What is the Offense of the Cross?

by Mike Ratliff

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written,

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ must always be offensive to the unregenerate. It is that offense that makes it clear to people that they have nothing with which to bargain with God. They are sinners lost with nothing to offer the one condemning them. The Gospel, the real Gospel preached with the Law, makes it clear that there is none righteous, no not one, but the Gospel shows that there is one and only one way to be reconciled to God, to be justified before Him. This is the Good News and that one way is via the Lord Jesus Christ alone. No one can work to earn or deserve salvation. No, this salvation is by God’s grace alone according to His divine election, according to His way alone. This is offensive. Let us look at Galatians 5:7-12 in which Paul makes the argument very clear to believers at Galatia who were being victimized by Judiazers making the claim that true salvation was not by Grace alone, but through Grace plus keeping the Jewish law. 

7 Ἐτρέχετε καλῶς· τίς ὑμᾶς ἐνέκοψεν [τῇ] ἀληθείᾳ μὴ πείθεσθαι; 8 ἡ πεισμονὴ οὐκ ἐκ τοῦ καλοῦντος ὑμᾶς. 9 μικρὰ ζύμη ὅλον τὸ φύραμα ζυμοῖ. 10 ἐγὼ πέποιθα εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν κυρίῳ ὅτι οὐδὲν ἄλλο φρονήσετε· ὁ δὲ ταράσσων ὑμᾶς βαστάσει τὸ κρίμα, ὅστις ἐὰν ᾖ. 11 Ἐγὼ δέ, ἀδελφοί, εἰ περιτομὴν ἔτι κηρύσσω, τί ἔτι διώκομαι; ἄρα κατήργηται τὸ σκάνδαλον τοῦ σταυροῦ. 12 Ὄφελον καὶ ἀποκόψονται οἱ ἀναστατοῦντες ὑμᾶς. Galatians 5:7-12 (NA28)

7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from Him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have been persuaded in the Lord that you will hold no other view than mine; but the one who is troubling you will bear the judgment, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? If so, the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I desire that those who are upsetting you would also emasculate themselves. Galatians 5:7-12 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In v7 Paul compare the Galatians’ life of faith with a race, which he does elsewhere in other examples such as Romans 9:16 and 1 Corinthians 9:24. They began well because they received the Gospel message by faith and had begun to live their Christian lives by faith. Notice that the genuine way Christians “run this race” is by “obeying the truth.” The Judiazers were hindering them from doing this. This “obeying the truth” is the true believers response to the true gospel in salvation and their consequent response to obey the Word of God in sanctification. The interference from the Judiazers was two-fold. It prevented the unsaved from responding in faith to the Gospel of grace and true believers from living by faith. Their teaching was all about legalism.

The word “persuasion” translates the word πεισμονὴ (peismone), “a yielding to persuasion.” Notice that Paul makes it clear that this does not come from Christ. Why do you think Paul threw in that saying about a little leaven leavening the whole lump in v9 right after he said that the persuasion to follow the Judaizers did not come from Christ? Perhaps it is as simple to understand as, what these false teachers were teaching did not seem that “far out there” to these people. It looked like simple stuff like circumcision, but Paul’s point is that there can be no compromise with sin. Leaven is used in Sacred Scripture to denote sin because its permeating power is like yeast in a lump of dough. It starts as a small influence, but it takes over causing heresy and often apostasy. The focus away from Grace to works in our salvation is sin.

Notice the clarity of Paul’s stance on the Gospel. There is no room for compromise. There is no wiggle room for other “persuasions” when it comes to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He says the he πέποιθα, “has been persuaded” in the Lord that the Galatians would return to hold the same pure view of the Gospel that Paul held. Πέποιθα, in this context, would mean that Paul had been “made confident.” The text tells us that this persuasion came from the Lord Himself. Paul also makes it clear that the one teaching works over grace to these people is a false teacher who will bear God’s judgment.

In v11 Paul tells us that the Judaizers had accused him of teaching the same thing they taught, that circumcision was necessary for salvation, which he denied by accusing them of persecuting him. If he taught the same as them then they should not be attacking him. Right? Then he says something vital for the Church to hear, “ἄρα κατήργηται τὸ σκάνδαλον τοῦ σταυροῦ” or “if so, the offense of the cross has been removed.” If Paul taught works righteousness then the offense of the cross had been abolished. The offense of the cross must stay intact for it to have its power. The word “offense” translates σκάνδαλον (skandalon),”the trigger in the trap on which the bait is placed and springs the trap when it is touched by the animal, causing the trap to close.” It always denotes the enticement or occasion leading to conduct that brings with it the ruin of the person in question. In the New Testament, the concept of σκάνδαλον is concerned mainly with the fact that it incites certain behavior that leads to ruin and rarely denotes merely a hidden, unexpected cause of ruin. In most cases, however, it is something that gives occasion to conduct leading to ruin; the course of sin leading to ruin or to a fall. What does all that mean? What is Paul referring to with the necessity of the σκάνδαλον of the Cross being essential to the Gospel?

The Gospel, when preached correctly, as obviously Paul did, uses the Law to show people the dire need of a Saviour and then He gave them the Good News, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which included the Offense of the Cross. Those who wanted their own way, not THE WAY, were scandalized by it, turned from it to their ruin. On the other hand, those broken by it, regenerated, reborn by it, by God’s grace, turned in repentance to Christ as Lord and Saviour and by Grace through Faith were saved. Nothing has changed. This same Gospel saves today. So, why aren’t we preaching it? Paul said at the end of the passage above that those who preached something else, he desired that they go emasculate themselves.

Do you see it my brethren? This σκάνδαλον of the Cross must be there or you really have nothing but some religious act or self-help program. When the Gospel is given to the Lost, they must see that the only way is Christ and no other way can dare call itself “Christian.” Oh sure, there are plenty of “alternatives” out there nowadays, but nothing has really changed. They are really nothing but a bunch of σκύβαλον. On the other hand, let us focus on the recovery of this glorious Gospel that is worthy of our suffering.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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