
Did you hear that? There goes that R word again. Although salvation was purchased for you and me on the cross a long time ago, it all begins for us with our response. Repentance is where it all begins. We cannot go on as we are. What we have is killing us. Our only hope is to go to the cross–not just go to the cross and watch Jesus die there, but go there and die there with Him. As Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
What have they done with the cross? What have they done with the true cross? What have they done with the gospel? What have they done with the true gospel?
I greatly suspect that the reason that many are coming back to church is that what made them leave the church in the first place has been taken out of the way. Many left because they refused to do what Moses did. You remember the text in Hebrews 11:24-26: “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.”
God knows the heart. He is the only judge, but is it a coincidence that just as soon as the church plays down sin and plays up pleasure–just as soon as the church plays down self-denial and begins to emphasis programs that make a person feel good about themselves–then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, the church is full again?
It maybe is just a coincidence, but history would indicate that it is not. Whenever the church plays down the gospel and tries to make itself appealing to the world there may appear to be a revival, but what really happens is a downhill slide, and many are lost when they would have been saved.
The time has come to preach the true cross. The gospel that will be preached to prepare a holy people to meet a holy God will not be a new gospel, but the everlasting gospel. Not a new easy cross, but the old cross on a hill far away.