Christ Crucified: Our Only Theme, pt. 2
by Fred G. Zaspel
We have been examining the claim (boast?) of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that he preaches nothing but
Christ crucified. All else was deliberately put out of his mind so that he might preach only this. We saw that this gives us a
window into the apostle’s thinking: this same apostle who preached “the whole counsel of God” preached only Christ
crucified! He had learned to read his Bible as a Christian, seeing it as a book about Jesus, and this gospel focus characterized
all his preaching.
Why was this so important? Why does the apostle lay this down as the template for all Christian ministry? He has
already given us his answer in the previous chapter: because although the preaching of the cross is “foolishness” to those
who are perishing, to us who are being saved - to us who are called - it is the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18, 23-24).
That is, the preaching of this message is the means God uses to claim and transform his people.
Paul speaks like this in Romans 1:16, where he tells us that the gospel is “the power of God to salvation.” He argues
all throughout 1 Corinthians 1 that God has chosen to save by means of the proclamation of this message that the world
thinks foolish. Although it is thought foolish, it is nonetheless the message that God uses to save.
But surely Paul’s point here goes beyond thoughts of initial conversion. All he ever preached was “Christ
crucified.” Even in the church, where, presumably, his audience is largely believing, his preaching retained this gospel shape
and focus. Why? Because the proclamation of this messsage is the means God uses to claim and transform his people.
Even for believers, this message is the power and wisdom of God.
Paul exhorts Titus along these very lines. He exhorts him to preach and affirm the message of the gospel “so that
those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and
profitable for people” (Titus 3:8). That is, a gospel focus in preaching to believers best serves to the promotion of Christian
living. Should we exhort concerning Christian responsibility in our preaching? Of course, but always within the explicit gospel
context of Christ crucified; otherwise our preaching is little more than mere moralism.
All this is reflected in the apostle’s own experience. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, for example, he affirms that it is only his
grasp of Christ’s redeeming love that compels him to faithfulness in service for him. So also in Ephesians 3:14-19 he prays
that his fellow believers will increasingly attain the goal of their calling (“be filled with all the fullness of God”) by means of
an increasing grasp of the immeasurable and sacrificial love of Christ. Certainly there are other motivating factors that play in
also, but this gospel-Christ focus is paramount. Simply put, the preaching of Christ crucified is the means by which God
transforms his people. And this is the testimony of every one of us who have any experience in grace at all.
For this reason the apostle’s exhortations in regard to Christian living are so often gospel-shaped. Matters of ethics
and practical godliness are regularly couched in gospel terms - Christ who loves us and washed us from our sin (Eph. 5:22-
33), our freedom from sin’s dominion in Christ (Rom. 6), our union with Christ (Rom. 6; Col. 3:1-4), Christ’s ownership of us
by right of redemption (1 Cor 6:18-20), the transforming effects of the gospel (1 Cor. 6:11), God’s gracious provision of the
Spirit in Christ (1 Cor. 6:19; Phil. 2:12-13), and so on. All these kinds of concepts are regularly on the lips of the apostle as he
exhorts us to Christian duty. Similarly, exhortations to Christian virtue are regularly referenced not only to Christ our model
but also to the redemptive provisions of his death. The Christian responsibility to godliness and faithfulness grows from and is
motivated by a renewed grasp of what Christ has done for us. Everywhere Paul’s preaching is gospel-shaped, because this is
the message by which God transforms his people.
May I apply this further? It would seem that here the apostle exposes a fundamental mistake in much “Calvinistic”
preaching. I am myself deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrines of grace, but something seems very awry when
preaching is dominated more by an emphasis on divine sovereignty than on the cross of Christ. These two are not opposed,
of course, and Paul preached both emphatically. But his center of gravity was clearly “Christ crucified” - informed by
considerations of divine sovereignty, yes. But his center of gravity was the cross. Anything else leaves the message skewed.
By the same token, this exposes a fault in much Arminian preaching as well. Almost inevitably the emphasis lands on
man, his will, his ability, his choice, his decision, and so on, rather than on the success of Christ crucified.
This is the error of various forms of legalism also. The burden, the whole focus becomes, in Paul’s words, “touch
not, taste not handle not,” rather than on the sufficiency that we enjoy in our Lord’s finished work.
This is the really telling indictment of so much of the contemporary Christian music of the last generation or so. We
hear much of praise and much praise of praise, but comparatively little of Christ crucified. (Thank God for those who are
now seeking to reverse this trend!)
All of this falls short of the apostolic paradigm. The mark of Christian preaching and the distinctive of all truly
Christian ministry is “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” B.B. Warfield got it right when he wrote this:
Christianity is summed up in the phrase: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” Where this
great confession is contradicted or neglected, there is no Christianity.
“Christ crucified” is the very reason for Christianity. It is the centerpiece and turning point of history. And the
preaching of this message is the means by which God claims and transforms his people.