The Cross Of Christ

The Evangel

Part One

THE WORLD AND THE CROSS
(Galatians 6:14)

THE GREEK WORD for “world” kosmos is properly translated “adornment” in 1 Peter 3:3. Does this mean that the world we live in is an adornment to the universe? Most of us have seen the astounding photographs taken by the astronauts of our blue and white planet against the black background of outer space. The earth appears like a shining jewel. But wait-Peter’s advice in the passage referred to above is that a woman’s adornment kosmos should not be a matter of the outside appearance (decorating the hair, gold ornaments, costly garments) but of the hidden qualities of the heart and “a meek and quiet spirit.” What is our world like as far as its “heart” and “spirit” are concerned?

Sin has “entered into the world, and through sin death” (Rom.5:12), which has so corrupted the spirit of the world that the very expression becomes a picture of all that is ungodly (cf 1 Cor.2:12). Yet even before sin entered through Adam’s offense there had been a world disruption-a casting down of the adornment-which has left its fearful imprint. In fact it has become one of our greatest blessings to realize that we were chosen in Christ before this destructive event (Eph.1:4), which still has its effects in corruption (2 Pet.1:4), defilements (2 Pet.2:20), offenses and sins (Eph.2:1,2). Furthermore we learn that the kingdoms of this world are under the sway of the Adversary (Matt.4:8,9). The orderly arrangement is disturbed; the adornment is corroded and torn.

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GOD LOVES THE WORLD

Nevertheless “the God Who makes the world and all that is in it” (Acts 17:24) has a great love for it. The apostle John was chosen and directed to write extensively on this theme, and to inform the world of what Jesus had done and would yet do for it. These achievements were so many and so vast that, John concludes in his account, “if they should be written, one by one, I am surmising not even the world itself would contain the written scrolls” (John 21:25). Of the four accounts of the Lord’s life John’s most clearly points beyond the present eon and the coming afflictions and judgments to the time of the new covenant when even the world itself will be delivered (John 12:47).

Matthew presents the Lord as the Ruler Who will shepherd God’s people Israel (Matt.2:6). Luke writes of His coming as meaning peace on earth and delight among men (Luke 2:14). But John introduces Him with these words: “In the world He was...” (John 1:10). Here was hope not only to Israel, nor even merely to the human race, but to the entire system of things here in our world—the creatures of earth, their societies, the seasons and climate, the physical elements—everything that had gone wrong because of the various disruptions.*

[*For a helpful study of the disruptions see UNSEARCHABLE RICHES for May, 1957, vol. 48, p. 97.]

Yet we read that“...the world knew Him not.” The very world in which He appeared and which had come into being through Him, failed to recognize Him. How can we account for this? God sent His only-begotten Son into this corrupted system, and the world rejected Him.

In this we can trace the wisdom of God (cf 1 Cor.1:21), for in order that this world might become saved and become an adornment to the universe both in spirit and heart, there had to be the gift of God’s Son as a sacrifice for sin. “For thus God loves the world, so that He gives His only-begotten Son, that everyone who is believing in Him should not be perishing, but may be having life eonian. For God does not dispatch His Son into the world that He should be judging the world, but that the world may be saved through Him” (John 3:16,17).

Hence we find in John’s writings that the Lord Jesus Christ cam e to this spoiled world in order to bring it to eventual salvation, As John later saw in his vision the world and its kingdoms will then be an orderly and adorning system to the high praise of God (Rev.11:15).

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THE CROSS, THE WORLD, AND I

To Paul was given a view of the love of God which exceeded in dimensions even those visions of John which are so filled with hope and joy (cf Eph.3:18). Our apostle tells us of God’s “vast love” which vivifies us and rouses us and seats us together among the celestials in Christ “that, in the oncoming eons, He should be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph.2:7). This view of future glory goes beyond the limits of the world we know and encompasses the entire universe, so that all will be reconciled to God through the blood of Christ’s cross, “whether those on the earth or those in the heavens” (Col.1:20).

Like John, Paul also recognizes the salvation which is to come to our world because of the cross when he compares the effect of Adam on the world to that of Christ in Romans 5:12-18. In addition we learn of a present blessing to our kosmos in the conciliation, which is also as a result of Christ’s cross. “God was in Christ, conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them...” (2 Cor.5:19).

However, in this article, we want to backtrack just a bit in considering a particular impact of the cross upon the world as discussed in Galatians 6:14. In this passage Paul writes, “Now may it not be mine to be boasting, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Here there are three: the cross of Christ, the world, and I. Each of us as an individual has his own private world, the world of the “ego” or the “I.” Everything else is the world outside. There is the world in general, and there is the world of the “I. ”But now Paul speaks of a third place where these two worlds must meet. It is the cross.

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SAUL CRUCIFIED

Saul of Tarsus had been trying to force himself into an impossible mold and then to force the world about him into the very same impossible form. He wanted to make himself and the world conform to his own religious system. It made him a wretched man (Rom.7:24), “kicking against the goads” (Acts 26:14), because although the will to do the ideal was with him, yet the ability to effect the ideal was not (Rom.7:18). And of course the world could no more live up to his standards than he could himself.

Who of us have not made up our own minds as to how the world should be? We have decided it should operate along certain lines and reach certain beneficial goals for good (at least for our own good). But it does not seem to make much progress. In fact it seems to become worse the more we try to manipulate it, to redesign society and reform our way of life. Poor Saul. In man’s eyes he was becoming blameless (Phil.3:6), but within himself he knew that good was not making its home in his flesh (Rom.7:18).

The first step toward solving this dilemma was to get rid of Saul of Tarsus. He was crucified to the world, or as he puts it in Galatians 2:20, “With Christ have I been crucified....” The “I” was put away.

The truth that our old humanity, our sinful, offensive, wretched self, was put away at the cross is very profound. It means that we have accepted the fact that we cannot live up to our ideals. We are unable to produce righteousness. We just do not have it in us to live like we ought to. Also (and this is the truly significant thing) this crucifixion of the “I” means that God considers that old failing humanity to be gone and looks at us in Christ. He sees us in the same way He sees His Son. This is a real help to us in giving us peace and assurance in this “terrestrial tabernacle house,” this temporary, earthly, failing body.

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THE CRUCIFIED WORLD

But the cross not only ridded the world in general of Saul of Tarsus and his particularly unhappy little world, but it also ridded Paul of the world in general. “The world has been crucified to me,” he writes in Galatians 6:14. This is the second half of the solution to his dilemma. Everything that the world meant to Paul, its problems and failures, its frustrations and hypocrisy, its tensions and terrors, they were all nailed to that tree upon Golgotha.

When he wrote Galatians Paul was deeply troubled because these brethren were trying to add to Christ’s finished work. They were in fact going back to the wretched condition of kicking against the goads, thinking they could bring forth a world where the flesh will fully follow the commands of the perfect law.

Naturally they had lost their happiness (Gal.4:15) besides failing out of the enjoyment of grace (5:4). This was grievous to Paul’s heart, for he loved the Galatians and wanted them to enjoy the position they had in Christ.

Nevertheless, no matter how much this trouble burdened the apostle Paul, he realized that it was a problem created by that very world which had been crucified. In this he was boasting. That old system of things penetrates into every facet of our lives now, but it is under the sentence of death. It will be exterminated, and Paul gloried much in this fact.

If we have problems and anxieties which get us down, without a doubt they can be traced to the present system of things. They are “worldly.” But that world has been crucified as surely as Christ was made to be a sin offering, and as surely as we also have been put to death in Christ. Even so, as surely as He was roused and we shall b e roused together in Him, shall the world itself be brought forth anew and become the glorious adornment God has purposed it to be. What boasting there is in the, cross of Christ!

D. H. Hough

 

Part Two
ENEMIES OF THE CROSS

CHRIST HUMBLED HIMSELF to the death of the cross, and out of this humiliation came the greatest triumph in history. There is also a necessary humiliation for us, connected with the cross, which likewise leads to victory. But generally speaking we are unwilling to accept this shame, and as a consequence, although we are believers and our salvation is certain, we become enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil.3:18). This will lead to loss at the dais of Christ.

It is significant that Paul does not despair concerning the enemies of the cross, nor does he place an anathema upon them, but he laments concerning them. It is sad that one who has been justified by the blood of Christ should shun the way of the cross in his life, but it is human.

Never-the-less, none of us really wants to be an enemy of the cross, and we should heed this warning about it.

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SLAVES OF CHRIST JESUS

As noted in another series of articles currently running in this magazine, Philippians is an epistle of service. It is not written by the apostle Paul but by the slave Paul. It does not lay a foundation of teaching but demonstrates how the believer should live. Yet all that we do in service for our Lord must accord with the teaching of truth such as we have in Romans and Ephesians. And it is here that this matter of humiliation comes in and where we may be in danger of becoming enemies of the cross.

We want to serve the Lord, but are we willing to do so in His way? Can we offer divine service without patting ourselves on the back? Can we do so realizing that nothing we do adds to the finished work of Calvary nor is required of us as “our part” in the work of salvation? When the Scriptures say there is no room for boasting they mean that absolutely. There is no room for self-congratulation in the way of the cross.

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tribute collector (Luke 18:914) the Pharisee is very proud of his service, saying, “God, I am thanking you that I am not even as the rest of men, rapacious, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tribute collector. I am fasting twice of a sabbath. I am taking tithes from all whatever I am acquiring.” Such an attitude clearly is not the way of the cross. All his works were good and right, but he exalted himself for contributing something to God. Yet the service of the tribute collector in beating his chest and saying, “God make a propitiatory shelter for me, the sinner!”—even this service could have been unacceptable if it had been done out of a wrong motive, with the feeling, for example, that he was ever so much more of service to God than the hypocritical Pharisee. The tribute collector was “justified” not because his service was so much better but because he put his whole dependence upon God.

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DISPOSED TO THE TERRESTRIAL

The enemies of the cross of Christ referred to in Philippians 3:18,19, are nevertheless believers who have accepted the grace of God in giving His Son on their behalf. Perhaps all of us come under this classification of enmity from time to time. We love the ways of the world or delight in our own works too much to put our full trust in God’s approach present (Eph.2:8). We become disposed to the terrestrial.

The terrestrial, or earthly, disposition is primarily centered in selfishness, soulishness and vain ambition. These are God’s enemies, but surprisingly they are our own worst enemies as well. As trite as it may sound we are not really happy in accumulating wealth for ourselves and in making ourselves comfortable at the expense of someone else. Yet we cling to these things which were put aside at the cross, and so far as our service is concerned we become enemies of the very cross through which we are conciliated and justified. Being disposed to the terrestrial and so becoming an enemy of the cross can take many different forms. It shows up in pride when we act (like the Pharisee) as though God’s favor to us were somehow earned by our service. Another way to oppose the cross is to deny the full glory and completeness of its effects. The cross was for all, and it fully achieved its purpose without any assistance on our part. Furthermore, we are enemies of the cross, disposed to the terrestrial, when we are jealous, hateful and envious, for there is none of this in the sacrifice of Christ.

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A CONSUMMATION OF DESTRUCTION

There are two ways to deal with enemies: one is to eliminate them; the other is to change them to friends. Death is perhaps the most persistent and tenacious enemy of God, and because it is an impersonal force rather than a personal being, God can deal with it in the former manner. “The last enemy is being abolished: death” (1 Cor.15:26). But when the creature is the enemy, and that is you and I, then God transforms the enemy into a friend: “...being enemies, we were conciliated to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10).

At first sight it would seem that the enemies of the cross of Christ will be destroyed (Phil.3:19), just as death will be abolished. But this cannot be, since the cross of Christ has, in fact, established our salvation. Surely we have a figure of speech here, the figure of “near association”* where the persons committing acts of enmity stand for the acts. It is the service of the believer which is in view in this context, and it is the selfish and proud works which shall be destroyed. Paul speaks of a similar matter in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Those who build with works described by the terms “ wood, grass, straw” will lose rewards at the dais of Christ. The works “will be burned up” though the person himself “shall be saved, yet thus, as through fire.”

[*See the discussion of this figure in our Keyword Concordance, page 364 (p. 361 in the 1976 edition).]

If our service is soulish and terrestrial, only satisfying our senses and not bringing glory to God, it must be destroyed. Human governments accept taxes and service which arise from crime and dishonesty, but the Lord will never allow service which is tainted with pride and selfishness to enter His celestial kingdom. And we also will rejoice to see our unworthy works burned up.

Those believers who have dishonored the cross by consigning the great majority of mankind to endless suffering or annihilation will surely be glad to have that “service” burned up rather than to see any creature for whom Christ shed His blood burn in everlasting torment. So also all of us will want any errors we have taught and any false service we have performed destroyed.

On the other hand, those who are imitators of Paul (Phil.3:17) in deeming all terrestrial glories a forfeit, giving full honor to the cross of Christ, will receive a wreath of righteousness in that day (2 Tim.4:8).

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FRIENDS OF THE CROSS

It is ironic that the glory of the enemies of the cross of Christ is “in their shame” (Phil.3:19), while the glory of the cross rests on the shame which Christ endured. What man esteems as glory will bring him shame at the dais of Christ, but the shame associated with the cross leads to life and glory.

We must not try to dress up the shameful ignominy of the crucifixion of Christ or make it seem any less vile than it was. God delights in taking that which is weak and dishonored and making it triumph, and this is displayed at the cross more gloriously than anywhere else. The friend of the cross is fully confident that God’s grace is sufficient for every need and for the achievement of every good.

All of us would like to be like Abraham and be called “the friend of God” (James 2:23), and we truly would like to be friends of the cross of Christ. We want to serve our Lord in a worthy manner like Abel who brought an acceptable sacrifice or like Joseph and Daniel who would not do wrong for the sake of worldly advancement. But it is difficult not to be like Cain and offer fruit of our labors to God as our achievement. If we are going to be friends of the cross let us realize that all achievement of any value is God’s, and it is gained through the shameful cross.

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MODELS FOR OUR IMITATION

We do not have to go to Abel and Joseph and Daniel as models for our behavior, since we have ideal models of friends of the cross here in this very letter of Philippians. “Become imitators together of me, brethren, and be noting those who are walking thus, according as you have us for a model” (Phil.3:17). Timothy was a friend of the cross because he was not seeking that which was his own but rather that which was Christ Jesus’ (Phil.2:21). In being genuinely solicitous of the concerns of others he was reflecting the message of the cross and bringing honor to God. Epaphroditus was being a friend of the cross when he risked his “soul” (his personal comfort and pleasures) for the good of Paul, and so by his attitude he, too, was announcing the word of the cross and bringing glory to God’s name.

Paul himself is a special model for us today in this time of grace, a model of the friend of the cross. His service was not to build great edifices to the honor of Christ but was “to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering” (Phil.3:10). His service was not to build up a great following (the majority even of believers left him) but that he might gain Christ and be found in Him. (3:8).

May we, then, be disposed to this. May we be imitating these models for our walk, so that not only in our faith but also in our faithfulness the cross will retain its central place. Then we can reflect the words of John Bosering in every phase of our lives:

In the cross of Christ I glory,
Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.

Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure,
By the cross are sanctified;
Peace is there that knows no measure,
Joys that through all time abide.

D. H. Hough

 

Part Three
NAILED TO THE CROSS

WHEN CHRIST WAS CRUCIFIED nails were thrust through His hands. Later when Thomas expressed his doubts concerning the resurrection he said, “Should I not perceive in His hands the print of the nails, and thrust my finger into the print of the nails ... I will by no means be believing” (John 20:25). Unlike Thomas we accept this fact entirely by faith (“Happy are those who are not perceiving and believe”), but also unlike Thomas we find that the significance of these nailprints goes much deeper than simply a proof that Christ was roused from the dead. To us they also speak of the end of an era and a system of things which was hostile to us, even as Paul writes....... “[God] vivifies us together jointly with [Christ], dealing graciously with all our offenses, erasing the handwriting of the decrees against us, which was hostile to us, and has taken it away out of the midst, nailing it to the cross...” (Col.2:14).

No execution could be more severe than this. Perhaps we are not able to trace all that happened at the cross, but we can see in reference to the nails that when the soldiers impaled Christ to the stake God was also nailing something to that cross. And though Christ was roused immortal and incorruptible that which God has nailed to the tree is doomed to final destruction.

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THE OLD HUMANITY

In Romans 6:6 we learn that “our old humanity was crucified together with Him, that the body of Sin may be nullified....” The old humanity and our sinning, dying bodies were nailed to the cross, but not ours alone, for we read in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “that, if One died for the sake of all, consequently all died.” Many of us have been willing to agree that Christ died for everyone, but does that mean that everyone’s old humanity was put to death when Christ was crucified? When Christ does something for a particular purpose, is it not the same as saying that the purpose is achieved? When God undertakes anything (and He does all through His Son) it is done.

The cross of Christ involved us all. We did not suffer the agonies or face the darkness of God’s abandonment, but when Christ died, all the descendants of Adam (the entire “old humanity”) were identified with Him in death. Of course that is a figure of speech. We, living in the 20th century, were not even there. But a figure of speech in God’s Word brings out a fact, no less actual and true than that you are reading this article. It may even be more true since you may only be glancing over these words and perhaps are only partly attending to what they say. But God was fully attending to what was happening at the cross. The old humanity was being crucified, nailed to the cross.

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INCLUSION

How this can be was discussed in an article by A. E. Knoch which appeared in the November 1931 issue of UNSEARCHABLE RICHES (vol.22, Page 549) under the title “Substitution or Inclusion.” It may be helpful to quote a portion of this discussion.

“It seems difficult for us to associate Christ with aught else than redemption. The great truth that He is the Firstborn of creation seems to have vanished from the consciousness of Christendom. Yet it is vital to an understanding of redemption. It corrects all those false ideas that He was an unwilling Sufferer, a third party upon Whom the role of scapegoat was forced, which led rationalists to the conclusion that the cross was an exhibition of injustice to One and partiality to others.

”The relation of the Son to creation is expressed by the title Firstborn. This is elaborated by a series of prepositions, in, through, into or for, and before (Col.1:16,17). These express the various aspects of His connection with creation, apart from sin or sacrifice. We are accustomed to think of this as God’s universe. We should include Christ, for it is created in, through, and for Him. This is the basic truth which explains the manner of its deliverance. Its method cannot be understood unless first we see that the Saviour is not a distant, disinterested Victim, but as close of kin as could possibly be, apart from sin.

“It is desirable to have a name for Christ as the One in Whom all was created. English has two words for progenitor, seeing that procreator has the same sense. We suggest that progenitor be applied to Adam as the generator of the race, and Procreator be reserved for God’s Son as the One in and through Whom creation was effected. Then we can state our case clearly and succinctly thus (cf Rom.5:12-19):

“As Adam, the progenitor of humanity, by one selfish act, involved it in unutterable woe, so God’s Son, the Procreator of all, by one sacrifice, involves all in ineffable blessing.

“During the eons this is reserved for an election, who are redeemed through faith. All are not made alive in Christ until death is abolished at the consummation (1 Cor.15:26).”

Hence we see that as all of us were created in Christ, when He was nailed to the tree all of us were affected. We were crucified together with Him.

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HOSTILE TO US

Yet there was more that was nailed to the cross. There are certain institutions associated with the old humanity which also met their doom at Calvary. The law, its commandments and rituals, and the privileges of the nation of Israel, are all associated with the old humanity. As the old humanity is put aside so also will these institutions be left behind as no longer needed nor desired.

In fact the only place in the Scriptures where a direct reference is made to nailing something to the cross is in connection with such commandments and privileges (Col.2:14). A.E. Knoch commented on this passage as follows:

“Not only did the Jews of Paul’s day seek to insist on the circumcision and baptism of converts, but they sought to put them under law. Their attempt to enslave them under the law of Moses did not succeed, due to Paul’s energetic remonstrance, as we see in his Galatian letter, but this did not hinder them from making rules of their own for them, which, while they seem to free them from the observance of the Mosaic ritual, nevertheless brought them under the authority of the apostles just as if they were subjects in the millennial kingdom, instead of having a celestial allotment of their own.

“So far as the relation of the nations to God is concerned they will be under the sovereignty and authority of the chosen nation in the future on the earth. Nevertheless that nation, by crucifying their Messiah, has forfeited all right to such a place, and will exercise it only when once again restored to divine favor. In the book of Acts, where Israel is continually becoming more and more apostate, and James, who was not an apostle, gets the upper hand, it seems utterly unwarranted on their part to assume to dictate to the converts among the nations except as we view this as a foretaste of the kingdom.

“Although Christendom has not given much heed to the decrees, issued by James, the same thing has been repeated thousands of times in its many organizations. Men have arisen and taken upon themselves to rule and regulate the conduct of the saints by means of ‘disciplines’ and ‘manuals’ and other substitutes for the law, usually incorporating a portion of the Mosaic code in their own. All such attempts to bring us into bondage to human, sovereignties and authorities’ are destructive of our completeness in Christ. He has nailed them to His cross. They are hostile to us. They bring us into bondage, after Christ has made us free. In Him we need no regulations from the hands of men” (vol.32, pages 140,141).

Such a specific example of hostility to our peace and happiness suggests a broader application as well. Everything which is hostile to the display of God’s overwhelming grace was nailed to the cross. Even though the sacrifices and rituals of the law (as well as Israel’s place over the nations) will be in effect during the kingdom, they will not be a permanent fixture in the universe.

One of the difficulties with this subject is the element of time. If the Jerusalem decrees (Acts 15) were among those hostile matters nailed to the cross how is it that they were imposed several years after the crucifixion of Christ? How can the temple ritual described in Ezekiel 40-48 ever come about if Christ’s cross marked their end? But we may as well ask how it is possible that we still walk around in these bodies of flesh and suffer sickness and sin when the old humanity was crucified nineteen hundred years ago! There are points in time when certain results of the cross take effect. Paul himself accompanied those who delivered the Jerusalem decrees to the nations (Acts 15:25), but later when he was in a Roman prison he made known “the administration of the secret which has been concealed from the eons in God” (Eph.3:9). There could no longer be any privileges given to the Circumcision over the Uncircumcision. The nations could no longer be subjected to decrees from Jerusalem. Such rules concerning eating and touching (cf Acts 15:29; Col.2:21) have no place in the present administration and are hostile to its spirit as well as to our own enjoyment of grace.

God’s view of time is different from ours. Sin is not fully repudiated until the end of the eons, yet the writer of the book of Hebrews was inspired to say, “ ... now, once, at the conclusion of the eons, for the repudiation of sin through His sacrifice, is He manifest” (Heb.9:26). What happened when Christ was crucified is so vitally associated with the achievement of God’s purpose of the eons that it is viewed as the conclusion of the eons.

The achievements of the cross are applied at different times, but the cross has made them so certain that they can be viewed as accomplished. We know, for example, that vivification occurs at different times. Christ is the Firstfruit of vivification; then at later times His people are vivified; and still later when death is abolished and all enemies subjected vivification comes to all the rest (1 Cor.15:22-28). Yet even today we view God as the One Who vivifies all (1 Tim.6:13).

Similarly, that which was nailed to the cross may still operate during the eons at certain periods of time even after the cross. But eventually these hostile institutions will be completely set aside, and it will be seen that it was the cross which accomplished this victory. In the new creation and in the present period of time in which we live any religious decrees imposed by one nation upon others can have no place. There are times when they have their place, but for us today they have truly been set aside, nailed to the cross.

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GRACE AND VICTORY

There is triumph at the cross (Col.2:15) even as there is victory in resurrection (1 Cor.15:54-57). The imposition of decrees upon us by sovereignties and authorities, whether celestial (Col.1:16) or terrestrial, was nullified when God nailed it to the cross, and that was a victory. The joyful position we have now is that we are complete in Christ Who is the Head of every sovereignty and authority (2: 10). He alone is the Head of the body, the ecclesia (1:18), and He is imposing a new policy upon us.

This new policy is expressed in Colossians 2:13 with these words: “dealing graciously with all our offences.” Under the old regime of the lesser sovereignties and authorities our offences were dealt with by “You should not be touching, nor yet tasting, nor yet coming into contact” (Col.2:21), but this method did not work. Even in the kingdom of the coming eon it will end in failure, for it depends too much upon the flesh. Now the saving grace of God is what trains or disciplines us (Titus 2:11,12). We put away anger and fury and malice (Col.3:8) not because we have to but because God has granted us the grace of being identified with Christ in death and resurrection (3:1-4).

The divine triumph over decrees and commandments and the powers which imposed them is a source of continuous joy for us all. How privileged we are to be living in this era when grace reigns and discipline is effected by the love of God! What a favor it is to realize that all systems which depend for success on our own strength have been nailed to the cross! This alone leads us to the glorious outlook of Colossians 3:17. “And everything, whatsoever you may be doing, in word or in act, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God, the Father, through Him.”

 

Part Four
RECONCILIATION THROUGH THE CROSS

THE THREE OCCURRENCES of the Greek word apokatallassoo (reconcile) in the Scriptures are all in association with the cross of Christ (Eph.2:16; Col.1:20,22). Yet each speaks of a different aspect of reconciliation. In Ephesians 2:11-18 the cross is presented as the means for bringing the two divisions of humanity (Circumcision and Uncircumcision) into one new humanity in the body of Christ. But this applies only to believers. The revelation in Colossians 1:20 is far broader, for there we learn that all creatures who are at enmity with God will be reconciled to Him through the blood of the cross. Then, though the word “cross” is not directly given, we are told in Colossians 1:22 that Christ’s death has already produced this reconciliation between believers and God.

Reconciliation is always made between two parties: Circumcision and Uncircumcision; the estranged creatures of His hand and God; the believers and God. In this study we will concentrate especially on the reconciliation discussed in Ephesians and then conclude this series with an article on Colossians 1:20-22 next time.

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THE NATIONS IN FLESH

The wide gulf that existed between the nations and the sons of Israel before God bridged it with reconciliation seems to have been forgotten. We hear much about the cross, but seldom do we hear about this particular accomplishment of the cross. It is difficult for us living in this day, removed by centuries from the former situation, to appreciate the grace of this evangel of peace discussed in the second chapter of Ephesians. We take it for granted that the distinction of Circumcision and Uncircumcision no longer exists, and we have some trouble in conceiving what it must have been like.

It was not a matter of one nation lording it over the rest (though that often was Israel’s attitude), for one nation or another has done that from time to time throughout human history. Rather it was a division established by God Himself and observed by God in His dealings with mankind. It was indeed a matter of the flesh which defined this division, but it was a matter of access to God which characterized it. The nations in flesh were all those who were far off from God, as far as His revelations and promises were concerned.

At that time God approached humanity in the light of this division. He gave the nations no direct promises (though He gave promises concerning them to Israel) and revealed to them no expectation for their future (though He told the prophets of Israel of many blessings which will come to the nations). Indeed, as far as their understanding was concerned, the nations were “without God in the world.”

The Greek word for “without God” is the one from which we get our word “atheist.” While we use the term to refer to someone who does not believe in the existence of God, Paul uses it in Ephesians 2:12 from the divine viewpoint, The nations were atheists not because they refused to accept the fact of God (actually they believed very strongly in gods) but because God did not reveal Himself to them. They were atheists because God, as it seemed, hid Himself from them.

And the only reason God opened up some revelation of Himself to Israel was because He envisioned the significance of circumcision, the sacrifices, the priesthood and the covenants as pointing to the cross of Christ. This was the value of the citizenship of Israel.*

[*For further discussions of this subject see our publications, THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL and “To Enlighten all as to the Secret,” both by A. E. Knoch.]

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THOSE FAR OFF

In Athens Paul declared that God is “not far from each of us” (Acts 17:27), and this is certainly true in the absolute sense, and it was true even during Israel’s ascendancy that God continued to direct the affairs of all the world in His responsibility as Disposer and Subjector. But in relation to God’s revelation of Himself through the prophets and in respect to direct guidance in their affairs the nations were far off from Him. Israel had the tabernacle and temple, the prophets, priests and kings, “the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the legislation and the divine service and the promises” (Rom.9:4). Although God retained His responsibilities as Deity to all creation, as far as a personal revelation of Himself was concerned He left the nations “to go their ways” (Acts 14:16). He was near as Deity; they were far off in fellowship.

This estrangement from God, however, had another effect on the nations. Not only were they far off from God, but they were alienated from the citizenship of Israel. Humanity was divided within itself between Circumcision (who had a measure of access to God) and Uncircumcision. And this division continued into Paul’s day, causing friction among believers. The fleshly distinctions of birth and rite formed the basis of the disturbances described (for example) in Acts 15 and 21.

Now in Ephesians 2 Paul announces that such distinctions must no longer be recognized among God’s chosen ones. “Yet now, in Christ Jesus, you who once are far off, are become near by the blood of Christ.”

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THE BLOOD OF CHRIST

The enmity which had been built up between the descendants of Jacob and the rest of humanity through centuries of time was destroyed by the blood of Christ’s cross. “For He is our Peace, Who makes both one ... that He should be creating the two, in Himself, into one new humanity, making peace; and should be reconciling both in one body to God through the cross, killing the enmity in it” (Eph.2:14-16).

There is a relief and happiness which comes to us after a war or long conflict when we no longer look upon our former foes as enemies. To find ourselves all on the same side is part of the meaning of “peace.” Often during opposition we come to respect the abilities of our foes even while we oppose them, and then when the arms are laid down we may suddenly be surprised by a desire to clasp hands with our former enemies in reconciliation. Should that occur, it often seems that the new relationship is even closer than before the enmity began.

This is somewhat like what has been accomplished for us in the ecclesia which is the body of Christ. Like all of humanity, from the standpoint of the flesh, we are of two lines of descent. Some believers are of the Circumcision, and some are of the nations and “ termed ‘Uncircumcision’ by those termed ‘Circumcision’ in flesh” (Eph.2:11). But Christ is our Peace. In shedding His blood on the cross, although it was not announced until several years later, Christ was reconciling these two divisions into one joint body (Eph.3:6).

This is an accomplishment of the cross which (as we mentioned above) is little appreciated today, perhaps because any division between Jew and Gentile is not recognized as a major issue within our modern society, though indeed it seems to persist below the surface. Yet we need to appreciate fully the oneness, the togetherness, of all believers. The cross has put aside the flesh, the old humanity, and so it has removed all fleshly distinctions and all fleshly enmity between believers.

That this peace was achieved by such a great sacrifice as the sufferings of Christ and His death on the cross impresses us with its tremendous value. All believers are on an equality in the body of Christ in the matter of spiritual blessings and the privileges of access to the Father. And just as God was the One Who established the division in the former times, it is God and God alone Who has established this reconciliation of the members of Christ’s body, and this He has done through the cross of His beloved Son.

Our position and all our privileges are based not on the flesh, birth or genealogy but on the blood of Christ. No tension or jealousy can exist where we are all as one in the joint body of Christ. The cross has accomplished the same and equal results for everyone of us.

One of the key terms associated with the cross is the word “together.” We were crucified together with Christ (Gal.2:20; Rom.6:6) and are identified together with Him in the blessings which resulted from the cross (Eph.2:4-6). In Ephesians the Greek word sun which means “together” is sometimes translated as “joint” or “fellow.” In such cases the word sun is generally a prefix to another word, producing combinations such as “fellow citizen” (2:19) and “joint body” (3:6).

The importance here is that both Circumcision and Uncircumcision are together as one in the body of Christ. Although there are distinctions between individual believers as far as their service in the Lord is concerned, there are no distinctions as far as our position in Christ is concerned. We are all being saved in the realm of and for the display of grace, “and this is not out of you; it is God’s approach present” (2:8). We all have equal access to the Father (2:18). We are all “being built together for God’s dwelling place, in spirit” (2:22).

Hence it can be seen that this togetherness is not only an equal joining of two groups of believers, but it applies as well to all the individual members of the body in their relationship to one another. The reconciliation established through the blood of Christ has brought us all into fellowship. We are all objects of grace. We all can approach our Father with confidence and assurance. We all are being built up together into God’s dwelling place. And since this allows for no distinctions among us as to our standing before God, and no discrimination as to the measure of blessings received, and no special privileges as to the object God has in view for us, our whole attitude toward one another is affected.

Yet where there was a division in Paul’s day between two groups, Circumcision and Uncircumcision, there have developed countless divisions between groups of believers in the centuries which followed. Nevertheless, even as the blood of Christ razed the barrier between the two, so has it removed all the barriers which divide us today. We should not recognize any of these walls of separation. They are all matters of the flesh, man-made divisions of creed and ritual and organization.

The attitude for today is peace. Should our fellow believers erect barriers against us we must not force our way into their midst, for that would be an act of the flesh (Gal.5:19,20; Eph.4:31,32), but in spirit we are to refuse to recognize these walls of separation. Our prayers go out for all our brethren; our love must not be diminished even toward those who malign us; and we welcome all who believe in and honor our Lord into fellowship. This message of reconciliation (established by Christ at the cross) between believers is a very practical one and much needed by us all.

This is how Paul expresses it in Ephesians 4:15,16: “Now, being true, in love we should be making all grow into Him, Who is the Head—Christ—out of Whom the entire body, being articulated together and united through every assimilation of the supply, in accord with the operation in measure of each one’s part, is making for the growth of the body, for the upbuilding of itself in love.”

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ACCESS TO THE FATHER

The evangel of peace is that good news that God was in Christ conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them (2 Cor.5:19), that both Circumcision and Uncircumcision are reconciled through the cross (Eph.2:16) and that the universe will be reconciled to God through the blood of the cross of the Son of His love (Col.1:20). All the way through, this evangel is a matter of peace and fellowship.

Since there are no fleshly divisions in the body of Christ we can turn to this further phase of reconciliation, which is access in one spirit to the Father (Eph.2:18). The two groups are reconciled in one body, but this reconciliation does not stop on the horizontal level between believers but continues on the vertical level “to God” (2:16). This is the reconciliation enjoyed by all the members of the ecclesia with our God and Father.

This means that the darkest of all evils and the most shameful and hateful of all man’s hostility toward God, the cross of Christ, becomes the basis and channel of peace with God. Not only are we justified in the blood of Christ, but we also receive the great blessings of conciliation and reconciliation through this sacrifice. Now we can come to the Father freely in fellowship, jointly in communion, at all times, under any condition, concerning all the affairs of our lives. The way of access is open.

And this blessing can be enjoyed with no distinctions made as to who we are in the flesh. We are “one new humanity” and have the access to the Father “in one spirit.” In our continued enjoyment of peace the characteristic word, as we have seen, is “together,” which is what true peace demands. Nothing else can be appropriate to the evangel we have received.

Let us revel in this work of reconciliation. There is no room left for enmity either between Circumcision and Uncircumcision or between believers and God. This is one of the greatest blessings which come out of the cross of Christ—no friction or turmoil or stress between members of the body and no estrangement between us and the Father. This is good news indeed, but more than a welcome message it is a spiritual blessing which multiplies in assurance and peace in a very practical way, and is a daily gift for our joy. May God be praised for His great achievement of reconciliation through the cross.

 

Part Five
THE BLOOD OF HIS CROSS

THE HIGHEST revelation concerning the cause, the meaning and the result of the cross is that given in Colossians 1:19,20. This is most fitting since Paul’s letter to the Colossians is more fully concerned with the glories of Christ than any other portion of Scripture. Here the scope of Christ’s sacrifice includes not only Israel, not only believers, not only mankind, but all that is at enmity with God including even the invisible forces in the heavens. Here Christ Himself is distinguished from all other authorities in the universe and is called by one of His most unique and precious designations: the Son of God’s love (1:13).

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A PRAYER FOR REALIZATION

The prayers of Paul should become our own. The apostle did not cease praying that God’s chosen ones might be filled full with the realization of God’s will (1:9). This is in reference to what he calls in Ephesians 1:9 the secret of God’s will, and it is concerned with the cross. We need a full recognition, a realization of the character of God and His ways, which can really be known only as we center our attention on the crucifixion of Christ and its results.

Why do we need this particular prayer? Why should we pray especially for a realization of God’s will? It is because we normally think of God’s will in terms of our own will. It seems reasonable to us that God wills the same little, temporary bits of happiness which we are always wanting for ourselves. Or else, if we are particularly religious, we think that God wills that we gather together large numbers of converts or build up successful organizations for His cause. If this is what we think God’s will is, we are all wrong.

The delight of God is that Christ be exalted above all authorities and powers. The delight of God is the reconciliation of all. The delight of God is to accomplish all this through the cross of His beloved Son.

The scope of God’s will is greater beyond comparison than all our imaginings. This alone is difficult enough for us to grasp. But even more difficult is to see how the cross is involved. God’s will is only achieved through the sufferings and fearful agony which His Son endured, even to death. Surely we all need to pray fervently for a realization of this.

On the one hand, God’s will needed darkness (1:13), estrangement and enmity (1:21), all of which line up with the words “blood” and “cross” on the negative side. On the other hand, God’s will looked ahead to the manifestation of “the Son of His love” and to reconciliation, lined up on the positive side. The positive glory could not exist unless there came first the negative shame. Certainly we need to pray unceasingly that we be able to grasp this mystery “in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Only on this foundation can we be made ready “to walk worthily of the Lord for all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the realization of God.”

Failure to pray this prayer in sincerity and willingness to accept what God says, results in a distortion of truth and a diminishing of power for our lives. Too many believers refuse to accept the humiliation and sufferings involved. Too many of us also refuse to accept the full extent of God’s victory. Many claim that God’s delight and His will are doomed to disappointment. What He wants to do, they say, will never be done. There has been little prayer for the realization of His will.

It would be well for us never to use the word “mere” in reference to God’s attitudes and operations. Neither His will nor His delight is a “mere” matter. The dimensions of His loving purpose are vast (Eph.3:14-21). What He is accomplishing through the cross goes far beyond what any man has ever dreamed or hoped.

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THE SON OF GOD’S LOVE

God’s will is wrapped up in His Son, in the Son of His love. It involves the darkness of the cross and the shed blood, but this is in order to bring the glory and victory into sharper focus, yet not only that, but without the sufferings there could be no glory and victory at all. We ourselves know the experience of sin and failure. We are aware of “the jurisdiction of darkness” since we know weakness, pain, sorrow, fear, guilt, shame and even despair. Yet God’s will is to rescue us out of this jurisdiction and to transport us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.

The aorist tense is used in Colossians 1:13 to show that this rescue and transportation is a fact. In spirit it is already true. In the daily life of a believer it is developing as his experience, especially as he prays for realization. In expectation, it will come as our full experience when Christ, our Life, will be manifested (Col.3:4).

But God’s will is not only concerned with transporting us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. It is first of all that there be a kingdom of the Son of His love. That is, God’s delight is to give Christ a kingdom which relates to His Sonship and God’s love for Him.

Now, at this point, we all need special prayer for wisdom and spiritual understanding. In the phrase, “ the blood of His cross,” what does the “His” point to? What word or phrase in the context is the antecedent to the pronoun “His”? Surely it is this phrase in verse 13 which we have already noted so often: the Son of His love. Reconciliation is channeled through Christ, not as the Saviour (Jesus), nor as the Anointed One (Christ), but as the Son of God’s love. The cross, the blood which was shed, and the work of reconciliation are special manifestations of God’s love to His Son. It was God’s love which sent Christ to the cross, but not love for mankind alone, but love for Christ.

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THE BLOOD

The will of God, and His love for His Son, envisioned that Christ would shed His blood. Reconciliation cannot be achieved without the blood, which speaks of suffering. In Leviticus 17:11 we read (CV): “For the soul of all flesh, it is in the blood.” The soul is a matter of our feelings and senses. Christ laid down His soul (John 10:17) which became sorrow-stricken to death (Matt.26:38).

These sufferings were necessary for the work of reconciliation, which in turn makes it possible for Christ to receive a kingdom of the reconciled. These sufferings were so severe and vast in their extent that they will lead to a reconciliation no less vast. The reconciliation is to be universal. The kingdom of the Son of God’s love will eventually include all, for the shed blood of God’s beloved Son can deserve no less.

In this we can see how it was that God’s love for Christ as His Son prompted Him to prepare the sufferings of the cross. We can begin to grasp the significance of Isaiah 53:10, where we read, “Yet Yahweh desires to crush Him, and He causes Him to be wounded.” Indeed this is no “mere” matter, but rather it is a revelation into God’s heart which astounds us with awe and wonder.

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THE CROSS

As the blood speaks of pain and agony, so the cross speaks of humiliation and shame. The death on the cross was a sacrifice, but it was an extremely ignominious one, far more shameful than the sacrifices under the Mosaic law. It was a method of execution not even found in the Old Testament. It was a curse to be hung on a tree (Deut.21:22,23), but this was a nailing to a stake, as was done to the lowest of criminals and outcasts. As such it demanded estrangement between God and His Son (Matt.27:46), yet this was an estrangement which ended all estrangement.

How amazing it is that this humiliation becomes the background for the display of God’s love for His Son! It prepared the way for the exaltation of Christ above every throne and lordship and sovereignty and authority, and every name which is named.

Even as the shame of the cross was necessary for the glorious reign of Christ as the beloved Son, so also was His humiliation necessary in order for us to be glorified with Him. “For the One not knowing sin, [God] makes to be a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God’s righteousness in Him” (2 Cor.5:21). But even here, the glory which arises from the humiliation of Christ does not end. Through the enmity of the cross the enmity between God and His creation is removed. It was God’s love for His Son which prepared the cross so that He might achieve reconciliation.

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RECONCILIATION OF ALL

In conciliation the barriers are removed between God and man (2 Cor.5:18,19). In reconciliation there is a full appreciation and enjoyment of the peace and access which this removal of enmity has produced. The cross assures this establishment of peace in the hearts of all of God’s creatures, but it is only believers who enjoy it “now” (Col.1:22) as we persist in the faith and are grounded and settled and are not removed from the expectation of the evangel of grace (Col.1:23).

However, every point of this evangel demands that the reconciliation be universal and eventually apply to all who are estranged. The blood, the Son’s sufferings, demands that all enmity be removed from the universe. The cross, the Son’s humiliation, demands that full value be given for the price paid. God’s love for His Son demands that He receive a kingdom of fully reconciled creatures, and that none be denied to Him.

We do not need the word “all” here to be assured that the reconciliation is universal. But it is here, and it is the same “all” as in verse 16. We have not made much progress in realizing God’s will if we do not accept the significance of this “all.” The blood and the cross of the Son of God’s love will affect the entire universe and bring it into a rule of peace and glory, even as the poet Whittier expressed it (perhaps not fully realizing the truth of his words):

Never yet abyss was found
Deeper than that cross could sound;
Deep below as high above
Sweeps the circle of God’s love.

Finally, then, let us be praying without ceasing, that we might be growing in realization of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. May we have a greater grasp of the significance of Christ’s cross and the glory of the kingdom of the Son of God’s love, so that we might be walking worthily of the Lord for all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the realization of God.

D. H. Hough

 

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