Archive for the category “Grace”

Relational Generosity

2 Corinthians 8:13-15

This week I am discussing the sin of greed. Last time I suggested that greed (along with a myriad of other sins) might be masked in our misunderstanding that we might score points with God by doing or by adding Christian spirituality to our already together life. We might think we are on the right track, but sin lurks underneath and we don’t even know it. Jesus taught the young ruler of Mark 10 about his particular sin, which was greed, and although it could have been something else, this story gives us occasion to examine greed.

It seems to me that it is impossible to be greedy if one is generous, that is, a person who joyfully, sacrificially, and worshipfully gives to those things that are close to the heart of God (you might want to listen to my sermon, “Greed and Generosity” from March 16 for a full explanation of this concept). If you are generously giving, you won’t be greedy. The two just don’t coexist! So how do we practice generosity? I am convinced that the underlying power for breaking the chains of the seven deadly sins, including the sin of greed, is found in the cross. Paul makes this perfectly clear in 2 Cor 8:9, which is the central verse in his excursus on generosity.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2Co 8:9 ESV)

Jesus joyfully (Heb 12:2), sacrificially (Phil 2:5-8) and worshipfully (Mark 14:36) gave his life for us; actually he generously gave his life for us. With his generosity ever before us, how can we be anything but generous for him. And when we are – the chains of greed are broken.

There is a concept of generosity in this passage that is often overlooked, that I would like to explore. I call it relational generosity.

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2Co 8:12-15 ESV)

This passage introduces an element that might be missed – fairness. This term requires that we consider relationships, because it refers to how one person relates to another person. In these verses, Paul discusses fairness in generosity. The idea is that generosity is not determined by the amount – because some can give more than others. If the same amount were required, some would be eased and others burdened and that wouldn’t be fair. Rather, generosity is determined proportionally and according to circumstance. In this context, Paul is nurturing a relationship between the Jerusalem church and the Gentile churches in Macedonia. It is significant to remember that the Jerusalem church originated the Gospel. Shortly after its inauguration, the Jerusalem church sent out teachers and missionaries. It hosted convocations that protected doctrine (Acts 15). James, the lead pastor, sent a letter to teach the Gentile believers. We might call this spiritual generosity. On the other hand, the Gentile churches had money. They could contribute to the poor in Jerusalem. They could take up a collection and have Paul deliver it, which is financial generosity. Here is relational fairness. The Jerusalem church gave what they could give. The Gentile church gave what they could give. They both were generous to the ministry of the Gospel – the Gentiles by giving financially, generously, to the poor in Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem church by giving spiritually, generously, to the Gentile church. This is an example of relational fairness.

In the modern local church, this principle might be practiced as we give generously in order to promote fairness in relationships. Some of us can give more money than others. Others can give more time and share their own unique spiritual gifts. But everyone gives generously – and that promotes fairness.

But I want to remind us that generosity is nurtured in fellowship with others in the body of Christ according to voluntary fairness. In the KOG, fairness is not legislated. Obedience to God is always from the heart (see Romans 6:17). If it is by law, people will only participate to the extent they are required. But if it is by grace, we have the privilege of giving beyond what is required and that spells GENEROSITY.

Because Jesus was generous for us, we can be generous for him, personally (joyfully, sacrificially, and worshipfully) and relationally (voluntary generosity). Instead of greed, let’s practice generosity.

The Subtlety of Greed

Mark 10:17-31

Dennis the Menace was looking through a toy catalogue at Christmas time and made this comment: “Boy, I didn’t know there were so many toys that I wanted!” In our culture it is normal to think about giving and receiving gifts at Christmas time. In fact, it is a tremendous blessing to see the smiles a thoughtful gift brings to someone we care about. But if we think about how our culture has abused this tradition with the emphasis on merchandising and profit and Black Friday, it is not a stretch to conclude that this tradition might be fuel that feeds the sin of greed. (Actually most sin is in some way an abuse of something that began as good.) I suggest the following definition of greed: Greed is an eager (present) unrestrained ( no discipline) insatiable (never satisfied) longing expressed in the accumulation of wealth or possessions for the purpose of self-advancement. Now, to think that the average church-going believer might be greedy is quite a personal accusation. But if simply leafing through a catalogue fuels the longing for toys that previously were unknown, one conclusion is that Dennis the Menace had a problem with greed. Are we all that different? I want to consider a familiar passage of Scripture from Mark 10 to discuss this possibility.

Jesus tells the story of a young man who came to him and asked a simple question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” From outward appearances this young man was an upright and righteous person, just like most church-going Christians. Here is a man who (apparently) was humble enough to realize that he had a way to go in his life of righteousness, so he came to Jesus and asked what he could do to take the next step. This question seems like a perfectly appropriate one to pose to Jesus. But Jesus’ conversation with him demonstrated otherwise. (I am grateful to Timothy Keller whose sermon on Greed percolated many of these ideas.) Here is how Jesus heard this question. “Jesus, I know you are good and I’m also pretty good. We are ahead of most people aren’t we? But Jesus, help me out. What must I do so I can become “more good”, and make some progress – maybe even become as good as you?” Jesus went for the jugular. “There is no one good but God alone so there is absolutely no way you can ever be good. You can keep the commandments and even admit that you are not perfect, but that won’t make you good.” With that comment Jesus teaches this young man and all who are listening, that eternal life cannot be earned by doing anything. Christianity is not something we do! It is totally what Jesus has done. Neither is eternal life something we add on to an already together earthly life. This young man had his religious discipline set, since his youth, and now he wanted to add the last piece of his spiritual puzzle by coming to Jesus. However, Jesus will not be an “add on!” No one comes to the Father but by him, and him alone! So, to get to the bottom of the issue, Jesus desired to convince this young man that he had a sin problem, which was an act of love (Vs. 21). Sin separates us from God and only when our sin is forgiven can we inherit eternal life. Unless we realize that we have a sin problem, and confess that sin, and receive forgiveness that is totally based on the grace of God demonstrated by the cross, our efforts to inherit eternal life will fall woefully short. This particular man had a sin problem with greed, and to prove it, Jesus asked him to sell all of his possessions, give them to the poor and follow him. However, he went away sorrowful. How sad. Jesus brought him to the place where he could have received salvation, but his greed stood in the way.

Those who were listening to this conversation were shocked with Jesus. Vs. 26, “Then who can be saved?” If this guy cannot be saved, there is no hope for anybody. Jesus’ response is like this: “You are correct. There is no hope for anybody if they think they can do something or add Jesus to their already together life to make them pleasing to God. Salvation comes only by God’s grace.” (Vs. 27)

This particular situation was about sin that kept a young man from salvation. But how does this principle apply to those already saved? The idea is so subtle we might miss it. We come to Jesus with the same misunderstanding as this young man. We think we are good based on our good works. We think we are pleasing to God because we make sure Jesus is a part of our daily lives. But it is not about what we do nor is it about adding Jesus to an already together life. If we think it is, we are being misled and this covers up sin in our lives that keeps us from God’s best. This story reminds us that greed is one of those sins. Here is a simple question to ask that might help us discover if we have a problem with greed. I preface it by suggesting that God does not ask all believers to sell all of their possessions and give them to the poor. But here is the question – if he did, would you do it? Could you do it? If you hesitate, consider that you may have the same problem this young man had.

Greed is a bondage that grips us and has the potential to ruin us. Listen to the Apostle Paul:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1Ti 6:9-10 ESV)

This is serious stuff. American Christians fall into this trap so easily. The sin of greed is so subtle. We are more like the young man in Mark 10 than we care to admit, thinking that we are pretty humble to admit we might need to grow and that adding a little more of Jesus might actually help us be more pleasing to God. But underneath this appearance of righteousness, there lurks the ugliness of sin – and to apply Mark 10, it may be the sin of greed. How about you? Can you even consider that you might be a greedy person? But freedom from greed does not come from what we do, or from what we might add to our already together life. It comes only when we consider the cross, the ultimate solution to all sin, including greed, and that will be the subject of my next post.

Obedience from the Heart

There is a very interesting verse in Romans 6 that precipitates what I consider confusion about the relationship between grace and law.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Rom 6:14 ESV)

According to verse 13, we are to present ourselves to God (see my last post), and that sounds a lot like obedience. We might call battling the seven deadly sins a quest for obedience. But this verse seems to imply that we have a choice about how we obey. We can either practice obedience motivated by law, or we can practice obedience motivated by grace. Here is my suggestion of what obedience motivated by law looks like, and I will overstate it to make a point.

Relative to sinful behavior, law makes up a few rules, some do’s and don’ts. Then law encourages us to hold each other accountable to those rules. When we fail, we get together and beat each other up, heap on some guilt, challenge each other to repent, and then leave our group with a determination to try harder. Now I said I was overstating this, but I think there is a good deal of truth in this scenario. The result of these types of groups – discouragement, because law just doesn’t deal with the real issue. The real issue is found in Romans 6:17-18.

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Rom 6:17-18 ESV)

The key phrase is that true believers who are under grace and not under law obey from the heart!! They understand that they are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. They understand that sinning is not the way a person who is in Christ is to live. They are motivated from the heart to obey. Obedience that sets us free is obedience from the heart. Obedience from the heart is obedience empowered by grace not by law. Obedience empowered by grace results in a life where sin has no dominion over us – we are set free.

Here is Paul’s description of obedience motivated by grace.

Do not let sin reign in your bodies.

Do not present you bodies to sin.

Instead – motivated from the heart and empowered by grace:

Do present your new self to God.

Here is a great verse that unpacks this command. It comes from the lips of Jesus.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23-24 ESV)

To deny our selves is to deny who we used to be in Adam.  To take up our cross is to present our new self to God in obedience to God from the heart.

Do present your bodies to God – (Rom 6:12-14- obedience from the heart)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1 ESV)

If we learn to obey from the heart and to be empowered by the grace given to us in justification, sin will have no dominion over us. We will break free from the seven deadly sins.

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (Rom 6:19 ESV)

The daily battle against sin is a constant battle.  But we do not wage it from a position of defeat.  We wage it from the position of being In Christ.  I close with my life verse.

(My identity in Adam) have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (My identity in Christ). And the life I now live in the flesh (I present my new self to God in obedience from the heart) I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20 ESV)

I am preaching a series of messages titled, Breaking Free From The Seven Deadly Sins. As I progress through this series, I will make specific application of these principles and we will continue to learn together how to win the daily battle against sin.

What Does It Mean That We Are “Dead to Sin” – Romans 6:2 – Part 2

Last time I surveyed what I believe is the correct understanding of this pregnant phrase from Romans 6. My conclusion was that it refers to our justification and it teaches us that the old identity in Adam is dead and it is replaced by our new identity in Christ. Therefore, we now have the great privilege of entering into our new life in Christ, free from the condemnation and guilt of sin and rejoicing in our new relationship with God through Jesus, our substitute and representative.

But there is an alternative view that suggests that by this phrase Paul is teaching that our human nature is dead. It suggests that when we place our faith in Jesus, or in a subsequent experience of a second work of grace, the old nature dies and only the new nature remains. Therefore, as we progress in disciplining our mind to accept this truth, we will progress to a life that is free from behavioral sin. But there are two problems and an unnecessary consequence with this view.

First, there is a theological problem – it does not seem to fit the biblical evidence. Dozens of times the Bible instructs us not to respond to sin. But if our human nature is dead and we, by nature, are not responsive to sin, why would God tell us not to respond to sin? Colossians 3:5-11 specifically tells us to put to death the deeds of the human nature. Why would Paul tell us to do that if there are no deeds of the human nature? In Galatians 5:16-26, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is at war with the human nature. We are commanded, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to resist the deeds of the human nature. Why would Paul give this command if the human nature was dead?

The second problem is an experiential problem – it does not fit the reality of the Christian experience. I realize that there has been a significant amount of ink spilled over whether Romans 7 is Paul’s present personal testimony as a believer or whether it refers to his testimony of his experience as an unbelieving Pharisee. My view is that it refers to his Christian experience, which then seems to reflect the experience of all Christians. (Although I do not hold this view because it fits experience – that is backwards hermeneutics. But that exegetical quagmire is for another post. To understand the view that it refers to his pre-Christian experience, see Romans by Douglas Moo. For evidence that it fits his present experience, see Romans by John Stott.) Listen to Paul’s testimony:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  (Rom 7:14-15 ESV)

Is that your experience? It certainly is mine. But if one holds that the human nature is dead, there is the unfortunate consequence of discouragement and even doubt. Discouragement comes when we cry out to God for this second work of grace whereby our human nature dies, and it doesn’t come and doesn’t come. When we continue to be confronted with sinful impulses and works of the human nature, we feel defeated, even a complete failure as a believer. The ultimate consequence is that we might even doubt our salvation and give up on the Christian life altogether.

But this is not what the phrase “dead to sin” means at all. It means that we are justified and that our relationship with sin has changed. Rather than be discouraged, we rejoice in the grace of God that declares us not guilty and clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, not because our human nature is now dead, but because the death of Jesus has paid our debt and we are free from the condemnation and guilt that sin brings!!

So what do we do with the sinful impulses that are our daily experience? Every true believer wants to be free from sin, wants to obey God, wants to walk in the newness of his life “in Christ.” But it is a constant battle to live that way. How do we gain that freedom from behavioral sin? I’ll begin that discussion in my next post.

What Does It Mean That We Are “Dead to Sin” – ROMANS 6:2? – Part 1

Recently I gave a sermon on Romans 5:20-6:14 during which I clarified what Paul meant when he told us that because of our union with Jesus, we “died to sin” (6:2). My conclusion was that this phrase, along with the other times it is found in that passage (vs. 6, 10, and 11), refers to our positional state before God. It is a justification phrase that teaches us that we are declared not guilty and thus free from guilt, condemnation, and bondage to sin. The key to this understanding of this verse is vs. 9-10, where Paul declares that Jesus died to sin:

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  (Rom 6:9-10 ESV)

Jesus’ death was the sacrifice for sin. He died, once for all, to pay the penalty for sin. Therefore, the moment we trust him for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life, he not only becomes our substitute, he also becomes our representative. Therefore, when Jesus died to deal with the penalty of sin, it is faithful to the text to say that we also died to the penalty of sin. (See also Col 3:3.) That is what Romans 5:1 and 8:1 declare:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 5:1 ESV)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1 ESV)

Therefore, Paul is reminding us that when we become united with Christ in his death, the old identity in Adam is dead and gone. In its place we have a new identity of being “in Christ.” Perhaps an illustration will help. When a person gets married, the old identity of being single is gone. He/she can act single, but the truth is they are not. Why would anyone who is married still act single? (See vs. 2 for a similar question.) This is Paul’s response to the unthinkable suggestion that says, “Because of God’s grace, believers can live in known sin – because God’s grace abounds.” Unthinkable.

The final piece of evidence to understanding our death to sin as referring to our justification is verse 7.

For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Rom 6:7 ESV)

Literally this verse says, “For one who has died has been justified from sin.” That is the word used in the original language. When we are united with Jesus in his death, we are justified and that justification frees us from the grip and reign of sin. The war with God is over. There is no more condemnation. The old life of being in Adam is dead. The new life of being in Christ has begun. Therefore, according to verse 11, we must discipline our mind, we must be who we are, and:

consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:11 ESV)

Now I want to address a huge misunderstanding of this truth. There is a branch of Christianity that understands this phrase to mean that at the moment of our conversion, or even at some subsequent time when one experiences a second blessing or a second work of grace, our human nature dies. It is replaced by our new nature in Christ. Therefore, if and when our human nature dies, our experience relative to behavioral sin changes. We used to be responsive to sin, but now, since our human nature is dead, we are no longer responsive to sin. Any proclivity to sin is simply a lie of the enemy, which we must deny. The illustration is given of a dead animal. If we kick a dead animal there is no response. That kick represents temptation to sin. Since our human nature is dead to sin, the temptation is like kicking a dead animal. There is no response. The expectation then is that, as we master the mental discipline of considering ourselves dead to sin (believing by faith that our human nature is dead), we will progress in living a life free from behavioral sin.

But there is a theological problem, an experiential problem, along with these problems, there is an unnecessary consequence with this view. I will outline them in my next post.

Deuteronomy, Part 2

Two summary statements give us personal application to the Book of Deuteronomy. First, God chooses his people. Second, God’s people must choose him. (The Message of The Old Testament: Mark Dever, Crossway Books, 2006). Today we will examine the truth and implication of the first statement.

The one true God (4:35-39), who is sovereign over all (7:18-19) chose Israel, not because they deserved his salvation, not because they were any better than any other people, but simply and only because of his grace.

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  (Deu 7:6-8 NIV)

After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people. (Deu 9:4-6 NIV)

When God chose Israel, he gave Israel an identity. No longer were they a horde of disorganized and helpless slaves. Now they were a kingdom of priests. What other nation could say that they have the LORD at their side, to pray to, and to guide them? (Deut 4:5-8) As his chosen people, Israel had the promise that he would never leave them nor forsake them (31:6,8) and the assurance that he would be their refuge and strength (33:27). Let’s camp on this idea of identity for a while and make application for us today.

It has been rightfully said that a person does not need to attend church in order to be a Christian. True. But unless a person becomes part of a local fellowship of believers, he is a disobedient Christian. I think one of the reasons church membership is such a challenge for some is that membership obligates a person to other people. No longer can they simply live for themselves. They now have to consider others. But this is not a burden. It is a tremendous gift, because now, in the community of believers, our joys are multiplied and our burdens are shared. God wanted Israel to experience the joys and blessings of community, so he chose them and created the People of God. What about you? Are you a committed member of a local fellowship of believers? Consider the following quote from R. Kent Hughes, a long-time pastor and Bible teacher:

Church attendance is infected with a malaise of conditional loyalty, which has produced an army of ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for the repairs and upkeep insurance, fill the car with gas—and I’ll ride with you,. But if you have an accident, you are on your own!” So it is with the credo of some church attenders. “You go to the meetings and support the programs, you grapple with the issues and do the work for the church and pay the bills—I’ll come along for the ride. But if things don’t suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out. My thumb is always out for a better ride.”

If you are not a member of a local fellowship of believers, why not take steps to make that commitment.

  1. Read Ephesians 1:3-14. Note all the times Paul reminds us that we are God’s chosen people.  Now note all the blessings we enjoy because we are his chosen people.
  2. Read Philippians 4:6-7. If God has chosen us, what cause do we have for anxiety and worry?

The Victory of Jesus Christ

Read 1 Corinthians 15:57

Everyone loves a winner. Not many of us remember who came in second in last year’s Super Bowl, or World Series, or Final Four. Who ran for president against Bill Clinton in 1980, or George W. Bush in 1992? In most contexts, we know the winner – but other than those with personal ties, second place finishers are quickly forgotten. Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, an event that sets him apart as the ultimate victor.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Co 15:57 NIV)

In his profound book, The Cross of Christ, John Stott suggests that the victory of Jesus was in the context of the conquest of evil. He reminds us of the earthly battle between Jesus and Satan during Jesus’ sojourn on earth and then outlines six steps in the victory of Jesus over Satan and subsequently over evil itself.

First, the conquest predicted. Speaking of a male descendent of Eve, God declared to Satan,

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen 3:15 NIV)

It does not take much imagination to understand that on the cross, Satan stuck, as it were, the heel of Jesus. But in the resurrection, Jesus crushed the head of Satan.

Second, the conquest begun. When Jesus was born, there was an attempt to kill him through the evil massacre of the male children in Bethlehem. Then there was the wilderness testing, the constant harassment of unbelief and even foiled attempts on his life during his ministry. One might describe Jesus’ earthly ministry as one of constant conflict with Satan, but Jesus remained true to his mission and was never overcome by him.

Third, the conquest achieved. Notice the declaration of the Apostle Paul:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:13-15 NIV)

It is important to understand that the cross was the ultimate arena of the battle between Satan and Jesus and it was through the sacrifice of Jesus’ body and the shedding of his blood that provided forgiveness of our sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus.

Fourth, the conquest confirmed and announced. In the resurrection, the finished accomplishment of the cross and the decisive defeat of Satan was announced to the world.

[God] raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph 1:20-23 NIV)

Fifth, the conquest extended. This truth refers to the mission for the church, which has the privilege of being ambassadors of Christ to the world. Paul summarizes his mission as a church planter this way.

I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Act 26:17-18 NIV 

I am reminded of the promise of Jesus that the gates of hell shall not deter the church from accomplishing its mission.

Finally, the conquest consummated. To quote Stott, who describes the ultimate victory:

The devil will be thrown into the lake of fire where death and Hades will join him. For the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Then when all evil dominion authority and power have been destroyed, the Son will hand over the kingdom to the Father and he will be all in all.

Rejoice today in the ultimate victory of Jesus. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

The Cross: Expressing The Holy Love of God

Read Exodus 34:6-7

God and man are fundamentally different.  How’s that for a profound statement.  Here is what I mean.  Humanity is infected by sin in every aspect of our being.  The major expression of that sin is self centeredness, the human attribute that largely contributed to the fall.  However, the person who is a Christ follower, whose heart of stone has been replaced by a heart of flesh, who has partaken of the divine nature, who has been born again and filled with the Holy Spirit, also has the nature of Jesus living within (Gal 2:20).  Consequently, as a behavior of discipleship, a Christian can, and should on a daily basis, deny himself. (Luke 9:23).  Instead of being self centered we are to be Christ centered.  We can deny self.  Not so with God.  God cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13) So what does this have to do with the cross?

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,  7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV)

Here we have a dual expression of God’s attributes.  God is compassionate, gracious, loving, and forgiving, yet he punishes the guilty.   Doesn’t it seem proper that if the nature of God is rightly expressed in those “loving” attributes that he would just overlook sin and let the guilty off the hook.  Not for a moment.  For God is at the same time holy, and he cannot deny himself.  Sin offends God, it provokes God, and in response he burns with righteous anger and is obligated to pour out his wrath against sin.

In the cross of Christ there is a collision of the holiness and love of God.  And after the smoke clears, the holy love of God is satisfied.  Listen to several statements that have been suggested over the years:

“In the cross of Christ, God’s justice and love are simultaneously revealed” – G.C. Berkouwer

God, “in a marvelous and divine way loved us even when he hated us.” – John Calvin

“The wrath of God is the love of God.” – Emil Brunner

God is both the “Judge who must punish evil-doers and the Lover who must find a way to forgive them.” – John Stott

If you read my most recent post that outlined the nature of Jesus being both God and man, you will remember that I suggested that it was God in Christ who died on the cross.  As such, the cross is the perfect expression of God’s holiness and his love in that God poured out his wrath on himself in order to satisfy himself, and he did it in order to express his love for us.

On Good Friday, when you have occasion to reflect on the cross, marvel at the wonderful truth that in the cross of Jesus, God expresses his holy love.

Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand-
The shadow of a mighty rock
Within a weary land…
O safe and happy shelter!
O refuge tried and sweet!
O trysting-place where heaven’s love
And heaven’s justice meet!

Much of the material in this post is a summary from The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott

Who Died On The Cross?

Read Colossians 2:9

As we approach the observance of Good Friday, it seems appropriate to discuss what actually happened in the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus.  I was in a discussion this morning when it was reported that a popular theory of the atonement was that God was the divine father who carried out child abuse on his son.  The implication of this “theory” is that in order to bring salvation to the world, God, the abusive divine Father, poured out his wrath on his innocent Son, quite apart from any cooperation from the Son, in fact, against the will of the Son.  I was immediately reminded of other, equally offensive, “theories” of the atonement, but that are often much more readily accepted.  One is that the compassionate and gracious Son wrestles forgiveness from a reluctant Father.  Another is that the Father sacrifices his Son in order to save mankind, much like a sobbing railroad switch operator is forced to crush his little boy who is playing among the gears of the mechanism that controls the switch when he guides the train onto its proper track,  thus preventing the train, and its passengers, from plunging down a steep ravine.   Such images – divine child abuse, compassionate Jesus and reluctant Father, innocent child and grieving father, find very little, if any, support in Scripture.  Over the next few days, I will attempt to clarify just what happened on the cross and expound the glorious riches of the central event in human history.

I begins today with a brief discussion of just who was on the cross.  The Apostle Paul summarizes the nature of Jesus profoundly.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, (Col 2:9 NIV)

This verse unites the two most significant Christian observances, Christmas and Easter (Good Friday and Resurrection morning).  At the incarnation, Jesus became the God/man, 100% God and 100% man, at the same time.  One of the ancient councils concluded that in Jesus there were two natures that were united in four distinct ways.

Inconfusedly – Jesus’ divine and human natures were united, but they did not meld together to form a hybrid person, like yellow and blue meld to become green.

Unchangeably – Jesus human and divine natures both retained their full essence.  Jesus was not part God and part man – his divine nature did not change to become less than divine and his human nature was fully human.

Indivisibly – Once united, it would not be possible distinguish one from the other.  Jesus lived a “both and” existence.

Inseparably – In Christ, the divine and the human are united forever.  They will never be separated.

So who was on the cross on Good Friday?  God himself, in the man Jesus, was on the cross.  I will unpack this conclusion over the next two posts, but for now marvel in the glorious truth that when God poured his wrath out on his son, he poured his wrath out on himself.  When Jesus took our place on the cross, God, in Christ, substituted himself for us.  The cross was a divinely scripted plan fully embraced by the both the Father and the Son.  Let’s put to rest any idea that either the Father or the Son acted independently from the other.  Jesus declared, “I and the Father are one.”  (John 10:30)  So who died on the cross – God, in Christ, did.  And it  was all for love!

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