Not About Me
The most significant message I could ever share…
Part One: God’s love
First of all God loves you with an unconditional love. It is much the same kind of love that we would imagine that parents should have for their children; that is, not how parents behave all of the time, but what we envision the ideal to be. It is not because of any sort of performance on the children’s part or benefit the parents might receive from their children that the parent chooses to love the child. It is not because they have been such wonderful children. They could have little gratitude for whatthe parent does for them, be unthankful, threaten their parents, and a host of other things, and the parent would still love and serve them. Why? Because they are their children and that alone makes them worthy of love. Parents do not reason as such, “they got themselves into this mess, they should get themselves out.” Nor do they point fingers at the system, “the system makes it nearly impossible for them to rise above their circumstances.” No, what matters is that they are human beings, and human beings have value and dignity in themselves, and you must help, teach, take responsibility and even go above what responsibility requires. This type of love is known as agape, or unconditional love.
Unconditional love is really the only type of love there is, or at least the only pure kind. Usually what we describe as love is really just respect or mutual admiration. I love you because you are like me, we see things the same way, we have common interests, or even because you possess something I do not, but it intrigues me. But what if such person ceased to possess those things? Would you still love them? This is what is referred to as fileo love in Greek. It is a love based on some type of merit, usually a shared interest. It must be noted at this time that all other religions besides Christianity (and this only true Christianity without any of its modern distortions), are based on the fileo type of love. God only loves you if…God only accepts you if…You will get to Nirvana if you do this…You will be with 72 virgins if…But what man yearns for is a God who accepts him just as he is, even with all his imperfections and failings. However, all man-made religions cannot contemplate God being this kind to them, and so they come up with some type of system whereby they must earn or merit God’s love and favor.
Another type of love is called eros, and is the love based on sexual attraction and appetite. This type of love also demands some type of good from the other person. It demands physical attraction and sexual fulfillment. It is an erratic type of love, though often useful, but must be replaced by agape love if, for instance, a marriage has any hope of surviving – for eros love has the nasty habit of disappearing over a length of time, once the infatuation period has ended.
Another part of God’s love is his justice. If God is love, love also demands that God is just. For example, let’s hypothetically say that you were raped, and a year later your court case came up. You are at the trial. The defendant is brought up, and pleads guilty. However, he claims, “I have been a good person all the days before I raped the victim, and all the days afterwards as well. Therefore, you should let me go.” The judge contemplates for a minute, and decides, “Sounds good to me, just don’t do it again. Case dismissed!”
How would that make you feel? I assume you would be outraged. Why is this? Because the judge was a bad judge; he did not serve his duty. Justice was not served. The time should fit the crime, and so on. Just like it does not matter how well you drive all the other days of your life, if you drive drunk one time and kill someone, there must be consequences for your actions. Something inside us yearns for justice to be done for wrongdoing, and so it is the same with God. In fact, it would be unloving for God to be an absentee judge and allow his children to be abused in such a way as to allow no justice for crimes committed. So we are God’s children that have been trespassed against, but in many instances we are also the trespassers themselves.
Part 2: Separation
Now you may have noticed that I nearly contradicted myself. First I talked about unconditional love, then I talked about justice. The two seem to be opposed to each other. And isn’t this the tension that we live in our entire lives? We wonder what of our actions will benefit a person more; if we retaliate fire with fire, we think they will get the point and realize that there are consequences to their actions. If someone commits a crime, don’t we reward them with a punishment in accordance with the crime? That seems to be merit according to what a person does or does not do. On the other hand, we can give mercy to a person, and hope that our love for them is contagious. It causes them to not even desire to do such evil again, because they have had their needs met by our kindness.
Backing up for a minute, we see a problem that exists. The defendant wanted to be excused for the crime because of his behavior before and after the crime. But judges and juries do not reason according to the actions of the defendant like this. Their one and only job is to determine whether the crime was in fact committed. A man’s lifestyle all the days of his life before and after a crime do not matter to them.
Now, you are the perpetrator of the crime, God is your judge, and you have been trying to be acquitted by saying that you have been a good person all the days before and all the days after you committed various moral and spiritual crimes. This method is called, “righteousness by law,” or attempting to assert your innocence by appealing to the standards of the law. However, this provides innocence for no one, in fact, it proves guilt instead. Paul, one of the writers of the Bible, deftly wrote, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” These words are found in the book of Paul to the Romans Chapter 3; they basically assert that no one can earn God’s favor by saying they are worthy, in fact, based on our own efforts we prove ourselves to be unworthy. Yet most people daftly assert otherwise, that their good deeds should earn them the favor of their friends, family, and of God.
Most folks, knowingly or unknowingly, start with the ten commandments as a benchmark, but then conveniently forget the commandments that they have broken. When I ask a person who claims to be a good person why they consider themselves to be good, they often answer, “Well, I’ve never killed anyone!” But how did the 10 commandments boil down to the one? If you don’t ignore several of them, I think you’ll find out that you are in fact guilty of several of them. Here then, is the list:
1. Idolatry – holding someone or something as higher in importance than God and therefore more worthy of our worship, devotion, time, energy, thoughts, or money
2. Taking God’s name in Vain – Misrepresenting God and the authority His name represents.
3. Remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy – God commanded the Israelites to do no work for one entire day of the week. This demonstrated their trust in God to provide for them, as well as gave them a chance to rest from their labor. There is significant debate over whether Christians are under the Sabbath. My position is that they are not; Jesus Christ is our rest, but that is not within the scope of our discussion. Suffice to say, I do not think Sabbath keeping is a moral absolute, so will set it aside for this discussion.
4. Honor your father and mother – to respect the dignity and authority that parent’s have and not try to usurp it.
5. You shall not murder – Jesus ups the ante by saying that if you have harbored anger in your heart towards another person, then you have committed murder.
6. You shall not commit adultery – Jesus again ups the ante, saying that if you have looked at a woman with lust in your heart, you have committed adultery. The inverse goes for the ladies. In essence, all sexual sins would be encapsulated by the term “adultery,” whether that be fornication, indulging in pornography, or various other lusts of the flesh
7. You shall not steal – taking something that does not belong to you without permission.
8. Bearing false witness – This is simply not telling the truth, lying.
9. Covetousness – The desire for something that belongs to someone else.
Most folks will agree that these laws as found in the Bible and in the Jewish Torah are moral truth. There is not much dispute because our consciences corroborate the story that the 10 commandments are saying. Another command, found in both the Old and New Testament, also rings true to us.
“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ (Matthew 22:37-39, also found in the O.T. in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leveticus 19:18)
So I ask you, have you ever, at any time, committed any of these crimes? Have you ever broken a single command? Obeying God’s commands are not simply avoiding what we shouldn’t do, but as in the example of loving God and our neighbors, they are also not doing what we should have done. When deciding whether you are a good person or not, the question is not, “have I ever done wrong?,” but “have I always done right?,” “Have I always done what I should have done?”
If you were driving to an appointment, and on your way you went past someone drowning in a lake and screaming for help, would you have a duty to help that person? What if you kept driving because you were late? Why would you feel guilty? Because that would also be considered a breech of the law by anyone with any moral fabric. So to be vindicated by the law, you wouldn’t simply have to avoid committing any sins, but you would have to not omit any thing you should have done either.
If you still aren’t convinced that you have ever broken a command, stop reading. Jesus has nothing to offer you. His offer is to broken sinners, not upright citizens.
The method known as righteousness by law, we now see, has most unpleasant consequences in that no human being has ever been able to be righteous through this method of appeal. Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). What Paul is saying here, is that God’s standard is perfection; you fall short of that standard. Only foolish people try to attain the standard even though they have already fallen short. It’s like a test where you have to score 100% to pass and you’ve already missed several questions at the beginning of the test; it does not matter how many more questions you answer correctly, you will still fail the test.
A penalty exists for breaking God’s law. What is the penalty for breaking God’s law? The Bible says it is death. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). Why does this make sense? Firstly, if we cannot be in God’s presence on account of our imperfection, then we cannot experience life, as God is ultimately the giver of life. God can delay our punishment, but until then we are like prisoners on death row, waiting to be executed. Secondly, if we are rebellious toward God, then obviously until we cease to be rebels can we be reunited with Him. Thirdly, if we are enemies of God’s will, then we cannot in all honesty be on His side and partaker’s of His kingdom.
If we are helpless to change our guilty sentence, then we are stuck. But is there anything God can do? God is in an interesting position, which I do not know how to describe more reverently except by saying that there is a certain type of tension. God wants to love like a father that loves unconditionally, but also carries the characteristic of being just.
Part three: God’s Provision
Jesus is God’s only provision for man’s sin problem. If sin is really what separates us from God, than Jesus is surely the only solution that has ever been proffered. All other religions must blindly ignore God’s justice, which as we discussed, is a subdivision of His love. Jesus is God’s perfect solution to being perfectly loving and perfectly just at the same time.
1 Peter 3:18 tells us how God was able to do this. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.”
Romans 3:23-26 tells us: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness, at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Coupled together, these statements by Peter and Paul are in complete harmony regarding God’s solution, which was to have Jesus Christ die in our place for our sins. In theological terms, this is known as “penal substitutionary atonement.” Jesus atoned, or, made restitution for our sins.
A couple uncommon terms occur in Paul’s statement. One is Propitiation, which is a means of appeasing God’s wrath (wrath being a desire to punish an offense) for our sin problem. Jesus is our propitiation. He took the penalty for our sin so that we don’t have to. The other fancy word is justifier. This means that God can declare us innocent, much like how a jury declares a defendant to be innocent. The penalty for mankind’s sin has already been poured out on Jesus when he died on a cross in 29 A.D. (or thereabouts), therefore God is free to declare man innocent as justice has already been served. If you have been justified, than in Biblical terms, you have been declared righteous, moral, innocent, and perfect.
But how can Jesus take on a penalty that is rightly due to us? When coming up with analogies, the traffic court is a simple analogy, thought perhaps not totally satisfying. It is as though you have a penalty for a traffic violation to be paid, but don’t have the money in order to pay it. If you don’t pay it, you’ll have to serve a prison sentence. But what if the judge on the case were your father? In an act of love towards you, he steps off the bench and takes off his official garments in order to act as an ordinary citizen. He says, “I know you don’t have the money to pay the fine on your own, so I am paying it for you.” That’s kind of how it works with Jesus.
However, in criminal cases, someone cannot step in for another. In our western court setting, justice is only satisfied if the perpetrator of the crime serves the sentence. So we are back at the same question, how can Jesus rightly pay a penalty that is due to us? I confess, I not totally sure, but I will give you my best theories. God has been totally faithful and trustworthy to me thus far, so at this one concept that I do not understand, I take Him at His word.
The key here may be representation. When Adam sinned, he represented all mankind. When he fell, we all bore the consequences of His sin. It may be the same with Jesus. He is like a second Adam. He represents all mankind, being the Son of Man. If he dies, he represents all mankind, and all our sins. If he is raised to life, we too can all be raised to life. It is much like how you must bear the consequences of things your parents have done, whether good or bad, even before you are born. If I was born in Alaska as opposed to Washington, my life would look quite different as it does now, though not as a result of anything I did. The friends I have, sports I play, educational and job opportunities that are presented to me would all be different and apart from my choosing. I would also receive a check from the state government every year simply for being a resident of Alaska. That would be nice.
Another theory I like the premise that if death is the punishment to be served, it can either be served by a finite being for an infinite amount of time (as in humans), or by an infinite being for a finite amount of time (as in Jesus). Either way, the penalty must be served. We could talk about other theories, like Jesus being a sacrifice, much like the Old Testament sacrificial system, but the key here is to understand that Jesus satisfied the penalty for man’s sin problem, whereas man on his own could not rectify the problem.
Part 4: Man’s Response
It is not only that Jesus made it “possible” to have eternal life in God’s presence; what he did was “enough.” It is often (though not often enough) said that Christianity is not about what you do for God, it is about what God has done for you. Most people churches, teachers, still get this backwards today. They think man comes to God by offering something to God. This is incorrect and heretical. Man comes to God by receiving something from God.
What Jesus did is complete, final, finished, and totally adequate. People often (though not often enough) speak of “the finished work of Christ.” It cannot be added to or improved in any way. It is something man can receive the benefits of on the basis of a gift; it cannot be received in any other way. It is not an exchange for future good deeds, commitment, obeying of the commandments, or discontinuation of sin.
Paul writes in Romans 4:4-5: Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due, But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Paul uses a simple analogy from every day life. When you work 8 hours a day to an agreed upon wage, and you receive a paycheck every 2 weeks, you do not say to your boss, “Oh, thank you for this indescribable gift!” You say, “Gimme that, I earned it!” What Paul is explaining, is that God’s righteousness cannot be approached in the same way as earning a wage. Remember, this is because it has nothing to do with what you did, or what you earned. All you added to the equation was the sins – the bad part! God was the one who had to rectify your problem. You did not contribute anything of value to the equation. Therefore, you have to rely on what God did for you, and stop relying on what you do for God. Otherwise, you cannot have eternal life.
What the work of Christ does is put God in the position to offer grace. Grace (mentioned in Romans 3:24 above) is the most important term we have come to so far. It is God’s unmerited favor and love. It is like the unconditional love of a parent that we talked about at the beginning, but applied to God.
Paul writes to a group of Christians in Ephesians 2:8-9 which sums it up well: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The way that we access God’s grace is “through faith.” Actually, in the Bible “faith” and “believe” mean the same thing, only faith is a noun and believe is a verb. This is how John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9 can be true at the same time. Man’s response is to believe in Jesus, to have faith in Him and what He did.
A good example of the appropriate response to Christ’s work, is that it is like a clutch in a car. The clutch in no way powers the car, the engine does that. The clutch is merely the way in which one can access the power which is already available. God’s grace as manifested in Jesus Christ is what powers salvation; our faith is merely the access point.
Another example is the dishwashing analogy. It is as though you are responsible for cleaning the dishes, yet the amount of dishes to clean is so great, that as you continue to load the dishwasher, you get hungry, have to eat, and create more dirty dishes. In fact, for arguments sake let’s say that the rate at which you create dirty dishes is greater than the rate at which you are able to load them. You admit that it is your responsibility to clean the dishes, yet you have no ability in yourself to ever complete the job. Dismayed, you finally give up. Hours later, your brother comes to you and says, “I have good news for you – though you were unable to complete your responsibility of loading the dishwasher, someone with superior skill has come into the house and has done the dishes for you.”
If you are in this position, you actually have a couple options, though only one is reasonable. You could continue trying to clean the dishes, which would be extremely foolish, both because they are already clean, and because all you ever succeeded at was creating more dirty dishes. The other option is that you could rely on the work of another. This is what it means to trust in Christ. You rely on the work of another.
Someone may say, “I believe in Christ,” or “I have faith in Christ,” but what they really mean is that they believe Jesus is the Son of God. This is necessary to true belief, but not enough. True belief is taking God at His word. He says plainly in His word, some 150 times, that He can give you salvation as a free gift because Jesus Christ died for your sins, and all you need to do is believe in His Son. We need to take Him at His word on this point. Many people believe Jesus is the Son of God, but their trust is in some other object to get them to eternal life and a relationship with God, usually themselves. This is not faith in Christ, this is faith in self. The object of faith must be Jesus, it must in no way rest on any other hope; otherwise it is useless and something less than faith.
Paul elaborates on faith. “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace” (Romans 4:16). Faith is the only response that can possibly be congruent with grace! It is the only human response which adds nothing deserving of merit to the equation. It is merely the reception of a gift. All other responses which are often promoted – “turning from your sins”, “give your life to Christ,” or “commit your life to Christ” are anti-grace, they have the equation backwards! Christ died for your sins, He gave His life for us, and He committed His life to mankind, so they we would not have to bear the consequences of our sin problem.
Many people say we must repent of our sins to come to Christ, and by this they mean we must first turn from our lifestyle of sin before we can have a relationship with Christ. This is incorrect. It is like trying to clean off before getting in the shower, or wiping before you poop, or trying to tow a truck by a trailer. More importantly, if someone had to turn from their sins in order to accept Christ, than salvation would be something earnable and no longer a gift. What were asked to repent of is dead works. The writer of Hebrews accurately describes the foundation of the Christian faith as “repentance from dead works and faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1). According to all Bible dictionaries, the primary idea of repentance is a change of mind. When someone accepts Christ as their personal Savior, they change their mind as to the value of their good deeds. Before they saw good deeds as something to earn God’s favor; in light of Christ’s work on the cross they must disavow that their good deeds have any value and trust in Christ’s good work instead.
If you have never trusted in Christ alone, I invite you to do that right now. If you do, He will surely give you forgiveness of sins, eternal life, a dwelling place in heaven, and will even credit His own righteousness to you. I know, because His word promises it.
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him…Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:17, 36)