Many are those who lament and inquire about the weakness of the church in the Western world today. Most of those asking the question, and especially those not asking the question, are at a loss to explain that weakness. If one could look into the eternal counsels of God, no doubt one would be overwhelmed at the host of dynamics involved and being accomplished by God in His secret providence. At the same time, the biblically informed Christian could point to a number of problems in evangelicalism today that relate to the issue. Of course, those with eyes to see may point to one primary dynamic: the attempt to make the cross of Christ more palatable to the contemporary mind. Surely it is this travesty that has emptied the church of her power.
Much in the church growth movement is to be commended. However, the emphasis upon watering down the gospel is to be rejected. We are told that the contemporary sinner will not sit still for solid or in-depth bible teaching or preaching. The typical unchurched individual will not sit still for doctrinal teaching or messages that emphasize sin, Hell, wrath, and judgment, even if those emphases are followed with the balm of the gospel. In fact, the emphasis is upon getting people in the "front door" any way possible and slipping the gospel in at some point down the road (if indeed it is ever slipped in). And so we opt for a watered-down message and substitute the message of the cross with gimmicks, manipulation, worldly philosophy, easy believism, emotionalism, entertainment, psychology, and mysticism to name a few false gospels.
Yet, how simple and pure the word of God is regarding this issue. "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 Cor. 1:18)." Do we not realize what God has told us? The world does not accept the message of the cross. To them it is indeed foolishness. The world's reaction should be no surprise to us. Because we are armed with this knowledge, we must then see the foolishness of attempting to water down the message. The same bible that says the cross of Christ is foolishness to those who are perishing says that to us who are being saved it is the power of God. There is no power in a watered down message. The power of God is in the message of the cross.
Paul contrasts the futility of the "wisdom of words" in v. 17 with the power of the "word of the cross" in v. 18. He was sent "to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect." The problem with today's watered down gospel is that it makes the cross of Christ "of no effect."
When Paul contrasts the futile "wisdom of words" with the powerful "word of the cross," the same Greek word is used in each instance to refer to "word:" logos. Context determines to what logos refers and whether it is weak or powerful. His concern was that the cross not be emptied of its power, that its power and reality not be made void or of no effect (v. 17). If the razor sharp edges of the cross are pared away, then nothing but a dull and smooth instrument is left to cut the hearts of men, and thus the instrument is rendered ineffective. Heart surgery cannot be performed with such an instrument and thus men are left to die in their sin.
With this understanding, Paul affirms that the message of the cross has two effects upon men. Those respective effects are determined not by the wisdom of the preacher, not by the wisdom of the one hearing the message, but by God (V. 24). The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. To them, this message is silly and absurd. The Greek word Paul uses is moria from which we get our word moron. In the eyes of those who are perishing, only a moron would see the cross of Jesus Christ as the answer to salvation and ultimate reality.
Note here that those who deem the message of Christ crucified as foolishness are perishing. They are not subject to dying one day, they are now dying. They are, of course, already dead spiritually. Paul's point is that they are now dying eternally. If a massive and miraculous resuscitation is not somehow accomplished, they will physically die and their eternal death will be sealed.
Paul contrasts those who are dying with those of us who are being saved. Note his use of the word "us." We, the church, the people of God, are being saved. Note further his usage of the continuous action of being saved. The Bible refers to our salvation in past, present, and future terms. We were saved at some point in our lives (Rom. 8:24), we are being saved now (2 Cor. 2:15), and we will be saved in an ultimate sense (Rom. 5:9). God worked in our hearts to bring us to Himself, He is at work in our hearts to preserve us to the end, and He will bring us to that glory that is reserved for us by His grace through the work of His Son. To those of us who are being saved, we are being saved by the work of Christ on the cross. His death is that which atoned for our sins, made us right with the Holy Father, and changed our hearts through the operation of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is the cross of Christ that is the power of God unto salvation. It is resurrection power; sanctifying power; and glorifying power.
What does this verse say to those who deny the relevance, sufficiency, or power of the gospel for the contemporary world? The message is clear: don't water down the gospel. Our churches are filled with more people every day. But what kind of effect is the church having upon our culture? We are not gaining ground in the public square; indeed we are losing ground. The early believers "turned the world upside down (Acts. 17:6)." We are not turning our world upside down because we have emptied the cross of its power. The message is clear: don't be ashamed of the gospel or the cross of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). Only when the cross is not emptied of its power will the church not be emptied of her power.