While admonishing the Christians in Philippi to follow his example, Apostle Paul sternly warned them to separate themselves from the Judaizers or self-indulgent Christians who are not walking according to his teaching and the example he had set. Paul referred to them as “the enemies of the cross of Christ.”
Paul wrote: “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame–who set their mind on earthly things.” (Philip. 3:17-19 NKJV).
Paul’s admonition to note and separate from the enemies of the cross of Christ is undoubtedly still very much relevant today. As it was in the days of Paul, many so-called believers or ministers today are nothing but “the enemies of the cross of Christ” either by their doctrine or lifestyle. Paul was apparently not referring to the ignorant unregenerate people outside the Church, who were persecuting the saints, as the enemies of the cross of Christ.
From our human perspective, those persecuting the followers of Christ because of their faith and commitment to Christ are the enemies of Christ. But from divine perspective, they are not the real enemies of Christ. They are just ignorant religious zealots whose eyes have been blinded by Satan, the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). From Paul’s epistles, it is unmistakably clear that the real enemies of the cross of Christ are within the Church.
In his epistles, Paul gives us some characteristics of the people he refers to as the enemies of the cross of Christ. It is wisdom for us to examine carefully these characteristics so that we may be able to identify and separate ourselves from these enemies of the cross of Christ within the Church today. Paul described the enemies of the cross of Christ as those “whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame–who set their mind on earthly things.” (Philip. 3:19 NKJV). Let us examine this description carefully.
First, Paul describes the enemies of the cross of Christ as the professed believers or ministers “whose god is their belly.” What does Paul mean by this terminology, “their god is their belly?” Paul was simply saying they are either legalistic or indulging in sinful, fleshly desires. The enemies of the cross of Christ are those in the Church who are trusting in themselves, in their self righteousness, or in their good works as a means of salvation. They are those who don’t believe or preach that salvation is only by grace alone and through faith alone in the finished work of Jesus Christ the Saviour (Eph. 2:8-9).
The cross of Christ speaks of the finished work of redemption through Christ’s substitutionary or sacrificial death for our sins. The cross speaks of everything Christ provided for us through His death. It speaks of the grace by which everything was provided. God is completely pleased and satisfied with Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross. God’s wrath against us for breaking His law was completely emptied on Christ on the cross.
Christ received the wages of our sins on the cross (Heb. 2:9). The Scripture states that: “The burden of our sins He Himself carried in His own body to the Cross and bore it there, so that we, having died so far as our sins are concerned, may live righteous lives. By His wounds yours have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 WNT). The work of our redemption was finished on the cross; there is nothing to be added to it (John 19:30). Anyone who seeks to add his good works to the finished work of Christ on the cross as a means of obtaining salvation or blessings from God is simply an enemy of the cross of Christ.
When you approach God for anything trusting in your own righteousness, goodness, or any good work; you are demeaning or disregarding the finished work of Christ as the only basis for obtaining God’s favour and salvation, thereby making you an enemy of the cross of Christ. Any believer or minister who is not completely trusting alone in the finished work of Christ on the cross is rejecting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour and thus make himself his own god or saviour.
Sadly, many people today who are confessing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour are rejecting Him by their actions as they continue to trust in their own righteousness, goodness, or good works as a means of pleasing God and obtaining His blessings. Our self righteousness which comes by the works of the law cannot be mixed with God’s righteousness which comes by faith in Christ Jesus and His finished work alone. Both are incompatible. It is either you receive God’s righteousness as a gift, or you cling unto your imperfect stinking self righteousness (Rom. 9:30-32, Isa. 64:6).
On the other hand, this terminology, “whose god is their belly” Paul used to describe the enemies of the cross of Christ speaks of being led, controlled or governed by fleshly desires and appetites. Therefore, the enemies of the cross of Christ are the professed believers or ministers who indulge in sinful pleasures and live as debtors to the flesh, fulfilling the lusts, passions or desires of the flesh.
Living according to the flesh or gratifying the desires of the flesh will ultimately result in corruption, death or destruction. This is why Paul states that the end of the enemies of the cross of Christ is destruction. Paul said, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction…” (Philip. 3:18-19 NKJV).
The Scripture warns: “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors–not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom. 8:12-13 NKJV).
“For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” (Gal. 6:8 NKJV).
“For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Rom. 8:6 NKJV).
Beloved, if you profess to belong to Christ and yet still live as a debtor to the flesh; your lifestyle negates or contradicts the power and purpose of the cross. The cross is the gateway to supernatural lifestyle. The sinful life terminates at the cross and Christ-life starts at the cross. The cross releases the believers to walk in newness of life, to live and walk as Christ did (Rom. 6:4, 2 Cor. 5:15, Gal. 2:20). That is the power and purpose of Christ! Therefore, anyone who professes to belong to Christ but don’t live according to Christ, but rather according to the flesh is demeaning the cross of Christ, and thereby making himself an enemy of Christ.
Second, Paul describes the enemies of the cross of Christ as those “whose glory is in their shame.” These are professed believers who delight in iniquities, boast in the flesh, and glory in their works of the law and not in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Like the immoral believers in Corinth, they trivialize or make light of sins and rejoice in those things of which they should be ashamed of.
In his epistle, Paul rebuked them, saying, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles–that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:1-2 NKJV).
Similarly, many professed believers today are now very relaxed and comfortable in unrighteousness, and even vaunting their achievements, possessions, or riches amassed through ungodly means. How are such believers the enemies of the cross of Christ? Because they belittle and despise the huge price Christ paid for sins on the cross by their attitudes toward sins!
Lastly, Paul describes the enemies of the cross of Christ as the believers “who set their mind on earthly things.” (Phil. 3:19 NKJV). The born-again believers are crucified to the world and the world crucified to them through the cross of Christ. Paul declares: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:14 NKJV). Any believer who boasts in anything else other than the cross of Christ is ignorant of the power and blessings of the cross of Christ.
The born-again believers are dead, buried and raised together with Christ. The Scripture states: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4 NKJV). The cross releases the believers to walk in newness of life, to live as one who is truly dead to sin and the world, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).
Having being raised together with Christ, as a believer, you are expected to seek and set your mind on heavenly things, and not on earthly things. The Scripture commands: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col. 3:1-2 NKJV). Any believer who continues to seek and live for the perishable and fleeting materials things of this world is demeaning and denying the power of the cross of Christ in his life.
Beloved, pursuing and clinging to the things of this world, chasing after the current trends of this world, or seeking to be conformed to the fashion of this world is a disrespect or contempt of the cross of Christ. Why? You are crucified to the world and the world to you through Christ’s death on the cross (Gal. 6:14). Therefore, seeking to be conformed to this world, or setting your mind on earthly things is an utter denial, rejection, or belittling of the victory Christ won over the god of this world through the cross.
This is why Paul refers to the believers who pursue, love, cling to, or set their mind on earthly things as the enemies of the cross of Christ and also warns you to note them and not walk like them. Paul admonishes: “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thess. 3:13-14 NKJV).