The Power Of Salvation Is In The Cross

Guest Blogger: Ben Baker
         I think that today we often forget where God has placed His power for salvation. I think that we often forget that He has placed it in His Word, in His Gospel - in the Word of the Cross. Dr. R.C. Sproul wrote an article reflecting on one of the last sermons that Martin Luther preached. Luther saw that even after the Reformation was in full-swing, people were still looking to indulgences and relics to find the power of God. One relic in particular they were looking to was Joseph’s pants. R.C. writes,

“[Luther] wondered, why is it that people are still spending their money on indulgences and on what Luther called the Pope’s second-hand junk? He said, ‘The Pope is like a decoy duck, sitting on a pond with a great bag of tricks, seducing people with this nonsense. He wondered why it is that people ignore the Word of God and exchange it for Joseph’s pants…’

          What relevance does that have for us today? We don’t see the evangelical church of our day rushing to depositories of sacred relics. Nobody’s looking for Joseph’s pants. Rather we have invested our time, our energy, and our money in more contemporary ways to improve the gospel.

          We look to programs, to Madison Avenue methodologies, to entertainment, to pop psychology, even to the establishment of Starbucks in the church to improve the gospel. Why do we do this? I think people in the church today are looking for exactly what they were looking for in sixteenth-century Germany. They went to Trier, they went to Aachen, they went to these relics because they believed that the relics had power. Every pastor wants to have a powerful ministry. And so we look to the latest program, to the latest method to give us a powerful ministry, forgetting where the Lord God omnipotent has put the power in the first place.”[1]

          God has placed His power for salvation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul says in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16–17, ESV)

          In this passage, Paul refers to the Gospel as “the Word of the cross”. What is meant by that? Paul tells us later in chapter 2 when he tells the Corinthian church that he decided to know nothing among them except Christ and Him crucified. Paul tells the Corinthian church again in chapter 15 what this Word of the cross is. He says,
          “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
          Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” (1 Corinthians 15:1–11, ESV)
          So then, this Word of the cross is the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, going to the cross to die on behalf of sinners - on your behalf, and on mine - and that this same Crucified One rose from the dead on the third day so that we might rise to eternal life. This is the Word of the cross.

          What does Paul say about this Word of the cross? He says in verse 18 that it is folly to those who are perishing. To those who are outside of Christ, the message of Christ’s crucifixion on behalf of sinners and of His subsequent resurrection is foolishness. It does not make sense to them. Yet for those of us who are being saved, this same message is the power of God.

          So then, what do we do with this foolish message of Christ and Him crucified? Maybe we think that we need to somehow tweak and change and improve the Word of the cross so that it makes more sense to the unbeliever. Maybe if we tell them that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives and that God wants them to be happy and wealthy and healthy and all that - maybe if that’s what we tell them, they will understand and want to come to Christ and believe in Him.

          Or perhaps we think that if only this message were accompanied by miracles or visible manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit - surely then unbelievers would believe our message.

          Jesus speaks to this in Luke 16 where we have the account of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man, we are told, was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day - he had no lack of food. And Lazarus, being poor, longed to eat even the scraps from the rich man’s table. It came about that Lazarus died and he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was in torment in Hades. The rich man saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side and he called out to Abraham and pleaded with him to allow Lazarus to dip his finger in cool water and touch his tongue that he might have some relief from his torment. And Abraham tells the rich man that there is a great chasm between him and the rich man and that it cannot be crossed.

          Upon hearing this, the rich man pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his brothers so that they do not come to the place of torment where the rich man was. And Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets - the Old Testament - let them hear them.” The rich man responds and says, “No, but if someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.” And Abraham responds back and says to the rich man, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

          Through this account, Jesus directs His listeners to the Scriptures. He tells them that if one does not hear what the Scriptures say concerning sin, death, eternal punishment and believe it and turn from their sins in repentance and faith, neither will they be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead. It is through the Word of God that God brings about salvation - if one rejects the Word of God, no amount of signs or miracles will change their mind.

          And what about those who think that we need to tweak and adjust the message of the cross so that it is more to the liking of unbelievers? Paul speaks to this in this passage. God says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” And again Paul says, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” And again, “The world did not know God through wisdom.”

          And so the answer is not to add to or take away from the word of the cross and try to convince people of the truth through worldly wisdom. We will never truly know God through the efforts of our own reason and through the pursuit of wisdom. For God has hidden Himself from the wisdom of this world and revealed Himself through the foolishness of preaching the cross.

          So then, what do we do with this seemingly foolish message of the cross - of Christ and Him crucified on our behalf? We preach this message. We preach this message that is a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles. Why? Paul gives us the answer. He says in verse 21, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” Here in the message of the cross God is known. Here in the message of the cross faith is created and dead men become alive.

          This very same message that is foolishness to those who are perishing is the power of God to save those who believe. God has chosen to work through that which seems to be foolish and powerless to bring about the salvation of men and women. More than once Paul explained to the Corinthians that he did not come with lofty or eloquent speech or wisdom so that the cross of Christ would not be emptied of its power.

          And so we preach the message of the Crucified One - that He died on Calvary for you and for me, that our sins might be forgiven. And He rose again from the dead that we might one day rise too.

          It may not seem like much to preach the gospel. It may not seem like there is power there. It might seem foolish to us and it will seem foolish to many. And yet, if we want to see people saved, if we want to see lives change, we will preach this foolish message of Christ and Him crucified for sinners.

          And we trust, on the basis of God’s Word, that God will work through that proclamation to bring men and women to repentance and faith.

          So I would encourage you this day to preach Christ and Him crucified and risen again. Proclaim the Crucified One - to friends, family, neighbors, all people, for it is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that God has placed His power for salvation.

          And as a comfort and a promise we are reassured in verse 25 that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

[1] Always Reformed, p. 190, a festschrift for Dr. W. Robert Godfrey,