Man, by nature, hates the cross. Interwoven into every fiber of his being is the continuous thread of self-preservation. This is what occupies his waking existence from the cradle to the grave; seeking the soft, the simple, and the sweatless. We coddle, adorn, and tantalize ourselves until our dying breath. â€œGood luck,â€? â€œTake it easy,â€? and â€œEnjoy yourselfâ€? are the watchwords of each self-occupied generation.
So infused is this notion of self first, that any suggestion of suffering or death meets with immediate and instinctive reproof. We will spare self at all costs. It is unimaginable to the natural mind that a cross could ever be the will of God for anyone. Yet it is.
Avoidance of the cross is at the prompting of the devil. It is the way of God to put to death self, the flesh, and all that we are by nature. It is the way of man, in concert with the evil one, to save, preserve, and rescue the same.
Hatred of the downward pull of every natural association is mandatory for every disciple. One cannot properly be called a disciple, a follower, who compromises under the influence of the things of man; the pressure of those closest to us according to the flesh.
A disciple must hate his own opinion, perspective, and inclination. It is thus that the stumbling block of the cross is encountered. Hatred of self and love of self cannot co-exist. Inbred in each is the destruction of the other. No treaty of toleration can be drafted between the two. The cross deals death blows to the self-centered of every generation.
We are repulsed by the concept of the cross. Crosses were reserved for the worst of humanityâ€™s off scouring. In the delusion of pride every man imagines himself to be more respectable than that. A cross was the determined sentence upon the one who had been judged as wicked by his contemporaries. He was unfit to live by their estimation. He was a criminal whose very existence was a polluting scourge on society.
And so through the concourse of life he was made to parade bearing his own cross. He was attended along the way with the cruelest of mockeries, abuse, and insults. As he wound his way through the familiar lanes of his native town, all who had known him spat in his face, hurled refuse at him, and railed their curses down upon his head. They turned out to gloat at the spectacle of his final agonized breath.
And thus he expired; without pity, rejected, scorned, hated, and tortured. All that he was in himself came to an abrupt and violent end. The cross had put him to death.
Thus he also partook of the cross as did His Lord and so became a disciple. There are no other kinds. But we recoil from this in repulsion and horror. And it is here that we meet the stumbling block of the cross: We wish to spare our lives; the Lord desires to crucify them. We want to preserve ourselves; the Lord says we must deny ourselves. We esteem ourselves highly; God declares that self is nothing more than condemned criminal activity.
The perceived assets of religious devotion, morality, and strength of resolve are broken reeds that can support no one. You cannot be His disciple while you are relying upon what you are in yourself, expecting to donate to the cause of becoming what you ought to be. You rather must hate self; you must see it as that which is condemned by God Himself as being fit only for a cross.
A real disciple embraces the cross with outstretched arms as putting to death within himself that which is at total enmity against God. A true disciple abandons self, his attainments and esteem and flees to his only hope of life and godliness â€“ the Lord Jesus Himself.
Paul viewed all of his heritage, his scholastic achievements, his stringent religious practices, the polished facade of righteousness, and his consuming zeal in these terse words: â€œI count them but dungâ€? [Phil.3:8]. He did not view anything he possessed as being an asset; as contributory to any right standing with God. Whatever could be conceived of as in his favor, a credit to his account, a resource, a valued commodity, was actually the opposite.
It was a loss [Phil.3:7]. It stood against him. It was a debit, a liability, an impoverishment, and outstanding obligation. Thus are the flesh, self, and what we esteem ourselves to be. They are against us. They lead to our everlasting ruin, and many are deceived thereby. Only madmen will jealously horde their accumulated dung close to their bosom lest any wrest it from their determined clutches.
Reliance upon self, in any degree, is a base, powerless, and impoverished slavery. Adding religious scruples to it only worsens our predicament. The flesh cannot conquer the flesh. It cannot improve itself one bit for â€œin me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thingâ€? [Rom.7:18].
All self-effort, epitomized by law-keeping, is what sets aside the cross as meaningless. And it is the cross that sets aside, rather, puts self to death under the severest judgment. It is not that God is looking for us to modify in some way the outward appearance and behavior of our flesh. This will not remedy the deep seated root of the matter. All that man is in himself must come to an abrupt end. Only a cross can perform that.
Of what avail are your codes and rules, promises and formulas, steps and systems, or ceremonies and rituals, when you are helpless and corrupt criminals fit only for execution? How shall an external token act of religious devotion such as circumcision do one thing to effect the needed radical transformation of your uncircumcised heart? Though it was given as a sign of Godâ€™s people having cut off the flesh, carnal Israelites turned circumcision into a cause of boasting in the very thing that ought to have been eliminated.
Circumcision thus became an apt representation of manâ€™s confidence in himself. It is an act which he can perform with his own hands that modifies himself outwardly. It is an external religious deed that distinguishes himself from his fellows. It is a form of godliness, but does nothing to effect the power thereof. It provides a good showing the flesh, but provides no cure for it. In the end, the man survives the religious act that alters his outward appearance in the flesh, but it has done nothing to resolve the underlying problem which is the man himself.
â€œIf I still preach circumcisionâ€¦then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolishedâ€? [Gal.5:11]. There is no middle ground or third alternative. Which will it be, the circumcision of man performed by your own hand, or the â€œcircumcision of Christâ€¦a circumcision made without handsâ€? [Col.2:11]? One is the activity of self which has â€œno value against fleshly indulgenceâ€? [Col.2:23]. The other is the internal supernatural work of God which puts an end to that which holds us in bondage.
A stroll through the local â€œChristianâ€? bookstore provides ample evidence that the church of this generation has stumbled over the stumbling stone. We have stumbled over Christ and Him crucified. The cross has become a reproach unto us, but we think there is little reproachable in ourselves. Self is exalted, Christ is degraded, while we esteem ourselves and dishonor the Lord Jesus.
We have â€œstumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, â€˜Behold, I lay in Zion a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointedâ€? [Rom.9:32,33].
But he who relies upon self will not only be disappointed, he will be scattered like dust [Mt.21:44].
â€œAnd blessed is he who does not stumble over Meâ€?
To cause the lamp to burn continually
Before the lamp of God went out
Ex.27:20 â€“ I Sam.3:3