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Question

What does it mean that the message of the cross is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18)?

message of the cross is foolishness
Answer


The message of the cross is unmistakably clear. The Son of God came into the world to bear witness to the truth, not to judge the world but that the world might be saved through Him (Mark 10:45). This is the power and wisdom of God. The gospel evokes very different responses from its hearers: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak things of the world to shame the strong, and the “low and despised” things of the world to be raised up for His glory (1 Corinthians 1:27–29, NET). This is the wisdom of God. Wisdom is the power of insight to use knowledge to one’s advantage, and God definitely has the advantage. “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who would believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

The message of the cross is that the Son of God was crucified to atone for the sins of mankind and secure pardon and salvation for all who would believe in Him. It is this message that is considered folly by those who are perishing—those who disbelieve God’s sentence of death on humanity and prefer human ideas over God’s truth. The message of the cross is divinely inspired, holy, and eternal. It is the love of God come into the world through the Son to destroy the works of the devil (John 18:37; 1 John 3:8). The message of the cross is the wisdom and power of God to keep the promise of John 3:16, to give eternal life to all who believe in the Son. It is also the grace of God rendering to the believer the gifts of repentance, justification, and sanctification, all of which find their meaning in Christ crucified (Luke 23:33–43).

If the message of the cross is the power and wisdom of God, then why is the cross foolishness to some? Here are some reasons:

1. The cross is foolishness to some because in their wisdom they judge the Bible as an antiquated, mystical book. They see Scripture as irrelevant, silly, and valueless in a post-Christian era. They reject the teaching that they are wretched, poor, miserable, blind, and naked before a holy God (Revelation 3:15–19). “They knew God, [but] they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21–22, KJV).

2. The message of the cross is foolishness to some because it fails the “cleverness test” when compared to the philosophies of men (Colossians 2:8). Some mock, despise, and reject the message of the cross as meaningless and unimportant. Blinded by arrogance and lacking wisdom, they see no beauty in Christ and no value in the cross. God is not mocked by such as these: “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?’” (1 Corinthians 1:19–20, NASB).

3. The message of the cross is foolishness to some because wealth and status can erase the felt need for God and the hope of glory. Though the world is their focus, “all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16).

4. The message of the cross is foolishness to some because in their pride they will not bend the knee at the foot of the cross. They do not allow their hearts to be broken from having sinned against a good, holy, and loving God. They have no godly sorrow driving them to seek forgiveness and restoration with God (Psalm 34:18; 51; Luke18:13; 2 Corinthians 7:9–11; Romans 10:13).

5. The cross is foolishness to some because they love their sin and do not want to change. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24–25). This is a radical call to turn around and go in a new direction. This requires repentance, a change of mind about God and the things of God.

6. The cross is foolishness to some because they reject the idea that a loving God would crucify His own Son to appease His own wrath. They view the cross as slaughterhouse religion, declaring the wisdom of God objectionable. They are mistaken. They do not know the love and goodness of God that condescended to step out from glory (John 1:1–4) to take their place on the cross.

7. The cross is foolishness to some because they are deceived and misled “by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8, ESV). Church movements abandoning the message of the cross are misled by deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). The outcome is another gospel and a Jesus that cannot save. The apostle Paul warned of this eventuality: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:8).

8. The cross is foolishness to some because they do not know the Scriptures. They lack a rudimentary understanding of the Bible, having no foundation. “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Timothy “from childhood” knew the Holy Scriptures, and they were able to make him “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Timothy knew the prophecies, promises, and doctrines of Scripture, and that knowledge was foundational to his faith in the Son of God, the Messiah.

The story of Barabbas’s pardon is a remarkable comparison to the life granted to a believer in Christ. For Barabbas, pardon meant Jesus would take his place on the cross to endure the wrath of Rome (Matthew 27:16–22). For the believer, pardon means Jesus took our place on the cross to endure the wrath of God (Romans 3:24–26). With Rome appeased, Barabbas was released to walk free. With God appeased, we are released to walk in newness of life (Romans 3:25, 8:1; 1 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:1; 1 Peter 3:18).

Those who are blind to the wisdom and power of God need a work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14). They need to see the message of the cross as a loving invitation from God to walk in newness of life (John 14:6). If they continue in unbelief, labeling the message of the cross as foolishness, the tragic result will be fully experienced condemnation from God (John 3:18). There is only one name whereby they can be saved, and that is the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).

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What does it mean that the message of the cross is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18)?
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This page last updated: October 19, 2022