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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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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The Sin Of False Converts

Serious Little Boy01When I first understood that someone could be falsely converted, I began wondering about the validity of my own salvation. This anxiety increased as I came to Reformed Theology and realized that I had received several erroneous teachings during the first three decades of my Christian life.

In one respect, Scripture commands such introspection (2 Corinthians 13:5, 1 Peter 1:10). Many who consider themselves to be Christians don’t exhibit the qualities of those who have been transformed by the resurrected Lord. We’ll elaborate on that point momentarily.

But that introspection should never make doctrinal perfection the measuring rod for judging salvation. Although I rejected the doctrine of election for quite some time, for example, I believed that Jesus died for my sin and therefore I owed Him my life. I trusted Him as my Savior. He had elected me whether I believed in election or not, as evidenced by the faith He gave me to trust in His work of atonement.

Yet I struggled greatly to believe that my repeated sins wouldn’t eventually cause the Lord to revoke His saving grace. His own words troubled me:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ ~~Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

Had all my supposed ministry for the Lord been meaningless because of my sins? In my case, no. As much as I allow myself to sin, the Holy Spirit faithfully convicts me until I repent.  I then cling to the cross, assured that Christ has given me His righteousness. My trust reverts to His work rather than my own.

False converts, on the other hand, point to their apparent good works in an effort to distract God from their sinful lifestyles.  Jesus rightly calls them workers of lawlessness, cutting through their self-righteousness to expose their lack of repentance and trust in Him alone.

Dear reader, if you attribute your salvation to anything you’ve done (even saying a prayer or walking down an aisle too respond to an altar call), please examine yourself today. Are you trusting Christ’s shed blood on the cross, or do you proudly point to something you’ve supposedly done to merit His favor. If you dare to base your salvation on anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ, prepare to hear Him declare that He never knew you.

 

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Amazing Grace And Why I Love Verse 2

Imagine being a 17-year-old girl who read just enough of the Bible to know she was a hopelessly wretched sinner deserving of eternity in hell. Imagine her not understanding that the Son of God took her place on the cross, shedding His innocent blood to satisfy the Father’s wrath towards her selfish, wicked thoughts. But then imagine her profound relief when she finally heard the Gospel and gratefully received God’s grace.

I don’t have to image that scenario. I lived it almost 47 years ago.

Looking back on that time, I praise the Lord for allowing me to sense my wretched condition, despite the pain of knowing that I belonged in hell. As strange as it sounds, God’s grace opened my eyes to see my sin. Until He did that, I was blind to my need for a Savior.

The hymn, Amazing Grace, always brings me back to that 17-year-old girl who experienced both the terror of her sins and the joy of God’s forgiveness. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved beautifully encapsulates my testimony. Does it describe yours?

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I Make A Decidedly Putrid Message (And So Do You)

Putrid worksIn recent years, the notion that we can “be the message” has resurrected the old cliche, “Preach the Gospel–if necessary, use words.”  The social gospel movement, in particular, capitalizes on this cliche for the purpose of using works of charity almost in place of preaching the Gospel. They rationalize that, because of their acts of service, people will ask what motivates them to serve, thus opening the door for evangelism.

In an effort to discern the validity of this popular idea, we need to examine it in light of what the Word of God teaches. I’ll refer to several Scriptures, so please click the links; quoting so many of them directly in one blog post might put me in danger of violating the ESV copyright permission.

I agree that a person’s behavior, in general,  demonstrates his true beliefs.  James 2:14-26 indeed maintains that  “faith without works is dead.” Jesus Himself warned that He will reject those who call Him Lord while actively disobeying His commandments (Matthew 7:21-27). The proponents of the social gospel must be commended, therefore, for their desire to address the obvious disconnect between what evangelicals profess to believe and how we actually live. The non-Christian world sees our hypocrisy, and uses it as an excuse to reject Christ.

That said, our good behavior, in and of itself, can only (at best) lead people to ask us about the Lord (1 Peter 3:15). Of course, we should remember the broader context of this verse. 1 Peter 3:8-22 offers guidelines to Christians in the midst of suffering for their commitment to  Christ. The First Century believers to whom Peter originally wrote amazed their critics by clinging to Jesus when simply renouncing Him would have liberated them from persecution. They did far more than live good lives. They proclaimed Christ in an empire that made such proclamations punishable by death.

Their potential martyrdom went far beyond “right living.” Good behavior certainly reflects God’s standards for personal holiness, but without accompanying words about the grace of God that transforms a sinner, such good behavior degenerates into self-righteous morality that the Lord considers putrid (see Isaiah 64:6).

As a matter of fact, dear readers, not one of us leads a life that replaces the need to articulate the Gospel. We are declared righteous by virtue of the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection rather than by our deeds, meaning that our lives continue to be tainted by our proclivity to sin (see Romans 7:7-24). We should, of course, walk in obedience to the Lord, but we dare not entertain the notion that social justice is enough to win anyone to Christ.

The Gospel requires that you and I actually talk about sin, hell, repentance and the fact that only Jesus provides salvation from God’s wrath. We can dig wells, help children with disabilities and run food pantries all we want, but unless we accompany those activities with a clear proclamation of the Gospel, people will see no difference between us and members of the Elks club. And they’ll be looking at us, not at the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Pardon There Was Multiplied To Me

One of the saddest aspects of evangelicalism is that people make professions of faith without genuinely understanding why they need salvation. Evangelicals often present Jesus as an agent of life enhancement rather than the One Who bears the wrath of a holy Judge on our behalf.

But how thankful I am that the Holy Spirit confronted me with my sin 46 years ago! Knowing that I deserve eternity in hell has made me so appreciative of the Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross for my sin! Only those who see how terrible their sin is realize what a wonderful thing the Lord did for us on Calvary.

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Saturday Sampler: May 7 — May 13

Five Easter BabiesHymns have lessened in popularity over the past 50 years. And that trend has truly impoverished the Church. In his blog for Concordia Publishing House, Joe Willmann shows us that Teaching the Truth in our Hymns can be a powerful and easy way to learn essential Christian doctrine.

John Ellis adds brilliantly to the conversation about Jen Hatmaker and her endorsement of same sex marriage in his article, The Cowardly Defense of Sin: Jen Hatmaker’s Rejection of the Bible, written for PJ Media. I can’t applaud Ellis enough for this one! (Did I mention that it’s brilliant?)

Similarly, Summer White of Sheologians joins the discussion on Hatmaker by writing On Redefining Words and Character Assassination. Summer gets to the true issue in this controversy: Hatmaker’s implicit denial of God’s holiness.

You might not completely agree with Leslie A.’s post, Learn to Discern: Reawakening the Conscience, in Growing 4 Life. I’m a little uncomfortable with her presentation, afraid that she may be imposing her personal convictions on her readers. That said, her main point about the influence of entertainment on our conscience deserves prayerful consideration. For that reason  I encourage you to read this post and think about her points.

Similarly, Kevin Halloran of Anchored In Christ gives us Ten Questions Christians Should Ask of Their Entertainment. His perspective offers more leeway, while still encouraging us to be discerning.

Biblical illiteracy causes a great deal of the problems among evangelicals. Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day writes The More Sure Word to demonstrate the importance of relying on Scripture rather than personal experience.

In a group post, the ladies at Out of the Ordinary share the Pivotal Doctrines that have influenced their relationships with me Lord. Interestingly, two of them write about justification. As you read these posts, you may connect them with some of my posts on the Reformation.

Writing for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Leslie Schmucker confronts us with The Uncomfortable Subject Jesus Addressed More than Anyone Else. No ma’am, I’m not going to tell you what it is! You’ll have to read the article for yourself. 🙂

 

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