The Cross and the “Spiritual”

Consider D. A. Carson’s concluding reflection from his exposition of 1 Cor. 2:6-16 in The Cross and Christian Ministry (pp. 62-63):

What it means to be “spiritual” is profoundly tied to the cross, and to nothing else… This lesson is especially important when so many Christians today identify themselves with some “single issue” (a concept drawn from politics) other than the cross, other than the gospel. It is not that they deny the gospel. If pressed, they will emphatically endorse it. But their point of self-identification, the focus of their minds and hearts, what occupies their interest and energy, is something else: a style of worship, the abortion issue, home schooling, the gift of prophecy, pop sociology, a certain brand of counseling, or whatever. Of course, all of these issues have their own importance. Doubtless we need some Christians working on them full time. But even those who are so engaged must do so as an extension of the gospel, as an extension of the message of the cross. They must take special pains to avoid giving any impression that being really spiritual or really insightful or really wise turns on an appropriate response to their issue.

I agree with Carson that we must make the cross, the message of the crucified Messiah, the center of our self-identification. How often have I used a litmus test issue to judge another Christian and identify myself with a certain group? Some of the loudest amens are heard in churches when a pet issue is reinforced. These are the verbal “slaps on each other’s backs” by the more spiritual. But where are the amens when the gospel is proclaimed?

There are varying degrees of maturity among believers, but not varying degrees of spirituality. Every believer is spiritual because he/she has the Spirit. One believer is not more spiritual than the other. And the spiritual understand “what God has freely given us” (1 Cor 2:12). We understand the message of the cross! Praise God for that kind of “spirituality.” As Carson concludes:

We must recognize that what it means to be wise, what it means to be spiritual, is to embrace, by the help of God’s Spirit, the message of the crucified Messiah.

5 thoughts on “The Cross and the “Spiritual”

  1. This is a great post. I had read it a few months back and had meant to comment but was distracted. I believe you are right that the loudest Amens come when someone preaches on our pet issues. This may be reflective of our own pride. However, I wonder how loud the Amens should be when the Gospel is preached in an evangelistic setting. It seems to me that a serious and prayerful attitude where we are praying for the Spirit to regenerate his elect should be our disposition. This is to say, it may be more appropriate to have internal Amens so that those around us are not distracted from the message. Would you be in agreements with my assessment?

    One additional item, would you mind sending me your email address? For some strange reason I have apparently lost yours. Take care, my friend.

  2. Dr. McCabe,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree with your assessment on amens in evangelistic settings although I admit that setting was not necessarily in my mind. My point in this post was to simply compare how people enthusiastically react to preaching of pet issues but show little enthusiasm when the gospel is expounded and applied for the lives of the redeemed. It is as if the cross was great for getting saved but now that we are “post-salvation” there are other things to be consumed with beyond the gospel.

    I think we should not move beyond the message of the cross. Rather, we should go deeper into the glories of Calvary. It is the fuel for growing in sanctification and love for the Savior. And the gospel is what should stir our souls the greatest. For through the gospel the Spirit regenerates the elect, sanctifies the elect, and keeps the elect for the glory to be revealed.

  3. Jeff,
    I agree with you that we should enthusiastically embrace the message of the Gospel. When we get tired of the message of the Cross, we have gone too far.
    I suspect that when you refer to going “deeper into the glories of Calvary” you are referring to the whole Gospel message, as expressed in a book such as Romans. Would this be a fair assessment on my part?

  4. That’s exactly what I mean. For example, our group studied through the last part of Romans 8 a few weeks ago. There was great joy and worship within our hearts as we contemplated Rom 8:28-30 in particular. And the joy grew stronger as we saw Paul apply the sovereign work of God in salvation (from choosing us in eternity past to justification now to glory forever)in verses 31-39 so that absolutely nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love in Christ. These are just some of the glories of Calvary that we need to keep gazing upon and applying. No one can bring a charge against God’s elect for God justifies us. No one can condemn us because Christ died, rose again, and intercedes for us.

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