|Vol. 13 No. 4 April 2011||
David Q. Fisher
My knowledge of God in Christ especially has its origin and shape in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. The following quote from Stott summarizes the core of my understanding of God. “In giving his son he was giving himself. This being so, it is the Judge himself who in holy love assumed the role of the innocent victim, for in and through the person of his Son he himself bore the penalty which he himself inflicted” (159). The apostle Paul makes this point. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:2).
As I consider Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected, I learn important truths concerning myself through Christ. Herein, I share with you what I know about myself through Jesus Christ.
First, I know I am like the rest of humankind. Of humankind the apostle Paul concludes, “All, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God… There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9b-11, 18).The way in which God dealt with this reality, Jesus Christ, tells me there is more to it than humankind breaking rules, though that is involved. Sin and rebellion, faith and salvation, are all about relationship with God. We see Jesus crucified and realize how seriously sin disrupts relationship with God.
Sin disrupts our relationship with God as Creator, “because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). Sin disrupts our relationship with God as Father. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: ‘children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me’” (Isaiah 1:2). Sin disrupts our relationship with the love of God. “In this is love, not that we have loved God…” (1 John 4:10). Paul wrote in Romans 5 that we were weak, sinners, ungodly and enemies of God.
“The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God” (Stott 160). Sin is unbelief. There is the unbelief that denies the existence of God and of Christ. There is also the unbelief which believes in the existence of God and of Christ but does not believe God, does not believe His wisdom, His righteousness, resulting in disobedience, in substituting self for God. A command or a principle for godly living is found in Scripture, but it is contrary to what we want to do. We do what we want because we do not trust in the wisdom of God on that particular point. We do not believe God on that particular point. This unbelief describes most of us. We are going to do what we want to do. I am not discussing them. You know, those other people out there, whose unbelief is so obvious. I am talking about you and me.
The necessity of Christ crucified for my salvation teaches me I am among the all who have sinned, the all who are painted with such dark words in Roman 3. Yes, I was like the rest of humankind, in rebellion against my Creator and Father, rejecting love for God, rejecting the love of God, a child or wrath. This is how Paul describes the pagan unbelievers, now believers, in Ephesus. As I look at myself, it is key to realize Paul attributes his description to all of us.
“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 and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).This is me! Paul’s metaphor is telling, “dead in the trespasses and sins.” Dead – separated from the source of life, true life, separated from God. This is the seriousness and finality of sin’s impact on our relationship with God.
We will own up to sin, even admit we are sinners. Paul, though seems a little over the top. He describes them, those horrible sinners out in the world. My pride does not want to admit Paul’s words apply to me. Ah, but then Luke records the story of Cornelius, that Gentile, a Roman soldier, who believed in the God of Israel, who worshiped and followed God. Cornelius is described by Luke as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2).Cornelius is a good man. He is good because of his faith in God. In a vision an angel of God appeared to Cornelius. The angel of God said to Cornelius, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4). Certainly, such a man, so praised by God himself, does not fit into Paul’s description of us all in Ephesians 2! As Peter retells the story in Acts 11, we discover the angel of God also told Cornelius to send for Peter who “will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (Acts 11:14). “Will be saved”? As good, as devout, as benevolent, even how accepting his good works were to God, the goodness of Cornelius could not save Cornelius. He and his family needed the message of the Gospel, of the life, the death, the burial and the resurrection of Christ. Observe the seriousness and the finality of sin’s impact on a person’s relationship with God!
I am like the rest of humankind. My salvation didn’t come, will not come, by my doing better in keeping the rules. My salvation comes and will come by the deep and holy love of God through Jesus Christ crucified. My salvation comes and will come by the horrible price God and His Son were willing to pay for my redemption. On occasion, it is helpful and sobering to personalize Scripture. Making 1 Peter 2:24 and Ephesians 2:8-9 personal help me understand I am like the rest of humankind.
“He himself bore the sins of David Fisher in his body on the tree, that I might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds, I, David Fisher, have been healed.” “For by grace I have been saved through faith. And this is not my own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that I may not boast.” I cannot stand before God with my head held high, thanking God for how good I am, so worthy of salvation. I fall on my knees with my head bowed in shame. For like all of humankind, I was, I am, a sinner. I need the love of God so freely and costly given on the cross in Jesus Christ.
I realize I am like the rest of humankind. Seeing God’s love on the cross in Jesus Christ, I also learn about myself that I am wanted by God.
The picture is not of the great Lawmaker and Enforcer coming up with a better idea with new rules. Then, He waits for us to choose to be better rule keepers of better rules. Rather, it is the picture of God, Father, Son and Spirit, out of the depths of holy love, out of the heights of glory, out of all God is, demanding of Himself what needed to be done in His holiness to rescue, to save, to restore us, and to reconcile us to Himself. Out of the depths of his love and all that He is, it is God seeking, pursuing, His creation and pursuing humankind, pursuing me!
Passage after passage speak of God pursuing, seeking, reaching out, doing what needed and needs to be done, reaching out and calling out to humankind in Jesus Christ. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). “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” (1 John 4:10). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God seeking the unrighteous, the ungodly, the sinner, his enemy, so that I might become righteous, not my own, but the righteousness God gives through Christ. God, in his holy love giving himself in Christ, pursues us to rescue and reconcile us. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Through Scripture, the Word of God, through the apostles, the history of Christianity and of the world, Father, Son and Spirit have been and are working, pursuing us, wanting to rescue us, wanting us, choosing us. “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). Beloved, chosen to be saved, called, God’s pursuit of us, of me!
I was like all of humankind, dead in my sins, weak, ungodly, without love for God. Yet, God wanted me, wants me. God pursued me, is pursuing me in Christ. Oh, the joy of being wanted, of being pursued by God because of his love for me!
Through Jesus Christ I know I am like the rest of humankind. I know I am wanted by God. I know I am valued and loved by God. Returning to texts quoted above, I realize how deep and true is God’s love for me. “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” (1 John 4:10). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). I am not deserving or worthy of such love. Who is? Yet, in spite of me, because of him, who He is, His love, God so values me and loves me, He gave His Son for me!
Through Jesus Christ I also know God places his confidence in me. God believes in me, that I am able and will live the life to which he calls me. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). “Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). I don’t understand, given my failures, but God has chosen me in Christ, saved me, made me part of His people, to live now for Him – as a new creation to do good works, as His very own to be zealous in doing good works, chosen to proclaim His praises. God is confident I will hold to my faith in Him and give myself to Him. He assures me He is with me all the way, to guide me, to give me wisdom, to give me strength and to continually pick me up when I fall and to forgive me. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32).
As I began to know myself through Christ, I did not want to hear I am like the rest of humankind, by nature a child of wrath. This knowledge, however, opened the door of my heart as I bowed before God in humility and shame, to the knowledge of God wanting me, of God’s rich love for me. Knowing myself through Jesus Christ opened my heart to the call of God to salvation in Christ. I know I am like the rest of humankind. Oh, the joy of knowing I am wanted by God, of knowing I am so richly valued and loved by God. What confidence I am given by God as I know He has confidence in me to live the new life to which He calls me in Christ.
Stott, John R. W. The Cross of Christ.Downers Grove: InterVarsity P., 1986.