“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” Philippians 3:18-19
It’s a sad reality that many “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” It’s sheer insanity that sinners would oppose the only remedy for their destruction, lust, shame, and earthly-mindedness. This grim reality brought tears to the eyes of the Apostle Paul and should do the same for us. Should we not weep for those who reject the medicine that could heal their souls? Why would anyone oppose the good news of salvation through the death of Christ on the cross?
Some unbelievers enlist as enemies of the cross because they would rather attempt to secure their own righteousness before God by their good works. Legalists are enemies of the cross. They hate the cross because they do not see their own need for the cross. They nullify the grace of God by asserting that righteousness comes through the law, but “if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21). The word of the cross is folly to them (1 Corinthians 1:18), and they perish.
Other unbelievers are enemies of the cross because they love their sin and refuse to repent. “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20). Libertines are enemies of the cross. They believe that the grace of God is a license for sin (Jude 4) and that they should sin that grace may abound (Romans 6:1). Little do they comprehend that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).
Satan’s messengers always disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:15). They pretend to be friends of the cross. Enemies of the cross may be happy to speak of the death of Christ as a good example for us to follow. Or they may develop other “theories” of the atonement that sound attractive to naïve Christians. But you can always discover whether a man is an enemy of the cross by asking him about the death of Christ as our legal substitute. Enemies of the cross foam at the mouth when they hear that Christ bore our sins in our place! Ask them, “Did Jesus Christ bear the wrath of God for you? Is that good news to your soul?” They don’t want to hear about how Christ suffered the wrath of God as a substitute for the sins of his people. They find this repulsive and completely reject it. Enemies of the cross don’t see their need for a wrath-absorbing sacrifice. They may even speak of the idea of propitiation as outdated. Lovers of the cross know better.
Enemies of the cross will disguise themselves and make the message of the cross into a theology of glory. They will preach the cross as a way to have personal happiness or success or improve self esteem. They will speak about how Christ died to make you healthy and wealthy. They will soothe and entice the unsound Christian with their cleverness and seductive speech. Discerning Christians will recognize that they have stripped the gospel of the cross because they hate the cross. They abhor the idea that our right standing with God depends entirely only the bloody death of the sinless Son of God.
The enemies of the cross hate the cross because they do not understand it. They are spiritually blind to the glories of the cross. They cannot comprehend the depth of the Father’s love and the Son’s sacrifice. Enemies of the cross find it strange and revolting that Christians sing about the cross, glory in the cross, and preach the cross. True preachers resolve to know nothing except Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). The cross of Christ is everything to them. Likewise, true Christians cannot leave the cross of Christ behind for health and wealth, principles for living, how to have a positive self image, antinomianism, moralism, or any other such thing. “But far be it from me to boast expect in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Be on guard against the enemies of the cross! Know the truth about them and do not join their ranks! “Their end is destruction.” They shall be judged by God on the last day. They travel the highway to hell. They “disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:8), and they were “long ago designated for this condemnation” (Jude 4). “Their god is their belly.” They lust for food, drink, money, and sex. False prophets are always trying to make a profit. “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!” (2 Peter 2:14). Sometimes they do this by teaching that the grace of God excuses sin (antinomianism). At other times they do this by making merchandise of God’s people by telling them that they must obey the laws of men in order to be righteous before God (legalism). Sometimes they fill their coffers with a marketable idea like the health and wealth teaching that is popular in charismatic circles. But they are hungry, ravenous wolves who shall devour the sheep unless the sheep can be wise enough to discern that they are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). “They glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” How can men be so proud of a life that is so morally repugnant in the eyes of God? The cross of Christ brings forgiveness and cleansing, but earthly-minded enemies of the cross have no need for such spiritual commodities. They would rather continue to pursue the pleasures and possessions of the world.
We should be saddened by the folly of those who consider themselves to be enemies of the cross. Paul told the Philippians about this “with tears.” They have joined the wrong side of a battle in which the stake is eternity. “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (Psalm 119:136). Why would anyone want to be an enemy of the instrument of their salvation? Perhaps there is no greater hubris in the whole world than standing in opposition to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.