image British theologian, Biblical scholar, and Pastor Emeritus of All Souls Church in London, UK, John R.W. Stott wrote in his book, The Cross of Christ about why the cross is offensive to those in the world:

What is there about the cross of Christ which angers the world and stirs them up to persecute those who preach it? Just this: Christ died on the cross for us sinners, becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). So the cross tells us some very unpalatable truths about ourselves, namely that we are sinners under the righteous curse of God’s law and we cannot save ourselves. Christ bore our sin and curse precisely because we could gain release from them in no other way. If we could have been forgiven by our own good works, by being circumcised and keeping the law, we may be quite sure that there would have been no cross. Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size. And of course men do not like it. They resent the humiliation of seeing themselves as God sees them and as they really are. They prefer their comfortable illusions. So they steer clear of the cross. They construct a Christianity without the cross, which relies for salvation on their works and not on Jesus Christ’s. They do not object to Christianity so long as it is not the faith of Christ crucified. But Christ crucified they detest. And if preachers preach Christ crucified, they are opposed, ridiculed, persecuted. Why? Because of the wounds which they inflict on men’s pride.

5 comments
  1. This is interesting because I was just reading about a German theologian who is claiming that nowhere in the Bible is it actually stated that Jesus was crucified, and that the Koine word “stauros” actually meant “suspended” and the translation as crucifixion only was applied to it in the post Christian era. Not that it really changes anything whether Christ was “suspended” from a cross or a pole or whatever, it’s just interesting.

    Where I really disagree with this guy is that the most important idea of Christ is the crucifixion, as if that is the central tenant of Christianity and somehow nonbelievers find it scandalous. In reality, the theology surrounding the crucifixion is far to obscure to nonbelievers to create the sort of visceral reaction that he presumes. Most Christians don’t really understand the significance of the crucifixion. And really, it isn’t central. It’s not something a Christian really *needs* to know in order to be a Christian. I think what is central, and at the same time what actually scandalizes nonbelievers and believers alike, are the practical teachings of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount, contains everything essential to the Christian life. Blessed are the poor? Turn the other cheek? This is the real revolution of Christianity, not some bronze age holdover derived from the days of animal sacrifice like the crucifixion story. Nonbelievers are at once repelled and attracted by these ideas, attracted because they can see the innate value in the Christ-like life, and repelled because they can see how difficult it is to live that way. Indeed, it is so difficult that even the people who profess to be followers of Christ jump through complex theological hoops in order to refuse to actually live life in the way Christ preached.

  2. On the contrary, Guy, the cross stands at the very center of the Christian faith. The “practical” teachings of Jesus are of no value to anyone if in the end we are still sinful and under God’s wrath. The cross is central because that’s where Jesus voluntarily took upon himself our sin and punishment for that sin, in order that we might freely and joyfully pursue lives that show how great God is. It is not good works that lead to salvation, because no one has ever done ONLY good works in their life; rather it’s the cross that leads to salvation which then leads to good works.

  3. The cross of Christ is central to Christianity. “The wages of sin is death…” Without the crucifixion of Christ, that death would have been ours. The crucifixion is a reminder to us that we are inadequate. We can not save ourselves. It flies in the face of a culture that goes out of its way to find ways to prove we do not need a savior. The cross is a stumbling block. Paul tells the Galatians that he boasts in the cross of Christ. Why? Because the cross bridged a gap between us and God that no human effort could ever close. This was as much of an offense to the Judaizers of Paul’s day as it is to secular humanists today.

  4. Including myself, it was hard for me to grasp that I couldn’t do anything to impress God or make him like me better by doing good works. It is very true that since becoming born-again that situations arise where it is natural for me to react by wanting to help others and deny myself. There is no scale to tip to see if you are good enough to go to heaven. Through faith in Jesus Christ my sins have been paid for past, present, & future…doesn’t give me a license to keep on sinning that is for sure but keeps me humble in judging my neighbor and sins they struggle with. The peace of God is amazing, doesn’t exempt me from pain in this life, but I wish more people would find it.

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