The Cruciformed View of Wisdom and Power

cross_sunset.4.lrLiving in a pluralistic society where relativism is the norm it is inevitable someone is going to be offended. Those of us who live as witnesses of the Crucified Christ know all to well that mentioning the statement “Jesus is Lord” is a cultural “no-no.” If you announce this you’ll likely be labeled as “narrow-minded” or just simply someone who hasn’t progressed far enough into the changing culture. Christians must, so the argument goes, stop being judgmental and be more inclusive of others. It is unfortunate that many who claim to follow the Crucified One have bought into that argument. The word of the Cross that was once a scandalous proclamation has been simply reduced to a civilized opinion.

The message of Christianity will cause an offense. The truth claim that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the world, died in the place of sinners on a cross will ruffle the feathers of a secular world. I’m convinced one of the main reasons for this is – to be honest is the message of the cross is utter nonsense to those who don’t believe the gospel. I’ve been asked countless times, “Do you really believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead?” As if by believing in that truth claim, I’ve traded my critical thinking skills for a kindergarten fairytale. To believe in this truth, however, doesn’t require one to empty their mind. Instead, it will require one to surrender their preconceived ideas of power and wisdom.

Folly to the Perishing

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:18, ” For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” It is here that one begins to see the “madness” of the Christian message. Note that the “word of the cross” produces two effects: folly to the perishing and the power of God to those being saved. This message by application puts all of humanity into two categories: those perishing and those being saved. The classification is determined by one’s response to the message.

The first effect that is produced by the gospel is folly to the perishing. The context Paul is writing into is extremely important. The Apostle is writing to the churches in the city of Corinth. A city that was as Leon Morris said, “intellectually alert, materially prosperous, but morally corrupt.”[1] Greek wisdom and philosophy filled the minds of those who walked the streets of Corinth. It is here where we must see the cultural conflict with the gospel. The message of the cross in the Greco-Roman culture was complete madness. While there may have been a few Greco-Roman stories about gods dying and rising again it was ludicrous to suggest that a god would die a criminal’s death on a cross. To advocate “that the one pre-existent Son of the One True God, had appeared in very recent times in the out-of-the-way Galilee as a member of the obscure people of the Jews, and even worse, had died the death of a common criminal on the cross, could only be regarded as a sign of madness”[2] as Martin Hengel concluded. The cross is a complete paradox. It doesn’t make any sense to those who are perishing – it is nonsense. This is why the message of the cross is hard for people to believe. Why in the world would God send His One and Only Son to die on a cross? It is this very point that circumvents our understanding of God and the way He reveals Himself to the world: the cross is the highest revelation of God’s wisdom, which stands in opposition to the wisdom of the world.

The Wisdom and Power of God

The cross challenges our understanding of power and wisdom. In a world that prides itself on human reasoning and strength the cross of Christ pushes against those ideas, redefining what true wisdom and power actually look like. It is in the message of the cross that the power of God is revealed. David Garland explains, “In this case, ‘power’, refers to the effectiveness of the cross to make God known to humankind, to accomplish salvation, to defeat evil, and to transform lives and values.”[3] This salvation wrought in the death of Jesus reveals God’s power and wisdom. The question is asked, “Why in the world would God reveal Himself this way?” The answer is simple: God is wiser and stronger than us. The reality is as sophisticated and relational humans, we seek to save ourselves a different way; a way that doesn’t involve a bloody naked man on a cross. A way that was more civilized; a way that wouldn’t offend anyone. We would write and distribute our tracts proclaiming to all that good moral deeds and tolerance are the requirements for salvation. This is the wise thing to do. That wouldn’t offend anyone. That message is more inclusive.

Yet it is through the foolishness of the cross that God is shown wiser than man. It is in the weakness of the cross that God demonstrates He is stronger than man. We could say that God has “outsmarted” all of humanity by revealing His wisdom and power through the death of His Son on the cross. As we attempt to think of a better way to save ourselves, God has already provided the most powerful instrument of deliverance. The symbol that was once a scandal has now become the symbol of salvation. By Christ taking upon Himself the wrath of God, the sins of His people, and dying in their place, He revealed, His divine rescue mission for the world. The Crucified Christ redefines His people’s understanding of God and the way He works in the world. The all-supreme Son of God condescended to the lowest point of humiliation possible – dying on a cross in the place of sinners. The power and the wisdom of God are revealed in the Crucified Christ.

Cruciformity as a Way of Life

Since the cross redefines our understanding of power and wisdom we have a choice to make. Do we surrender to this biblical understanding or do we continue living our lives the way we always have? This is where the rub occurs. One can only know God through God’s wisdom. Human means – power and wisdom – to God fall short of obtaining salvation. Salvation comes through the exclusivity of the Crucified One. This message is the means through which God saves. Listen to Paul as he said “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God..” Garland once again said:

“the herald’s task is not to create a persuasive message at all, but to convey effectively the already articulated message of another. The message is God’s and it is conveyed by means that look weak, foolish, and unimpressive to the world. Carrying a placard announcing the crucified Messiah as the glory of God in simple unadorned words makes the herald look foolish in the eyes of the world. But such foolishness reveals that God, not the messenger, is to be credited for saving those who believe the message.”[4]

The preaching of the cross is foolishness to the wisdom of the world. This ought to be a great encouragement to those communicating this message in a world that won’t understand in the first place. The means, message, and messenger are to be conformed to the Crucified One. This is the way of cruciformity, which is the practice of increasingly living our lives in conformity to the cross. In a world that proclaims its own form of power and wisdom, we must as people of cross, preach the foolish message as foolish people. It is through this foolishness that God reveals His wisdom. The offensiveness of the gospel in a pluralistic world is unchanging; even as the message is the power of the Crucified Christ to save, sanctify, sustain, and glorify His own people, for His glory.

[1] Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians TNTO (Downer Groves: Intervarsity Press, 1985), 22.

[2] Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 6-7.

[3] David Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 62.

[4] Ibid.,68.