"For there are many, of whom I have already told you before and remind you again with a heavy heart, who live continually as enemies of the cross of Christ. These people are doomed, headed for eternal judgment, because their god is their own desires. The things they take pride in should cause shame. They care only for the things of this world." (Philippians 3:18-19)
Who is Paul talking about here, these "enemies of the cross"? I don’t want to go on a long, drawn-out tirade here, since I’ve promised to keep the articles in this series short. But some commentary is needed here. Enemies of the cross are the "many" (as Paul says above) steeped in religion that refuse to die to their flesh. Their god is their own desires and they care only for the things of this world. In other words, they aren’t too concerned about what The God of the Universe wants. And, they have no real eternal, spiritual perspective, because they’re too wrapped up in what this present world has to offer.
Today, enemies of the cross are those who run to institutional religion for their weekly fix of socializing, trendy music (full of deceptive, wrong doctrine), multi-media entertainment, religious one-upmanship (I’m more spiritual than you) and the sort of pseudo-spiritual reassurance ("I’m OK, you’re OK, God loves us just the way we are and wants to bless us and give us everything our flesh craves") that only religion can give. Enemies of the cross want a steady diet of positive, inspirational, self-help messages. They want to feel good about themselves and about what they want in this life; and they want their church experience to reinforce those feelings. And most church leaders strive to make sure they get just what they want; because they know you have to keep the people happy, if they’re going to come back and continue to support the institution.
But, as I’ve said in other articles, God wants us to die to our flesh (our own desires) and submit to His will and purpose (to conform us to the image of His Son and have an intimate relationship with Him). And I’ll remind you again, our flesh will not commit suicide, it has to be killed. This, then, brings us back to the subject of suffering. Enemies of the cross don’t want to hear about suffering, sacrifice or anything else that might cause discomfort to their flesh. Never mind that Paul tells us we should rejoice in our sufferings (Romans 5:3) and that we must share in Christ’s suffering, if we hope to share in His glory (Romans 8:17); that James tells us to be happy when we encounter suffering, because God is testing the reality of our faith (James 1:2-3); and that Peter says essentially the same thing (I Peter 1:6-7, 4:13).
Experiencing hardships and trials and having to deal with the pressure of difficult situations and circumstances are our opportunity to do what Christ says we must do in Mark 8:34. Remember what He says? "Deny yourself" (lose sight of your own interests and desires), "take up your cross" (be willing to suffer in order to gain the benefits of such suffering) and "follow Me" (follow My example of a selfless life, submitted to the Father). Why does He tell us to do this? Because this is how we die to our flesh!
If you read what Paul, James and Peter say about suffering, then you’ll see that God has determined several important benefits from it: among them are the development of Godly character, the strengthening of spiritual resolve and maturity and the development of a confident hope for the eternal future – all specifically designed to help us kill our flesh. If you need a detailed refresher course on suffering, read, "Avoiding the Dog and Hog Disease, Part 2 – Self-preservation and Materialism".
Most people involved in religion today have bought into this idea that the very reason (or, at least, one of the reasons) to participate in religion is so God will protect you from suffering and "bless" you with the things you want, so He can make your life what you want it to be. These people either don’t read the New Testament, or they’re not paying attention to what they read. The Apostles would find the concept of God wanting to help us avoid suffering and hardship to be simply absurd.
Now, I think I can safely assume that if you’ve gotten to this point on the website, you’re one who would say without hesitation, "I don’t want to be an enemy of the cross"; in which case I will tell you that Jesus Christ and the cross must occupy the center of your life. At the beginning of this article I quoted Philippians 3:18-19, where we find the term "enemies of the cross". But if you read all of Philippians 3, you will see Paul describe (within the context of knowing Christ and being found in Him) the reality of two deaths and two resurrections.
The first death and resurrection is found in verses 10 and 11. This is what he says:
"For my determined purpose is to become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, recognizing the miraculous nature of His person more clearly, and that I might in that same progressive way, come to know the power flowing out from His resurrection, and that I might also share in His sufferings in order to be continually transformed into His likeness, even to the reality of His death (to self and to the things of the world). In the hope that I might attain that resurrection that lifts me out from among the wicked dead (even while in this body)."
The first death is a death to self, the death of the flesh that we’ve been talking about. It’s a slow, painful, stubborn death that can only take place when we consciously, daily submit to the cross (remember Mark 8:34). And we can all be sure of this: we’re no good to God and He cannot fulfill His purpose in us unless we’re willing to die this death.
But when we’re willing to die to our flesh, God is then willing to resurrect us into a new life, transforming us into the likeness of His Son. This is the resurrection life, or newness of life, that Paul talks about in Romans 6:3-5, which will be the subject of the next article in this series. So, the first death is a continuous death to self, the death of the flesh, and the first resurrection is a continuous transformation into a new life (Romans 6:4) in the image of Christ.
The second death and resurrection is described in verses 20 and 21.
"But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we patiently await the coming of the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will change the body of our humiliation so that it conforms to the body of His glory, through that power which enables Him to subject all things to Himself."
The second death and resurrection, of course, is physical. When this body dies (and the flesh or sin nature dies with it), then the believer is promised a resurrection body, a new body like the physical, resurrection body of Christ. The first death and resurrection changes our soul (Philippians 3:10-11 above, II Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15, Ephesians 4:24), the second death and resurrection changes our body (Philippians 3:20-21 above and I Corinthians 15:42-54). It takes two deaths and two resurrections to prepare us to spend eternity with God. And with both the principle of resurrection applies, which is, that the new is better than the old; because the new is more like God and less like man.
What can we conclude from all this? There are many who live continually as enemies of the cross. However, this one thing is clear: if they refuse to submit to the first death in order to experience this first resurrection, they will never experience the blessing of the second resurrection. The Holy Spirit is the agent of all resurrection (Romans 8:11). And if He didn’t resurrect you the first time in the image and likeness of Christ, He won’t resurrect you the second time to make your body conform to the body of Christ’s glory.