The Doctrine of the Cross
The Enmity of the Natural Man
When the Lord Jesus Christ sent His disciples to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He warned them not to expect to be welcomed by the people. “Behold,” He said, “I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves… beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;” and when preparing them for the wider ministry to the nations He told them that they must be ready to encounter hatred and even death for His sake. They were being sent to a world at enmity with God and their message was the word of reconciliation’ (Matt. 10:16- 17; John 15:18-16:3).
The Holy Scriptures bear abundant testimony to the enmity of the natural man against God. ‘There is none that seeketh after God … the whole world lieth in the wicked one … alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works … the carnal mind is enmity against God … having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God… all the world guilty before God.’ These are but a few of many similar Scriptures; and there are none that contradict or modify these truths. But the most convincing evidence of the enmity of man is the Cross; they hated Him without a cause and manifested that hatred by crucifying the Lord of glory.
“But God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins,” by that very Cross which demonstrated the hatred of man against Himself, bore the judgment which was due to men on account of their sins. The Cross manifested the ‘exceeding sinfulness of sin’ as even the law could not do, but at the same time it revealed the exceeding riches of God’s grace (Eph. 2:4; Rom. 7:13).
‘It pleased the Father that in Christ Jesus should all fulness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself… and you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight…’ There was no third party involved in the transaction; it was entirely of God. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself: not imputing their trespasses unto them …’ God Himself removed the cause of the enmity — man’s sin; and then the enmity itself (Col. 1:19-22; 2 Cor. 5 :19) .
Christ has made peace. This is ‘the word of reconciliation’: the good news of the grace of God. Christ has entered into the holiest by His own blood and so opened the new and living way to the Father.
This message was first proclaimed to the very men who were responsible for the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Unto you first,” said Peter to them, “God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.’ But the blessing was not confined to Israel, for after the Lord had died and risen again from among the dead, He came, and by the Spirit ‘preached peace to them which were afar off, and to them were nigh.’ The word has been proclaimed to all nations, for Jews and Gentiles alike need to be reconciled to God. Paul wrote to the Gentiles: “Now then we are ambasasdors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you, in Christ’s stead, Be ye reconciled to God.” For He hath made Him to be sin for us Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him’ (Eph. 2:17; see also Isa. 57:19; 2 Cor. 5:1921; Acts 3:26).
God actually pleads with men to be reconciled to Him. Through Isaiah He said: ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and as a cloud, thy sins: Return unto Me; for I have redeemed thee’ (Isa. 44:22).
Reconciliation Must be Accepted
Reconciliation was made on the cross; and it is offered to men in their sins, to meet their deepest need; but to be effective it must be accepted by both parties. But receiving the reconciliation is not merely believing the message; the reconciliation is in Christ Jesus and it is only when He is received that peace is imparted. Men at enmity with God must be willing to lay down their arms of rebellion and receive forgiveness of sins on God’s terms: which are unconditional surrender to His will; for when we receive Christ Jesus we receive the Lord: Who demands our whole being: spirit, soul and body (Rom. 5:1; 1 Thess. 5:23).
The Nature of Reconciliation
Reconciliation is a work worthy of God. He takes those who were His enemies and makes them His children. God has forgiven our sins; but forgiveness alone would not have reconciled us to Him, for the natural man has no desire for God. But by our faith in Christ we have received the Holy Spirit and are born into the family of God. “Ye have received the Spirit of sonship, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’ (Gal. 3:26; Rom. 8:15-17; Gal. 4:5-7).
The reality of our reconciliation is shown by the change in our hearts towards God. ‘Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, Who through Christ reconciled us to Himself …’ Those in Christ, in-dwelt by the Spirit, manifest the life of God. The eyes of their understanding are enlightened; the love of God is poured into their hearts; and they seek to know and do the will of God. ‘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’ (1 Cor. 5:17-18, RSV; Rom. 5:10).
His children love Him; His presence; His word; His people; and they live in the prospect of seeing Him face to face; but the fulness of reconciliation will be the fulfilment of their Father’s purpose to conform them fully to the image of His beloved Son: Who will present them to His Father: holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight; meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.
Peace on Earth
The second chapter of Ephesians traces the transition of the redeemed from their natural condition in their sins to that position into which they have been brought through grace, even to membership in the family of God. It reads, in part: ‘And you… who were dead in trespasses and sins … Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh … at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, Who hath made both (Jew and Gentile) one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in His flesh the enmity … for to make in Himself of twain one new Man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby … for through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.’
This chapter also reveals God’s plan for men to live together in peace by showing how the Lord Jesus Christ abolished the enmity between Jew and Gentile believers in Himself. All sorts and conditions of men are separated by what seem to be insurmountable differences; and history has shown that men cannot live in peace indefinitely, even though they may be related by ties of blood; and this in spite of man’s best efforts to establish permanent ‘world peace.’
But as long as men refuse to be reconciled to God there will be no ‘world peace’; for peace is to be found only in Christ, and God has declared that ‘there is no peace to the wicked.’ Men need to be reconciled to God before peace can rule their behaviour. Reconciliation with God includes reconciliation with men; for in Christ there is no nationality; no ‘apartheid’; no segregation; or any other barrier to unity. As saith the Scripture: ‘Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all and in all.’ Because His own have the Spirit of God in their hearts, they are under the law of Christ to love one another. The communion of saints is one of our most treasured possessions in Christ (Isa 57:21; Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28).
The one great need of the world therefore, is the Gospel of Christ; and the most urgent concern for the people of God should be the evangelization of the world. The Gospel can do far more than all the statesmen, or legislative bodies, or armaments, ever have done or could do: it can change mens’ hearts.