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Relevance is Irrelevant (Part 5)

This entry is part 5 of 14 in the series

"Relevance is Irrelevant"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

This series is applying the words of Paul in the early chapters of 1 Corinthians to ministry in the 21st century. In part 1, we looked especially at Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 1:17, that when men rest on a particular manner of ministry other than the proclamation of the cross of Christ, that manner of ministry actually empties the cross of its power. In part 2, we saw from verse 18 that the message of the cross is powerful as it lifts up Jesus Christ to be received by faith by its hearers. When the gospel is preached, God works in sinners through the Holy Spirit to bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In part 3, we highlighted the contrast between worldly wisdom (or wisdom obtained through human reason and insight apart from special revelation) and the wisdom of God in 1 Cor 1:19-25. The message of the cross is the wisdom of God because it a revealed message. When we think we can figure things out by ourselves, we are bound to ignore the wisdom of God revealed in Scripture. Moreover, when we dress up our presentation of the gospel with the so-called relevance and value system of this age, we are actually trying to make it attractive based on a bankrupt system of values. Part 4 then looked at Paul’s “proof” for the power of God in the gospel–the “unremarkableness” of the Corinthian congregation. Today we see Christian congregations fawning over evangelical celebrities, while for Paul the real demonstration of the power of God was in the fact that the Corinthian church was a bunch of nobodies.

Therefore all of chapter 1 points at the supernatural power of God in the message of the cross. It is that message, so repugnant and foolish to the world, through which God wants to save men and women. Indeed, it is through this message of Christ crucified that God wants to put on display his wisdom and his glory. The world is blind to this glory (otherwise they would not have crucified Jesus). Christians see it because the Spirit has shown them that the Holy Spirit-inspired message of the cross comes from God himself.

This leads directly into Paul’s statement to close out chapter 1 in verses 30-31:

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

One of the biggest kept secrets of our age is that God is extremely jealous that he gets glory. He wants us, the little insignificant and confused men who roam this sphere of dust, to get no glory. He wants it all. Paul stresses that even the way he brings men and women to salvation is so that he will get glory. That’s what he says in verses 28-29: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

Moreover, it is because God wants to get the exclusive glory for salvation that he has established the manner of salvation thus. “Because of him you are in Christ Jesus.” That is, it is because of God that we are in Christ. It is God’s doing, not our own. Specifically, in verse 29, it is because “God chose what is low and despised.” Praise the Lord he chooses the low and despised, the foolish and weak, the powerless and ill-born sons of men to share in his salvation. Otherwise I would be out. You too, probably. But God chose us who are insignificant nothings so that he would get glory. And so it because of him that we are in Christ Jesus–because he chose us.

Of even more significance in verses 30-31 is how Paul describes the results of our being “in Christ.” As we are in him, Christ becomes to us the wisdom of God. Again, the “wisdom of God” (v 30) is directly opposed to “the wisdom of the wise” (v 19), and “the wisdom of the world” (v 20). In Christ and the revealed message of the cross we see what God is really trying to accomplish in this world. It is, “righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

If the children of this age were trying to invent a message of salvation, we know what it would like, for we hear this message of salvation around us. Sometimes it sounds like, do all you can to live for earthly and bodily pleasure and comfort. Sometimes the world’s message of salvation sounds like a promise of health. Sometimes it sounds like environmentalism. At other times it sounds like an undefined goal of higher evolution or the dominance of technology. Or perhaps we hear the world’s “gospel” in a hope of prosperity (we especially hear this from politicians, whose main job at the current time seems more to be to secure national wealth rather than govern justly). If we were thinking up salvation, we’d never think to emphasize the things God emphasizes.

But the things God emphasizes, which only comes through a crucified Messiah Jesus, are the things that address our biggest problems. Through Christ God promises us righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. This is God’s wisdom. This is his wise plan of salvation–to be declared innocent of our sins and righteous before our Creator (righteousness); to be made holy (sanctification) through the work of the Holy Spirit by the death of Christ; and to be purchased (redemption) out of the grasp of Satan and sin, freed to serve God with holy love. That is the message of salvation. It is foolish to the world, who sees no need for these things. But for those of us who have tasted the sweet glory and delight of the Gospel, it is God’s wisdom bound up in a single person.

And why does God even take the steps to set  the parameters for what true Wisdom is and to define what true Salvation is, such that the children of this age are blinded to it? Why does he present a plan of salvation that is so dependent upon himself in all that is involved, from its very nature to its complete provision? Why does he provide a salvation that comes through Jesus alone? The answer rings in verse 31, “So that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'” He does what he does so that we will boast in the Lord–so that he will get the glory.

Can you grasp how striking Paul’s words are here? Here are, in verses 28-31, two earth-shattering affirmations of God’s single purpose in making salvation “difficult” for the worldlings. He wants to get the glory. He takes away from us every opportunity to claim any acclaim for ourselves. He knocks down every crutch of human dependence. He turns upside down every attempt of man to get glory for himself. He wants the glory. He wants no human being boasting before him. He wants everyone who boasts to boast in the Lord.

And this strikes at the heart of our manner of ministry. If we set up crutches for the gospel, we are subverting God’s desire to get all the glory. If we think we need to put make-up on the message of the cross to make it more appealing to the unsaved, we are robbing God of his glory, the very thing he is purposing to establish. It is in the very foolishness of the message of the cross that God uses to get glory. Relevance is irrelevant. If we appeal to base desires as a kind of “bait and switch” to get people interested in the wisdom of God, we are actually undermining God’s very purpose in the difficult message of the gospel. What is more, we are showing that we really do not believe that God has the power to continue to bring men to himself through that simple message of Christ crucified.

Entertainment Christianity is utterly destructive because it robs God of glory in adding a worldly luster (which is no luster at all) to the preaching of the cross. Relevant techniques thwart the wisdom of God and consider it foolish. Religious gimmicks actually work to glorify the man-wrought wisdom God wants to destroy for the sake of his own glory. God’s message of salvation is difficult for men to accept on purpose. O, may we as churches heed these words of Paul and all their implications for us. If we don’t, we seeking to rebuild the idolatrous temples God wants to destroy through the revealed message of salvation. We are undermining the chief end for which we were created, robbing from God the greatest thing the God who saves us wants, the glory of God itself. Of course, in the end, God will be glorified whether we choose to glorify him or not, but one shudders to think of what he will do to those who  in the name of Jesus Christ deliberately oppose and thwart that glory because of an unbelief in the divine power of the message of Christ’s cross.

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About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).