The Crucifixion of the World
“Far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Galatians 6:14)ERV
There is no question of greater interest to the church of our day than that which deals with her relationship to the world. “The world” here simply means mankind in its fallen state, and its alienation from God. Christ regarded it as an organized system or kingdom, the very opposite and the mortal enemy of His kingdom, ruled by a mighty unseen power, “the god of this world,” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and have a spirit pervading it and giving it strength. He emphasized His own identity, saying, “I am not of the world.” (John 17:14,16) And just as definitely He taught His disciples, “Ye are not of the world.” (John 15:19) He warned them that because they were not of the world, the world would hate them as it had hated Him. Of His sufferings He said: “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” (John 14:30) “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:53) “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) In the hatred that nailed Him to the cross the world revealed its true spirit, under the power of its god. In the cross Christ revealed His Spirit, His rejection of the world with all its threats and promises. The cross is the seal of His word, that His kingdom “is not of this world.” (John 18:36) The more we love the cross and live by it, the more we shall know what the world is, and be separate from it.
The difference and antagonism between the two kingdoms is irreconcilable. However much the world be externally changed by Christian influence, its nature remains the same. However close and apparently favorable the alliance between the world and the church, the peace is but hollow and for a time. When the cross is fully preached with its revelation of sin and curse, with its claim to be accepted and borne—then the enmity is speedily seen. And nothing can overcome the world but that which is begotten of God.
Glorying in the Cross
In our text we see how clearly Paul felt and how boldly he proclaimed the enmity between the cross and the world, “[I] glory… in the cross… through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Galatians 6:14)ERV He was so identified with the cross that its relation to the world was his. The cross was the separation between them. The cross was the sign of the world’s condemnation of Christ. Paul accepted it; he was crucified by the world and to it. The cross was God’s condemnation of the world. Paul saw the world condemned, and under the curse. The cross was the everlasting separation between himself and the world as it is. The cross alone could be their meeting place and reconciliation. It was for this he gloried in the cross, and preached it as the only power to draw men out of the world to God.
The view many Christians take is the opposite of that of Christ and John and Paul. They speak as if in some way the curse had been taken off the world, and its nature somehow softened. They think of educating and winning the world, by meeting it halfway, with offers of friendship. They regard the work of the church as being to permeate the world with a Christian spirit and take possession of it. They do not see that to a far larger extent, the spirit of the world permeates the church. The offense of the cross is done away with, and the cross is so adorned with the flowers of earth that the world is quite content to give it a place among its idols.
War with the Enemy
In war there is no greater danger than underestimating the power of the enemy. The work of the church is a war, an unceasing battle. “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)ERV The world is sinful humanity. It is not a mere collection of individual men, led on by blind chance in their sin, but they are unconsciously motivated by one organized force, a power of darkness led by one leader, the god of this world. “Aforetime ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2)ERV Only by fully receiving this truth will the church become capable of understanding the meaning of the cross, and see how its purpose is to draw men out of the world. And only then will it have the courage to believe that nothing but the persistent preaching of the cross in all its Divine incomprehensibility is what can overcome the world and save men out of it. The powers of the other world, “the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places,” working here in men can only be conquered and brought into subjection by a higher power, the power of God, by Him Who “having spoiled principalities and powers… made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in [the cross].” (Colossians 2:15) It is the cross—the cross with its sin and curse and death, with its love and life and triumph—which alone is the power of God.
The great power of the world consists in its darkness. “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)ERV “Our wrestling is… against the world-rulers of this darkness.” If any part of the spirit of this world be in the believer or the church, to the same extent are they incapable of seeing things in the light of God. They judge of spiritual truth with a heart that is prejudiced by the spirit of the world in them. No honesty of purpose, no earnestness of thought, no power of intellect can understand and receive God’s truth farther than the Spirit of Christ and His cross have indeed expelled the spirit of the world from within. The Holy Spirit, tenderly waited on and yielded to, is the only light that can open the eyes of the heart to see and know what is of the world and what is of God. And we can only truly yield to the Holy Spirit as we take the cross, with its crucifixion of the flesh and of the world, to become the law of our life. The cross and the world are diametrically and unchangeably opposed to each other.
This is the ruin that sin wrought. Man was meant to live on earth in the power of the heavenly life, in fellowship with God and obedience to His will. But when man sinned, he fell under the power of this present invisible world, for the god of this world rules it, and uses it as a means of temptation and sin. Consequently, man’s eyes became blind to spiritual and eternal things, while things of time and sense mastered and ruled him.
Some speak as if the cross of Christ had so taken away the curse and power of sin in the world that the believer is now free to enter into the enjoyment of it without danger. They say that the church has the power, and even duty, of taking possession of the world “for God.” This is certainly not what Scripture teaches. The cross removes the curse from the believer, not from the world. Whatever has sin in it, has the curse on it as much as ever. Whatever the believer is to possess of this world and its goods must first be “sanctified by the word of God and by prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:5) Nothing but having the evil of the spirit of the world revealed to us by the cross and Spirit of Christ, and His same power animating us and freeing us from it, can keep us so that we can be in the world, but not of it. It cost Christ His agony and blood-sweat, His awful death-struggle, even the sacrifice of His life, to conquer the world by the cross. And nothing less than a full and hearty entrance into fellowship with Him in His crucifixion, can save us from its power.
Crucified with Christ
In the Epistle to the Galatians there are several passages having reference to the cross of Christ. Only one of them speaks definitely of the Atonement: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse… being made a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13) The others all bear upon the fellowship with the cross, and its relation to our inner life. When Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20)ERV; “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh” (Galatians 5:24); “I [am crucified] unto the world” (Galatians 6:14)—he speaks of a life, an inward disposition, a spiritual experience, in which the very spirit and power that animated Christ, when He bore the cross, is maintained and manifested. There are many who profess to make their boast in the cross, and count their faith in the righteousness of Christ as our justification before God, as the great proof of their faithfulness to Scripture. And yet, in their wholehearted enjoyment and toleration and participation of what is of the spirit of this world, they prove that the glorying in a cross which crucifies the world has no real place in their religion. The cross that atones, and the world that crucified, are astonishingly at peace. The cross that crucifies the world as an accursed thing, and keeps us crucified to it, is unknown.
If the preaching of the cross not only for justification but for sanctification, not only for pardon of sin but for power over the world, and an entire freedom from its spirit, is to take the place in the church that it had with Paul, we must beseech God to reveal what He means by the world, and what He intends by the power of the cross. It is in the lives of men actually and clearly crucified to the world and all that is of it, that the cross will prove its power.