“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2-3)
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23-24)
How often do we hear our salvation gospel evangelists attempt to lure seekers to Jesus with promises of personal gain for all the benefits they can get. Come “get” eternal life, come “get” gifts of the Spirit, health, wealth, and prosperity, and get it now by merely praying a prayer with us. Come “get” salvation at no cost or obligation! Jesus had to suffer greatly before He received His ultimate reward (Phil. 2:9-11, Isa. 53:10-11). He had to die, and it is no different with us. The message of the gospel of the kingdom is precisely the picture of the One who preached it: “You will receive none of My gain until you suffer My loss.”
Paul said the cross was the message we were to preach as a matter “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). Jesus’ first words to the world were, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The cross represents the repentance true salvation is dependent upon, and the place Jesus “repented” for us all. It was not only to be our initial experience of repentance, but according to Luke He commanded it was to be a part of the process of following Him from our conversion forward. It is a place not of gain, but of loss—tremendous loss.
The cross is the entry point to the kingdom, and a quality we must carry with us on our journey through the kingdom. Jesus said we were to take it up daily, and Paul said we were to be, “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10-11). The cross is where the old flesh dies so we “may present our new bodies as living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1). The cross is where we must agree to abandon our privileges and abundance in this life, counting all as rubbish that we might gain Christ’s presence (Phil. 3:8). It is the only thing we should boast in (Gal. 6:14) because it means boasting in humility, and the only act extreme enough to have healed the breach between a holy God and sinful men (Eph. 2:15-16).
A.W. Tozer says, “The cross is the most revolutionary thing ever to appear among men. The cross of Roman times knew no compromise, and it never made concessions. It won all its arguments by killing its opponent and silencing him for good. It spared not Christ, but slew Him the same as the rest. He was alive when they hung Him on that cross, and completely dead when they took Him off of it.”
At the cross we must be humbly prepared to be completely undone—“completely dead”—to our past in the kingdom of man that Jesus might fully prepare us for the doing He desires to accomplish in us in His new kingdom. The cross is not some sort of perfunctory inconvenience we render lip service to on the way to obtain all the gains we want from God with no muss or fuss, as the gospel of salvation teaches. It is the critical and only way to the uncompromised death of self so the abundant promises of life in Him are realized in the kingdom of heaven on earth! The cross of which I speak is not found in the gospel of salvation’s sinner’s prayer, nor is it “a matter of first importance thereafter” to those who preach it because that would make the message inconvenient and unpopular, and the gospel of salvation is if nothing else tailored to be convenient and popular.
The journey required by the gospel of the kingdom is all or nothing, beginning with the cross where the dividing line between the two is established. As Tozer said, it knows no compromise and makes no concessions. It does not allow you to keep the old wine in its new wineskin. It forbids you pick and choose what of your former life you want to keep and what you want to jettison. It demands total and unconditional surrender! The cross requires a man humbly submit to becoming nothing of himself before he can become everything in Christ. It is where our old identity in the flesh is exchanged for our new one in Him.
If we take the cross lightly, as the gospel of salvation does, those spared the full force of its power will continue to treat God lightly thereafter. If we allow people to take sin lightly there, as the gospel of gain we preach today does, then they will take sin lightly thereafter. People sold the gospel apart from the cross by modern day evangelists is one reason we have so many filling pews who know not the true meaning of grace, the fear of God, or the reality and power of the kingdom or the enemy, and thus pursue their faith so casually.
The perfect picture of everything I speak of here is found in the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10. Here we find a wealthy young man who came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. In other words, “Master, what is YOUR gospel of salvation?” Jesus responds by reciting several of the Ten Commandments. To this the young man replied, “I have kept all these things all of my life.” How many of us could lay claim to that proclamation? Wouldn’t you think that would qualify him? Under the gospel of salvation most certainly, but not so for the One who preached the gospel of the kingdom! The story records Jesus felt compassion for the man, just as we do for seekers today. But unlike those preaching the gospel of salvation who would assure this young man of eternal life in a nano-second Jesus said, “Not so fast. This you lack. Go and sell all you posses…and you will have treasure in heaven! Then come and follow Me.” Unconditional surrender! No compromise and no concessions! If you want the gain you must first suffer the loss.
Is the gospel of the kingdom about great gain? Absolutely, for the kingdom offers more abundance than anything the world possibly has to offer! However, until we kneel at the cross to lose all through repentance, humility and death to our former man, none of it is available. The riches of heaven on earth are granted only to “new creatures in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17) who “are no longer conformed to this earth because their minds have been transformed so that they may prove what the will of God is” (Rom. 12:1-2) through transformed lives. That transformation begins at the cross with the loss. It is inconvenient, humbling and oh, so unpopular. But then Jesus said the way to eternal life would be narrow and few would be those who would find it (Matt. 7:14). The gate to the kingdom opens through the gospel of the kingdom Jesus preached and was. But it’s all or nothing, for there is no compromise in that gospel. It wasn’t meant to be popular, just transformative!