I love Easter.
I love the celebratory music we sing at church. I love the passages of Scripture we read during worship. And most of all, I love the visual image of the empty tomb.
I’m deeply persuaded that the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ reveals three fundamental character qualities about God.
The empty tomb reveals that God is faithful. Centuries earlier, after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, God promised that He would crush wrong once and for all. He sent his Son to defeat sin and death by his crucifixion and resurrection.
For thousands of years, God neither forgot nor turned from His promise. He didn’t grow weary, nor would he be distracted. He made a promise, and he controlled the events of history (large and small) so that at just the right moment, Jesus Christ would come and fulfill what had been promised.
The empty tomb also reveals that God is powerful – powerful in authority and powerful in strength.
Think of the authority you would have to have to control all the situations, locations, and relationships in order to guarantee that Jesus would come at the precise moment and do what he was appointed to do!
Also, could there be a more pointed demonstration of power than to have power over death? By God’s awesome power, Jesus took off his grave clothes and walked out of that tomb. Those guys in power-lifting competitions may be able to pull a bus with their teeth, but they’ll all die, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
The empty tomb also reveals God’s willingness. Why would He go to such an extent to help us? Why would He care to notice us, let alone rescue us? Why would He ever sacrifice His own Son? Because He’s willing.
You and I need to recognize that His willingness was motivated not by what He saw in us but by what is inside of Him. He’s willing because He’s the definition of mercy. He’s willing because He’s the source of love. He’s willing because He’s full of amazing grace. He’s willing because He’s good, gentle, patient, and kind.
Even when we’re unwilling, full of ourselves, and wanting our own way, He’s still willing. He delights in transforming us by His grace. He delights in rescuing us by His powerful love.
A MOMENT OF HONESTY
These are beautiful and riveting truths, but we need to have a moment of honesty. It’s going to be very easy, come Sunday, to celebrate these truths. But what happens on after the celebration of Easter has died down?
What happens when you’re sinned against? You don’t have to lash out. What happens when the fallen world breaks your door down? You don’t have to run away. What happens when the things that God calls sinful start to look powerfully attractive? You don’t have to surrender.
Why? Because God is faithful, powerful, and willing. You see, Jesus wasn’t raised from death only to seal your future eternity. Certainly that’s an immeasurable gift on it’s own, but the resurrection has implications for you today.
You can stand in your weakness and confusion and say, “I’m not alone. God is with me, and He is faithful, powerful, and willing. He can do what I can’t do, and He gives me a new spirit to love what He loves.”
If you’re God’s child, the Resurrected Christ lives inside you today by His Spirit. You are a new person, not only in righteous standing before God, but in ability and desire. Jesus walked out of that tomb so you can walk in righteous hope until you meet Him face to face.
When we talk about the vicarious aspect of the atonement, two rather technical words come up again and again: expiation and propitiation. These words spark all kinds of arguments about which one should be used to translate a particular Greek word, and some versions of the Bible will use one of these words and some will use the other one. I’m often asked to explain the difference between propitiation and expiation. The difficulty is that even though these words are in the Bible, we don’t use them as part of our day-to-day vocabulary, so we aren’t sure exactly what they are communicating in Scripture. We lack reference points in relation to these words.
Expiation and Propitiation
Let’s think about what these words mean, then, beginning with the word expiation. The prefix ex means “out of” or “from,” so expiation has to do with removing something or taking something away. In biblical terms, it has to do with taking away guilt through the payment of a penalty or the offering of an atonement. By contrast, propitiation has to do with the object of the expiation. The prefix pro means “for,” so propitiation brings about a change in God’s attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favor with Him.
In a certain sense, propitiation has to do with God’s being appeased. We know how the word appeasement functions in military and political conflicts. We think of the so-called politics of appeasement, the philosophy that if you have a rambunctious world conqueror on the loose and rattling the sword, rather than risk the wrath of his blitzkrieg you give him the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia or some such chunk of territory. You try to assuage his wrath by giving him something that will satisfy him so that he won’t come into your country and mow you down. That’s an ungodly manifestation of appeasement. But if you are angry or you are violated, and I satisfy your anger, or appease you, then I am restored to your favor and the problem is removed.
The same Greek word is translated by both the words expiation and propitiation from time to time. But there is a slight difference in the terms. Expiation is the act that results in the change of God’s disposition toward us. It is what Christ did on the cross, and the result of Christ’s work of expiation is propitiation—God’s anger is turned away. The distinction is the same as that between the ransom that is paid and the attitude of the one who receives the ransom.
Christ’s Work Was an Act of Placation
Together, expiation and propitiation constitute an act of placation. Christ did His work on the cross to placate the wrath of God. This idea of placating the wrath of God has done little to placate the wrath of modern theologians. In fact, they become very wrathful about the whole idea of placating God’s wrath. They think it is beneath the dignity of God to have to be placated, that we should have to do something to soothe Him or appease Him. We need to be very careful in how we understand the wrath of God, but let me remind you that the concept of placating the wrath of God has to do here not with a peripheral, tangential point of theology, but with the essence of salvation.
What Is Salvation?
Let me ask a very basic question: what does the term salvation mean? Trying to explain it quickly can give you a headache, because the word salvation is used in about seventy different ways in the Bible. If somebody is rescued from certain defeat in battle, he experiences salvation. If somebody survives a life-threatening illness, that person experiences salvation. If somebody’s plants are brought back from withering to robust health, they are saved. That’s biblical language, and it’s really no different than our own language. We save money. A boxer is saved by the bell, meaning he’s saved from losing the fight by knockout, not that he is transported into the eternal kingdom of God. In short, any experience of deliverance from a clear and present danger can be spoken of as a form of salvation.
When we talk about salvation biblically, we have to be careful to state that from which we ultimately are saved. The apostle Paul does just that for us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where he says Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come.” Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. We simply cannot understand the teaching and the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth apart from this, for He constantly warned people that the whole world someday would come under divine judgment. Here are a few of His warnings concerning the judgment: “‘I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment’” (Matt. 5:22); “‘I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment’” (Matt. 12:36); and “‘The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here’” (Matt. 12:41). Jesus’ theology was a crisis theology. The Greek word crisis means “judgment.” And the crisis of which Jesus preached was the crisis of an impending judgment of the world, at which point God is going to pour out His wrath against the unredeemed, the ungodly, and the impenitent. The only hope of escape from that outpouring of wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.
Therefore, Christ’s supreme achievement on the cross is that He placated the wrath of God, which would burn against us were we not covered by the sacrifice of Christ. So if somebody argues against placation or the idea of Christ satisfying the wrath of God, be alert, because the gospel is at stake. This is about the essence of salvation—that as people who are covered by the atonement, we are redeemed from the supreme danger to which any person is exposed. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a holy God Who’s wrathful. But there is no wrath for those whose sins have been paid. That is what salvation is all about.
This excerpt is from R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross. Download the digital audiobook free through April 30, 2014.
The atonement is like a multi-faceted diamond. What Christ accomplished on the cross is so massive, and the window into the heart of God is so big that no one explanation or description of the atonement can tell the whole story.
Because the atonement is at the heart of who God is and what he has done for us, we can never fully exhaust the riches that flow from this event. But recognizing our inability to mine all the theological treasures represented in the cross of Christ should not keep us from pondering the beautiful truth of this event.
In recent weeks, guest contributors have written about the different aspects of Christ’s atoning work. Here is a summary of their posts, with links for you to dig deeper into the significance of each truth.
On the cross, Christ slays the Dragon and wins our victory:
In the cross and resurrection, Christ the warrior king is the new and better Adam who delivers a head crushing blow to the serpent. He is the new and better Joshua who drives out all his enemies from the Promised Land. He is the new and better David who establishes the eternal kingdom of God.
On the cross, Christ drinks the cup of God’s wrath as a substitute sacrifice:
Because of this, when God looks at us, he no longer sees a sinner destined for wrath; he sees His Son nailed to the cross, shedding His own blood in our place. He died so that we may truly live, free from the shackles of sin and death.
On the cross, Christ redeems us from slavery to sin and death:
Can you see that this is what the redeeming love of God looks like—buying you back from the slave market? He wooed you to himself with gospel promises of mercy instead of punishment, belonging instead of estrangement. He loved you by redeeming you from your enslavement to all lesser lovers, and He is loving you even now as He cuts away from your character every lingering tether to your old way of life.
On the cross, Christ pays the ransom:
The ransom now paid, we have been delivered from the domain of sin and death into perfect union with the Son of God, in whom there is therefore now no condemnation.
On the cross, Christ is the Lamb who takes away our sin and shame:
Expiation is that angle on the atoning work of Christ that means we are clean. Clean. What we need is the good news that Jesus Christ died not only to forgive us, but to cleanse us.
On the cross, Christ is our liberator:
Redemption is not for our restriction, but for our joy. Christ did not die for our duty, but for our delight. I have been set free, but this freedom is not an unfettered pursuit of my desires, for that’s slavery all over again. It’s the joyful mission of bringing God pleasure because He has liberated and set me free.
On the cross, Christ shows how God is with us in our suffering:
There, in the midst of God’s own grief and sorrow, we see God with us and believe that he is able somehow to take up our burdens upon himself and deliver us from our despair. He is not distant from our pain. He understands our suffering because Jesus Christ – God in human flesh – suffered.
On the cross, Christ is the propitiation that makes us right with God:
Everybody needs a plan for getting on the right side of the gods. But if the true God has made his character known as it is found in the Bible, then there’s only one way of propitiation: the one that God himself put forward in the blood of Jesus, to be received by faith, the one who is his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
On the cross, Christ becomes our ultimate example:
Jesus Christ is the supreme model of Christian discipleship, the ethical exemplar of the Christian life. The compelling force of Christ’s sacrificial example is one answer to indifference and inaction in our broken world. Once we truly grasp what Christ did on our behalf, we will be compelled to live our lives in a way that reflects his self-sacrifice for all others.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
Three things here. One, the command of Christ, that we love one another. Two, the example of Christ, that we are to love one another as he loved us. Three, the promise of Christ, that all kinds of people will see we are real disciples of Christ, when we love one another his way.
Francis Schaeffer proposed two powerful things we can do, to display observable love for one another in response to these verses and also John 17:23:
One, “When I have failed to love my Christian brother, I go to him and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ That is first. It may seem a letdown — that the first thing we speak of should be so simple. But if you think it is easy, you have never tried to practice it. . . .”
Two, “There must also be open forgiveness. And though it’s hard to say ‘I’m sorry,’ it’s even harder to forgive. The Bible, however, makes plain that the world must observe a forgiving spirit in the midst of God’s people. . . .”
“[Does the world] observe that we say ‘I’m sorry,’ and do they observe a forgiving heart? Let me repeat: Our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe it, or it does not fit into the structure of John 13 and 17. And if the world does not observe this among true Christians, the world has a right to make the two awful judgments which these verses indicate: that we are not Christians, and that Christ was not sent by the Father.”
Francis Schaeffer, “The Mark of the Christian,” in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century (Downers Grove, 1970), pages 143-146.
The primary barrier to the advance of the gospel in our generation is not out in the world. The primary barrier is us Christians who do not practice Christianity as it was defined originally by Christ. We have our Christianity, with layers of historical accretions separating us from the real thing. Christ had his Christianity, and we need to peel away our layers and go back and recover Christ’s Christianity. In other words, what is needed in our time is nothing less than the re-Christianization of us Christians. Isn’t it obvious that we who say we are Christians should understand Christianity? Its greatest mark is our observable love for one another. Christ himself said so.
What do you do with your sin? You can explain it with science. You can minimize it with sophistication. You can swallow it up with self-talk. Or you can confess it to your Savior.
There are the two radically different schools of thought when it comes to dealing with our imperfections.
One message–the “good news” of the world–tells you: “You own yourself, you engineer yourself, you invent yourself, you discover yourself.” This message screams an absolutely diabolical falsehood. It will not give you the freedom you are looking for. It will not give you peace of mind. It will not give you a clean conscience. It will not give you eternal life.
The second message–the good news of the cross–will give you real freedom. It confesses, “I am not my own. I was bought with a price. I am not in charge. I am not the purpose of my life. I will not find the “true” me. I cannot create a better me. I need a new me.” The gospels promises life, but only through death–Christ’s death first, then yours in his.
Do you want true, lasting comfort for your body and your soul? Do you need what you can’t supply? Are too lost to find yourself? Do you want to cope or do you want to be saved? If you have sin (and we all do), and if you are ready to name it for what it is, call out to God. Do not delay. Weep, wail, plead. See the Son of God crucified in your place. See the Son of Man risen for your justification. Approach the throne of grace in Jesus’ name. God will not turn a deaf ear to an honest cry. A broken and contrite spirit he will not despise.
Run to the cross. There you will find salvation for your sin sick self.
He is the radiance of the glory of God . . .” Hebrews 1:3a
All that God is — the measureless sum of his eternal and eternally rich attributes — shines forth in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son. Jesus is supremely radiant.
What does this mean? It means that this Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16) will be the sun of the new heavens and the new earth. We won’t need this old sun, we will have the Lamb as our Lamp (Rev. 21:23). And it means that even now, the sun of righteousness who has risen with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2) must be the center of our spiritual solar system or everything else goes out of whack. Indeed, if we were to kick our sun out from the center of our system, we wouldn’t just have chaos, but death. Life would be unsustainable. So it is with Jesus. If he is not the center, we die.
Also like the sun’s beams, the radiating lines of the Son’s glory are too numerous to count. Ever tried counting sunbeams? You can’t do it. It’s like counting airwaves in the wind. Jonathan Edwards says that in Christ we find an “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.” These diverse excellencies are the sunbeams of his magnificence, finding their unity in him, as they — though disparate — converge and emanate back out to reflect the imprinting of the nature of God.
He is the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Lamb and the Shepherd. He is the Shepherd and the Warrior. He is the Warrior and the Priest. He is the Priest and the Sacrifice. He is the Sacrifice and the Victor. He is the Victor and the Servant. He is the Servant and the King. He is the King and the Convicted. He is the Convicted and the Judge. He is the Judge and the Advocate. Diverse excellencies, each pair juxtaposed yet complementary, finding their admirable conjunction in him.
And there’s so much more. John says if all the things Jesus did during his earthly ministry were written down all the books on earth could not contain them all (John 21:25). Is it any wonder, then, that we will take all eternity to bask in the radiance of his glory?
I do not nullify the grace of God. Galatians 2:21
“What eloquence is able sufficiently to set forth these words: ‘to nullify grace,’ ‘the grace of God,’ also that ‘Christ died for no purpose’? The horribleness of it is such that all the eloquence in the world is not able to express it. It is a small matter to say that any man died for no purpose. But to say that Christ died for no purpose is to take him quite away.”
Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, on Galatians 2:21.
Paul asserted that he did not nullify the grace of God. By implication, Peter was nullifying the grace of God when his conduct was “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). How on earth did Peter do that, and is there any chance we could do that again today?
With Paul, Peter believed the gospel at the level of doctrine. Speaking for Peter and himself, Paul writes, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). Peter’s theology was right. He nullified the grace of God by conduct – not doctrine, but conduct – that was not in step with the truth of the gospel.
That is astounding to me. I am instructed and warned. It was possible for no one less than an apostle to nullify the grace of God in Jesus Christ crucified. He did that not by rejecting gospel doctrine but by injuring the relational culture consistent with the gracious doctrine. Gospel doctrine without gospel culture nullifies the grace of God. Gospel doctrine, however pure, cannot stand alone. Faithfulness to the gospel is a matter of both profession and conduct. Paul thought so. He was so certain about it and felt so strongly about it that he rebuked Peter publicly over it.
If nullifying the grace of God was possible for an apostle in the first century, it is also possible for us and our churches and organizations today. Nullifying the grace of God, as Luther points out, is a horrible thing. But it isn’t hard for us to do a horrible thing without even realizing it. It is easy for us, as it was for Peter and these other Christian leaders, to be witnesses against the gospel even as we think we are being witnesses for the gospel. All we have to do, to counteract our own doctrine, is fail to build a culture that embodies that doctrine.
Words, blog posts, tweets, emails, personal encounters, and so forth – these are how we can build a gospel culture with one another every day, and these are how we can tear it down. We are either living proof of the grace of God, or we are a living denial of the grace of God, but we are never neutral. And pointing to our orthodox doctrinal statements, wonderful as they are, is no refuge. Faithfulness is also a matter of pressing the grace revealed in our doctrine into our every relationship all the time. This is not a matter of personal niceness; it is a matter of biblical authority. We have no future without it.
Theological acuity matched by relational obliviousness nullifies the grace of God. But bold theological proclamation embedded in beautiful human relationships makes it obvious that the grace of God is working among us in power.
Wise pastor Ray Ortlund addresses this problem throughout his forthcoming book, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Crossway; April 30, 2014). He writes this on pages 82–83:
A gospel culture is harder to lay hold of than gospel doctrine. It requires more relational wisdom and finesse. It involves stepping into a kind of community unlike anything we’ve experienced, where we happily live together on a love we can’t create. A gospel culture requires us not to bank on our own importance or virtues, but to forsake self-assurance and exult together in Christ alone.
This mental adjustment is not easy, but living in this kind of community is wonderful. We find ourselves saying with Paul, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things” — all the trophies of our self-importance, all the wounds of our self-pity, every self-invented thing that we lug around as a way of getting attention — “and count them as dung in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:8–9).
Paul did not regard the loss of his inflated self as sacrificial. Who admires his own dung? It is a relief to be rid of our distasteful egos! And when a whole church together luxuriates in Christ alone, that church embodies a gospel culture. It becomes a surprising new kind of community where sinners and sufferers come alive because the Lord is there, giving himself freely to the desperate and undeserving.
But how easy it is for a church to exist in order to puff itself up! How hard it is to forsake our own glory for a higher glory!
The primary barrier to displaying the beauty of Jesus in our churches comes from the way we re-insert ourselves into that sacred center that belongs to him alone. Exalting ourselves always diminishes his visibility. That is why cultivating a gospel culture requires a profound, moment by moment “unselfing” by every one of us. It is personally costly, even painful.
What I am proposing throughout this book is not glib or shallow. So much is set against us, within and without. But the triumph of the gospel in our churches is still possible, as we look to Christ alone. He will help us.
Want to know how to read the Old Testament? Here’s a quick primer: Martin Luther said that everything bad in the Old Testament (and there’s a lot) is there to point out our sin, while everything good in the Old Testament is there to point us to our Savior. Remember this pithy little couplet, and you’ll be well on your way to understanding what can often seem to be an intimidating and inscrutable collection of books.
Consider Joseph, for example. His life, like all of ours, is a mixed bag: some bad, some good. There’s no question that we can learn a lot of good from reading about Joseph’s life. His refusal to sleep with Potiphar’s wife stands out. The Bible never tells us that, after all Joseph had been through, his faith in God wavered. In fact, it tells us just the opposite. When he finally encounters his brothers years after they sold him into slavery and lied to their father about him dying—and he now has the power and the authority to enact some serious vengeance—he extends tremendous grace saying, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.” Amazing.
But Joseph wasn’t always gracious and humble. In fact, when we first meet Joseph, he’s a spoiled brat. He was his father’s favorite son, and he knew it. While his older brothers had to break their backs toiling in the fields, Joseph got to stay at home. When Joseph has two separate dreams which imply that his brothers (and even his mother and father!) will eventually bow down to him, he doesn’t hesitate to go out into the fields to share the dreams with his family. It’s no wonder that the Bible says his brothers “hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him” (Genesis 37:4). I certainly know what I would have done if my youngest brother had been so impertinent.
What Joseph’s brothers do is well-known: they drag him away, strip him of his clothes (a many-colored robe that his father had given him), and sell him into slavery. They dip the robe in animal blood and tell their father that they’ve found it, and fear that Joseph is dead.
Joseph’s brashness testifies to the fact he had built his identity on being his father’s favored son. To be the Patriarch’s favorite son was a big deal and Joseph derived his worth from it. It led him to believe he was better than his brothers and that gave him a sense of significance and pride. As long as he was the favorite, he was somebody: he mattered.
In this way, we are exactly like Joseph.
What are you building your identity on? Think of it this way: what do you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about? For many people, it’s their careers. If they’re not an adequate provider for their family, or a pillar of their community, they feel that they have no identity at all. For some, it’s their children. How well their children “turn out” (the grades they get, the college they get into, the career they choose) defines them as a person. Maybe it’s the way you look, or your reputation. Maybe it’s your marriage or the dream of one day getting married. Maybe it’s your health. We long to have meaning and purpose and lasting stability but so often we try standing on an endless catalog of God-replacements that end up sinking us into slavery like it did for Joseph. For example, I never realized how much I was depending on my kids for happiness until we had a difficult year with one of our sons last year. What’s that thing or who’s that person in your life that if taken from you would make you feel like life’s not worth living?
I’ve told the people at Coral Ridge this before (and it’s embarrassing to admit) but one of the reasons I work so hard in preparing sermons is because at some level I need them to think I’m a good preacher to feel like I matter. When I feel like I haven’t preached a good sermon it cuts me to the heart—because who am I if I’m not good at what I do? You ever feel like this? About anything? Anyone?
But the story of Joseph doesn’t end there. While the bad stuff in his life points out our sin, the good stuff points out our Savior—and how he works to rescue sinners out of slavery and death. Within the story of Joseph, we hear whispers and see snippets of a new and better Joseph. Over and over again Joseph’s story illustrates that life comes out of death. He gets thrown in a pit to die but comes out and is spared, rising through the ranks of Potiphar’s household. He gets thrown into prison—is forgotten and forsaken—but is eventually rescued by the King and put in a place of power and honor. He relives the pain of his brothers’ betrayal when they come to him for food years later, but uses his new power to save them rather than kill them—assuring them that what they meant for evil God meant for good. And as a result of his mediation, a world on the brink of death is saved. All of this points us to Jesus.
Years later, another favored son would be betrayed, sold, and mistreated by his brothers. He too would be falsely accused, thrown into captivity—the captivity of the cross—paying the price for sins he did not commit. And in the prison of that cross, he too was forsaken (“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me”)—but like Joseph, he didn’t stay imprisoned. Jesus did not get out of prison by interpreting the dream of God; his death and resurrection was the interpretation of God’s dream—a dream dreamt before the foundation of the world to do and be for us what we could never do and be for ourselves.
Like Joseph, Jesus was brought to life out of death and now sits at the right hand of King, forgiving those who betrayed him (all of us), and using his power to save rather than kill. By the time his brothers come to see Joseph, he is so powerful that there is nothing at all his family can do for him: his love is completely one-way. Rather than punishment, they get nourishment. Our new and better—and final—Joseph does the same. Jesus sits at the right hand of God, and when we come before the judgment seat, faces to the floor, expecting our richly deserved death sentence, he steps in. He was punished, not just for crimes he didn’t commit, but for our crimes. Our sins were placed on his shoulders and his righteousness was given to us. We, his hateful brothers and sisters, are welcomed home for safe-keeping. Just as in Joseph’s story, through one man’s mediation many are saved from starvation, so through the mediation of Jesus many are forever saved from a hunger we could never satisfy ourselves.
That’s good news.
“A sense of having our sins forgiven is the mainspring and life-blood of love to Christ. . . . Would the Pharisee know why this woman showed so much love? It was because she felt much forgiven. Would he know why he himself had shown his guest so little love? It was because he felt under no obligation, had no consciousness of having obtained forgiveness, had no sense of debt to Christ. . . . The only way to make men holy is to teach and preach free and full forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The secret of being holy ourselves is to know and feel that Christ has pardoned our sins. Peace with God is the only root that will bear the fruit of holiness. Forgiveness must go before sanctification.”
J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, on Luke 7:36-50.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
Grace is at the heart of the Christian faith. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than at the cross of Christ. It is grace that the Son of God took on flesh, and grace that he taught us how to live — but it is especially grace that he died on the cross in our place.
Moreover, this climactic grace shown at the cross has a specific shape — it has edges. These edges help us see what exactly happened when Jesus died. And it’s important that we see because seeing leads to worship — you can’t worship what you don’t know.
So in hopes of more clarity — fuel for worship — here are five biblical truths about what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
1. The death of Jesus was for his enemies.
God’s love is different than natural human love. God loves us when we’re utterly unlovable. When Jesus died, he died for the ungodly, for sinners, and for his enemies. Paul gets at how contrary this is to human nature when he writes, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7–8).
2. The death of Jesus purchased a people.
The death of Christ was effective in its purpose. And its goal was not just to purchase the possibility of salvation, but a people for his own possession. Hear Jesus’s words: “All that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:36, 39).
If we say that Christ only purchased the opportunity of salvation for all men we gut biblical words such as redemption of their meaning. John Murray writes: “It is to beggar the conception of redemption as an effective securement of release by price and power to construe it as anything less than the effectual accomplishment which secures the salvation of those who are its objects. Christ did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to himself a people” (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 63).
3. The death of Jesus is on our behalf.
Jesus’s death was substitutionary. That is, he died in our place. He died the death that we deserved. He bore the punishment that was justly ours. For everyone who believes in him, Christ took the wrath of God on their behalf. Peter writes, “[Jesus] himself bore our sin in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
4. The death of Jesus defines love.
Jesus’s death wasn’t just an act of love, it defines love. His substitutionary death is the ultimate example of what love means, and Jesus calls those who follow him to walk in the same kind of life-laying-down love. John writes, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16). John Piper explains: “Jesus’s death is both guilt-bearing and guidance-giving. It is a death that forgives sin and a death that models love. It is the purchase of our life from perishing and the pattern of a life of love” (What Jesus Demands from the World, 266).
5. The death of Jesus reconciles us to God.
Justification, propitiation, and redemption — all benefits of Christ’s death — have one great purpose: reconciliation. Jesus’s death enables us to have a joy-filled relationship with God, which is the highest good of the cross. Paul writes, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:21–22).
Think about how this works in our relationships with other people. When we sin, not only do we hurt the person we sin against, we harm the relationship. It will never be the same until we seek forgiveness. So it is with our relationship with God. We enter this world sinful, and as a result, we’re alienated from God. Only forgiveness — forgiveness which was purchased at the cross — can heal the relationship so that we are able to enjoy fellowship with God.
In an interview I was asked, What is your advice on how believers should deal with a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity?
Jesus said, “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Followers of Jesus should expect injustice and misrepresentation. I’m grateful there are organizations working to protect the rights of Christians. But I’m concerned if we view ourselves as one more special interest group, clinging to entitlements and whining when people don’t like us. God’s people have a long history of not being liked.
Of course, this does not mean being hateful or seeking to be hated. It’s important that we represent the Gospel well, and I am all for graciousness, kindness and servant-hearted love as we speak the truth. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
But the fact is, while the gospel is good news, it is also insulting. Many people don’t like being called sinners and told they deserve to go to hell. Peter said, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
If our eyes are on anyone but Jesus, we’re not going to have the stamina to put up with criticism or outright hostility. Paul said, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Jesus is the Audience of One. We will stand before His judgment seat, no one else’s. We should long to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What other people think won’t matter.
(HT: Zach Nielsen)
Just as crucially, if all Scripture is breathed out by God, then there is a unity to be found across the pages of the Bible. Without minimizing the differences of genre and human authorship, we should nevertheless approach the Bible expecting theological distinctives and apparent discrepancies to be fully reconcilable.
The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this “red letter” nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize instructions in the gospel more than instructions elsewhere in Scripture. If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus.
God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripturated word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incarnate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in Holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed-out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ. Submission to the Scriptures is submission to God. Rebellion against the Scriptures is rebellion against God. The Bible can no more fail, falter, or err, than God himself can fail, falter, or err.
Is healing in the atonement? Well, yes and no!
Here in 1 Peter 2:24-25 the apostle is very clearly alluding to Isaiah 53:4-5. There the prophet declared:
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
In order to understand what Peter had in mind in quoting this OT passage, I need to address a very controversial question: Is there healing in the atonement?
Some believe that just as God the Father made Jesus to be “sin” for us on the cross he also made him to be “sick” for us on the cross. Word of Faith advocate Gloria Copeland once wrote: “Jesus bore your sicknesses and carried your diseases at the same time and in the same manner (emphasis mine) that he bore your sins.” Another author put it this way:
“When Jesus stood bearing the lashes from the Roman soldiers, all our physical pain and sicknesses were being heaped upon him. . . It is as if one lash was for cancer, another for bone disease, another for heart disease, and so on. Everything that causes physical pain was laid on Jesus as the nails were driven into His hands and feet” (Colin Urquhart).
What is being said is that Christ bore our sicknesses in the very same way that he bore our sins. Another once wrote that “Christ endured vicariously our diseases as well as our iniquities.”
We know what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God “made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf.” He was declaring that the guilt of our sins was imputed to Christ and that it was because of that guilt that he was punished in our place. But what can it possibly mean to say God made him “to be sick” on our behalf?
There is no guilt in disease or sickness. Having diabetes or a head cold is not sinful. The Bible tells us to pray “forgive us our trespasses” and urges us “to confess our sins,” but nowhere does it say that we should pray “forgive us our arthritis” or “Lord, I confess that I have the flu.” Sickness is not sin. The Bible never issues the command, “Thou shalt not commit cancer,” or “Flee the flu.” Nevertheless, many insist that Jesus “bore the penalty for our sins and sicknesses.” But if sickness is not a sin, how can it incur a penalty?
Of course, ultimately all sickness is a result of sin, but only in the sense that Adam’s fall introduced corruption and death into the human race. But that does not mean that every time we get sick it is because of some specific sin we have committed. It does mean that had Adam not sinned, there would be no sickness. Sickness is the effect of sin (just like tornadoes, weeds, and sadness). But that is altogether different from saying that sickness is sin. We do not repent for having kidney stones, nor do we come under conviction for catching the measles. I didn’t rebuke my older daughter for coming down with the chicken pox, and I certainly didn’t ask my younger daughter to ask for forgiveness when she caught it from her older sister.
Jesus was not punished for our diseases. Rather, he endured the wrath of God that was provoked by our willful disobedience of the truth.
So what does it mean in Isaiah 53 and in 1 Peter 2 when it says that he bore our sicknesses and carried our pains and that by his stripes or wounds we are healed?
As I’ve already said, Christ “bore our sins” in the sense that he bore the wrath of God of which our sins were the cause.
In the case of Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 2 we are being told that he carried our pains, not in the sense of personally experiencing stomach viruses and ulcers and earaches and gallstones as he hung on Calvary’s tree, but by enduring the wrath of God against that willful human wickedness which is ultimately the reason there are such things as pain and infirmity. By his death at his first coming he has laid the foundation for the ultimate over-throw and annihilation of all physical disease, which will occur with the resurrection of the body at his second coming. Thus it is theologically misleading to say that Jesus bore our sicknesses in the same way he bore our sins. Rather he paid the price of our sins in order that one day, when he returns to glorify his people, he may wholly do away with all of our sicknesses.
May we conclude that there is healing in the atonement? Of course! Were it not for Jesus making atonement for sin, we would have no hope of healing in any form, either now or later. The redemptive suffering of Jesus at Calvary is the foundation and source of every blessing, whether spiritual or physical.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that there is healing through the atonement rather than in the atonement, insofar as the atoning death of Jesus is the basis for God healing us. In this way we avoid suggesting that because of Jesus’ death we are guaranteed healing in this life.
To ask, “Is there healing in the atonement?” is like asking, “Is there forgiveness of sins in the atonement?” or, “Is there fellowship with God in the atonement?” There is even a sense in which we may say that the Holy Spirit is in the atonement! We are told in John 14:16-17,26; 15:26; and especially 16:7-15, that the Holy Spirit’s present ministry is a result of the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus.
Everything we receive from God finds its ultimate source in what Christ did for us on the cross. Therefore, the question is not whether our bodies receive healing because of the atonement of Christ, but when. We are forgiven of our sins now because of Christ’s atoning death, but we await the consummation of our deliverance from the presence of sin when Christ returns. We experience fellowship with God now because of Christ’s atoning death, but we await the consummation of that blessed relationship when Christ returns. We profit immensely now from the Spirit’s work in our hearts, but who would dare suggest that what the Holy Spirit is doing in this age is all that he will ever do? There is a glorious harvest reserved in heaven for us of which the present ministry of the Holy Spirit is merely the first fruits!
In other words, it is a serious mistake for us to think that every blessing Christ secured through his redemptive suffering will be ours now in its consummate form. All such blessings shall indeed be ours, let there be no mistake about that. But let us not expect, far less demand, that we now experience fully those blessings which God has clearly reserved for heaven in the age to come.
Life for the believer in this present age is a life of tension between the already and the not yet. We already have so very, very much. But we have not yet experienced it all. There is much yet to come. One of the “not yets” in Christian experience is the complete redemption and glorification of the body (see Phil. 3:20-21). Yes, we believe God heals today and that any healing that occurs is because of what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection, and yes, we will pray fervently for healing of the body in the present. But that doesn’t mean that because of what Christ accomplished then that we will always experience complete healing now.
We must also remember that frequently in Scripture the sinful condition of the soul is portrayed as analogous to a body suffering from various wounds. Forgiveness and restoration are therefore described in terms of a bodily healing. By his atoning death the great Physician has truly “healed” our hearts. We were continually straying like sheep, but by the redemptive grace of Jesus we have been enabled to return to the shepherd and guardian of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25). Thus the context of 1 Peter 2:24 clearly tells us that it is primarily spiritual healing from the disease of sin, not physical restoration of the body, that the apostle has in mind.
The sickness was that of having strayed from God. The disease was that of having departed from him. The healing provided by Christ, therefore, is bringing us back to God and restoring our relationship with him.
This is clearly the case in our passage when we take note of the word “for” with which v. 25 begins. The word “for” or “because” indicates that the “healing” in v. 24 is from the punishment we deserved for the wandering in v. 25.
The kingdom of God is, in essence, God’s redemptive reign. Yet it can be easy to overlook this prominent theme in the life of Jesus, and tempting to assume rather than investigate the importance of the kingdom for Jesus. When we miss the significance of the kingdom to Jesus, however, we can miss the significance of the kingdom for biblical theology and ethics.
So how important was the kingdom of God to Jesus? What was his relationship to the in-breaking of the eschatological kingdom? Let’s examine ten ways Jesus related to the kingdom.
1. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom. With the coming of Christ, the kingdom begins not in the coronation of a mighty king but in the birth of a crying baby. Yet as Jesus’ ministry begins in Mark, he announces, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). What Israel had long awaited, Christ had now inaugurated.
2. Jesus is the kingdom. Where the king is, there is the kingdom. This is precisely why Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). As Graeme Goldsworthy teaches, Jesus embodies the kingdom motif of God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. Jesus is both the faithful ruler and the righteous citizen of the kingdom.
3. Jesus purposes the kingdom. Jesus reveals that his purpose is to proclaim the kingdom. Jesus described his mission saying that he “must preach the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43).
4. Jesus declares the kingdom. Through his words, Jesus explains the kingdom and invites people to enter into it. Luke summarizes Jesus’ ministry as “proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1). The declaration of the kingdom often came through the parables of Jesus that illustrated what it was and how it worked.
5. Jesus demonstrates the kingdom. Through his works, Jesus shows the power of the kingdom and his authority over the prince of darkness. As Jesus explains, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Jesus not only declares the kingdom in his words but also demonstrates the kingdom in his works.
6. Jesus deploys the kingdom. Jesus sends his followers out as ambassadors of the kingdom to herald its arrival. This deployment happens in Luke 10 as Jesus sends out the 72, instructing them to say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9). In the great commission, king Jesus issues his discipleship battle plan to the church because he possesses “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Jesus sends his soldiers to the front lines to engage the kingdom of darkness.
7. Jesus transforms the kingdom. Israel’s messianic hopes focused on the coming of a military conqueror who would rescue them from their geo-political enemies. That is why they sought to make Jesus king (John 6:15). But Jesus reorients their vision by declaring, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus transforms the kingdom, showing it is holistic in its nature, redemptive in its mission, and cosmic in its scope.
8. Jesus purchases the kingdom. Through his victorious death and resurrection, Jesus redeems the kingdom. As he satisfies the wrath of God poured out for those who rebel against his rule, Jesus defeats Satan, sin, and death (Col 2:14-15). He overcomes the world, the flesh, and the Devil by destroying the power of the kingdom of darkness. By purchasing a kingdom people at the cross, Jesus proves himself to be the rightful ruler of the restored kingdom.
9. Jesus concludes with the kingdom. In his final words to his people, Jesus concludes his earthly ministry by clarifying the kingdom. Just before his ascension, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Even at the conclusion of his earthly ministry, Jesus resolved confusion about the kingdom. So the kingdom was key to the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry and its culmination.
10. Jesus returns the kingdom. In the second coming of Christ, Jesus returns as a triumphant warrior king. As he returns to achieve final victory, the name scribed on his body is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16). At last, he places all his enemies under his feet as he launches a new creation kingdom that fully reflects his righteous reign. He consummates the conquest that began with his birth.
If the kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ life and ministry, then it remains crucial to our theology and ethics today.
Phillip Bethancourt is executive vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” Colossians 3:16
People sometimes say to me, “Pastor, I’ve been in church my whole life and I know how important being in the Word is, but I’m really struggling. Where do I start?” Or they’ll say, “I’m a Christian, but I’m really struggling to know the love of God. Can you help me?”
A great place to start
“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s patience…” 2 Thessalonians 2:5
A great place to start is with a passage of Scripture like the one above. Here are three simple observations from this one verse: 1. I need love and patience when I’m tired of the battle, 2. God can give me the love and patience I need, and 3. I can ask God to give me what I do not have.
You can do a simple meditation like this for yourself as you read a few verses of the Bible every day. I encourage you to do this. Read a few verses. Then pick one, and write out two or three sentences to restate and apply what it says. Even children can do this!
Write out the verse. Then write out, in your own words, what the verse says and how it helps you. Get a hardback notebook. As you begin this practice, 20 years from now it will be your joy to look back on what God has taught you.
Is it in you?
“The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”Hebrews 4:12
Don’t just read the Bible and rush on. Take what God is saying into your life. Do this for a few minutes every day, or at least start by doing this a few times a week. It’s important to develop the habit of being in the Word. As you do this, you’ll get better at it, and you’ll begin to see God’s Word bearing fruit in your life.
If you’re in the habit of reading devotionals, that’s good, but if you’ve been doing that for many years, it may be time for you to move beyond feeding your soul on other people’s thoughts. Try feeding your soul on the Word of God directly. Ask God to help you. Get a friend to encourage you. A year from now, you will be amazed at how much you’ve grown.
You can receive our daily devotional booklet by mail by visiting UnlockingtheBible.org/LifeKEYS and subscribing to the LifeKEYS Daily Bible Devotional Booklet. You can also follow Colin Smith and Unlocking the Bible on Facebook and Twitter.
This LifeKey based on the message “The Love of God and the Patience of Christ,” by Pastor Colin S. Smith, February 20, 2011, from the series “Staying the Course When You’re Tired of the Battle.”
Colin currently serves as Senior Pastor of the The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. He is committed to preaching the Bible in a way that nourishes the soul by directing attention to Jesus Christ.
Human beings were built with limits. God didn’t design you to be a superhero.
You and I were created to live dependent lives, never surviving on the basis of our own strength, wisdom and control. From the moment of our first breath, we were limited, weak, and fragile beings.
If you’re a parent, or an older brother or sister, you know this to be true. Think about how long your newborn child or sibling would have lasted if you left them alone. I was shocked when we had our first child – there was never a moment when we could leave him alone, except during sleep, and even then we were only a few feet away.
As we grow older, we think that we become more independent. We get married, have children of our own, buy our first house, and make significant life decisions. Sure, a 40-year married adult can feed and dress himself much better than a 4-month old infant, but I’m afraid that we don’t fully accept our limitations.
I want to reinforce the point that you’re not a superhero. “Sure, Paul, I obviously can’t fly or make myself invisible,” you might say. But I want you to consider eight limits of your humanity:
Think about the benefits of controlling time. I could pause time in a moment of difficulty, thinking about my next word or decision before speaking or acting. Or, I could rewind time and right the wrongs of my own life, or stop crimes against humanity before they happen.
I don’t know about you, but I would love to be in more than one place at a time. Imagine how productive I could be! I could write my next book while speaking at a conference while shopping for dinner.
I wish that I knew everything about anything. I would be a walking encyclopedia, able to solve any problem that might complicate my day. I wouldn’t ever have to worry about being stumped.
If I was filled with wisdom, I could give people the proper advice, sifting through the clutter of information and directing them on the path to success. I would be the world’s best counselor.
I would love to be able to control the weather- the Tripp family would never have a rainy beach day! Or think about the time I could save if I controlled the traffic lights!
I wish I could get people to do things my way. Right now, Philadelphia roads are riddled with potholes because of the winter storms. If I was all-powerful, the city government would be out there immediately until every hole was filled! Or maybe if I’m feeling an extra zeal for justice, I could combine my wisdom with power and solve world hunger while fighting political corruption.
I not only wish that I knew everything – I wish I could do anything. There would never be a physical task that I would be unable to accomplish. I could cook the best meal, repair any car, and paint the best art, all while doing it better than anyone else on the planet.
Sometimes I wish that God had given me every spiritual gift available. I could be the most creative writer, the most sophisticated thinker, the most efficient administrator, and the most gifted preacher – all at the same time!
I ALREADY KNEW THAT…
So what’s the point? This Article is a bit nonsensical, because you already know that you can’t control the weather, pause time, or solve any dilemma that pops up. But let me ask you to be honest for a moment – if I were to poll the people you live with, would they tell me that you live like you’re a superhero?
What happens when someone violates your schedule? Do you act as if know everything, stepping in to comment when someone makes a verbal mistake? Are you a controlling person? And are you, at times, arrogant enough to think that there is no one out there that can give you advice and counsel?
You see, when you admit your limits, you’re a humble and restful person. You’re humble enough to admit weakness, always open to learning. And you’re restful, because you know that control is in the hands of God – and not yours.
Let me encourage you here – there’s only one Superhero in the Bible. His name is Jesus Christ. Every other man and woman documented in Scripture was a failure. Rest and peace is found when you abandon control and admit your limits.
A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:18
Two things should be happening in every gospel-centered church every Sunday. One, the gospel should be preached. Two, the gospel should be experienced.
What I mean by the second, experiencing the gospel, is a social environment that feels like the grace of God. It is an obvious alternative to what we experience throughout the week. Every day we swim in an ocean of harsh criticisms, merciless comparisons and never measuring up, soaking us in sadness while also telling us to keep faking happiness. This is the “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom of the world (James 3:15). It doesn’t work.
Then Sunday comes, and we step into church, where the victory of Jesus redefines everything, even to the furthest reaches of the universe. In any church with a confidence that big, the vibe will be obviously different from the world. Every Sunday in that kind of church we will be rediscovering the mercy of God, our union with Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the amazing promises of the gospel. As that good news lands on us afresh and the joy of it all breaks upon our hearts — that’s what the new creation feels like right now. It is the Lord himself enveloping us in his new community, surrounding us “with shouts of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).
If all a church does is preach gospel doctrine, without also cultivating a gospel culture, the impact will be diminished. However “biblical” the message might be, it will not seem plausible or satisfying. The doctrine will seem theoretical, and the church will seem hypocritical. But when the gospel is clear in any church at both levels simultaneously, both the gracious theological message and the humane relational culture, there is power. It is the wisdom that comes down from above (James 3:15). It works.
J. Gresham Machen:
We ought never to set present communion with Christ, as so many are doing, in opposition to the gospel; we ought never to say that we are interested in what Christ does for us now, but are not so much interested in what He did long ago.
Do you know what soon happens when men talk that way? They soon lose all contact with the real Christ; their religion would really remain essentially the same if Jesus never lived.
That danger should be avoided by the Christian man with all his might and main. God has given us an anchor for our souls; He has anchored himself to us by the message of the Cross. Let us never cast that anchor off; let us never weaken our connection with the events upon which our faith is based.
Such dependence upon the past will never prevent us from having present communion with Christ. Unlike the communion of the mystics it will be communion not with the imaginings of our own hearts, but with the real Saviour Jesus Christ.
The gospel of redemption through the Cross and resurrection of Christ is not a barrier between us and Christ, but it is the blessed tie by which He has bound us for ever to Him.
- J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 153-54
(HT: Of First Importance)
Many are asking, “What is the church?” Pastor Jeff Vanderstelt believes we’re asking the wrong question, because the Bible uses that word to describe a group of people, not a gathering or event. So we really should be asking, “Who?” not what.
His answer? “The church is the regenerate people of God saved by the power of God for the purposes of God in this world.” This means we don’t stop being the church when we walk out of the building on Sunday morning. Instead, everything we do, we do as the blood-bought church of God, for the fame of Jesus, everywhere.
In less than three minutes, Vanderstelt unpacks how seeing the church through these eyes will change you — how you understand yourself and how you live Monday through Saturday.