Judgment and The Gospel

In the magisterial book of Romans, the apostle Paul lays out the good news of salvation. He methodically proceeds in presenting this doctrine from our natural state of rebellion to the hope of reconciliation in Jesus Christ and on to what this means for all of humanity. The arguments are complex, but accessible when approached passage by passage. For example, he speaks of the coming judgment to Jewish readers in Rome:

For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.    (Romans 2: 13 – 16)

When we work to unravel this challenging bit of Scripture, we’re caught off guard by the last line in which the apostle associates the day of God’s wrath being exercised in the fullness of its fury with the good news. How in the world is this good news?  The answer, of course, is grace. When the Christian stands before their Lord on that day of judgment barren of all works, we have confidence in grace. It is the condition of our hearts that will be judged, and it is the humbled acceptance of the righteousness of Christ that determines this state. As the apostle restates this good news later in his letter to the church at Philippi, his hope is “be[ing] found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil 3:9)

Tim Keller says this, “… God’s just judgment is fundamental to his declaration about God’s son. Without judgment, salvation has no meaning. Without the reality of God’s present and future wrath, the cross is emptied of its glory.” Oh! how this expands our meditation. Not only is the day of judgment good news because we have, in Christ, no fear, but the horror of the cross is gospel as well. That God placed the fullness of my sin on the shoulders of his Beloved Son rather than my own, that is unimaginable good news. I stand before the Judge in full confidence knowing that my Savior -actually the Judge Himself!– has taken the penalty that belongs to me as his own.

Judgment for the Christian is good news as we already know the outcome. Our gratitude and humility for the atonement of our sin should be reflected in the effort that we devote to sharing this gospel truth with others.

No Gospel at All

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned. Galatians 1:6 – 8

The gospel that is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” is sure and unchanging. The gospel of God’s grace is not subject to the vagaries of history or culture or religious tradition or human desire. It is the sure and steadfast gospel, consistent from beginning to end, that saves. The Apostle repeated the good news to the church in Corinth as pressures threatened to wrest the true gospel from their grasp, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures…” This is the gospel that saves.

“Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Acts 2:38

A gospel that presents itself as little more than a golden ticket to heaven is only one half of a gospel. A gospel that requires no more than your assent to the idea of Jesus or even that you like His offer of salvation from an eternity in Hell is only a part of the good news. Jesus Christ comes into the world as both Savior (Acts 5:31) and Lord (Rom 5:11), the two not divisible. A gospel then that proposes grace and an eternity in God’s presence without humble repentance is not a gospel that saves.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

A gospel that does not lead the hearer to pick up their cross and follow the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not a gospel that saves. A gospel of “grace” that enables a one-time proclamation of belief (Rom 10:9) but does not require a subsequent adherence to the commands of Jesus to continuing and ongoing repentance, belief and service is a partial gospel. Works! Works! Not at all! Yes, one must “confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” but the requirement continues that this same person must believe this fact “in your heart” in order to be saved. To believe in your heart is to believe in the depths of your soul, to a transforming degree. A gospel that does not result in transformation of the earthly desires to follow ones own will and submit to the Lordship of Christ is but a part of the good news.

The true gospel sets men and women free. Once enemies of God, belief in the true gospel reconciles a person in this most important relationship. The true gospel is an invitation and the power to bring humanity back into right relationship with God, to be restored to a place in the kingdom of heaven (Col 1:21-22). We must not allow any partial or false gospel replace this good news and we who believe must continue in our faith, “not moved from the hope held out in the gospel (Col 1:23).

I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

Gospel Square 1The gospel that the Apostle spoke of is good news, stupendously good news. God had intervened in history, entering personally into the morass of human rebellion against Him and making a way out, a way to be freed from the entanglements that drew them to destruction. Jesus Christ entered the world in purity, lived a life of perfect holiness and died as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. His death atoned for all sin. When Jesus was then resurrected on that third day, He demonstrated indisputably that He had overcome death and broken the entrapping bonds of sin. The long-awaited promises to Israel were fulfilled and the blessing of God extended to all who would believe that Jesus was their only avenue of freedom from the bondage of the Fall.

That is fabulously good news. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:15

The Apostle quoted the prophet Isaiah in this assuring statement. The prophet communicated to God’s people Israel that their exile would end, that they would be released from their captivity in Babylon, that freedom was imminent. Good news to be sure, fantastic even. Except, the power sin remained and, while physically freed, people were still held in its vise-like grip. Better news was still to come.

The better news is Jesus. Jesus, the savior who died for the “sins of the whole world” 1 John 2:2. The amazing news is Jesus who overcame death and its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55-57) and gives all who will believe that victory. Jesus not only makes the way of atonement, He shepherds believers along the path of life (Hebrews 7:25) until they are rejoined with God in perfect communion.

This is good news. This is the gospel.

 

Satan’s Defeat at the Cross – Christus Victor

From a purely human perspective, Jesus’ hours of agony upon the Cross appear to be the very inverse of victory. Rejected by His people, abused nearly to point of death, accused and convicted of crimes for which He is known to be innocent and then cruelly affixed to the tortuous tool of death, our senses struggle to see Jesus as being victorious in any context. Time—in this case a couple of days—proves that there is more than meets the eye however. Christ rises, and a new epoch of history follows in his wake.

Atonement has not been explained by a single theological position. At various times in this history of the Church, different theories have attempted to corral the revelation in the Scriptures and explain what was achieved by Calvary. Salvation is a constant, for certain, but humanity is also the beneficiary the multi-faceted view of God’s character that comes into sharp focus. Evil suffers defeat as well. Though often disregarded as the theory of atonement, Christ’s victory over  the powers of evil is an aspect of the cross that has far-reaching implications for the lives of Christians today.

The name of this view, Christus Victor, is often attributed to Gustav Aulen and his book of the same title. In this tome he challenged the legal and moral views of atonement as inadequate and proposed a restoration of the view he called ‘classic’, saying that it was “the ruling idea of the Atonement for the first thousand years of Christian history.” (Aulen)

God’s plan for the defeat of evil is a lengthy, multi-faceted process that will not be fully consummated until the parousia, but offering benefits attainable by believers today. The Father set to work immediately after evil entered the world, stating that it would be defeated at a time in the future:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Gen 3:15)

The Messiah is in view as the one who will defeat this enemy, crushing his head, foreshadowing the ministry of Jesus. The Wicked One knows that the arrival of Jesus predicts his end and, as the Conqueror begins His ministry, he makes every attempt to destroy Him. Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, he leads Herod to murder the boys and deceives Peter into attempting to dissuade Christ from the completion of His objective (Get behind me, Satan! (Mt 16:23).

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and the authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:13-15)

Conquest is achieved on Golgotha, the strong man is overpowered and bound. As the passage in Colossians attests, Christ accomplishes the disarming of powers and authorities, triumphing over them on the Cross. While the Evil One may have wanted to continue in his deceit, victory is announced and confirmed at the Resurrection (Acts 2:24, Eph 1:20-23). The church on mission extends the conquest, preaching Christ crucified as Lord, summoning others out of bondage through repentance and renewal.

While we avoid the language of triumphalism, victory should be a part of the vocabulary of the believer. As John Stott says “The victory of Christians, therefore, consists of entering into the victory of Christ and enjoying its benefits.. We can thank God that ‘he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’” (1 Cor 15:57). Caution remains in order though, as the Deceiver continues his self-deceit. He is defeated but has not conceded and continues to seek out ways to derail the Christian treading the narrow path (1 Jn 5:18, 1 Pet 5: 8).

Grace and peace to you…

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The Justice of God in the Cross

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In expressing his moral shock at God’s decision to destroy the good with the bad in Sodom, Abraham voiced what many believers have wanted to yell throughout history, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Indeed! The slaughter of the righteous and the wicked and the continued prospering of the wicked so many centuries later perplexes us. Some, believers and non, are tempted to the point of labeling God unjust based on what they see around them.

There are numerous warnings in the Bible that turn people away succumbing to this belief. Over and over, the Holy Spirit inspires the authors to record prohibitions against belief that the current reign of the unjust will continue forever. God will mete out justice at an appointed day in the future; “..do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Rom 2:3b-4; see also Acts 17:30-31, 2 Pet 3:3-9)

The more observant will note the theodicy evident in the Cross. The clear language Paul uses in Romans 3:21 – 26 forms the foundation of this understanding. God present him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in justice.

Divine Justice is on full display. God judges sin, requiring the ultimate penalty in death. He also extends mercy to sinners, paying this ultimate price himself. As Stott says “For now, as a result of the propitiatory death of his Son, God can be “just and the justifier” of those who believe in him.” His justice is defended against the limited understanding of man and the questions that pour forth from it.

Grace and peace to you..

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The Glory of God in the Cross

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The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

A series of preceding posts looked at the work accomplished by the Savior on the Cross. Each focused on the salvific work and the categories of understanding that theologians have applied: propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation. Limiting our descriptive language to this taxonomy leaves us questioning; we see what God accomplishes on the Cross but we are deficit in hearing the complete message that He wants to communicate via this moment in history.

The first revelatory facet that we note is God’s glory revealed in the Cross. The same glory that filled the Temple in Old Testament revelation is also seen in Jesus, who dwelled among us for a little while (Jn 1:14). In addition to satisfying God’s righteousness requirements, in fulfilling His demands for justice, Jesus proclaims how the Father’s glory is seen in his humiliation and sacrifice (John 17:1). As Stott points out “the glory that radiates from the cross is that same combination of divine qualities which God revealed to Moses as mercy and justice, and which we have seen in the Word made flesh as ‘grace and truth (Ex 34:6).”

Grace and peace to you…

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