What God Has Done
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.(1 Timothy 1:15)
In His great mercy, Gos sent forth His Son, Jesus Christ, to save sinners by dying in their place on the cross and rising bodily from the dead. Over against the terrifying news that we have fallen under the condemnation of our Creator and He is bound by His own righteous character to preserve the worth of His glory by pouring out eternal wrath on our sin, there is the wonderful news of the gospel. This is a truth no one can ever learn from nature. It has to be told to neighbors and preached in churches and carried by missionaries.
The good news is that God Himself has decreed a way to satisfy the demands of His justice without condemning the whole human race. Hell is one way to settle accounts with sinners and uphold His justice. But there is another way. The wisdom of God has ordained a way for the love of God to deliver us from the wrath of God without compromising the justice of God.
And what is that wisdom? The death of the Som of God for sinners! The death of Christ is the wisdom of God(1 Corinthians 1:23-24) by which the love of God saves sinners from the wrath of God, all the while upholding and demonstrating the righteousness of God in Christ. Romans 3:25-26 may be the most important verses in the Bible. “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justified of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Not either/or! Both! God is wholly just! And He justifies the ungodly! He acquits the guilty, but is not guilty in doing so. This is the greatest news in the world!
No one can fully appreciate salvation without being aware of the full character of God and the fallen nature of humans. We read that in all that God created, it was good. When He created the angels, they were created good but Lucifer rebelled against God. We read that he deceived a third of the angels and they joined him in rebellion. Scripture tells us that hell was created by God as a place of punishment for Satan and the fallen angels. The justice and righteousness of God demanded punishment for their acts of rebellion. Deep within each of us is a desire for justice. We cry out for those who live right to be rewarded and those who do wrong to be punished. We may vary in our perception of what is just and right and how those who do wrong are to be punished, nonetheless, our sense of fairness calls for some consequences to be visited upon the wrongdoer. Remember in Genesis we read that God created us in His image after His likeness so the character of desiring justice is from God.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed they knew they were facing the justice of God so they hid themselves from Him. They understood they had broken the law of God and as lawbreakers they were subject to punishment. I have no doubt that every parent can understand this moment. Here is a Father whose children have disobeyed. What should He do? Should He just overlook it hoping they will never break it again? Should He accept their excuses, feeble as they were? He could have since He was in full authority but had He done so, His very character would have been destroyed for by nature God is holy and just.
This moment and the action that God took elevated Him beyond our comprehension. We could understand if God chose to fully carry out the penalty. After all prior to the sin both Adam and Eve had been told the consequences should they choose to eat the forbidden fruit, it was death. It would not have been unjust for them to die. We could also understand if God had chosen to overlook the sin. We might say He could have just attributed their act as that of immature children and hoped they would grow out of it. So here is the justice of God meeting a guilty lawbreaker.
This is the heart of the gospel, the root of Christianity that sets it apart from all other religions. Christianity alone brings to the table a just God who satisfies that justice through His Son taking our place in death and receiving our punishment upon Himself through the crucifixion and hell. Not to see this belittles the whole idea of our faith. The extreme price that God paid Himself for our sins and the blessedness of us escaping that punishment that none could bear ought to create within us a love and passion and urgency to give this news to every sinner facing the wrath of a just God.
Unfortunately in our world where justice is often lacking or twisted by those with power, we miss this great truth. If we choose to try to merely understand why humans sin or commit horrible acts, we will miss the purpose of the cross. God wasn’t trying to “understand” our sins. He accepted the fact that we had sinned and chose to combine mercy and justice at the cross. Justice demanded punishment and mercy provided Christ. Until we see ourselves, irregardless how we are in comparison to others, as wretched, (in the words of Amazing Grace) we can never fully appreciate the love, mercy and grace of God through Christ Jesus.
This lack of appreciation or the fullness of appreciation is lived out in our worship and work for God. Those who fully see and appreciate the grace of God that reached into the pit of sin and rescued the from the wrath of God and gave them pardon demonstrate that in their faith. Like the woman with the alabaster box of perfume, they will pour out their all in extravagant worship and adoration. Nothing God asks of them is too much, indeed, all they are and do isn’t enough to express their gratitude to their Rescuer. You will hear this amazed overwhelmed believer wonder why the Creator of the universe chose one like them. I really don’t have the words to describe this. It must be experienced. It can never be learned through sermons or lessons. It has to be a revelation. We will never be able to fully comprehend the wickedness of our sins until we view God in His holiness. Like Isaiah, we may come to church week after week, we may serve in the church, but unless we behold God in all His glory we will never fully see our unworthiness and our deep need for a Savior. (Isaiah 6)
If we ever get the revelation of Calvary where sinful humanity met a holy God and received mercy rather than justice, our whole life will be transformed.
No wonder the apostles were willing to suffer human punishment for preaching the gospel. No wonder they had an urgency to carry this message to every person and place. O that God would give His church this wonderful revelation of God’s great grace and mercy toward us through Christ Jesus who took our sins upon Himself, who took our punishment, and who died that we might live as the pardoned.
In the words of an old hymn, “ O the love that drew salvation’s plan, O the grace that brought it down to man, O the might gulf that God did span, At Calvary.
Dr. John Thompson