Worthiness: Ours Or His?

Rich In Mercy

The logic goes that Jesus died for us because He saw something in us worth saving.  That perspective certainly sounds reasonable, and I’d venture to say that every one of us would love to believe it. Doesn’t it thrill you to think that the Lord saw something special and valuable in you? That you were worth saving?

Once again,  however, this interpretation of Christ’s death subtly shifts attention from Christ’s mercy and grace to us. It neglects the wretched condition of our souls by insinuating that we actually deserved God’s notice.  In fact, it pretty much implies that He had an obligation to save us. Could we even say that He is lucky to have such magnificent people in His kingdom?

As much as the idea that we possess something of intrinsic value appeals to us, nothing in the Bible supports it. On the contrary, God’s Word repeatedly emphasizes our unworthiness as a backdrop to His wondrous grace.Let me take you back to Ephesians 2:1-10 for a moment.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

Verses 1-3 paint a particularly nasty picture of us, don’t  they? By  nature, it says, we were children of wrath. What value could a child of wrath, dead in sin and ruled by fleshly passions, possibly have? Why would a holy God have any compelling reason for shedding His innocent blood for any of us?

Verses 4-7 answer that question. The Lord lavished His salvation on us in order to display the riches of His grace and kindness. Our salvation points, not to any imaginary worth on our part, but to His generosity in saving such undeserving sinners.

The purpose of our salvation, then, is to showcase the Lord’s character. What a wonderful God He is to extend that degree of compassion on worthless sinners who merit nothing but His wrath. Although nothing about us commends us to Him, Jesus willingly went to the cross to accept the Father’s wrath — wrath that we deserved! His atoning sacrifice highlights His graciousness and compassion, revealing what a loving God He is!

He is the worthy one, not any of us. Worship (which means the ascribing of worth) goes totally to Him. How utterly magnificent that He would choose to love vile creatures like us! The more we understand that we had no value in and of ourselves, the more we want to worship Him for His inexplicable mercy and grace.

Verse 10 completes the beautiful picture of God’s grace in saving us, declaring that He regenerates us into His workmanship. Though we have no worth of our own, Christ gives us His worth, graciously using us as His agents of good works. At this mercy, we can only praise Him.

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Bearing My Great-Great-Grandfather’s Guilt

dark-bibleYesterday I tried to make the case that, as white Americans, we need to be sensitive to the discrimination and injustices that black Americans have suffered. Denying slavery, Jim Crow laws or racial profiling doesn’t ease tensions; it simply serves to confirm perceptions that we neither understand nor care to understand what black Americans have collectively endured.

The bulk of discrimination, sadly, was and is all too real. Contrary to popular opinion,  however, a percentage of the injustice seems to be their perception (possibly augmented by past experiences) rather than actual injury.

The two examples I cited yesterday underscore this point. The young man that I called “boy” projected racist motives onto my remark even though I had no way of knowing the connotation of what I’d said. He perceived the racial slur that most people mean, and therefore assumed that I was also making a racial slur.

Similarly, my then fiance’s comment that every black person in the south can point to a tree where one of their ancestors was lynched may have been hyperbole. Someone I respect sent me a Direct Message on Twitter after reading yesterday’s blog post, mathematically challenging the claim my ex made. Possibly, my ex had heard so many accounts of KKK lynchings that it certainly seemed like every black person in the south could point to a lynching tree.

Perception can often affect beliefs, and therefore magnify anger. From what I’ve read, this magnified anger came out at the MLK50 Conference last week in the form of demands that white American evangelicals adopt an attitude of continual repentance for the sins our ancestors committed against blacks.

My great-great-grandfather immigrated to the United States during the Irish Potato Famine, settling in Georgia. He was 16. Soon after, he fought in the Civil War with the Confederacy. For years, I struggled with guilt and embarrassment that he essentially fought to preserve the sin of slavery. I also felt guilty and embarrassed that my grandmother occasionally expressed racist sentiments.

Scripture, however, teaches that each person is accountable for his or her own sin, not for the sins of his or her predecessors.

14 “Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise: 15 he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife, 16 does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 17 withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no interest or profit, obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. ~~Ezekiel 18:14-17 (ESV)

If God doesn’t hold me responsible for the sins of my grandmother or my great-great-grandfather, why should anyone demand that I live in perpetual repentance for what these two did? If Christ’s blood completely atoned for my sin, why should anyone hold me responsible for sins that my ancestors committed — sins that have absolutely nothing to do with me?

The assertion that I must continually repent for sins that I didn’t commit goes directly against the Gospel. Jesus dealt with my sin at the cross. Only He knows whether or not my grandmother and great-great-grandfather had saving faith, so He will judge them accordingly. Yes, actions like theirs devastated American blacks, and the repercussions extend to our present time. But the guilt isn’t for me to own.

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The Back Story To Good Friday

At The CrossPeople naturally recoil at any mention of God’s wrath or His judgment. None of us particularly relishes the thought of His righteous anger, and we certainly balk at the suggestion that we personally deserve eternal punishment for our sins. I know I’d prefer to focus on His love.

But in order to really understand the wonder of God’s grace in Christ’s atoning death on the cross, we first must come to terms with the horrifying reality that, as sinners, we deserve eternal damnation. The apostle Paul, as a matter of fact, spent the first two-and-a-half chapters of Romans demonstrating the universal corruption of the human race. He makes it abundantly clear that not one of us can justify ourselves before God.

From there, however, Paul introduces the glorious good news that Christ Jesus took God’s wrath on Himself, actually bearing the punishment that rightfully belongs to you and me.

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ~~Romans 3:9-26 (ESV)

Verse 25 states that God put His Son forward as a propitiation. Because we rarely use the word “propitiation” in our highly secularized culture, we miss the connection between God’s wrath and Christ’s work on the cross. So let’s define this almost forgotten word.

A propitiation is, simply put, an atoning sacrifice. It carries the connotation of appeasing an offended party. This sacrifice absorbs the punishment that otherwise would fall on the person who caused the offense. For example, the slaughtered animals used in Old Testament offerings propitiated for the sins of the Jews. These Old Testament sacrifices, we now understand, looked forward to the Lamb of God, Who would bear the wrath that actually belongs to us.

Today, Good Friday, we remember Jesus dying on the cross as our substitute. But do we fully understand that the Father’s wrath was poured out on Him at that moment? I believe that’s difficult for us to accept.

Aside from occasional moments of clarity when the horror of our sin absolutely won’t escape our notice, we really don’t see ourselves as deserving of God’s righteous indignation. Sure, we acknowledge that we’ve sinned, but we struggle to realize just how odious our sin is to a holy God. Our inability to comprehend the overwhelming enormity of our sinfulness makes it equally hard to comprehend the overwhelming enormity of God’s wrath toward our sin.

As a result, we can miss the profound beauty of Jesus’  death as our propitiation.

Thankfully, our dullness to the depth of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf in no way minimizes its effect. Praise God, He has taken the wrath that our sin incurred precisely so that no one who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will ever have to experience the full impact of God’s wrath. How glorious that our loving Heavenly Father, desiring to shield us from His justified anger, mercifully provided His own propitiation! What a wonderful God we serve!

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Saturday Sampler: March 18 — March 24

Three BunniesIf I comment on Even more than the watchmen of the night! by Elizabeth Prata in The End Time, I’d surely spoil it for you. But if you take time to read it, I promise that you’ll be glad you did.

Writing for Ligonier, W. Robert Godfrey examines The Word-less “Church” that permeates the evangelical landscape these days. Ignoring God’s Word has grave consequences that churches must recognize in order to responsibly honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

Unlocking the Bible features Pastor Tim’s Bible Q&A: What Should I Do If I Am Doubting the Goodness of God? Sometimes my sin causes me to question my salvation, and so Pastor Tim’s points offer the assurance I need.

Even though John Chester writes When Preaching Wears a Mask for pastors, I believe his thoughts can help all of us be discerning about the preaching we sit under. You’ll find this post on the Parking Space 23 blog.

“The issue of inerrancy is an issue of the integrity of God” according to Eric Davis of The Cripplegate. His article, How True is the Bible? — Inerrancy examines the trustworthiness of Scripture as the expression of God’s character. Yes, it’s a lengthy piece, but its length underscores the critical importance of the topic.

Yes! Emphatically YES! Michelle Lesley of Discipleship for Christian Women hits the nail on the head with Throwback Thursday ~ The Daily Wonder of Easter. We need committed pastors, not creative ones. Thank you, Michelle, for reprising this essential essay.

Writing for Southern Equip (a blog produced by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Thomas Schreiner discusses Faith that moves mountains: What Jesus didn’t mean. He provides an excellent example of understanding Scripture in its correct context, as well as extricating familiar verses from popular misinterpretations.

Don’t miss Your Testimony Is Not The Gospel by the late R.C. Sproul on the Ligonier blog. His observations in this matter clarify what we should emphasize in our evangelistic efforts.

Normally I don’t link to anything posted prior to the dates listed in a Sampler title bar, and I can’t remember ever linking to a podcast. Andy Olson’s February 17 episode of Echo Zoe Radio, Costi Hinn: Defining Deception, causes me to make exceptions on both counts. Costi once ministered with his uncle, Benny Hinn, but has since become a cessationist. His testimony will absolutely fascinate you.

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Of First Importance, According To The Scriptures

He Is Risen IndeedDay after tomorrow begins Holy Week, when Christians throughout the world commemorate the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. These two events, of course, are the very heart of the Gospel, as the apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Corinthians.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, ~~1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV)

Most of us have heard this basic Gospel message so often that we can recite it without much thought. And, I might add, many times without much feeling. We want to move past the fundamentals and explore all the resultant issues of Christianity. Readers of this blog, for example, show the most interest in articles naming evangelical celebrities than in ones about the Gospel.

Yet Paul, writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit, insisted that Christ’s death, burial and resurrection rank first in order of importance. We need to pay attention to his pronouncement.

In this blog, I cover a lot of topics that I consider highly important. Exposing false teachers, examining homosexuality, refuting Roman Catholicism and arguing against women usurping male leadership represent just a few subjects that stir my passion. And these issues most assuredly need a great deal of attention, particularly as evangelical churches continue sliding into worldly attitudes and behaviors.

But the best means of standing against these threats to Biblical Christianity lies in maintaining a solid connection with the Gospel. We need to constantly come back to the historical events of that Passover weekend, understanding that God used those powerful events to bring sinners like you and me to salvation.

For that reason, we mustn’t confine our consideration of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection to Holy Week. The Bible says these events are of first importance!  As such, we must keep them in the forefront of our minds, remembering how desperately we needed the salvation that Christ accomplished for us on the cross.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

As you can see, we cannot regard Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection dispassionately, as if they had no real bearing on our lives. Apart from the shed blood of Jesus Christ, every single one of us would be eternally damned, dead to the things of God because of our own sin. Praise the Lord that He took our punishment, and rose again to give believers eternal life with Him!

Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection take first importance because our eternal life absolutely depends on what He did for us! Holy Week can be a wonderful starting place for appreciating His amazing grace in saving wretches like you and me, but this tremendous Gospel message must remain central to our thoughts long after we exit our churches on Resurrection Sunday.

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Our Wretchedness, His Grace

2e38e-cross2bof2bpeaceHow frustrating! That besetting sin you thought you’d conquered has reared its ugly head yet again, and you’ve allowed it to take control. Of course you know that Christ forgives, but you also know that He saved you in order that you would walk in holiness and obedience.

You feel the same frustration that all true Christians feel. Our love for the Lord naturally causes us to hate sin. Even the apostle Paul felt disgusted with himself when he disobeyed God’s commandments (see Romans 7:13-24).

We understand — intellectually, at least — that Jesus forgives our sin at the point of our conversion. That’s a joyous realization for the sinner who correctly sees his or her wretched state and consequently appreciates the Lord’s mercy and grace to take those sins on Himself in order to extend pardon. We rightly praise Him for declaring us to be righteous before a holy Judge, all because of His blood shed on our behalf.

But will His precious blood also cover sins we commit as Christians? Many people genuinely struggle with fear that they’ve presumed on His grace once too often, or that their ongoing battle with sin gives evidence that they never experienced true salvation in the first place.

Certainly, many people who sincerely believe themselves to be Christians aren’t. I often write about false converts, convinced that evangelical churches overflow with them. And if your sin causes you to examine yourself to determine whether or not you’ve really been born again, praise the Lord!

But let’s add some balance to our self-examination, shall we? Yes, we’ve once again dishonored our Savior, and that awareness by all means should break our hearts. However, the very fact that we grieve over having offended Christ indicates that He has given us hearts like His that hate sin and love righteousness. False converts excuse sin, grieving only that someone caught them or that they have unpleasant consequences, but true Christians regard sin as the vile reason that our precious Lord suffered and bled and died.

The very fact that we experience frustration over our sin assures us that the Holy Spirit has transformed us so that we now resemble our heavenly Father. Only those who are born again have that heavenly trait. Though we rightly bemoan our wretched sin nature, we also rejoice that the Holy Spirit has regenerated our hearts so that we no longer celebrate our sin.

Finally, we don’t need to despair that our sins, as grievous as they truly are, will always cripple us or cause God to reject us. Rather than focusing on our wretched condition, we can concentrate on the Lord as our Savior, remembering Paul’s glorious conclusion in Romans 7:

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ~~Romans 7:24-25 (ESV)

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This Isn’t A Eulogy, Exactly

IMG_0693Saturday, a friend of ours lost his battle with cancer. I suppose I could tell you about his love for the Lord, about his beautiful devotion to his wife and family, about his ministry as the Youth Group director at his church or about how he and his wife fostered children and young adults. Alternately, I could tell you how, early in my marriage to John, he taught us a few important points on marriage.

Some of you might enjoy reading such things, but face it — almost all of you never met him. A eulogy probably wouldn’t be very meaningful to you. It might not even be that interesting. For most of you, he was just an obscure guy in Massachusetts that had no direct impact on your lives. You’re sorry for my loss and all, but you didn’t come to my blog to read about him. And I definitely understand that position.

So rather than write about my memories of this man, I want to reflect on the joy he’s experiencing now. If people who knew him happen to read this article, please understand that I by no means want to minimize your grief; all of us who knew him are broken hearted by his passing. And yet, as Christians,  we know he’s beholding the wonderful face of Jesus.

Obviously, none of us really knows what it’s like to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ face-to-face. I therefore want to avoid any extrabiblical speculation or conjecture, preferring to keep within the bounds of what God has revealed in His Word.

Scripture gives glimpses of that wondrous occurrence by recounting the experience of the apostle John.

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. ~~Revelation 1:9-20 (ESV)

Okay, I realize that John still had his sinful body when he saw the Lord, making his experience arguably different from that of someone who has died.  But I would submit to you that he described Christ’s glorified state. Those who die, because they finally have freedom from their sinful bodies, may not fall paralyzed  at His feet, but we will see His same glory.

With that fearsome glory, however,  John saw Christ’s compassion. Notice verse 17, where the Lord reassures John. The tenderness in that verse beautifully balances the overwhelming description of Christ’s magnificent and terrifying holiness in the preceding verses.

With compassion to temper the brilliance of Christ’s glory and holiness, John could joyfully serve the Lord by writing the Revelation. Fear subsided as he went on to narrate what will happen when Christ finally returns to claim His Bride and establish His kingdom.  What joy fills those last two chapters of Revelation!

Although I have no way of knowing what my friend saw when he entered heaven Saturday, I rest assured that it brought him immeasurable joy. As a result, the sadness I feel for his wife and children gives way to rejoicing for him. And one day I will also see that same glorified Christ in all His splendor!

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