“Enemies of the Cross” (Philippians 3:18 sermon)

A few weeks ago, this July, a large cross that stood at the top of Mt. Tzouhalem (zoo-HAY-lem), a popular lookout spot on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada, was cut down overnight, and removed from the area. No one claimed responsibility for it, but many people shared the picture of the vandalized area on social media, and applauded the removal of the cross. One man tweeted that the cross had been removed, and simply commented, “Cool.” 

You might look at the perpetrators of that crime, or at other groups which have lobbied or sued in court for crosses to be removed from public places, and say, These people are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” And in some sense they may be. But the most important issue is not what you do with any physical “cross” made of steel or wood, but what you do with the doctrine of the cross: the Biblical belief that it is the Jesus’ death on the cross that saves us from sin. That is what Paul is referring to in 

Philippians 3:18, where he writes, 

“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ.”

When he calls them “enemies of them cross of Christ,” Paul is not saying that these people are going around removing crosses from public places. He is talking about people who are the enemies of the doctrine of the cross; that the death of Jesus alone which saves us entirely from our sins. Let’s look at several ways that we can be “Enemies of the Cross.” 

I. By ADDING to the cross of Christ. 

You can be an enemy of the cross by teaching that something IN ADDITION to the cross is necessary for salvation. Paul dealt with this a lot in the early days of Christianity. The Judaizers we’ve mentioned before would come into Christian churches that Paul had started, and teach them that they needed to be circumcised, and observe the Old Testament Jewish rituals, in addition to the cross of Jesus, in order to be saved.

Paul dealt with this in several of his letters to New Testament churches:

— The whole letter of Galatians is all about how the church at Galatia had been taken in by these “Judaizers.” So Paul wrote things like: 

— 2:16 “We have believed in Jesus Christ, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” He reminded them, we are not saved by those Old Testament works, but by faith in the cross of Christ!

— He wrote in 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, ‘cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” The “tree” there is the CROSS!  He says Jesus saved us from the Law by His death on the cross — you don’t need to add anything else to it!  

— and he ends this powerful book by saying at the end of the last chapter (6:14) “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ …”. He says THE only thing I boast in; THE only thing I hope in for my salvation, is the cross of Jesus. Nothing else.

He taught this from time to time in other places in the New Testament as well, to people who tried to “add” something to what Jesus had done:

— to the Corinthians who were bragging about their baptisms, he wrote that he was glad that he hardly baptized any of them, and then he said in :17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.”  He’s emphasizing to them: it is not even baptism that saves you; it is the GOSPEL; it is faith in what Jesus did on the CROSS. Don’t add anything to His death on the cross in your trust for salvation, not even baptism! 

— We just saw earlier in Philippians 3, in the message, “4 things that won’t save you”, how Paul called these false teachers “dogs” and “evil workers,” because they were trying to teach people that you have to add something besides the cross of Jesus to save you. He says here these are “enemies of the cross.” Because t is only faith in the cross of Jesus that saves.

— In Colossians 2:8 he told the church there, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men … rather than according to Christ.” And he went on to say in :13-14 that “When you were dead in your transgressions … HE made you alive again … having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross”!  He says Jesus saves you, by taking the list of all your sins and nailing it to the cross!  It’s not the traditions of men that save you, but what Jesus did for you on the cross! 

The New Testament teaches repeatedly that it is faith in the cross of Christ alone that saves, not anything else; not anything added:

NOT Baptism, NOT the Lord’s Supper, NOT Church attendance, NOT your good works. The cross and nothing else. 

When Jesus died on the cross He cried out: “It is FINISHED.” That Bible word is “Tetelestai;” it was a business word used in that day that meant “it is paid IN FULL.”  

You’ve seen financial transactions like that, that have said, “Paid in Full.” 

I have note among my financial papers at home for one of our cars, and across that note it says “paid in full.” That car is “paid in full.” So, if it is “paid in full,” how much do I have to add to it now? NOTHING, right? Because it is “paid in full.” 

And the Bible says it is the same with our salvation. Jesus took our sins and He nailed them to the cross, so now they are “paid in full”!  So what do we need to add to that? NOTHING! We add NOTHING to it. Not baptism, not money, not good works, NOTHING!  “NOTHING in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” 

The message of the cross is that Jesus’ death on the cross pays entirely for our sins. We add nothing to it. Is that what you’ve been trusting? Or have you been hoping to get into heaven because you’ve been baptized, or because you’re “a good person,” or because you “go to church”? It may be that today you need to put your full trust for your salvation in the cross of Jesus ALONE.  

But the Bible says that anyone who tries to teach that you need to add something in addition to cross of Jesus to be saved, is “an enemy of the cross of Christ.” But there are some other ways we can be “enemies of the cross of Christ”:

II.  By teaching the cross was not NECESSARY.

Some go even further than saying that you need to ADD something to the cross; they would say, you don’t even NEED the cross to be saved.  This is a very common teaching today; that God will just forgive you and skip over your sin, without the cross of Jesus. These are “enemies of the cross” because they teach that the cross was not necessary.

There are many groups today which teach this. Many believe that any sincere religious person will be saved and go to heaven, whether they believe in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross or not. They believe the cross is not necessary.

— The Muslims are another group which believes the cross is not necessary for salvation. They teach that God could not become a man, and that although Jesus was a good prophet, He was just a man, and not God, and that He did not die on the cross for our sins. They say that God rescued Him off of the cross, and He did not die; therefore He did not die for our sins. They teach that you are still accountable to God for your sins, and your good deeds must outweigh your bad for you to have a chance at Paradise. They teach that the cross has nothing to do with your salvation. 

— The Buddhists teach that after your life here on earth, you are reincarnated, either to higher state of existence, or, if you lived a bad life, to a lower form of life (maybe you become a frog, or some such — so they are very kind to animals — that may be a relative!) In their system, hopefully you will get better and better each lifetime, and to into higher and higher existences, but they do not believe the cross has anything to do with it.

And most of the religions of the world are that way: they teach that the cross of Jesus was not necessary; and it does not save. Most of us are aware of that. But we also need to be aware of another, more insidious kind of teaching that has really taken hold in the United States of America today.

A lot of people consider America to be a “Christian” country, because our nation was founded on Christian principles, and there are many Christians in it. But the truth is that perhaps THE most popular religion in America is NOT genuine Christianity, but instead what is called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”  This term was coined by a couple of sociologists (Christian Smith & Melinda Denton) from a study they did of young Americans in the early 2000’s. After studying what young Americans believed, they said that THE primary belief in America today is what they called this “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Its beliefs include:

  • A God created the world and watches human life
  • This God wants people to be nice to each other
  • The goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself
  • God doesn’t need to be involved in your life except to solve a problem
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

I think Smith & Denton have really hit on something here. This IS the religion of most people in America today: God’s there to help you feel good about yourself, and all good people go to heaven. That is what most people believe. That is the “general cultural religion” of America today. You can believe that and pray to this god; you can believe that and go to most churches today; you can believe that and sing “God Bless America.” See, we need to be aware of this, and realize that when a lot of people in our country talk about “God,” they don’t mean the Triune God of the Bible, who exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— they are thinking of (what I call this “generic god,” this “moralistic therapeutic deistic god.” So we need to be careful about assuming that everyone who uses the word “God” really has a Biblical understanding and is saved. There is a very good chance that they are not Christians at all; but that they are “moralistic, therapeutic deists”!

But notice that there are some pretty important things that are MISSING from the beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:  One is any mention of sin. There’s no mention of sin there at all; it teaches that god just wants you just you do whatever feels good to you.  Another thing missing, is the cross of Jesus. There is no mention of Jesus, or the need for the cross in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism; they don’t need it, because they believe that “all good people go to heaven.” 

The problem with that, the Bible teaches, is that there are, technically speaking, no “good” people. The Bible teaches “there are none righteous; not even one.” “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” just casually omits the deep nature of sin, that has totally infected our hearts and minds and lives as human beings. And it is totally ignorant of the uncompromising holiness of God; that God is a pure and perfect God, a God of justice, who must punish sin.  

This is WHY there had to be a cross. It took the cross for God to be able to forgive us. God loves us and wants us to be in heaven with Him; but He is perfect and just and must punish sin. So what can He do? There was only ONE answer: the cross of Jesus; for Jesus to die on the cross, in our place, and pay for our sins.  That was the only way it could be worked out. There was no other way. That is why when Jesus asked the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane if there were ANY other way, NOT to send Him to the cross. But God sent Him to that cross — BECAUSE THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY OF SALVATION BUT THE CROSS!

The cross was necessary, because it is only the cross of Jesus which allows God to be what Romans 3:26 says is both “just, and the justifier” of the one who has faith in Jesus. That phrase, “just and the justifier” is key one. You need to be familiar it:

— “Just” means that God can remain a Holy God, who condemns and judges sin. (Some say, why can’t God just “skip over” our sins, and forgive us without a cross? That’s what the Moralistic Therapeutic Deists would say. He’ll just skip over our sins. We don’t need a cross. But in that system, God is not “just;” He has not punished sin. 

So how can we be forgiven then? It is only through the cross of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross, taking the punishment upon Himself, so that our sins HAVE been paid for. So now He can be the “justifier.”  “Justifier” means this same Holy God is able to forgive our sin now, and to consider us “just” before Him; because our sin has indeed been punished — by the death of Jesus on the cross. So now, with the cross God is both “just,” and the “justifier” of the one who puts their faith in Jesus’ death on the cross. 

But you see THE CROSS OF JESUS IS ABSOLUTELY VITAL IN THIS. It is only the cross which allows God to be both “just and the justifier” of those who have faith in Jesus.  

But for Moralistic Therapeutic Deists, and all the other religions of the world, the cross of Christ is the “missing ingredient.” 

I saw a very interesting book on the internet the other day, it was called “The Missing Ingredient: The Curious Role of Time in Food and Flavor.” And the book is all about how cooking is NOT just about putting a bunch of ingredients together; that TIME is an essential – but often overlooked – element in cooking. You’ve got let it sit for the appropriate time; you’ve got to let it boil for just the right amount of time; you’ve got to let smoke in the smoker — or age if it’s cheese — for just the right amount of time. TIME, the author said, is “The Missing Ingredient” for many in cooking. You can throw a bunch of stuff together, but you can’t be a great cook without this “missing ingredient” of the correct TIME. 

In the same way, the cross of Christ is “the missing ingredient” in so many belief systems today. So many religions say, we are very similar to Christianity; we teach that you ought to do good; we teach that you ought to love others; we teach that there is a heaven or a paradise; see, we are just like you! But unfortunately they all have this “missing ingredient,” without which you can’t have a relationship with a holy God, and an eternal home in heaven. YOU MUST HAVE THE CROSS OF CHRIST. You cannot do without it. The cross is “the missing ingredient,” and those who try to teach about God and heaven and salvation without it, are missing the most important ingredient in salvation. They are misled themselves and they are misleading others, and so the Bible they are “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

III.  By not LIVING for the cross.

I would venture to say that most people listening to this message would say something like, “Well, I am sure not one of those ‘enemies of the cross’, Bro. Shawn. I know that the cross was necessary, and I know it is by the cross of Jesus ONLY that we are saved. But still yet, there is another way by which you can be an enemy of the cross: by not LIVING a life that reflects a real commitment to the cross of Jesus. You can be an enemy of the cross by living in a way which denies the cross you claim to follow. Paul says, “I tell you even weeping,” some people are living this way; they bring discredit to the cross with their life. 

Titus 1:16 says there is a kind of person of whom it may be said: “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him.” That is, this person SAYS they know God; they CLAIM to believe in the cross, but if you look at their life, you wouldn’t think they did! “They profess to know God, but by their DEEDS they deny Him”!  We all know the old adage: “your life speak louder than your lips.” You can SAY that you believe something, but your LIFE can show that you really believe something else — because it is in total contradiction to what you SAY you believe. 

When that happens — when your life doesn’t live up to your profession — it is dangerous in at least two ways:  1) it is dangerous for you; and 2) it is dangerous for the people who are watching you. 

First, if your life is contradicting your belief in the cross, it is dangerous for YOU. If Jesus has really saved you by the blood of His cross, your life should show it. II Corinthians says you are now “a new creation” in Christ. You aren’t going to be perfect, but you will be different. If you say you believe in Jesus but your life is not different, that does not bode well for you. You need to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves”, as Paul writes in II Corinthians 13:5.

But secondly, and even worse, when you profess to believe in the cross but don’t live like it, you hurt others who are watching you, and you can turn them away from faith in the cross of Christ.

For example, in the book, My Father, Bertrand Russell, (who was a well-known writer and atheist in the 1900’s) his daughter, Katharine Tait, writes that Russell was not open to any serious discussion of God’s existence. She said: “I could not even talk to him about religion.” Russell was apparently turned off by the kind of religious believers he had encountered. She said, “I would have liked to convince my father that I had found what he had been looking for, the ineffable something he had longed for all his life. (Because Russell did indeed write that he was looking, longing for something beyond himself). She said “I would have liked to persuade him that the search for God does not have to be vain. But it was hopeless. He had known too many blind Christians, bleak moralists who sucked the joy from life and persecuted their opponents; he would never have been able to see the truth they were hiding.” (Roy Varghese, Preface, p. XX-XI, Anthony Flew, There Is A God)

She was saying her dad WANTED to believe in something more, but the so-called “Christians” he encountered, turned him away from the cross.  This kind of testimony is all too common. There was a teacher in our high school growing up who said the same thing about a group of young men from one of our churches, who had made a big deal about being “saved,” and acted very ‘religious” for a while at school — but in subsequent months their lives did not match their profession, and she looked at what those guys were doing and said, “If you all are supposed to be Christians, I don’t need that kind of religion.” 

Now, some of those guys may not really have been Christians at all. Others of them may really have been Christians, but just weren’t living out their faith. But the truth is, those guys were “enemies of the cross of Christ,” because their LIFESTYLE discredited the cross to people like that teacher who saw they way they were living.  

This should be one of our biggest motivations to holiness as Christians. Thank God, we don’t have to “try to be good” to be saved; Jesus paid it all at the cross — that’s what we talked about earlier. But then some of us get too lazy with it; and think: well, Jesus paid it all, so it doesn’t matter what I do or how I live. Yes it DOES matter what you do! Yes it DOES matter how you live. The world is watching you. What do they see? Does your life reflect the holy God that you say you have come to know through the cross?  

When Hudson Taylor went to China as a missionary, it took he and his party of 16 missionaries and four young children, four months to sail to China. Taylor’s son wrote: “At close quarters on that little sailing ship character was tested, and it was easy for the crew to see how far these passengers lived up to their profession. Needless to say they were keenly watched, at work and in their hours of relaxation. Doing  all they could to make the voyage pleasant for the ship’s company, the missionaries prayed and waited. Then the sailors themselves (then) asked for meetings, and a work of God began which resulted in the conversion of a majority of the crew. (TAYLOR, p. 128)

By watching Hudson Taylor and the others, at “close quarters” in day to day living in the trials and hardships of that sailing journey, those sailors were pointed to Jesus by the way Taylor and his friends lived. 

The question is, what about YOU? Are YOU pointing people TO the cross, or AWAY from the cross, by the way you live?  

You need to ask yourself seriously, is there anything I am doing right now, that might cause someone else to stumble? Is there anything in my life that might cause Paul — or even the Lord Himself — to say of you: “they are enemies of the cross of Christ”? 


— Are you trusting in anything other than what Jesus has done on the cross to save you; your baptism, going to church, good works? Today, put your trust in Jesus & His death on the cross ALONE …

— Maybe you’d say that “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” has basically been YOUR religion; and you need to put your trust in Jesus

— If you’re giving your life to Christ today, you DO need to be baptized — NOT to save you; but to tell the world you’ve trusted Him and are not ashamed.

— Maybe you need to join this church

— or maybe you would have to admit: my LIFE has not been one that has pointed  people to Jesus. God may be speaking to you about a specific thing in your life that needs to change today …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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