But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
What is the Offense of the Cross?
I understand that there is much antinomianism in the churches, and so I appreciate a good, excoriating sermon dealing with this problem, from time to time. Yet, what often happens is that I listen eagerly to a pastor in the hopes of hearing him properly divide God’s Word, by preaching the Law in its harshest and strictest sense and then following the thunder of Sinai with the Gospel cry of Christ from Calvary: It is finished! But what I get instead is a massive confusion of Law and Gospel. Instead of the Law being what commands perfection and demands it now and always, and the Gospel promising forgiveness of sins and giving eternal to life to as many as the Lord our God will call, I hear statements like: “We need to preach the offense of the cross!” Which is not a bad goal to have, so I appreciate the admonition to preaching the offense of the cross, there is something terribly wrong with saying this in the Law portion of a sermon. For if the offense of the cross is related to the Law given by Christ in such places where He says “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men,” or “He who does not take up his cross daily is not worthy of Me,” etc then the pastor is not only greatly confusing Law and Gospel, he is obviously also not reading the context of Galatians 5:11.
You see, the offense of the cross was not that God was making certain demands upon men. Rather, the offense of the cross is the exact opposite: Free Justification by free grace alone. Paul is being persecuted not because he preached frequently about how much more obedient men needed to be to God’s imperatives, but because he preached about the free righteousness imputed to believers freely by grace through faith alone. That is the offense of the cross, not the Law. The Law has its place, and that place is not here. The cross is offensive because it strips men of their ability to glory in themselves. If the Law is not of faith, and cannot make one righteous but can only expose them to be transgressors of it, and brings a curse upon anyone who does not live in perfect and perpetual obedience to all of its detailed commands, then no man can save himself.
And the natural man hates not being able to play the role of hero, rescuing himself from his vices, and afterward praising himself for his fortitude and self-reliance. Because God’s Word says that such an attitude is anathema to God, the unregenerate sinner loathes not only the Law of God, but also the Gospel. Proper obedience as delineated in the Law of God is re-interpreted by the natural man to mean imperfect, but honest, obedience to God, instead of, as the Scriptures clearly teach, perfect and perfectly honest obedience to all of God’s commands. The antinomian bent of the legalist is seen in this fact: In order for one to be a legalist, he must first treat the Law of God as something that he can alter and manipulate as he sees fit, and which he is required to fulfill as best as he can. The opposite error of antinomianism, on the other, shows its inherent legalistic bent by emphasizing that one is free to live howsoever one wishes. This means that while God’s Law is thrown away, the antinomian is not completely without law – he is the self-appointed law giver who would rather submit to his own rules than accept the righteous verdict given in the Law. Why? For if one accepts what the Law says, then one is admitting to one’s own inherent sinfulness and incapacity to change. Rather than accept that they cannot fulfill the Law themselves, they call curses upon the Law and seek to follow the laws that their depraved minds concoct in pure rebellion against the only True Law Giver.
Calvary is offensive, then, precisely because it removes any grounds for any man to boast.
The next time I hear a pastor confuse Law and Gospel when he says “We need to preach the offense of the cross,” approach him gently, Lord willing, and inform him that the offense of the Gospel is not the demands that it makes upon sinners, for the Gospel proper doesn’t make any demands, but the infallible inferences that necessarily follow from the proclamation of the Gospel which Paul declares in Galatians 3:13-14, 25-26:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
…now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Amen & Amen.