And I, (the apostle Paul speaking) when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)
Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The apostle Paul was not after the world’s wisdom, or the vastness of the cosmos or the wealth of human knowledge, but the stark and lonely truth of the God-man, humiliated and bleeding, dying a criminal’s death on a Roman cross.
Paul was a learned man, a Pharisee, who was carefully catechized and taught the Scriptures from his earliest memories. He knew all the ins and outs of the Mosaic Law, the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms. He had the intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures, yet his essential message- also known as the folly of Gentiles, and a stumbling block for Jews-is the crucified Christ.
It’s easy for Christians to get caught up in the sticky points of theology and miss the whole point of it all. John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the great forerunner of Jesus got it clear as he exclaimed: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:28-30)
This is not to say that Christians should neglect the study of the Bible or of the Catechism, because God speaks to us through His Word and faith is imparted to us by hearing (Romans 10:17.) It is a beautiful pursuit to study and learn God’s Word. He strengthens our faith and gives us food for the journey as we study and internalize His Word. Yet study should always begin and end at the foot of the cross. Everything that we do, everything that we learn, everything that we internalize, is a gift from God to us- gifts that we find at the foot of the cross.
We don’t bring people to faith…including ourselves. God gives us faith, and we respond to His gifts. He transforms us.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
We don’t persuade others to believe in God by putting together clean logical arguments or by citing historical evidence. While there are valid intellectual arguments for the truth claims and the veracity of Christian teaching and history, the primary focus must always be Christ, and Him crucified, the One Who took the punishment we earn and deserve and Who gives us the gifts of repentance and faith and salvation.
Our faith rests in the power of God rather than in our own wisdom or designs.