Saturday, June 19, 2010

What Is The Message Of The Cross?

Yesterday, Pastor Kong Hee wrote a note on his blog, entitled "Reflections". In the note, Pastor Kong wrote:
What is the City Harvest DNA? In essence, it is the message of the Cross — “loving God wholeheartedly and loving people fervently” (Matt. 22:37-40) — while simultaneously crossing over and engaging the culture of our societies so that the message can be communicated in a fashion that is both relevant and attractive to the generation of our times (Matt. 5:14-16).
At first look, there seems nothing wrong with Pastor Kong's declaration but as I pondered over it, the Holy Spirit prompted me to think about this - what is "the message of the Cross"? Is it really "loving God wholeheartedly and loving people fervently"?

Yes, I agree we should love God and love people but that is not the message of the Cross. I'm no theologian but I believe the focus of the Cross is not us but Christ. The Cross is not about what we should do but what Christ has done. The message of the Cross is not about us "loving God wholeheartedly" but rather about God loving us wholeheartedly - for God SO loved us that He GAVE His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life, for God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:16-17).

Many religions teach that we should love God and love people but none of them speak of a God who loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die on our behalf - God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8)- this IS the message of the Cross!

Yes, I agree we should love God and love people but we should not put the cart before the horse - We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19)We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? (1 John 3:16-17)

Yes, I agree we should love God and love people but we should always remember that our love is the fruit of His love for us.  We should not glory in our love for God and people, for our love fluctuates. Instead, we should glory in God's love for us, for His love never fluctuates; nothing good you do can make God love you more and nothing bad you do can make God love you less.

Simon Peter gloried in his love for Jesus but in the end, he denied Jesus three times (John 13:37-38). John gloried in the Lord's love for him and in the end, Jesus chose him, at the foot of the Cross, to serve His mother, Mary (John 19:26-27). Have you received the right message?

(Pastor Prince's free podcast: "Boast Of The Lord's Love For You, Not Your Love For Him")


Charles J Lake said...

I find it shocking and insulting to the Lamb of God, who purchased us with His blood, when the "message" of the cross does nothing more than to re-iterate the sum of the Law. By placing the greatest emphasis ("in essence"/"DNA")) on the actions of the believers rather than the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ, what he achieved on that tree, on that hill, on that very day, the message renders the sacrifice of the Lamb of God as ineffective as sacrificial lamb serial no. xxxxxxxx. Is the message to be communicated that is both relevant and attractive to the generation of our times deliberately designed "in a fashion" to systematically eliminate the place of our Saviour in that message? If so, then the DNA is the blue print for the shuttle to the depths of hell.

Hando Ferreira said...

I deeply and humbly submit that the message of the cross is about embracing the now! It calls us to embrace every single moment as coming from the hand of Our Father. It is the final and complete surrender to the will of God in a life lived in dependence. It is the place of ultimate victory, even in the face of death he refused to succumb to the ego. Jesus calls to us from beyond the cross, reassuring us that no matter what we face, what pain we experience, this too is a gift from the Father that frees us from the tyranny of the ego to the ultimate freedom of life in the spirit.

oli said...

Just to make a few clarifications on CHC. I used to attend it so I've an idea what their emphasis is.

I think it seemed like CHC is all about loving God and His people, and not paying as much attention to whether He loves us. This is actually untrue. That statement is based on their response and heartfelt appreciation for what their Savior has done for them.

KH has preached sermons before on God's everlasting love. He certainly understands you can't love God without first being loved by Him. With that, comes a response. Without a response, that would only contradict our belief in His love. Jesus says if you love Him, you will do as He says.

I don't think CHC is putting the cart before the horse in proclaiming the importance of loving God and His people. It is simply common sense that no person would even want to love God without being loved by Him first. So it's quite pointless to state the obvious.

Anyway, my point is like many critics of Pastor so and so, they don't attend the church long enough before forming their own conclusions. JP has got his fair share of critics from such people. The message of God loving someone is certainly not secondary to loving Him in CHC. Reading from their website is not the best way to form such a conclusion.

Stanley Wong said...

Hi oli,
Common sense in reality is not that common. The fact that God first loves us is actually not that obvious, so it's not pointless to keep emphasizing God's love for us.

The Gospel is all about God's love for us, not our love for God. The bible is full of stories of great men of God failing God again and again.

When the church keep emphasizing that we have to love God and His people, it will inevitably lead to the church being self-centred rather than Christ-centred i.e. the message of the Cross will be about what the church must do instead of what Christ has done.

oli said...

Thanks for your reply. I retract that it is pointless to state the obvious. Nonetheless, it is still important to attend the church long enough to really know what really drives it. The church I attend emphasizes on discipleship but deep down, i know my pastor does not bring down the importance of loving God.

I do like to add an important view here concerning the message of the Cross being simply Christ's love for us. It is important not to sway to extremes when studying the Word. The love of Christ needs to be balanced with the response of our hearts. Yes, it's important to be filled with His love. But that alone is insufficient. We have to love Him in return. In my opinion, as an outsider, that's the thing NCC is lacking in. Thus, there's always this lovey dovey feeling, being relaxed and easy going. But from a biblical perspective, there's also the pains of going through this Christian walk, of carrying the Cross even unto death. I'm not trying to be sadistic but that's what exactly the disciples had to go through to reach the entire world for Christ. They were far from prosperous and their rewards were simply execution, death and hate by most. That's why being loved by Christ alone is insufficient. Judas himself was loved by Christ but he betrayed Him.

Yes. It is important to be loved by God. But it's equally important to love Him. Neither are mutually exclusive. For CHC, i can only say they love God because God touched them, brought many out of a live of sin. Thus, they strive and work hard for His kingdom. If anything, they resemble more of the good old Paul and company than the NCC that i know of. Still, this is only an outsider's viewpoint and hence i stand to be corrected.

MyExceedinglyGreatReward said...

Hi oli. I think all Christians would want to love God more. But how really? There's all these exhortations to love God but how do we "make ourselves" love God genuinely? I'm interested to hear your answers.

Stanley Wong said...

Hi oli,
I think both NCC and CHC want the same thing i.e. for the church to love God and His people but the approach of NCC is different from CHC in that instead of exhorting the congregation week after week through "love God and love His people" sermons, NCC leads the congregation to love God and His people through sermons showing us how much God loves us.

Therefore,like the woman who anointed Jesus' feet (Luke 7:36-50), we would naturally love God much when we realize God first loves us much and we have been forgiven much.

On a personal level, I love God but I'm acutely conscious that whatever I do in my show of love for God pales in comparison to what God and Jesus has done in their love for me. Therefore I boast in God's love for me everyday instead of my love for God, and this makes me very happy indeed.

oli said...

To MyExceed...
John 14:15 says, "If you love me, keep my commandments."

What are His commandments? Mark 12:29 says, "...You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart...this is the first commandment."

What is the message of the Cross? The bible says if we want to follow Jesus, we have to take up our cross and follow Him. Remember the hymn Old Rugged Cross? It's the emblem of suffering and shame. Paul talked about beatings, persecutions in the name of Christ as well as the blessings of following Christ. Remember, none of the disciples were full or even had some decent health and wealth. As a preacher once preached, the apostles must be following the wrong gospel, yes, even Paul. Personally, i think the message of the Cross can be found in the lives of the apostles and many more missionaries who gave their lives for Christ.

oli said...

To Stan,

Therefore,like the woman who anointed Jesus' feet (Luke 7:36-50), we would naturally love God much when we realize God first loves us much and we have been forgiven much.

I think it's quite a dangerous thing to use the word 'naturally', placing the responsibility of following God on God. But the Holy Spirit will not impose on our will. If that's the case, there's no need for repentance. I'm sure Jesus would have forgiven Judas if he repented. I'm sure Judas knows how much Christ loved him. After all, he heard the sermons that Christ preached. Yet, he chose the path to destruction and did not 'naturally' love God. Of course he would not. He made his choice not to.

Your love for God does not pale in comparison to His love for you. They should not even be compared in the first place. Why would a father compare his son's love for him to his love for his own son? As Christ has said to love God is the first commandment. And if we love Christ, we will keep his commandments. There's a responsibility on our part too and as I said, to love and to be loved are not mutually exclusive. To view one with a higher priority than the other is unbiblical as stated so clearly in the words of Christ.

Look at the creation story. Why did God create man? Just because He loved man? He wanted to be loved in return. God says He's a jealous God. He wants our love as much as He wants to give us love. If it's of lesser importance, then Christ would not have said those words. When Paul says he will boast of his sufferings, surely he's not boasting of himself better than God right?

Back to CHC. It's quite tough for me to find fault with their 'cross' as being loving God and loving people. After all, that was what Jesus said about the 2 most important commandments, forming the foundation of the Law and the Prophets.

Not all loved by God will love Him. But all who love Him are definitely loved by Him. This may offend. But it seems CHC has got a more biblical 'cross' message than NCC. In all things, refer to scripture which will outlast and outprove any words of man.

MyExceedinglyGreatReward said...
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MyExceedinglyGreatReward said...

Hi again oli. Actually the passages you quoted do not tell me *how* to love God. I'm really asking *how* to genuinely love God, in the same vein as the real love I have for my family and friends and those that are dear to me. I really want to keep the commandment to love God with all my heart, which you quoted. I just don't know how.

According to another verse you quoted, I know that *if* I love God, I will follow His commandments. The verse however does not mean follow His commandments to love Him more but this seems to be how you are interpreting it. This is in the same vein as 1 John 2:3 which says "we know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands"... In other words, the "obeying" part is a result of the "knowing Him" part and not the other way around.

oli said...

The verse certainly does mean you will keep His commandments if you love Him. In other words, when you don't keep His commandments, you can't say you love Him. For eg, you can't say you love your wife when you commit adultery. That would be a contradiction. That verse is telling us to meet that condition of loving Him, and that is to keep His commandments.

I disagree with your interpretation of 1 John 2:3 purely on the basis of semantics. 'if' forms a condition that must be met first. Thus, we can only know God IF we do this- obey Him. That's not interpretation. That's basic English!

Back to your question on 'how'. 'how' requires a method. The method as Christ says is to keep His commandments. If you keep His commandments, you are demonstrating you love Him. So how you love God more? Keep obeying His commandments. How you keep obeying His commandments? You keep making choices reflective of that. What if you fail to do that from time to time? That's why there's no condemnation in Christ. When we fail, we keep doing the same thing again, to obey Him.

To make it even simpler for you. Look at the life of Christ and that of His apostles. They make the perfect example of how to love God more- not my will, but Yours be done.

Joshen said...

Here's my interpretation..

If a tree does not have fruit, is it still a tree?

If a tree does not take in love and care from the planter, does it have good fruit?

If a christian does not have good works, is he still a christian?

If a christian does not first receive love and care from God, will good works ever come?

Despite what experts say about trees having no brains, they still got more brains than some people. They never fail to receive love and care. People expect people to have fruits before they love and care.

"yea, but bad trees that have no fruit will get chopped down!"

Have you ever seen a tree take in love and care and still fail to have good fruit? It's impossible...

unless the tree grows human brains and decides it'll somehow get love and care from somewhere else..

MyExceedinglyGreatReward said...

Hey oli,

Thanks for the discussion so far.

At least I concur with you somewhat that "when you don't keep His commandments, you can't say you love Him". Where I differ from you in the interpretation of Mark 12:29 is that I read following His commandments as a sign or a result of loving God, and not a "method" to love God more as you seem to believe.

So what I interpret is like this in "basic English": I know that I love my wife IF I respect her wishes.

What you seem to believe is this: I will love my wife IF I respect her wishes.

One is a sign OF love while the other is a "method" TO love.

Now compare with 1 John 2:3 again and see which statement is more similar.

If you still think these verses talk about following God's commandments as a practical method to love God, then I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Personally, I think the key to loving God is found in 1 John 4:19 (We love because He first loved us). What does this verse mean to you oli?

By the way Stanley wrote a great article about this very topic which explains way better all that I want to say in the first place, so I'll direct you to read that instead.

oli said...

Hi Joshen,

While your reasoning is logical, let's look at what James has to say. James 2:14-18 talks about having faith that is dead. In other words, there's no faith without works. Yes, a tree will grow well if it's well taken care of. God has taken care of us. He doesn't need to continue taking care of us as His love is everlasting. We don't need more care and love from God. Have you ever heard the Psalmists or bible writers asking God to love them more? No. Because His love is everlasting and immeasurable. But ours isn't. Thus, we must keep loving God, have faith and demonstrating that faith through works. If not, dead faith isn't faith at all.

oli said...

Hi MyExcee...,

'I (know that I) love my wife IF I respect her wishes'
'I love God IF I keep His commandments'

The act of loving your wife comes from respecting her wishes.
The act of loving God comes from keeping His commandments.

The grammatical explanation is the action in the main clause (loving God) takes place only if a certain condition is fulfilled (IF I keep His commandments).

Thanks for so beautifully illustrating (through the spousal relationship) what it takes to love God.

I also appreciate the beauty of 1 John 4:19. It's in the present tense. It's not in the continuous tense. It says 'We love Him because He loved us'. However, it does not say 'We will keep loving Him because...'

If what you believe is true, then there are no Non-Christians anymore because every single person is loved by God! The apostles gave up their lives for nothing. Again, they must have been following the wrong gospel. You may contend John was writing to Christians. If that's the case, then 'We love' is only a temporal state. Otherwise, in declaring a person loves God through being loved and declaring it to be a permanent state, thus available to all, there's simply no need for anyone to receive Christ because all are loved by God.

It's always easy to agree to disagree. But may I add as Christians, referring to scripture in its totality is vital to prevent drifting from proper doctrine. One verse doesn't tell the whole story just as health and wealth that's mentioned in the bible presents only one side of the story. Yes, permanent wealth and health does exist of course, when you're in heaven. And the founders of Christianity barely even tasted a bit of that during their time on earth.

Lastly, may I refer you to the book of the New Testament, to do a much more in depth critical study of the life of Christ and all the apostles, to study church history from the day of its founding fathers till the end of its legalisation in the Roman Empire. It explains way better what I want to say in the first place. God bless.

MyExceedinglyGreatReward said...
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MyExceedinglyGreatReward said...
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MyExceedinglyGreatReward said...

Of course we should refer to scripture for the basis of our beliefs. But just asking me to read the entire NT and entire church history to explain your stand does not make your point any clearer. It's merely hand-waving at best.

And by the way, we are not called to emulate the apostles or the church founding fathers, so they are besides the point in this case. We are called to be like Christ (who loved the Father). And how? 2 Cor 3:18 says "But we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory". Again, we are not transformed by trying our best to obey His commandments, which we are powerless to anyway if you are truly honest with yourself.

Seriously oli - think about it: If your wife says "If you love me, you will buy me flowers" and you buy them for her, you are hopefully PROVING that you love her, not trying to love her more. In the same way, following all of God's commandments (which is naturally impossible for man to do) is PROVING that you love God, not trying to love Him more.

1 John 4:19 states a fact for believers. We love (Him, in some translations) because He first loved us. I believe every son of God loves (agape) God (and others too) to different degrees. In your case oli, do you love our God because of your human effort in trying to follow His commandments perfectly every single moment? Or was it the Spirit in you revealing God's great love for you that causes you to love Him?

Not that I like it of course, but if we are both adamant on our stand no matter what we say, then I suppose we just have to agree to disagree for now. We'll trust the Spirit in us to reveal how to genuinely love God more and more. I need to grow in this revelation too.

God bless you richly too oli. May you have a great day ahead.

Stephanie said...

Hi Brother and Sister,

I would like to ask you to pause a short while from your arguments and go to my blog. Last night, Abba Father write a post for all His beloved.

Are you His Beloved?

If yes, go read His letter to you!