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by Dr. C. L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, November 7, 2015

“Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (I Corinthians 1:17).

The Apostle Paul said, “Christ sent preach the gospel.” How did he do that? Our text says, “not with wisdom of words.” Paul did not come as a teacher. The people did not become Christians by learning. Why not?

Our text says, “lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” A modern translation says, “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (NIV). The power of the cross is not “wisdom of words.” It is not a matter of learning.

Listen carefully now! If the cross of Christ is presented as mere information – “wisdom of words” – it is made “of none effect.” It is “emptied of its power.” Learning information has no effect. It has no power. If you could be saved by learning things and saying them back, you wouldn’t need the cross of Christ. Learning can’t save you!

There are people here tonight who are trying to be saved by learning. Some have tried this for weeks, some for months. They ask one question after another. One person said, “How do you trust Jesus?” They think if they learn enough, they’ll be saved. If they learn about salvation and say it back, they’ll be saved. “I’ve got it now,” they think. Or, “I’ll keep on going. One day I will get it. I’ll learn all about it.”

But they’ll never be saved that way! Why? It takes away the power of the cross of Christ! It makes the cross “of none effect,” “emptied of its power.” What you’re doing won’t get you saved – it will keep you from being saved!

You can’t be saved by learning. Tonight we’re going to look at what learning is, and then at what salvation is. Learning and salvation are completely different. Learning will not bring you to salvation.

I. First, what learning is – “wisdom of words.”

Learning is getting information into your head. Learning is “wisdom of words.” This means knowing about the Bible, the church, Christian doctrine, and even about conversion. True, you should know some basic facts. You should know that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3-4). But people have been saved without knowing even that! A woman crawled under the table where Jesus was sitting and kissed His feet. She didn’t know much – only that Jesus was there. She came to Him. Jesus said to her, “Thy sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). Again, Christ said to her, “Thy faith hath saved thee” (Luke 7:50). She knew very little – but she trusted Jesus and was saved. Salvation is not by learning. They’re two different things!

The religious “learners” in the time of Christ were the Pharisees. They studied the Bible. They looked down on the common people. They said, “This people who knoweth not the law are cursed” (John 7:49). But Jesus said of them, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!... how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:29, 33). Our text says, “Not with wisdom of words.” You can’t be saved by learning!

The greatest teacher in the time of Christ was a man named Nicodemus. He was “a master of Israel” – literally, “the teacher of Israel” (John 3:10). He studied the Old Testament Scriptures every day. He knew the first five books of the Bible by heart. Yet Jesus said to him, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). He wasn’t saved by learning.

King Solomon was the wisest man in the world. Yet he said, “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). You can study and learn – and be farther from being converted than when you started. The Bible says, “Not with wisdom of words.” You can’t get saved by learning!

Before I was converted I went to Dr. John MacArthur’s church for a year. He taught me many things I still remember. He’s been teaching for over forty years. He’s written 33 volumes of commentaries. But he still hasn’t been saved by the Blood of Christ, which Blood he denies. I wasn’t saved there. I could have stayed for forty years, and still not be washed by the Blood. You can’t get saved by learning.

Some of you are like I was. You’ve learned a lot of things – but you aren’t saved. Learning and salvation are completely different. You can’t get one from the other.

Some people are trying to get their thoughts and feelings right. That’s what Buddhists do when they meditate. They analyze themselves. They look into themselves. What they are seeking is not salvation. They’re trying to “become enlightened” – which is totally different from Christian salvation. You’re like a Buddhist. You’re trying to get your mind right. That’s not salvation at all!

You say, “I’m not a Buddhist.” But you’re still trying to be saved by learning. You’ll never be saved that way. Learning and salvation are different things. You can’t get one from the other. And that brings us to the second point.

II. Second, what salvation is – “the cross of Christ.”

Salvation is not learning facts and doctrines. It is not learning information so you can say it back to someone else. What is salvation? The Bible uses many words to describe it.

First, the Christian is saved from sin. The angel said to Joseph, “Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The name “Jesus” means “Jehovah saves.” The Bible says, “Christ died for our sins” (I Corinthians 15:3). Your problem has nothing to do with learning. Your problem is sin. Christ came to save you from sin. No learning here. You’re a sinner. You need Jesus Christ.

As a result of being saved from sin, the Christian is saved from wrath, from God’s anger. The Bible says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us...Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:8-9). God is angry with your sin. If you trust Jesus, your sins are paid for. They’re washed in Christ’s Blood. God does not see your sin. God is no longer angry with you. No learning here. You’re a dirty sinner. You need Jesus Christ!

Being saved means being redeemed, bought with a payment. The Bible says, “Ye are bought with a price” (I Corinthians 6:20). When Christ died on the Cross, He paid the price for us. That’s “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). The Bible says, “Ye were not redeemed with...silver and gold...But with the precious blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18-19). The Christians in Heaven will sing, “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood” (Revelation 5:9). Fanny Crosby wrote, “Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.” You’re a dirty, unclean sinner. Can you buy yourself out of sin and judgment by learning? No, you can’t. You’re just a sinner who has learned something. Our text says you need “the cross of Christ”!

The Bible speaks of being saved as an atonement. The word “atonement” means “covering.” The Book of Leviticus says, “It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). That atonement is the Blood of Christ. The Book of Romans says, “We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Romans 5:11). No learning here. You’re an unclean sinner. Can you make a blood atonement for your sin by learning things? No! You’re still a dirty sinner. You need “the cross of Christ.” You need His Blood atonement.

Another Bible word about salvation is propitiation. This means that God is satisfied with you – His anger is appeased, settled – because your sins are paid for. The Bible says, “Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24-25). Can you propitiate God – can you satisfy Him by learning things? No learning here. You’re still a sinner. You need a miracle to happen in Heaven. You need God to be satisfied through Christ. You need “the cross of Christ.”

The Bible speaks of reconciliation. The relationship between you and God is broken because of your sin. The Bible says, “Your [sins] have separated between you and your God” (Isaiah 59:2). With the sacrifice of Christ, that separation is closed. You can have a right relationship with God, “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). But can you make that happen in Heaven by learning things in your chair? No! You need a miracle for God to be reconciled with you. You need Christ!

The Bible speaks of salvation as cleansing and washing. You certainly need to be washed! You’re not clean. You’re a dirty sinner. Your uncleanness is not just in the things you do. It’s much deeper. You are dirty inside, in your selfish sin-nature. King David prayed, “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2). That cleansing is by the Blood of Christ. The Bible says, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7). The Christians in Heaven can say, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Revelation 1:5). Can you cleanse yourself, can you wash your sin, by learning something in your chair? No! You need Jesus Christ to wash your sin by His Blood!

Another Bible word about salvation is justification. This speaks of how God judges you. God knows you’re guilty. At the judgment, He will condemn you. But when you trust Jesus, His death on the Cross pays for your sin. His Blood washes and cleanses your sin. God judges you as though you were innocent, because Christ has paid the price. God declares you “not guilty.” That is justification. The Bible says, “being now justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9). Can you be justified before God by learning things in your chair? Can you get God to declare you “not guilty” because you learn things and say them back? No! You’re still a dirty, guilty sinner. You need God to justify you up in Heaven – by Jesus Christ and no other way!

When you trust Jesus, you are translated – transferred – from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ. The Bible says, “[God] hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated [transferred] us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:13). Can you transfer yourself by learning things in your chair? Or by getting your thoughts and feelings right? No! You’re a dirty, guilty sinner. You need God in Heaven to transfer you – and that only happens when you trust Jesus.

When you trust Jesus, you’re adopted by God as His child. Christians have “the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself” (Ephesians 1:5). Christ came “to redeem [us], that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:5). Can you make God adopt you in Heaven by learning things in your chair? Of course not. You’re a dirty sinner. You need a miracle. You need pardon by the Blood of Jesus!

Salvation is called a new birth. Jesus said to a religious teacher, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Christ said to him, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). Can a baby get himself born out of his mother’s womb by learning things? Can you get yourself spiritually reborn by learning things? Of course not. You’re a dirty sinner. You need “the cross of Christ.” You need a miracle from Heaven – pardon by the Blood of Jesus.

In the Bible, a lost person is dead. A saved person is made alive. The Bible says, “You hath he quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Again, the Bible says, “God...hath quickened us [made us alive] together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). You’re dead in your sins. You are dead inside. Can you make yourself alive by learning things? No! You need a miracle from Heaven – through Jesus Christ!

Salvation and learning are completely different. You can’t get one by the other. Think of this: could you get saved, born again, justified, cleansed – by giving money? No matter how much money you gave, it would not save your soul. It would not cleanse your sin. You can’t buy salvation with money. Money buys things on earth. Salvation is only bought with the Blood of Christ. You can’t get one from the other!

You can’t get salvation by learning, or by your own thoughts. Salvation and learning are different things. Learning happens in your head, on earth. Salvation happens in Heaven. Salvation is not what you think. Salvation is what God thinks about you. Does God think you’re a lost, guilty sinner – or does God think you’re pardoned, paid for, cleansed by Jesus Christ? You can’t change what God thinks by what you learn, or think, or feel. Only the Blood of Christ can do that.

Someone thinks, “I’ll learn all the words about salvation in the message here tonight – and then I’ll be saved.” No, no, no! That’s the same mistake! You can’t be saved by learning. “Not with wisdom of words” – but “the cross of Christ.” You need to have the salvation I’m talking about. You need God to give it to you. God will give you salvation – with everything I talked about – all at once, when you trust Jesus. You don’t have to know the words. All you have to do is trust Jesus! Remember the woman who crawled under the table and kissed Jesus’ feet. She hardly knew anything. But she trusted Jesus and was saved. Trust Jesus. Be pardoned by His Blood! That is the only way to be saved. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Christ Himself is the only way to God.

Look away from yourself. There’s nothing in you but sin. Look to Christ! He died on the Cross to pay for your sin. He shed His Blood to cleanse you from sin. He rose from the dead to give you life. Look to Christ! Christ is everything. He “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30). He is the answer. He is all of the answer. With Jesus, there’s no more questions about being saved. “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen” (II Corinthians 1:20). In yourself there is nothing but sin. In Jesus there is everything. Look to Christ! “Look unto me, and be ye saved” (Isaiah 45:22). I pray that you would trust Jesus soon. Amen.

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by Dr. C. L. Cagan

“Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (I Corinthians 1:17).

I.   First, what learning is – “wisdom of words,” I Corinthians 15:3-4;
Luke 7:48, 50; John 7:49; Matthew 23:29, 33; John 3:10, 7;
Ecclesiastes 12:12.

II.  Second, what salvation is – “the cross of Christ,” Matthew 1:21;
I Corinthians 15:3; Romans 5:8-9; I Corinthians 6:20; Romans 3:24;
I Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9; Leviticus 17:11; Romans 5:11; 3:24-
25; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 5:10; Psalm 51:2; I John 1:7; Revelation 1:5;
Romans 5:9; Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 4:5;
John 3:3, 7; Ephesians 2:1, 4-5; John 14:6; I Corinthians 1:30;
II Corinthians 1:20; Isaiah 45:22.