Befriending the Cross

Are you an “enemy of the cross?”

“No, I love Christianity,” you may reply. But as the Apostle Paul defined it, an enemy of the cross isn’t necessarily the same thing as an enemy of Christianity, at least as far as public appearances are concerned. Radical Islam and militant atheism would both be candidates. But in Philippians 3:18, Paul warns of such people with tears, hinting that there’s a closer emotional connection here.

It seems Paul is talking about people who would claim to be believers—a fact which leads to a startling conclusion:

Many who claim to be friends of Christ are enemies of his cross.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:17-19 ESV, emphasis added)

Paul’s dire warning comes off the heels of a battle cry of faith:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:7-16)

Paul is a man compelled by joy. Not by gritty, white-knuckled piety. He finds more joy and worth in Jesus Christ than in any worldly achievement. So in faith, Paul latches on to Christ—knowing that hanging on to him means dying to self, the same way Christ did, in order to experience soul-satisfying life in Christ forever.

Paul knew Jesus far better than most of us do.

How many of us would say that we know Jesus? Plenty. Yet Paul knew Jesus so well that he had also become intimately acquainted with the cross too.

Paul was a friend of the cross. Self-denial was no stranger to him. His faith meant forsaking all the good things about his former life. It was all worth it to Paul, because the promise of resurrection with Christ offers more joy than could all his old achievements combined.

So Paul wept when he warned of these so-called believers who had never truly considered themselves “dead with Christ.” These people—like many of us in the American church—focused on their physical lives only. Their faith was all about getting a short-term emotional buzz. They practiced self-denial in a selfish way—to impress themselves with their own spirituality. Their stomachs governed them. And they were bound for the agony of Hell, according to Philippians 3:19.

How well do you know Christ? If you truly know him, then you’ll befriend Christ’s cross as well. It will be a precious, familiar thing to you, because you will have carried your own as you follow Christ. All the suffering of Christian life will be as joy to you, because with every struggle you will draw nearer to your Lord.

Don’t fight the cross. Befriend it.

Image credit: Claudio Ungari (CC 2.0)

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