Christ Crucified: Our Only Theme (Two)

 

Should we exhort concerning
Christian responsibility
in our preaching?

 

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV

 

We have been examining the claim (boast?) of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that he preaches nothing but Christ crucified. All else was deliberately put out of his mind so that he might preach only this. We saw that this gives us a window into the apostles thinking: this same apostle who preached the whole counsel of God preached only Christ crucified! He had learned to read his Bible as a Christian, seeing it as a book about Jesus, and this gospel focus characterized all his preaching.

Why was this so important?

Why does the apostle lay this down as the template for all Christian ministry? He has already given us his answer in the previous chapter: because although the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, to us who are being saved – to us who are called – it is the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18, 23-24). That is, the preaching of this message is the means God uses to claim and transform his people.

Paul speaks like this in Romans 1:16, where he tells us that the gospel is the power of God to salvation. He argues all throughout 1 Corinthians 1 that God has chosen to save by means of the proclamation of this message that the world thinks foolish. Although it is thought foolish, it is nonetheless the message that God uses to save.

But surely Paul’s point here goes beyond thoughts of initial conversion.

All he ever preached was Christ crucified. Even in the church, where, presumably, his audience is largely believing, his preaching retained this gospel shape and focus. Why? Because the proclamation of this messsage is the means God uses to claim and transform his people.

Even for believers, this message is the power and wisdom of God.

Paul exhorts Titus along these very lines. He exhorts him to preach and affirm the message of the gospel so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people (Titus 3:8). That is, a gospel focus in preaching to believers best serves to the promotion of Christian living. Should we exhort concerning Christian responsibility in our preaching? Of course, but always within the explicit gospel context of Christ crucified; otherwise our preaching is little more than mere moralism.

All this is reflected in the apostles own experience.

In 2 Corinthians 5:14, for example, he affirms that it is only his grasp of Christs redeeming love that compels him to faithfulness in service for him. So also in Ephesians 3:14-19 he prays that his fellow believers will increasingly attain the goal of their calling (be filled with all the fullness of God) by means of an increasing grasp of the immeasurable and sacrificial love of Christ. Certainly there are other motivating factors that play in also, but this gospel-Christ focus is paramount. Simply put, the preaching of Christ crucified is the means by which God transforms his people. And this is the testimony of every one of us who have any experience in grace at all.

For this reason the apostles exhortations in regard to Christian living are so often gospel-shaped.

Matters of ethics and practical godliness are regularly couched in gospel terms – Christ who loves us and washed us from our sin (Eph. 5:22- 33), our freedom from sins dominion in Christ (Rom. 6), our union with Christ (Rom. 6; Col. 3:1-4), Christs ownership of us by right of redemption (1 Cor 6:18-20), the transforming effects of the gospel (1 Cor. 6:11), Gods gracious provision of the Spirit in Christ (1 Cor. 6:19; Phil. 2:12-13), and so on.

All these kinds of concepts are regularly on the lips of the apostle as he exhorts us to Christian duty. Similarly, exhortations to Christian virtue are regularly referenced not only to Christ our model but also to the redemptive provisions of his death. The Christian responsibility to godliness and faithfulness grows from and is motivated by a renewed grasp of what Christ has done for us. Everywhere Pauls preaching is gospel-shaped, because this is the message by which God transforms his people.

May I apply this further?

It would seem that here the apostle exposes a fundamental mistake in much Calvinistic preaching. I am myself deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrines of grace, but something seems very awry when preaching is dominated more by an emphasis on divine sovereignty than on the cross of Christ. These two are not opposed, of course, and Paul preached both emphatically. But his center of gravity was clearly Christ crucified – informed by considerations of divine sovereignty, yes. But his center of gravity was the cross. Anything else leaves the message skewed.

By the same token, this exposes a fault in much Arminian preaching as well. Almost inevitably the emphasis lands on man, his will, his ability, his choice, his decision, and so on, rather than on the success of Christ crucified.

This is the error of various forms of legalism also. The burden, the whole focus becomes, in Pauls words, touch not, taste not handle not, rather than on the sufficiency that we enjoy in our Lords finished work.

This is the really telling indictment of so much of the contemporary Christian music of the last generation or so. We hear much of praise and much praise of praise, but comparatively little of Christ crucified. (Thank God for those who are now seeking to reverse this trend!)

All of this falls short of the apostolic paradigm.

The mark of Christian preaching and the distinctive of all truly Christian ministry is Jesus Christ and him crucified. B.B. Warfield got it right when he wrote this:

Christianity is summed up in the phrase: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. Where this great confession is contradicted or neglected, there is no Christianity.

Christ crucified is the very reason for Christianity. It is the centerpiece and turning point of history. And the preaching of this message is the means by which God claims and transforms his people.

~ Fred

 

Fred Zaspel

Pastor Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010) and Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Crossway, 2012).

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