Paul finished his epistle to the Romans with a doxology highlighting his gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ. He affirmed the “foolish” preaching of Christ crucified to the Corinthians in the first chapter, coming back to it in the opening verses of the second chapter . . . Christ, crucified . . . combined with personal weakness rather than eloquence and oratorical power. In Ephesians 3 he describes the grace of God given to him to preach to the Gentiles the riches of Christ. In Galatians chapter 3 he summarizes his ministry among them as a public placarding of Christ crucified.
So was Paul dull and predictable, or did he grasp something profoundly significant? I vote for the latter:
1. People are dead in sin, which means they are inwardly curved in on themselves. They can’t “uncurve” their souls, and we certainly can’t prise open this deadly incurvature. Only by the attractive force of a greater love can this self-love be captured and drawn out. Jesus came and told us plainly that when he is lifted up, he will draw people to himself. The drawing force of Christ and Christ crucified is therefore critical and central.
2. Preaching that promotes christian living, but doesn’t offer Christ, is not helpful at all. If we simply instruct people how to behave and act like christians, then they will co-opt and corrupt that instruction to serve their incurvedness. “If that is what it takes to get the benefits of church community or eternal heavenly blessings, then I will do what you say, in my independence from God.” This is the danger of not grasping the heart-centred nature of humanity and the gospel.
3. Paul knew that true relationship with Christ is about transformative response, not pressured responsibility. He was distressed that the Galatians had gone off after another gospel, which was no gospel at all. He had preached and presented Christ crucified and they had responded. But now they were being pressured by the law-preachers. Paul didn’t call this a marginal mistake or a slightly wrong emphasis. He called it deserting God! Amazing statement. How can taking the Law more seriously be akin to deserting God? Let me urge you to read through Galatians and take a fresh look at this critical issue. Paul offered a response-based gospel of the Promised One and the Spirit who brings us into intimate relationship with Abba and transforms our character as we walk with Him in relationship. This has New Covenant stickers all over it, but if we get our eyes off Jesus and back onto ourselves, then we turn from God’s provision back to the self-orientation of our old “life” . . . a bad move in every way. (And this is why Paul would keep coming back to preaching Christ and Him crucified, not christian values and us pressure-fied.)