Then, Paul goes on to remind the Corinthians about who they were before Christ. Just to show how different and out of this world God’s new wisdom and power are, God doesn’t save people based on our worldly credentials or talents or our pedigree. Remember, many members of the church at Corinth were ex-slaves and poor. So Paul reminds them in v26 —
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Literally, he is saying, remember your roots. Remember your past. God chose the weak things, the despised things, the lowly things, the foolish things so that no one would boast. Hold onto that thought. We already covered how the cross smashes conventional wisdom and destroys boxes called religion that we try to fit God into.
In addition, the cross reveals that our problem runs far deeper than we can imagine. Most people basically think that they are not that bad. We just need a little wisdom, more education, a little tweaking, some self-improvement seminars, the right book, OR we need a little power, we need a change of circumstances, I need that annoying person out of my life, then I will be set, I just want people to respect me and notice me, then I’ll be happy.
In both the pursuit of wisdom and power, God reveals that underneath it all, we are actually idolizing self. I want to be wise so that people notice me. I want to be powerful so that people respect me and do what I ask. I am fine as long as I am at the center and I get to call the shots. These two idolatries converge in our worship of self. We want to boast about ourselves. Isn’t that what everyone in the world does? How can I boast and show others how great I am? Through success, through degrees, through my wealth, my job title — I pursue these things so that I can boast about myself. And if God can fit in my back pocket and he helps me along the way, then even better.
The cross tells us that placing self at the center is the core of sin. And this sin runs so deep that a little wisdom or a little power as we understand wisdom and power are insufficient to remedy the human condition. That is why, the only course of action that God had was to send His Son to us, knowing that we would kill him. So that Christ could bear the full weight of our sin and take our place and die and suffer the punishment for sin. And this provided a way for those who repent and place their faith in Christ and His resurrection to be spared and given eternal life.
What does the cross accomplish? It silences us. You mean, there is nothing I can do to save myself? Nope. You mean, my wisdom and power don’t amount to much? Not really. In fact, are you saying that my wisdom and power are actually obstacles for me to be saved? Yes. The cross silences us and puts an end to human self-sufficiency and religious smugness.
Then, the final question remains, how can I be saved?
18 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. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
To answer the question — how can I be saved — I want to spend a moment on that last phrase, I will frustrate. What is God frustrating? Our human wisdom and our intelligence. This means he is frustrating you at the core of who you are, what makes you tick, what you rely upon. Your idol which is yourself.
Who is doing the frustrating? God will frustrate.
In order to save someone, I have found that God often frustrates people. It’s like the disciples fishing all night and they’ve caught nothing. You work hard your entire life, you have expended all your energy but you haven’t attained what you were seeking after. Or you might have even achieved your goals but you have not found satisfaction in your soul. Either way, you’re frustrated. At that point, you can ignore the frustration and just plough ahead like many do. They just put on a happy face and keep working hard to find fulfillment through career, money, fame, family, like everyone else.
But there is another way. When that divine frustration happens, don’t resist it. If you are not saved, then you have lived your entire life with self at the center. Then, at the right time, God begins to reach out his hand to you. You experience some frustration, you reach the end of your rope, you get tired of yourself. The presence of divine frustration is a sign that God is knocking at the door of your heart. At that point, you just have to receive salvation as a gift.
30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
How are we saved? It is 100% because of him, because of God that you are saved in Christ Jesus. We are not saved because we read a tract and we nod after each bullet point. We are not saved because of an act of our will. We don’t decide to accept Christ whenever we feel like it. Remember, unless God opens our eyes, the cross is just utter folly to us. But God in his mercy saves us because He loves us, and He wants all men to be saved.
So when He is stirring your heart and you experience some degree of frustration and you wonder about the meaning of life, that is God at work. Don’t resist. Instead, respond to him. Repent and place your faith in Christ.
If you do so, you might be a high school dropout but the Bible says you are wiser than the greatest philosopher in the world who does not believe in Christ. Because you have been given eyes to see reality as it really is, as God intended.
We preach a crucified Messiah. And the cross that was once shameful, ridiculous, humiliating becomes for us a display of God’s greatest wisdom and power. Before the cross, we are all silenced. There is no more boasting in ourselves. But there is plenty of boasting in the Lord. I want to be that kind of Christ follower and I want to be part of that kind of church. Where the name of Jesus is lifted high above every other name and where we boast in Him alone.