The Scandal of the Cross is the Scandal of Calvinism
It is natural for sinful man to despise the shame of the Cross of Christ (1 Cor 2:14; Heb 12:2). The crucifixion of Jesus made Him look like a criminal in the eyes of the world (Mt 27:42), but the perspective from heaven was very different. God highly exalted Jesus (Phil 2:9).
God raised Jesus from the dead, to demonstrate His approval of the God-man and His work (Acts 17:31). Still, the Word of the Cross preached to men is rejected as foolishness (1 Cor 1:18), with regard to it being an instrument of salvation. In essence, if a sinful man considers salvation at all, he will decide for himself the means, method, and outcome of his own salvation.
It is natural for sinful man to despise Calvinism; a term John Calvin would obviously reject. The correct term is, “monergism.” This is the position in Christian theology where God alone works salvation in a person, through spiritual regeneration by the Holy Spirit (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13; 1 Pet 1:3). Man does not participate.
The principle of monergism is observed in Lydia, the seller of purple materials, who heard the word of God preached by Paul, and while she was listening, the Holy Spirit opened her heart to respond to the Gospel (Acts 16:14). The conversion of Saul, on the road to Damascus, is also a classic example of God-only regeneration (Acts 9). Saul was en route to kill Christians, and Jesus interrupted the persecutor’s project, in order to save him. The point is, Paul was not in the mindset to choose Jesus, or decide for Christ, or to ask Jesus into his heart.
The premise of the Calvinist is found in Jonah 2:9, “Salvation belongs to the Lord (See also Ps 3:8; Rev 19:1).” It is not a joint project where God does part of the work and man does part of the work. That would be called, “synergism,” if it were true. God does not share His glory with another, nor does He employ anyone else, to do any of the work in salvation. It is His work, the work of God, so that God gets all the glory for it.
In the scandal of the Cross, Jesus does one hundred percent of the redemption work necessary for the salvation of God’s chosen people (2 Thess 2:13). Sin separated humanity from God (Gen 3). The way back to God is the singular task of man. This is laughable to the deceived and wildly distracted man of the world, who is operating in the futility of his mind, on the course of this world (Eph 2:2; 4:17).
Man sees death all around him, but he is mostly in denial about his own death. He knows it is a reality, but he immerses himself in worldly activities, to blot out reality from his mind. He contents himself with his heart affection for physical experiences in a material world. He loves achievement, power, sex, and money to gain material things. He loves the games of oppression and persecution, to advance himself above his neighbor. This temporary world is a primer for his eternal hell.
Jesus is the only way a man can be saved (Acts 4:12). When this is preached, it is scandalous. How can Christians make such bodacious claims to such an exclusive salvation? The answer, of course, is the Bible (Jn 14:6). It is the Word of God (Ps 119; Jn 1:1; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 3:16), and the claims are the claims of God. The man of the world objects to the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God, too. A few have ventured to read the Bible, and many of them walk away not believing it.
The need for spiritual regeneration (“monergism”) is a prerequisite for understanding the Scriptures (1 Cor 2:12). Saul knew the Hebrew Scriptures in his unregenerate, pre-conversion state, but his conversion clearly opened his blind eyes to see the truth of God’s Word (1 Cor 2:10). What did Saul/Paul see when Jesus opened his blind eyes?
Jesus Christ had been prophesied to come into the world over three hundred fifty times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). He was to be born of a virgin girl (Is 7:14) at Bethlehem (Mic 5:2) at the fullness of time (Dan 7:25–26; Gal 4:4). He would suffer and die on behalf of His people (Is 53:5; Jn 10:11, 15), who would receive the forgiveness of sins (Jer 31:34; Mt 26:28). The grave would not hold him, and His body would not undergo decay (Ps 16:10; 49:9). He would be exalted (Ps 110:1; Eph 1:21), and He would be King and Judge (Ps 110). The day of the Lord would reconcile everything when His justice was meted out (Joel 1:15; Mt 25). His kingdom would last forever (Dan 6:26). Paul was illumined to see Christ in the prophecies of the Bible. He saw them fulfilled in part, where before, they were only promised.
This simple Gospel message, promised in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament, is the essence of Christian salvation. God made us, like Paul, believe His message because He made us believers (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13), causing us to be born again of the Spirit (Jn 3:6; 1 Pet 1:3). This is the scandal of Calvinism. God did it all.
First, men do not think they are separated from God. They delude themselves into thinking God loves everybody, and of course, they are somebody. This is Satan’s best work in deception. The wrath of God is directed against a man (Rom 1:18), but the man thinks he is good (Rom 3:10–12) and does good works (Is 64:6).
Second, if a man has even one inkling doubt about his goodness, he goes shopping in the marketplace of saviors and salvation methods. Some find multiple gods (Hinduism), others find one god (Islam), and still others find no god (Atheism), being satisfied with themselves as god. The methods of salvation are varied depending on the preferred god. The common means of salvation in all religion is doing some kind of work to appease one’s chosen god.
Third, one of the options in the religious marketplace is Jesus Christ and Christianity. If one decides Christianity is the best option, he chooses to become a Christian of his own free will. Of course, it is his decision, so if he chooses Christ to be his savior, today, he can change his mind at a later point. A twisted version of this twisted version is where one chooses Christ, but then he cannot lose his salvation. In other words, once a person decides to make Jesus be his savior, then Jesus is obligated to keep him saved. The affront in this is sinful man being in control of a Holy God. Theologians call it, “man-centered theology.” The Arian, the Pelagian, the Arminian, and the Roman Catholic are in control. They decide. They choose.
Crucifixion, as God’s way of saving people, was scandalous enough, but now we claim only God can make salvation happen for someone? Yes, the Christian preacher is not asking the sinner to do anything. Remember, salvation is of the Lord. The heralded announcement from the preacher is one of a finished work. If it is a finished work that means, “it is finished (Jn 19:30).”
Salvation is an eternal reality (2 Tim 1:9). God is eternal. God in Christ is our salvation; therefore, salvation is eternal. The Arminian, a synergist, denies this claim of Jesus from the Cross, by insisting the sinner must add to the work of God. His question is, “Well, then what must I do to be saved?”
The Bible answers, “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31).” If one thinks his faith is generated by his own mind or heart, then faith is just another work required by the sinner. Christ saves a man. A man’s faith is not the catalyst of salvation, it is the proof of salvation. Faith is not generated by a sinner. Faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:8–9), which is given to some people (Phil 1:29; 2 Pet 1:1).
So, to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” is something made reality, only by spiritual regeneration (monergism = Calvinism). This is important because it gives the glory to God, for doing the work. If a man or woman generates faith in Christ by themselves, then they may be commended for making a good decision or a fine choice. They steal honor and glory from God in making such a claim.
Calvinists love the Cross. They see the entire work of the Triune God from the foot of the Cross. God has decreed salvation for a select group of people (Rom 9:23), chosen from before the foundation of the world to be saved (Eph 1:4–5). Salvation was granted to God’s elect ones in Christ Jesus from all eternity (2 Tim 1:9). Their names were written in the Lamb’s book of life before Creation (Rev 13:8; 17:8). In other words, God wrote sin and the fall of man into His story, and redemption was entrusted to the eternal Son of God, who would come into the world to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21).
Jesus Christ was treated as common criminal. This would have been the scandal of the Cross, in heaven, if it was not foreordained in the predetermined plan of God (Acts 2:23). God’s design for the life and death of a peasant carpenter from a Gentile city in Galilee, to save the world, is a blasphemous affront to Judaism and everyone else of every religious orientation. This is the scandal of Christianity. The world sees Jesus as a peasant criminal. Christians see Him as the Lord of glory.
Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sins with His precious blood (2 Thess 1:9; 1 Pet 1:19). He bore our sins on the Cross (1 Pet 2:24), being our substitute sacrifice (2 Cor 5:21). He secured our atonement with God (Ex 30:10), by reconciling us (2 Cor 5:19). The separation was removed (Eph 2:12–13). People can now enter into the presence of God without fear of death, as long as they receive the sprinkled blood of Christ upon them in a spiritual sense.
The children of Israel did not decide for themselves whether or not they would be sprinkled with blood. It was a requirement of the covenant (Heb 9:22). It was commanded (Heb 9:19), and Moses, the leader of Israel, obediently sprinkled them with the blood of the covenant (Ex 24:8). Christians do not decide whether or not they will be sprinkled with the blood of Christ. It is a requirement of the new covenant (Jer 31:34; 1 Cor 11:25). It is commanded, and Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit to sprinkle God’s chosen ones to ensure it would happen just as God prescribed (1 Pet 1:2).
Without the blood of Christ on the lintel and mantles of our souls, we are dead men walking (Eph 2:1–3). Without the blood of Christ there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22). A man does not decide to sprinkle Christ’s blood on himself, nor can he force the hand of Christ to make Him sprinkle him with His salvation. God will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy (Rom 9:15).
Jesus Christ died on the Cross for a specific people (Mt 1:21; Jn 10:11, 15; 15:16; Eph 5:25). He sent the Holy Spirit to each chosen one (Jn 14:26; 15:26), while each one was spiritually dead in her trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1–3). Natural man cannot apprehend the spiritual things of God because of this spiritual deadness (1 Cor 2:14). He must be made alive in Christ (Col 2:13), first; then he can set his mind upon the things above (Col 3:2). He must be spiritually resurrected in his soul, and only the Spirit of Christ, the life giver, can give life to the dead (Jn 6:63). A man must be baptized into Christ (Rom 6), baptized with the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11; Acts 1:5; 1 Cor 12:13). There were many in tombs during the days of Jesus, but He chose to raise Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11). In the same way, the Holy Spirit comes to elect dead men and raises them to spiritual life. This will ever be the scandal of Calvinism, even as it was a scandal before John Calvin walked the earth.
In summary, we have considered two scandals. These are offenses in the minds of sinful men. One scandal is God’s means of saving people through the crucifixion of His only begotten Son. The other scandal is God’s method of saving people exclusively through His own work. God decreed blood atonement. Jesus shed His blood in the eternal covenant with God the Father, in accordance with the decree. The Holy Spirit sprinkles the blood of Christ upon God’s elect, while they are yet dead in their trespasses and sins. This act of God brings the predestined child of God to spiritual life; and all things become new, abundant, and eternal to him who is in Christ.
In conclusion, men of the world will continue to despise the message of the Cross and the messenger of the Cross. God will visit some of them with spiritual regeneration, catching the unsuspecting skeptic unaware. This skeptic will become a believer in Christ; and he will bear witness and testimony of God’s Word and God’s work in saving him, by grace alone. Grace at the Cross, and grace in conversion. These are two scandals Christians will be glad to live with for all eternity, by God’s glorious design and exclusive work, for which He receives all the glory.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
January 5, 2021