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How to Share Your Faith Without Being Weird

March 18, 2015 2 comments

When I, by God’s grace, first became a Christian at age 17 my life had been so radically changed by Jesus that I wanted to tell everyone about him.  I had met the living God and wanted everyone else to meet him to.

The problem was that I didn’t know how to share my faith. I felt unqualified and uninformed.  Did I know enough? Could I explain my conversion clearly? Overwhelmed by the task and lacking someone to show me the ropes, I awkwardly tried to convince all my friends to believe the gospel but failed miserably.

Image via forbes.com

Image via forbes.com

Away With Evangelism Propaganda

When I got to college I joined a campus ministry and was instructed to use a series of gospel illustrations such as “The Bridge,” “Seven Spiritual Laws” and other pre-packaged propaganda.  I was then told that evangelism meant approaching total strangers and asking them if I could talk with them about eternity.

I tried this for about four months.  It was the worst experience I’ve ever had! In a relatively short period of time I became the “weird Christian guy.” This approach only pushed the people I was “witnessing” to further away from the Lord. It was awful and unhelpful.

All-Natural Evangelism

I quickly said good-bye to that ministry and its evangelism techniques after seeing that they made my faith feel plastic and negatively effected non-believers. During that season, I invested hours studying the Word and reading books about effective evangelism.

Everything I read convinced me that the Lord’s primary evangelism method was discipleship. He focused on teaching people to believe in and follow him through intentional relationships over time.  As I put this method to use I quickly realized that people aren’t opposed to the Christian faith, just to Christian propaganda. 

The Power of an Honest Answer

Colossians 4:5-6 is a great example of this. It reads, “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person.” Paul is essentially saying that the easiest way to introduce people to Jesus is to live differently and to answer honestly.

The contrast between the lifestyle of an authentic Christ-follower and someone who doesn’t know the Lord is generally drastic enough that it catches the attention of the watching world. When people see that authentic Christ-followers are different they naturally want to know why. An honest answer, as Paul says, is like salt.  It causes people to thirst for God. 

Ongoing Dialogue or One-Time Decision?

Instead of searching for the next evangelism fad, stick to a simple Christ-like approach. Live with such gospel intentionality that the unbelievers in your life take notice of your character, speech, conduct, attitude and worldview. When people begin to comment or question your lifestyle, honestly tell them that the difference is Jesus.

Focus on an ongoing dialogue rather than a one-time decision. As this happens with increased frequency you’ll be begin to see the Lord do work in people’s lives.  They’ll see Jesus in your life, hear Jesus in your words and experience Jesus through your friendship. This is what it means to share your faith.

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The Science of God

As a pastor living in a college town I run into skeptics, doubters and unbelievers regularly. One of the most common objections I hear about the Christian faith is in regards to science. People just can’t seem to wrap their minds around God.

I get it.  I really do. I have a degree in biology and psychology.  I’m more than familiar with naturalistic evolution, evolutionary psychology and the behavioral sciences than I’d like to be.  I’ve taken physics, chemistry and genetics.  I, like many of my peers, appreciate hard facts, empirical evidence and measurable results.

In a world of scientific questions, factual evidence is our friend. Measurable outcomes are important, but when it comes to God I’ve learned that they just aren’t enough.

theosophical.wordpress.com

theosophical.wordpress.com

When Science Isn’t Enough

Science is built on the premise that what can be known is measurable.  It can be quantified with empirical evidence. This is true to an extent.

When it comes to the natural world we can use natural means to measure natural outcomes.  The problem is, God is not natural.  He is supernatural. He is beyond that which is natural and is therefore immeasurable by natural standards.

It is absurd to conclude that a supernatural God does not exist because he cannot be measured through natural means. How can what is limited measure that which is unlimited?  That’s like concluding that the ocean doesn’t exist because it doesn’t fit in a five gallon bucket.

The famed physicist Albert Einstein is credited with rightly saying, “What’s measurable isn’t always important and what’s important isn’t always measurable.” He, a self described agnostic, understood that even the most skeptical among us should have “an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”¹

Scientific Limitations

The infinite God cannot be defined by that which is finite. He who is limitless cannot be comprehended by that which has limits, unless he chooses to reveal himself within the context of those limits.

Imagine that we live in a two dimensional world with a three dimensional God. If this three dimensional God were to stick his finger into our two dimensional world we would describe his cylindrical finger as a flat circle because we wouldn’t have any way of accurately seeing his finger for what it is.

Our two dimensional science just doesn’t have what it takes to measure this three dimensional God. The limitless God is beyond the limits of science. Furthermore, to say that God must submit to the laws of science is to make science God.

Giving God His Rightful Place

The very definition of God refers to a supreme being who retains ultimate authority over the world he created.  By definition he cannot be bound by science, since he the Great Scientist is the one who put it’s laws into effect.

Just like a software developer has the power to by-pass the codes he put in place to make a software function in a particular way, so God also has the power and authority to by-pass the natural laws if he so chooses, and sometimes does. You cannot say that God must be measurable by science because that would make science God, which it by definition cannot be.

A Window Through Which to See the Creator

What does science tell us about God, then? A great deal actually.  In Romans 1:19-20, the apostle Paul explains that God has made himself known to us in part through creation.  We can learn about his attributes and enjoy his glory through that which his hands have made.

Jesus himself also used creation to teach his disciples about the Father, particular in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7). In them he used plants, animals, agriculture, seasons and weather to help his followers better understand the nature of God. It was from this very notion that many of the first scientists, who happened to be Christian or influenced by Christianity, pursued the sciences, because they believed that the study of science would better help us understand the Great Scientist

Science cannot, however, tell us all that there is to know about God. It is just too limited. The only way for man to fully know God is for God to fully reveal himself to man. The remarkable truth is that God has chosen to make himself known to us through his Son Jesus Christ.   John 1:18 tells us that “no one has ever seen God” but that “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

We don’t have to stress over how to scientifically prove God. He validated and vindicated himself in Christ. He can be known and enjoyed through Jesus and Jesus can be known through the Word of God.

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*For more on the historical Jesus and the Bible check out “Simply Jesus: Does the Church have Him Wrong?“, a sermon series from Living Hope Church about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

¹ Isaacson, Walter (2008). Einstein: His Life and Universe. New York: Simon and Schuster, pp. 390.

² Driscoll, Mark (2010). Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, pp. 97-104.

What the Gospel Means for You.

There are at least two types of Bible passages related to the Christian life. One type are called “indicatives” and the other type “imperatives.” Indicative Bible passages are those that indicate a benefit Christians have received by virtue of their faith in Christ. This is what Ephesians 1:3 refers to when it mentions “every spiritual blessing” given to those who believe. In other words, the indicative passages communicate that which is true for believers in Christ.

Imperative Bible passages are those that command Christians to live in a particular way. These passages inform Christians on what it looks like to live for God. The idea is that if you want to live for Christ you must first believe that which is true for you in Christ.

Identity in Christ

When Jesus died on the cross he not only secured our salvation, he also secured our identity. The truth of the gospel is not simply a change in where you will go, it is fundamentally a change in who you are. (1 John 3:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17) This essentially means whatever is true of Christ is now true for those in Christ.

When you turn to the Lord none of your sins or wrong-doings are counted against you anymore, while all of Christ’s perfection, accomplishments and obedience are credited to your name. Jesus takes your sin and he gives you his righteousness. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Psalm 103) God not only sees you as though you have never sinned, he now sees you as though you have always obeyed.

This is the good news! Jesus has eternally secured our right standing and acceptance before God through what he has accomplished on the cross. God no longer sees you as an ill-deserving sinner, but as his dearly loved son or daughter. (Galatians 4:4-7)  He will never condemn you, never shame you, never guilt you and never forsake you. He will always love you, always accept you and always welcome you into his presence; not because of what you do for him, but because of what he has done for you in Christ. (1 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:23-25; Romans 8:1-4) These are the indicative truths of the gospel.

Image via thecenterforgospelculture.org

Image via thecenterforgospelculture.org

Living for Christ

The result of believing the gospel’s indicative truths is power to live Scripture’s imperative commands. When we believe what Jesus has done for us it empowers us to live in obedience to God. For example, the most basic command in all of Scripture is to love God and to love people (the imperative). (Mark 12:30-31) The power to love God and people comes from understanding and believing that you are loved by God in Christ (the indicative). (Romans 5:1-5; 1 John 4:9-10)

The New Testament is filled with indicative truths for us to believe and imperative commands for us to obey. It’s critical that we obey God, but it’s only possible when we believe Jesus.  Faith in Jesus empowers obedience to Jesus.

What is the Gospel?

It is only through Jesus Christ that sinners can know and live for God. This truth, called the gospel, is the “good news” about who Jesus is and what he has done.  It includes his deity, incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension into heaven, present rule as King of kings and Lord of lords and his future return to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.

Image via katieyunholmes.blogspot.com

Image via katieyunholmes.blogspot.com

God: Supremely Worthy

The Bible teaches that God is the supreme being of the universe. (Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 48:11; Romans 11:36) Creation declares the magnitude of his worth, the heavens display the beauty of his excellence and he alone deserves the entirety of our lives. (Psalm 8:1-4; Psalm 19:1; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 10:31) In love, this God created us to live in unhindered relationship with him and with one another as we enjoy his glory together. (Genesis 1-2; Isaiah 43:7; Isaiah 43:21)

Man: Ill-Deserving

We, however, like our first parents Adam and Eve, have refused to give God the glory that he alone deserves. We have rejected him, disobeyed his commands and turned to worship created things rather than God our Creator. (Romans 1:18-25; Romans 3:9-10, 23) We have broken friendship with God by turning away from him in sin earning his just condemnation in the eternal, conscious torments of a very real hell. (Romans 6:23a; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)

There is absolutely nothing that we can do to earn God’s forgiveness or acceptance. No good work will get us to heaven; no amount of personal effort will bring us back into loving friendship with God. (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:11) We are powerless to overcome sin and its effects on our own. (John 8:34; Romans 7:7-25)

Jesus: All Sufficient

God, in his loving-kindness, has, however, chosen to glorify his name by saving sinners through his Son, Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:3-14) He demonstrates his love for us by sending Jesus to the cross while we “were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10) God didn’t wait for us to get our life together, to earn his approval or to prove our worth through our good deeds. He sent Jesus to remove our sin and bring us back to him through his death and resurrection. When we were at our worst, God gave us his best.

In other words, God sent Jesus to live as our example, (Philippians 2:5; 1 Peter 2:21; Hebrews 12:1-3) to die on the cross as our substitute (Romans 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 3:18) and to rise from the dead as our Lord,¹ freeing those who believe from Satan, sin, hell and death and redirecting our worship back to God. (Luke 24:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; Romans 5:9; Romans 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8) The good news, then, is that ill-deserving sinners can receive forgiveness of sins and be brought back into loving relationship with God by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:11-21; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 4:9)

We are not saved by our good works, but by Jesus’ finished work. We can know, enjoy and live for God not because of what we do, but because of what Jesus has done for us. Our acceptance before God is eternally secured when we turn from sin and self-reliance to believe in and depend on Jesus alone for salvation. (Romans 3:23-25; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:1-7)

Lord of All

The gospel, then is the good news that Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and earth.  He used his authority entirely for the benefit of ill-deserving sinners by sacrificing himself in our place on the cross.  He then rose from the dead victorious over sin and death so that those who believe can freely worship in submission to and reverence for Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  We live for him because he died for us.  (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) This news, as the Apostle Paul says, is of first importance. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) If you truly want to live for God you must come to terms with the gospel. It must determine who you are and how you live.

¹Paraphrased from “The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out” by Mark Driscoll.

5 Discipleship Principles from the Great Commission

Moments before the Lord ascended into the heavens, he left his disciples with a simple mandate called, “The Great Commission.” At this point in Scripture, Jesus had completed his earthly ministry, atoned for the sins of the world and risen from the dead, victorious over Satan, sin and death. He then gathers his remaining followers for one final instruction, like a coach gathering his team for a momentum shifting half-time speech.

Matthew records the Lord’s words in the final lines of his gospel, which says, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and an earth has been given unto me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'”

Image via lindenwoodcc.com

Image via lindenwoodcc.com

When you view Christ’s commission in the context of his ministry, it’s clear that his instruction is about discipleship.  His instructions emphasize five important principles for this task.  These components can be experienced in any order, but I have listed them in the order that most people experience them, rather than the order they appear in the text.

1. Relationship. The Lord’s instruction is simple, “go and make disciples.” In that day, discipleship was a mentor relationship in which someone learning a trade, such as religion, would find a person, such as a rabbi, to personally teach it to them by example, instruction and experience.  If we want to be effective disciple-makers we must understand, like the first disciples, that discipleship is not a program or a curriculum, it’s a personal relationship with others as we journey in Christ together.

2. Learning. In Matthew 28, Jesus explicitly says that we are to teach our disciples about God.  This means that a disciple is always learning to live for God as he is also teaching others to live for God. It’s important to understand, however, that a person often learns about the Lord long before he ever comes to faith.  Learning happens before, during and after conversion. We are to disciple both those who are Christians and those who have yet to become Christians.

3. Faith. Baptism is the outward expression of inward faith in Jesus.  It is the way a person publicly professes that they have believed in Jesus for forgiveness and new life in God.  Discipleship, therefore, must progress to and be built on genuine, personal faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

4. Obedience. The text clearly states that disciples are to observe or obey all that the Lord has commanded.  This means that the goal of discipleship is not simply faith, but a faith and obedience. Faith comes first, but if it’s genuine obedience will follow. We must urge those we are teaching to live for God, not just to believe in him.

5. Reproduction.  Christ commands his disciples to go and make more disciples.  This implies our disciples will make disciples who make disciples.  We should strive to know the Lord as personally and deeply as we can, but we must be diligent to help others grow in Christ as well.

Discipleship, therefore, is about learning to live in obedience to God by faith in Jesus Christ through relationship with others over time.  As we grow as disciples, we then make more disciples by repeating the process with others.  This is the heart of the Great Commission.

This post is adapted from a sermon I preached at the Living Hope Church-Maryville Campus called “Discipleship: Our One Objective.” You can watch the sermon by clicking here.

The Cross: God’s Love Magnified or His Wrath Satisfied?

April 18, 2014 7 comments

This post is in defense of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.  It is written as a response to specific misconceptions about what Jesus accomplished on the cross. This post is exceedingly long and it is intended to be for the sake of a thorough defense of an important doctrine. Be advised. 

Image via dvrbible.wordpress.com

Image via dvrbible.wordpress.com

The cross and resurrection are the culmination of Christ’s ministry.  It was here that Jesus would die for the sins of the world. (1 John 2:2; John 1:29)   It was here that sin and death would be defeated.  (1 Corinthians 15:56-57; 1 Corinthians 15:26) It was here that the Lord would have his victory over Satan and hell. (1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14-15; Revelations 12:11; Revelation 20:13-14; Revelation 20:6)   It was here that sins would be forgiven and those who believe would be made right with God. (Hebrews 8-10)

Because of our sins, for our Benefit

On this topic Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” To die for our sins means to die because of our sins.  Elsewhere Paul says, “for our sake [God] made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Here Paul indicates that Jesus not only died because of our sins, he also died for our benefit.  Peter echoes this in 1 Peter 3:18 when he says “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”

This exchange is known as penal substitutionary atonement; penal meaning penalty, substitutionary meaning in our place because of our sins and atonement meaning to make those who believe right with God. In other words Jesus died on the cross in our place to take the penalty we deserve for our sins so that those who believe in him can be made right with God.

The Wrath of God

The Bible clearly states in both the Old and New Testaments that God’s wrath is against those who do evil.  God’s wrath is his just anger against sinners. We see this in the passages below as well as many others:

1) Psalm 78:21-22:Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, because they did not believe in God and trust in his saving power.”

2) Ezekiel 25:17: The Lord said, “I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them.”

3) Nahum 1:2:The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.”

4) Romans 12:18:Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

5) Ephesians 2:1-3:And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

6) Revelation 19:21:He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”

Basically, God is loving, gracious and kind. He is slow to anger, wanting all to turn from sin and be saved, but he will not withhold his wrath from those who continually refuse his loving kindness. (2 Peter 3:9; Exodus 34:6-7)

All Have Sinned

Scripture is also clear when it states that all people have sinned against God and face his wrath.

1) Romans 1:18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

2) 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9:when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[a] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”

3) Romans 3:10-12, 23: “None is righteous, no, not one; no on understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless.  no one does good, not even one… For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

4) 2 Peter 2:9:Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment”

Jesus, therefore, substituted himself for sinners at the cross.  He would die so that we could live.  He would be condemned so that we could be forgiven.  He would absorb the wrath of God so that those who believe could instead receive the mercy of God.

A Necessary Substitute

This is called propitiation, which means to appease or deal with a persons anger by diverting it to someone or something other than the person who deserves it. In other words, the offense is actually dealt with by someone or something other than the person who committed the offense, it’s not just overlooked. The following passages illustrate this clearly:

1) 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10:For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven,whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

2) Romans 5:9:Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

3) Romans 3:23-25:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift,through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”

4) 1 John 2:2:He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Scripture is clear: all people are sinners who deserve the wrath of God.  God, in his kindness and love, sent Jesus to the cross as our substitute to absorb the wrath of God so that those who believe could instead receive his love.  God is holy.  It would be unjust for him to simply overlook our offenses.  The cross is where God can execute justice against sin, while simultaneously showing mercy to sinners.

Naysayers and False Teachers

At this point, many progressive Bible teachers speak out against the truth of God’s Word.  These are the men who would rather tell the gospel as they’d like for it to be than as it actually is. (2 Peter 3:14-18) Their arguments are as follows:

1) Modern Bible translations have misinterpreted the word propitiation used in places like 1 John 2:2, Romans 3:25 and 1 John 4:10.  They argue that the word translated as propitiation doesn’t actually mean to “pacify wrath,” but that it should be translated as expiation which means to “remove sin.”  The truth is that Jesus both pacifies wrath and removing sin.

Let’s assume however that you’re smarter than I because you know Greek and Hebrew (or can quote the first website that agrees with your opinion) and that the word for propitiation is incorrectly translated.  There are other Scriptures that do not use the word propitiation and still communicate that Jesus saves us from the wrath of God.

1 Thessalonians 1:10, for example, states that “Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come.” Likewise, Romans 5:9 clearly states that we are “saved from the wrath of God by [Jesus].” Finally, John 3:36 explicitly says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Scripture clearly and emphatically teaches that  Jesus saves from God’s wrath.

2) The second argument against Jesus’ substitutionary work is that Jesus never stated that he died to save sinners from God’s wrath.  This is simply not true. In John 3:16-17 Jesus himself says that “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  Jesus is referring to a person perishing because they are condemned, but condemned to where?  The answer is hell, the place of God’s wrath as we’ve already seen in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9. At the cross Jesus was condemned so that those who believe wouldn’t have to be. 

Furthermore, in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7), Jesus states that it is better to enter life maimed than it is to be thrown into hell for one’s sin. (Matthew 5:27-30)  If a person is thrown into hell because of his sins, then for Jesus to save a person from his sins means that Jesus has saved him from God’s wrath in hell.

Lastly, John the Baptist stated that Jesus died to take away the wrath of God (John 3:36). Jesus had personal interaction with John and many of John’s disciples became Jesus’ disciples. (John 1:35-37) Surely the Lord would have heard of John’s teaching, yet no where in Scripture does Jesus refute the teaching that he is to die for our sins to take the wrath of God.  If it were not true, Jesus would have most certainly corrected the man he regarded so highly. (Matthew 11:11)

3) Those who disagree with the doctrine of propitiation also argue that this stance does not fit with the rest of the New Testament.  Hogwash.  Jesus said at least three times that he came to fulfill the Scriptures (Matthew 26:54, 56; Luke 24:27)   and Paul echoes Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3.  The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. If Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures, that means that he fulfilled the Old Covenant with it’s laws, rights, rituals, practices, traditions, customs and requirements.

Leviticus 16 illustrates penal substitution when it describes the responsibility of the high priest to slaughter animals as a substitute, or sacrifice, for the sins of the people.  The animal would die, so that the people could live.  The animal would be condemned, so that the people could be forgiven.  If Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures, then he fulfilled this requirement by becoming the substitute for us, which is also confirmed in Hebrews 5-10.

This would also mean that Jesus fulfilled the Passover in which the death angel, executing God’s judgment and wrath against Pharaoh’s rebellion, passed over the homes of those who had the blood of a Lamb painted over their doorposts.  (Exodus 12:12-13) In Matthew 26:26-29 Jesus indicates that his blood is the blood of the covenant, indicating that he is the Passover Lamb, through whom the wrath of God passes over those who believe.

4) One final argument that is commonly made is that penal substitutionary atonement (propitiation) is too judicial.  It pits God the Father against Jesus the Son.  Those who make this argument must have removed passages like Romans 2:1-52 Corinthians 5:10, Acts 17:31 and Revelation 20:12 from their Bibles.  These passages clearly teach that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God to be judged for our sins.  You can’t get much more judicial than that.

If we are to be judged for our sins, then Jesus had to have died to take that judgment.  If he didn’t, then we have no hope but to face the judgment ourselves.  God the Father positioned himself against Jesus the Son on the cross so that he would no longer have to position himself against ill-deserving sinners, which is why 1 John 1:9 calls Jesus our advocate.

An advocate is someone who defends another person in a court of law.  Again, very judicial. How does Jesus defend us in God’s court? By taking the judgment of God upon himself so that he can rightfully defend us at our own judgment. Christ’s judgment is our restoration and without Christ’s judgment there can be no restoration. God is not Judge or Father he is both Judge and Father.

A Glorious Conclusion

Indeed, at the cross God’s wrath is most certainly satisfied.  Jesus absorbed it so we wouldn’t have to.  What then of God’s love? Is he a cold, begrudging deity?  By no means. 1 John 4:10 tells us that “in this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Other translations say “atoning sacrifice” which is another way of saying “to make right with one through the substitutionary death of another.” In fact the dictionary definition for sacrifice is “the offering of an animal, plant or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage.”

The breath-taking reality is this: God would rather pour his wrath out on his own Son than to see ill-deserving sinners get the penalty they deserve. You cannot find a better personification of love than that.  Jesus willingly took the punishment you deserve for your wrongs against God so that you could be forgiven.  That’s love.  God the Father chose to punish his Son for your sins so that he could adopt you as his child.  That’s love.

If the question is whether or not the cross is God’s love magnified or his wrath satisfied, then the answer is that the cross is God’s love magnified through his wrath satisfied.  It is at the cross that love and justice meet.  A holy God is vindicated and ill-deserving sinners are loved far beyond what their sins deserve.

This post was adapted from a sermon I preached at the Living Hope Church-Maryville Campus called “Christ Our Substitute.”  This sermon was one of four sermons in a series called “The Cross of Christ,” one of our most popular series at Living Hope.  You can view the series here and the sermon here.

Easter Sunday: What’s the Excitement About?

April 16, 2014 1 comment

Christmas and Easter are the two days of the year when you can count on American’s to put their church clothes on and head to service.  I’m sure this trend is rapidly declining as America becomes increasingly post-Christian, but many who still have family or cultural ties to the church find themselves attending a service and eating a traditional meal with loved ones.

Many of the people who will cross the threshold of chapel doors, however, don’t have any idea what they’re celebrating.  It’s fun to sing happy songs, to listen to a life-giving message and to stuff our bellies, but what’s the excitement really all about?

Good Friday

To understand Easter we must first understand Good Friday.  It was on this day several thousand years ago that Jesus Christ was crucified.  The Gospel’s don’t say much about it other than that he was “led away to be crucified” and that they “crucified him.” (Matthew 27:26, 35)

The biblical account is brief simply because the readers of that day would have known exactly what crucifixion included: exhaustion, trial, mockery, scourged 39 times with a flagrum, forced to carry a 100 pound crossbar one mile up a hill, nails through the wrists and feet and asphyxiation. (Matthew 26; 27) They would have seen thousands of them performed by the Romans.

The details, though helpful for modern readers, aren’t what’s important.  The reason why Jesus went to the cross is.  Paul helps us understand this in 1 Corinthians 15:3 when he says “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”  Paul is saying that Jesus died because of our sins and for our benefit.

In other words, Jesus died on the cross in our place for our sins so that those who believe can be made right with God through him. Our sins, failures and short-comings keep us from God.  Jesus removed the penalty of those sins when he died on the cross so that there would be nothing left to separate those who believe from the joy of God’s presence.

Image via nachi.org

Image via nachi.org

Resurrection Sunday

Thankfully, the crucifixion isn’t the end of the story.  Following Christ’s brutal death is his life-giving resurrection.  Without the resurrection Jesus is nothing but just another dead guy.  If he has not been raised, his claims to be God and Savior amount to nothing more than lies and empty promises.  Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 15:17 when he says “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

But praise be to God who has raised the Lord Jesus from the dead!  The resurrection completes the good news of the cross because it validates that Jesus is who he said he is and he did what he said he would do.  He is the God who is worthy to be worshiped, the Savior who is able to save and the Lord who rules over all, including sin and death!

Through the resurrection we have life in his name.  Indeed there are no words that bring greater excitement to the Christian life than this: He is risen! (Matthew 28:6)

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