The Stumbling Block of the Cross

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Have you ever felt inadequate? I know I have. The sense that what you’ve done is not good enough and you’re hopelessly under expectations. Or that where you’ve been placed now is something you didn’t earn. With that always comes a sense of shame that not only what you’ve done isn’t good enough, but you aren’t. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught myself comparing my social media following to more popular celebrities my age. Then the question arises: Have I done enough for God and is what I am right now accepted by Him? Specifically, do I deserve to be loved?

The passage in Galatians 5 shows us something: the more we try to earn righteousness, the more we end up separated from it. It says in Galatians 5:3-4 “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” If we place ourselves willingly into circumcision as Christians, Jesus no longer is our righteousness. No, in fact the act of circumcision is meant to be a ritual to show that one is going under the law. In doing so one would nullify the grace of Jesus and willingly place themselves under sin again.

Doing good works is like making a staircase of sand to reach God in Heaven. It’s not gonna happen

Isn’t that what we do? A legalistic view of God says that we must in some way earn our relationship with Him. That we are sinful and can never measure up to God, so we have to find a rational way to close the gap. The problem is none of our works will ever be sufficient. Isaiah 64:6 says “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before God. They can’t make us holy because the standard for holiness is perfection. Doing good works is like making a staircase of sand to reach God in Heaven. It’s not gonna happen.

For legalists in the Bible like the Pharisees, the Cross becomes a stumbling block. The Pharisees entered into something opposite of what they were trying to achieve: idolatry. Not only did they make others stumble, but they also elevated traditions and rules to the same place as God.

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in Matthew 15:3 saying, “He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.”

The Pharisees became so obsessed with the external view of religiosity that they were completely missing out on a relationship with God

In this passage, Jesus calls out a trick some of these people would pull by dedicating all their possessions to God. In declaring all their possessions as a gift to God, they could say their resources were not available to their parents. This was outright disobedience of God’s Word. The Pharisees became so obsessed with the external view of religiosity that they were completely missing out on a relationship with God. They completely missed the point of God’s Word in the first place: to bring us closer to Him.

The offense of the Cross is that it requires nothing of us-not our laws, our religion, our rules, nothing. None of that can measure up to the cost paid on the Cross by Jesus. Jesus’ death freed us from having to earn our way to salvation and from the penalty of our sin (Romans 8:2). He gives us a way to step into Holiness by living in a love relationship with Him. What I said earlier about the standard for Holiness being perfection was true.

The kindness of God is found in Him not placing the burden of perfection on us, but on Himself. God fulfilled that standard by sending His Son to defeat the power of sin and death. The Pharisees denied the righteousness of Jesus and in turn pushed themselves away from true life. They disobeyed the law and caused others to stumble by placing ridiculous burdens on them. Jesus came to lift those burdens and show us the true meaning of the law: love. Galatians 5:14 says “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.””

When we today try to work for righteousness, then the Cross becomes a stumbling block for us. The law of sin and death held us captive, but Jesus came so that there would be no more condemnation on us (Romans 8:1). The Cross exists to realign our authority from sin to Jesus; from the law to grace (Romans 6:14). Our call today is not to earn love and righteousness, but to believe that we are already loved and free of religious burdens. God wants our heart, that’s it. We learn to live for Him each day and honestly it’s not going to be perfect. Nevertheless, the God who formed the universe says that we are worthy to be loved so breathe deep y’all. We’ve been freed by Christ, so now we get to live free of expectations and shame. In relationship with God is where we find all our questions of worth answered and the freedom to be loved.

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