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Who are the “enemies of the cross”?

There are, of course, people who proudly raise their finger when you ask “who is an enemy of the cross of Christ?” Some followers of other religions and atheists will do so. But there is also a less obvious answer to this question. Paul says in Philippians 3:18, “many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” He is talking about church members here.

How do I know that? In Philippians 3:17 he talks about good examples and in Philippians 3:18 about bad examples to follow. The people he writes to would not seek their examples of how to live from outside the church. And Paul writes “with tears” about them. This makes it clear that he is not thinking about people in general who do not believe in God, but about a specific group of people he knows personally. They had been converted, they had been baptized, they were members of the church, but in their lives they showed that they were enemies of the cross after all. How is that possible? In two ways.

Is Jesus your Savior?

First: the central message of Christianity is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was resurrected for our sanctification (Romans 4:25). The cross reminds us that Jesus was not just a good example. The cross points out our sin. The cross makes clear what price had to be paid to atone for our sin. You can be an enemy of the cross because you don’t want to admit that there is something wrong with you – so wrong that you can’t solve it yourself, but that you need a Savior who gave His life for you.

Some people see Jesus as an inspiring example. They think of Jesus as a wise man. They think of Jesus as someone who shows you who God is. If you see Jesus this way, and only this way, you don’t need the cross. Then you are an enemy of the cross of Christ.

Living in sin

There is a second way you can be an enemy of the cross of Christ as a church member. The Bible teaches that if you believe in Christ, you are crucified with Him. Your old life died with Him on the cross. Through the cross of Christ you die to sin. So if you still love sin, you hate the cross of Christ.

Prioritizing your own desires

In Philippians 3:19, three things are said about those people who love sin: “their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” Their god is their belly, that is, their own desires come first. This can be done in all sorts of ways. You can damage your body with alcohol or cigarettes. You can indulge your sexual desires outside the safe boundaries of marriage. Your beautiful car or your beautiful house or your beautiful clothes can come first in life. Then your belly is your god. Your life can also revolve around doing business or making a career. Those are good activities. You can improve the world by them, you can take care of your family, and you can offer employment to others. But when it comes to money or prestige, your belly has become your god.

There is a popular thought that insidiously makes your belly your god. That is this one: “Christ fulfills your deepest desires”. In a sense, that is true. The deepest desire of every human being is to be happy, to have peace, and to reach your destiny. That happens through faith in Christ. But there is a danger in that we think we will find the ultimate happiness in a love affair; that we will have peace when we have reached our career goals; that we will reach our destination when we have enough money to take vacation forever. When you think like that, and then hear “Christ fulfills your deepest desires”, there is the danger of making Christ the servant of your own desires. Then your belly is still your god.

The biblical way is the other way round. We should not start with our desires, and find out how Christ fulfills them. We must seek Christ, and find out how He is the fulfillment of our desires.

It does matter how you live

Then it says about the enemies of the cross, “they glory in their shame”. In other words, what they are proud of is, in the eyes of God, precisely what they should be ashamed of. Perhaps what Paul means is that they say: because Christ forgives all our sins, we can live the way we want. It doesn’t matter what we do! They are proud of that. But it is their shame. We won’t say today that it doesn’t matter how you live. But in a slightly weaker form, it’s also a danger for us. It’s a danger that we’re not taking sin seriously. But every sin is a shame! Are you aware of that? Do you hate sin? Do you do everything to avoid sin?

Prioritizing earthly things

Finally, it says here about the enemies of the cross that their minds are “set on earthly things”. What does Paul mean by that phrase? After all, if you live on earth, it is quite obvious to think of earthly things. This even has to be. If no one makes sure there is food on the table, you’ll be hungry. We live on earth and we have to be occupied with earthly things.

But what Paul means here is: they only think of earthly things. They think earthly things are more important than heavenly things. If you do that, you are an enemy of the cross. For the cross is a reminder that the Lord Jesus was willing to give up earthly things in order to win heavenly things for us. The cross reminds us that Christ did not stay on this earth because He said His Kingdom is not of this world. The cross reminds us that there is a way to heaven. You cannot be a friend of the cross and at the same time find earthly things more important than heavenly things.

When you read it like this, this phrase comes to you as a serious warning, even as a church member: do not be an enemy of the cross of Christ!

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Marten Visser

Marten Visser (1971), experienced a call from the Lord to be a missionary while in Kindergarten. He received M.Div., Th.M. in Missiology, M.A. in cultural anthropology degrees and a Ph.D. degree in Theology. In 2000 he became a church planting missionary in Thailand with OMF, together with his wife Esther. In 2015 he returned to the Netherlands where he founded GlobalRize. He continues to serve as GlobalRize’s director of evangelism.

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