Excerpted from In Defense of the Faith W.A. Criswell (1967).
1 Corinthians 15:1-3: “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”
There are two kinds of Christianity. There is a Christianity of social improvement, of economic amelioration, of civic betterment. If Christ is preached at all, He is presented as a great humanitarian, a noble reformer, a magnificent martyr. If its disciples use the word “salvation,” they mean a reconstruction of the social order. Confucius was a great teacher, contributing to the welfare of society.
Socrates was a great teacher, contributing to the welfare of society. Aurelius and Justinian were great teachers, contributing to the welfare of society. And Jesus was a great teacher, contributing to the welfare of society. He was nothing more, except possibly the best among many peers.
There is, also another kind of Christianity. It is a Christianity of redemption. In this message God in heaven was moved by the tragic plight of a lost human race, a race condemned to die by judgment upon their sins. In mercy and in love God came down in human flesh and took upon Himself our sins and died in our stead.
Through faith in this atoning Christ we are forgiven our iniquities, we are restored to God’s favor, we are saved from eternal penalty of our transgressions. Simon Peter spoke of that marvelous salvation like this: “Christ also suffered for us…who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree,… by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:21-24).
And again he wrote: “…ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold… but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:18-20).
In the Christianity of social improvement, the death of Christ is but an incident, though a moving devotion. In the Christianity of redemption, the death of Christ is the cardinal truth around which all other truths revolve. Take away the death of Christ from the first type of preaching and the preacher is not particularly troubled.
In fact, he would like to rid the volumes of theology and the hymn books of any reference to such blood and suffering. To him the preaching of the cross is an offense, a part of a religion of the shambles and the butcher shop. Take away the death of Christ from the second message and there is nothing left. The preacher no longer possesses the “good news,” the evangel of the forgiveness of our sins. There no longer remains any hope of heaven nor any promise of the world to come.
Which of these two kinds of Christianity is the Christianity of the New Testament? Undoubtedly, it is the Christianity of the cross.
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 6:14).
At the heart of the Christian faith is the cross; the cross in all its naked hideousness, as the Roman would have it; the cross in all its philosophical irrationality, as the Greek would have it; the cross in all its shame and offense, as Paul describes it.
“I declare unto you the gospel… by which ye also are saved… how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-3).
“And, I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
If it is the Christianity of the book, it is the Christianity of the cross.
Words of Grace for Strength:
“He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit”(John 19:30b).
Dr. Criswell’s thesis is that without the Cross there is no Christianity, that the Cross is central to our faith because it is where our redemption was assured. As certain today as it was when Dr. Criswell penned the words in his book, there seems to be two kinds of Christianity being preached from pulpits around the world.
This apostasy is more grievous than all of the other false religions and cults combined, because there are countless numbers of souls being led away from God the Father, because false teachers and false prophets have abandoned the cross. It should bring deep pain to any Christian to see anyone throw away the only thing worth keeping, the only thing that cannot be earned, the only thing that is freely offered, the only thing that once accepted cannot be lost.
As our Lord Jesus was crucified, hanging there suspended between heaven and earth He cried out, “It is finished” and with that statement, the work His Father had sent Him to do (the work which none in the history of the world before or since could do, only Jesus), was done. It was the work of atonement and redemption. He poured out His life as an offering for our sin and then bowed His head before His Father.
The Scripture here says “He gave up His Spirit.” No one took it from Him, He willingly dismissed His Spirit and died. His death was voluntary. He was completely in control and again, did what no other man could do. These three words, “It is finished” were His announcement that victory over sin and death were assured, that Satan’s fate was forever settled, for he willingly died and placed Himself into His Father’s hands.
The certainty of His burial, resurrection and ascension would soon be accomplished, but with these three words the way of atonement for all men had been provided, redemption was assured for all who would believe, for all who would accept the gift provided, and make Him Lord of their life. This is Christianity!
Today I plead with you to examine the preaching and teaching in the place where you worship. If the message is on social justice, if the message is on prosperity, if the message is on civility and tolerance… ask… Where is the Cross?
The message should be about what Christ did for you, not what He can provide for you… Atonement, forgiveness, redemption, are all at the Cross of Christ. For if you understand that message of what He did, you know with certainty that you do not need Him to provide anything else.
Run to the Cross, cling to the Cross, for at the Cross is where you find true Christianity!
Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!
Turn to the Cross because the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for His church, true Christianity, is imminent.
Jesus is Coming Soon!
Even So Come.
Dr. Tuck Whitaker and Andy Coticchio