The Offense of the Cross


by Mike Ratliff

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:6-12 ESV)

In Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians he delivers a scathing indictment against all  who teach works salvation or any version of the Gospel that has been edited from the original. If these false gospels be true then, as Paul says, the offense of the cross has been removed. However, the Apostle, in fact, is declaring that the offense of the cross never has cease, and never can cease. Any attempt to soften the offense is folly. While genuine Christianity is peaceful, mild, and benevolent, history shows us that it has been attacked with the bitterest hate from the beginning. Why? It is clearly offensive to the unregenerate mind.

Even though men such as Rob Bell or Brian McLaren scoff at the concept of absolute, knowable truth, and sell their message to an eager post-modern generation, the fact is that the genuine Gospel has not been changed any more than the world has changed. They may claim to have some new ‘perspective,” but all they are doing is proclaiming a very old repackaged message of doubt.

In the introduction to his fine book The Truth War, John MacArthur quotes an article from Christianity Today about the “Emerging Church.” This quote features comments by Rob and Kristen Bell. 

The Bells found themselves uncomfortable with church. “Life in church had become so small,” Kristen says, “It had worked for me for a long time. Then it stopped working.” The Bells started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself–”discovering the Bible as a human product,” as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat. “The Bible is still in the center for us,” Rob says, “but it’s a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it.” “I grew up thinking that we’ve figured out the Bible,” Kristen says, “that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I fell like life is big again–like life used to be black and white, and now it’s in color.” – Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique,” Christianity Today, November 2004, 37-38.

These folks are leading a church. Could those people in it be hearing the genuine Gospel including the offense of the Cross? I doubt it since I have watched Rob’s video “Bull Horn Guy” where he attempts to discourage Christians from sharing that part of the Gospel about sin and separation from God without the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. Instead, he proclaims that his church is full of those who “Love Jesus,” but will have none of that sort of preaching or teaching. In other words, he is stating that repentance and submission to the Lordship of Christ are not necessary for salvation. He has also gone on record stating that God is not angry about anyone’s sin. 

This sort of teaching or preaching or whatever it is no different than that of those who were troubling the Galatians. It is a works based salvation that decries the need to repent of sin. Instead, just do good works and love Jesus. I pray that you noticed the pride evident in the Bell’s comments. They both insist that their “relgion” is on their own terms. They refuse to submit to the narrowness of the Word of God. They attempt to defeat what it tells them by insisting that no one can understand it. 

What makes up the offense of the Cross? Its doctrine of atonement offends man’s pride. Its simple teaching offends man’s wisdom, and artificial taste. Its being a remedy for man’s ruin offends his fancied power to save himself. Its addressing all as sinners offends the dignity of Pharisees. Its coming as a revelation offends “post-modern thought.” Its lofty holiness offends man’s love of sin. 

How do Christians experience this offense? I wanted to post some of the email and comments I get from those who hate Christians and the Cross, but it would be in bad taste to allow some of that language here. Suffice it to say that I do wonder at these people’s ability to reason. We experience this offense by actual persecution. Right now it is verbiage, but I am positive that the physical and legal persecution will arrive here as it has in most other parts of the world. However, the majority of the time, we receive slanderous diatribes cast in a sneering tone that attempt to portray us as old-fashioned, foolish, weak-minded, morose, self-conceited, hypocritical, et cetera. Also, there is an overwhelming number of preachers today who omit the cross from the gospel in their sermons. These are simply sales pitches that are Christless and bloodless. They are not the Gospel. Also, these same people attempt to change the meaning of orthodox terms. These are all examples of how we experience the offense of the Cross my brethren. 

That the unregenerate are offended by the Cross is folly. Why? They are offended at what God has ordained. In other words, they are refusing to subject themselves to the decrees of the Most High God. They reject the truth and turn their backs on what God has proclaimed will happen. They refuse to believe that judgment is coming. They reject the only thing that can save them. They also reject the offer of eternal life even though it is full of wisdom and beauty.  This is the folly of being offended at the Cross. 

However, those who do believe and repent and are saved have their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life and it is all by God’s grace. All of us whose names are therein were once offended by the cross, however, now we find it ot be the one hope of our hearts, the great delight of our souls, and the joyful boast of our tongues. That being so, we must continually search our hearts to discern if we are secretly offended at the cross. Perhaps we give no offense to haters of the Cross. Many professing Christians never cause offense to the most godless. I fear that our relativistic culture has numbed us to the urgency of the Gospel.

The cross is the strength of a minister. I, for one, would not be without it for the world. I should feel like a soldier without weapons, like an artist without his pencil, like a pilot without his compass, like a laborer without his tools.

Let others, if they will, preach the Law and morality.

Let others hold forth the terrors of hell and the joys of heaven.

Let others drench their congregations with teachings about the sacraments and the church. 

Give me the cross of Christ. This is the only lever which has ever turned the world upside down hitherto, and made men forsake their sins.

And if this will not do it, nothing will. A man may begin preaching with a perfect knowledge of Latin, Greek and Hebrew; but he will do little or no good among his hearers unless he knows something of the cross. Never was there a minister who did much for the conversion of souls who did not dwell much on Christ crucified. Luther, Rutherford, Whitefield, M’Cheyne, were all most eminent preachers of the cross. This is the preaching that the Holy Ghost delights to bless. He loves to honor those who honor the cross.–J.C. Ryle

Let us examine ourselves my brethren. Are we ashamed of the cross? Are we seeking to not offend the unregenerate all around us? Are we watering down the Gospel? 

Soli Deo Gloria!


43 thoughts on “The Offense of the Cross

  1. Pingback: The Offense of the Cross - Reformata

  2. “portray us as old-fashioned, foolish, weak-minded, morose, self-conceited, hypocritical, et cetera”

    You forgot self-righteous. Not that I am, but I rely on One who is.


  3. When you wipe away all the fluff of false teachings, it boils down to a lack of fear of the God that allowed His Son to die on the cross. Think about it. God will judge us for our sin that required His Son to die. Forgive us. Thank you for grace.


  4. Pingback: The Message Of The Cross Of Jesus Christ Is Offensive « Jesus Christology

  5. My opinions is a bit different. from many people here as usual.

    If we were really honest with ourselves we would probably say we ARE self righteouss, foolish, and weak-minded.


  6. Fear — a great, unsurpassing reverence for God needs to come to us by replacing our current set of idols by a the Glory of Jesus Christ.

    The more think about this post I think there are two side to it. The first part is the point Mike makes and that we definitely to make people like us don’t want to offend people with the Cross.

    The other side is just as common — and more subtle, insideous, and evil.

    This is the side that makes people NOT want to come to the Cross because of our own religious idols. Our inability to see the idols in our own loves as we look down on others like we are special and they are the little children.

    Grace means we cant look DOWN on anyone because we are saved by Jesus Christ only. It sees, really, that the sinner down the street is not that different from me and we both need the salvation of Jesus Christ.



  7. We are spandinofamily but there is one BIG difference. They enjoy doing what they do, we hate what we do, which gives a ‘hint’ as to the fruit on their tree vs. our fruit. We as Christians hate our sin and feel like Paul in Romans 7, and that is not what these guys are doing. Major difference I’d say.


  8. Yes, true Paul and Luann but the base reasons are still the same reasons: We are All sinful.

    But the point I was making was still true: The idols in the lives of people that even hate their sin (or dont recognize their religious sin) is one of the largest problems facing the Church today. It keeps people from wanting to go to Church.

    My dad is a good example. A long-time democrat. He is a democrat because of their history of being FOR the working class — not for any other reason. The republican face on Churches along with self-righteoussness and looking down on people that are different has really kept him from gettijng close to any single Church. He attends the Church my sister goes to but will always live in suspicion of the Church. He is not a democrat for what people might call liberal reasons.

    As I have observed his reasons for not wanting to get close to the Church I have found this to be a very common thing and to be well founded.

    As much as people on this BLOG may not like the theology of Greg Boyd I have great respect for his ideas on the Myth of a Christian Nation. You may want to read that book someday.

    The question for you Paul and Luann is do you really hate your sin or do you say that because its the poltiically correct religious thing to say?

    Do you really hate your sin or do you really hate the sins of others?

    How many Americans hate their eating disorders! Gluttony is as much a problem as anything else in the Bible but its not a politically correct sin to talk about.

    Are we soooo different at the crux?

    Anyhow I dont intend to get anyone mad at me. I just think Evangelistic obedience starts with how we are all the same and ALL in need of a savior — as opposed to here you are and here is where I am and now you have to be like me. This kind of thinking will always fail. That wall you build up with that kind of thinking can not be torn down once its built.

    The point might be you can be obedient to God and strike at the external behavior and sin or you can strike at the heart of people. The MO (modes of operation) of these two methods are very different. Both call sin sin … but one takes a short cut. Ones uses the methods of sticks and stones may break my bones and the other walks alongside people in their sin and realizes the Gospel takes a long time to work in the hearts of sinners and that even until our death we may still sin.



  9. Spadino,

    Being born again of the Spirit will make a person abhor sin. To say that we cannot speak out against ungodliness or sin, is contrary to scripture. There is a big difference between someone who has sinned vs. someone who takes pleasure in sin. One makes a habit of it, while the other one does not. The one who does not take pleasure in sin experiences sorrow and dislikes it. That is a repentant sinner. The repentant sinner is ashamed of ungodliness, and despises it.

    The other kind of sinner is either unregenerate or reprobate. God does not always have an open ear to an unrepentant sinner.


  10. So we can make the Cross offensive in two ways:

    1) By not proclaiming Gods truth — Mikes point


    2) By not showing Mercy and Compassion to other sinners as we put on our religious looking clothing. Jesus said “But go and learn what his means, I desire mercy not sacrifice” – my point


  11. Paul and Luann I hope you can look at those questions in the introspective way they were intended and not to say I think you are that way. They were meant to be just introspective questions I hope we all ask ourselves from time to time.


  12. Thats a misinterpretation of what I said Josh. Its sayiing I can be real about my struggles with sin as I work on them. Most of todays Church pushes our sin struggles into the closet as they strive for artifical expressions of sanctification in how they process the information of the Bible. Now dont get me wrong sin is sin but I would much rather see churches that are hospitals for sinners as opposed to sanctuaries for saints. One extreme is real and one extreme is a mask.

    I don’t have to spin or repress the truth about myself. (which most of us do including me). I have struggles too and I can look another person in the eye and with guilt maybe (but not life freezing shame) I can admit I am working on them.

    I honestly believe the start of our sanctification is continual repentence and NOT a continual expression of personal sanctification and holiness. Sanctification comes from getting real about our struggles and NOT putting on a “personal” holiness mask. The only holiness outfit we have that works is Jesus Christ. It comes from a life-giving replacement therapy of whatever my current idol is with Jesus Christ.

    Its more an MO (mode of operation) thing than a theological belief statement.



  13. Josh,

    so you believe once you are saved you don’t believe some people replace some of their flesh idols with new religious ones? Even ones they may not recognize (yet) as idols.

    If you say no to that question I don’t believe you and your contradicting scripture. 8-).


  14. spandinofamily, We really do hate our sin. We are convicted everytime we do it too. As typical human beings we think some sins are way worse than other ones. We realize that just one sin could send us to hell and does if we aren’t regenerated. As the Lord grows us up we hate our sin more and more, but we know we will sin until the day we get to be with Him. As far as what other people think of our attitudes and lifestyles, we work on our own. Alot of people we know judge churches because of the attendies. But we also know we can’t blame God for what man does. And yes we ask ourself those questions from time to time. We know we fall way way short. I’m so glad we can confess our sins to Him and we are forgiven. Until we shed these sinful bodies of ours, we will continue to sin, unfortunatly. It is going to be such a good day when our Lord returns and cleans house, so to speak. We have a wonderful Father and its going to be just the best when we finally can be with Him forever.


  15. I think you and Josh hate your sin… but I dont necesarily believe we recognize our sin — thats my point.

    The 1st commandment to have no other Gods would really make all the other commandments unnecessary if we actually followed it. The remaining commands just give us a few specifics.

    A preacher I heard the other day said you will know your idols by your nightmares and fears. If you lost one thing what would it be that would cause you to lose some identity all hope and freeze you

    A woman that finds her identity and self worth in a relationship or marriage with a man may say I love jesus Christ and then when she finally finds a person that is decent continues to live for him. Divorce or death sends her into a multi-year spiral because her idol was the relationship with the man and she did not find her identiy in Jesus Christ. Simialr thing happened to my sister after her divorce. It froze her life status for 10 years.

    The point is the religious idols are the most difficult to recognize and may even look good on the outside …. but phariseeism is alive and well even today.

    Hope that makes sense


  16. spandinofamily,
    The pharisees wern’t saved and loved to ‘beat people up’ with rules and regulations. We on the other hand want to please our Lord knowing that we are sinners still, but the one big difference is we know we can’t ‘earn’ our way into heaven like the pharasies thought. We know that if the Lord doesn’t let us in by the shed blood of His Son and 100% grace, then we aren’t getting in.


  17. Here is my opinion Paul and Luann (shared by Paul and Martin Luther, IMO):

    The problem is that people say the cant work their way into heaven but at a deep level they keep trying. Thats why Paul spent so much time explaining this to already saved people in the book of Romans. He could have said your saved by faith and now lets move on sanctification. Paul spent several chapters talking about our inability to please God on our own to ALREADY SAVED PEOPLE.

    First Religious people (including Christians) believe they have the truth which often leads to a sense of superiority over having that truth.

    Second, it leads to a separation. Since you have the truth and there are so many people out there without this same truth they dont want to hang out with these non-truth bearing people. Jesus walked among sinners and showed them compassion.

    Third, It leads to a overly simplified caricaturization of all non truth bearing people. Since you dont know them they become one dimensional. The become like cartoon characters with big noses and big teeth.

    Fourth, the 3 above things lead to a passive or active repression of all non-truth bearing people and you don’t give them the same regard.

    Nobody, including Christians, change bad habits by trying (works based righteoussness). Nobody changes instantly from sin to not sinning bye someone being the sin police over their shoulder.

    What changes people long term is an overmastering positive passion thats throws out fears… an Expulsive replacement rejoicing of Jesus Christ in the face of our idols.

    You have a long uphill battle if your going to tell me the sins of the pharisees is not alive and well in Christians today. The only way to battle this is by an undying focus on the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

    Grace without truth is not grace and truth without grace is not truth.


  18. Spadino,

    It doesn’t matter what kind of idol you use to replace genuine worship. An idol is an idol. You made a distinction between a flesh idol and a religious idol. There is no distinction. Neither one of them have breath.

    Genuine sanctification occurs when men are crucified daily. It is the narrow path. The flesh is a hinderance, not an idol. The flesh can deceive a person into idolatry. If that person follows after things which are carnal, worldly, or temporal, then the Lord can take them away by fiery trial or what have you. In extreme cases, the Lord does hand men over to their idolatry if they do not repent. That can be a difficult or unpleasant experience for the idolator.

    The Lord purges men’s heart by fiery trials. Idolatry has no room when men partake in sufferings. The Christian walk is not a one time prayer, God pats you on the back, blesses you with paradise right now, and then puts everything on cruise control. As far as you talking about idols in all of these catagories, I have to question what exactly your point is.

    Walking with Christ is the opposite of easy-believism. It is difficult. It is a life which will win you much scorn and derision from the world. You will know hardship like you didn’t expect. You will be viewed as bizarre or peculiar, and not always welcomed with open arms. It requires us to carry an old rugged cross. Not ride in Mercedes, with God as your co pilot, with him sitting over there taking commands from us mere men. The old rugged cross is not a ‘religious’ road, but a way of life where idols have no room to boast. God is the great refiner and molder of men’s hearts. Not the master sorcerer, like you see on TBN.


  19. spandinofamily, We understand what you are saying. The Lord is the one who does the growing us up through the sanctification process which will go on until we go to be with Him. The Lord tells us to pray for others. Since He is the one who does the saving and changing a persons heart and not us, then if he uses us to witness to a person fine. We do it in love and with patients, not beat them up like the pharasiees do. We ARE different since God changed us, and we do act differently since we have a new nature. That doesn’t mean that we are making religion an idol. If you have grace, then you have the truth. The Lord is grace. You also don’t jump in the middle of a pig pen, because we are not Jesus. We are not to hang out at dives. You don’t jump into the middle of a lions den thinking you can change all the lions natures into pussycats purring. We aren’t superman here. The Lord brings people to us, and usually one at a time, not in droves. If you are a mature Christian you let them ask you the questions and you answer with truth mixed with gentleness. Unfortunatly we do have the pharasiees out there. And they do make idols out of religion. At this time though, we don’t think we are on that road even after examining what you say. So with that, we will keep it in the back of our mind that that can happen.


  20. Spadinofamily,

    You said this on your own website. “Right behavior and beliefs now have become an idol as we look down on people… feeling superior to them.”

    Since when is right behavior or believing the Word of God an idol? You sound like the crowd that believes it is wrong to rebuke, correct, or put things to the test. You either sit on the Lord’s side of the fence or you don’t Spadinofamily. The whole lukewarm compromise thing doesn’t fly.

    Being a fundamentalist is not wrong. It is essential. A fundamentalist is willing to use the Bible as a litmus test. Paul commended the Bereans for critical thinking. Christians are called to judge various matters in life in order to be sober and vigilant. Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 2:15-16.
    “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”


  21. Great words Paul and Luann,

    The important thing is we know its there and continue to look at the possibility of this idol in our lives.


    we will probably have to agree to disagree.


  22. Josh you should have finished the final paragraphs of Romans since a single scripture is being taken out of context as your trying to use it.

    6We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9However, as it is written:
    “No eye has seen,
    no ear has heard,
    no mind has conceived
    what God has prepared for those who love him”[b]— 10but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.


  23. Josh, the point of the paragraph you quoted was that wisdom comes from God….

    Then it goes on to talk about the Divisions in the Church in 1 Corinth which was THE most problematic Church in scripture more than likely because of its divisions of minor religious legalisms causing major problems in the Church. Corinth was responsible for judging other people inside their Church for these minor legalisms. As a result Paul gives Corinth a number of rules to maintain this petty bickering of the “division makers” inside the Church.

    Josh, I think there is whole lot of context you are missing from 1 Corinthians if thats the entirety of what your getting from the book. I recommend an in-depth read of Romans before we discuss this any more deeply.


  24. Don’t agree with you at all Spadinofamily.

    If you appease so-called Christians who are on the wide path, then you are shrinking back. Appeasing the ungodly or the ungodliness is of the flesh. Spadinofamily, any attempt to twist the scriptures in such a manner that it does not offend the ungodly is idolatry. The gospel is offensive to those who are perishing.

    Idolatry- when men make gods to fit themselves.

    We should judge all things so that we can discern truth from lies. Judging this and that is essential to guard the flock from false teachers, false prophets, and false apostles. Truth is absolute, not relative.


  25. Spadinofamily,

    The real individuals who cause divisions are the ones who accept every wind of doctrine. They don’t want to offend the masses with the true gospel, so what do they do? They tweek it. They tweek it into a man centered formula or model for worldly success. It offers instant satisfaction to the flesh, but does nothing for the Spirit. These teachers are focused on the temporal things which will quickly fade away.. They do whatever will drive up the attendance numbers. Not emphasizing the importance of living the crucified life. They entice the sheep with a message which tickles the ears.

    Tamara Hartzell has an excellent book called, “In the Name of Purpose.” I would also recommend reading, “Understanding the Purpose Driven Movement” by Bob Dewaay. Both books use specific references and quotations from Rick Warren. Rick Warren is of the world, so don’t let his outwardly success and fame deceive you.

    Mike, I feel like I am beating a dead horse. Is there any point in wasting my breath with someone who believes that it is wrong to rightly divide the Word?


  26. Josh, I dont consider that a proper understanding of the divisions in 1 Corinthians. These were people very sincere in what they were trying to do — but very misled in a legalistic way.

    I recommend Philip Yancys book Whats So Amazing About Grace. I also recommend a very detailed reading of Romans.

    We have to agree to disagree Josh here.

    My interpretation of scripture is NOT fundamentalistic. My defintion of fundamentalism is interpreting scripture as if its a 20th century legal document. I am more evangelistic in my interpretation. This means I try to interpret scripture through the eyes of Jesus Christ and I attempt to under the context of the scripture which tells a very vivid story as well as individual passages. A very fine but important distinction is being made here that I hope you think about.

    Sorry if my rebuking is messing up your rebuking. I also recommend reading some Tim Keller and maybe lots of him. He has a book coming out in October called The Prodigal God ( tentative title).


  27. Jon,

    You said:

    So we can make the Cross offensive in two ways:
    1) By not proclaiming Gods truth — Mikes point
    2) By not showing Mercy and Compassion to other sinners as we put on our religious looking clothing. Jesus said “But go and learn what his means, I desire mercy not sacrifice” – my point

    I think you are misunderstanding this. The cross is offensive because it is foolishness to those who are perishing. We don’t make it offensive. It is naturally offensive to the lost. No one here is saying we should not be Christlike son. Our Christlikeness should be visible to all. We are not Christlike if we are prideful or arrogant or hypocritical, which is what you are accusing us of. We must preach the whole Gospel, including the bad news. There is no way to sugarcoat it. It hurts and it shatters. Many rebel and will not believe, but all who do believe do so because God regenerates them. From that moment on we are all called to live Holy, Righteous lives. That is not idolatry in itself even though it can be a idol to one who is not living for Christ’s glory alone. If we do that then we will naturally become Christlike over time. That is what we are called to do.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

    ps. I suggest you concentrate more on scripture and less on books by men.


  28. I realize I twisted the topic. Hope you followed my train of thought since I think it had a decent point to it. 8-).


  29. The books by men that we usually read are the ones who are ‘sound’ as we see it. The good ol dead guys are the BEST, such as A.W.Pink, Thomas Watson, Calvin and etc. We compair our thoughts with theirs when it comes to seeing if we have rightly interpreted the Word. And yes we use a concordance and dictionary too. We find the ‘reformers’ usually ‘nail it’. And once again Mike, we agree with your comment whole heartedly to Jon. You are good with words to explain what we have a hard time trying to say. Thanks. 🙂


  30. I am also very reformed minded ….. although not a full TULIP model guy since I allow some mysteries of God to exist more than the systematic calvinistic approach does. As I understand it TULIP did not come along until years after Calvin …. although I could be wrong.

    I wish the IP was replaced with an A (assurance) since forcing scripture to revolve around the IP tends to give people understandings that go beyond what I think scripture is always telling us…. but if we did that we would not have a cute word like TULIP. 8-).

    my .02c worth,



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