THE STANDARDS…

“Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.  Blessed are those who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their heart—they do no wrong but follow His ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.  Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all Your commands. I will praise You with an upright heart as I learn Your righteous laws. I will obey Your decrees; do not utterly forsake me”  [Psalm 119: 1-8].

“Today truth has been kicked to the curb”  Tony Evans*

This past Sunday, I used a video of Pastor Tony Evans to kick off my adult Sunday school class.  His message made a big impact on me.  The past few years, I have had a few struggles trying to be a Christian living in this world.  I know The Bible tells me to not “be of this world”; to keep my eyes on His kingdom.  I should not be so concerned with what happens in human culture but it has been hard.  You see we live in a world today that is being overrun with very important and powerful people who provide alternative facts, opinions and perspectives. What was once considered truth is now being questioned.  We all have relative perspectives; one person’s perception of reality does not have to totally agree with another’s and that is ok.  I must accept that each of us is unique but if we truly cannot see anything the same way, truth is in trouble.  We have to have some standards.  I have just written four posts on sin and if we take a point of view that sin just depends on how we look at it, it seems to me that anything that man can do can be justified.   

John Stott died in 2011 and he was very aware of the shift into relativity that has gripped faith in God.  This even has a name: Post-modern Christianity.  Before I plunge into an effort at a simple definition, let me warn you.  Post-modern thinking and Post Modern Christianity are not bad conceptualizations except when they is taken to extremes and today we are living in times when people do not temper their comments.   We live in a time of “EXTREME!!!!”  Maybe it is a perverse desire for attention but many people love using what I call “over-the-top” language.

Experience is important but Post-modernism posits that it is more important than reason.  Subjectivity is more important that objectivity.  A spiritual approach to faith is more important than an intellectual approach to faith.  Images are more important than words.  Outward manifestation of faith is more important than inward manifestation.

The value of the experiences we have in life cannot be ignored but if we place so much value on our individual experiences then truth becomes relative.  Reason no longer matters.  Understanding others becomes very hard because everyone is so far apart in their separate realities. 

We have to have some standard by which reality is measured.  We need some source of reliability.  Tony Evans says “we need an original source.”  John Stott writes that we have to have some way by which we measure our performance.    Stott writes that to “some good-minded people this comes as a genuine surprise.  They have their ideals and think they attain them, more or less.  They do not indulge in much introspection.  They are not unduly self-critical.  They know they have had occasional lapses.  They are aware of certain character deficiencies.  But they are not alarmed by them, and they consider themselves no worse than other men.  All this is understandable enough until you remember two things.  First, our sense of failure depends on how high our standards are.  It is quite easy to consider ourselves good at high-jumping if the bar is never raised more than waist-high.  Second, God concerns Himself with the thought behind the deed and with motive behind action” [Stott, 64].

In his book Basic Christianity, Stott turns to the Ten Commandments. Here are our standards.  This is our truth. 

How do we stack up against the the psalmist quoted above when he makes it very clear that we should keep God’s statutes, we should follow His ways, obey His precepts and steadfastly obey His decrees.  Are we making an effort to follow God’s commands or are we ignoring them, making up the rules as we go along.  Are we looking to His commands for guidance or are we ignoring them, creating a reality that does not exist in an objective world.  Are we tapping into the power of His commands or are we watering them down, making life an easy-going existence that seeks comfort more than challenge.

We can always accept the “low bar” and maintain the figment that we are doing well [Thank you very much!].  But what if God really wants us to jump over a high bar?  Pastor Evans loves to preach with powerful images and one such image is the high jumper versus the pole vaulter.  If you look at high jumping, the athlete accomplishes his goal by using his own body to cross the bar.  If you look at pole vaulting, the athlete uses a pole to go much higher so they can cross a much higher bar.  Maybe we can take that image and say that God’s commands can get us over the high bar; we can use His Word to give us the power we need to live the best life we can live. 

This post introduces a series of posts that searches for truth in God’s commands, some standards by which we can live.  Maybe Post-modernism has gripped Christianity; maybe truth is in trouble, maybe it even “has been kicked to the curb.” 

Over the next few posts, I will examine each commandment in what Stott calls “a healthy exercise…[to] see how very far short of [the Commandments] every man falls.”

Of course Commandment number 1 is next: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

*From Tony Evan’s video teaching “The Books of 1, 2 and 3 John.”

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Here are My questions about Sin…*

Some of the readers of this blog may have seen a few references in some of my posts to my being “born-again.”  Most Christians know what that means.  When a person comes to believe in Jesus Christ and knows enough about Jesus to say He came to this earth to save me, and I want to be one of His children that is when a person is “born-again.”  The Holy Spirit gives that person new life, a new desire to serve God and a new desire to do God’s will.  I came to Jesus in October of 1998.  It may be hard to pinpoint an exact moment when surrender to God occurs but for me it was during a men’s retreat that was dedicated to educating prospective Christians.  The retreat began on October 8 and continued until October 11 and I knew God had me there for a reason.  During this retreat I went to the altar and declared that I believed in Jesus and I sought forgiveness from God for my many sins.  I felt a special lightness as I confessed my shortcomings, a feeling that my “slate had been wiped clean.”

I was elated.  Words could not express the new love I had for Jesus Christ.  The whole weekend was dedicated to explaining the basics of Christianity to people who needed the information.  I needed to find a new way to live.  My old way was not working for me at all.  I have been in love two times in my life.  One time I fell madly in love with my girlfriend [my spouse today].  The other time was that weekend when I fell in love with Jesus.

What happens when a moment like this occurs? 

The elation can continue for some time, but eventually “the concerns of the world” will invade a baby Christian’s life and that is what happened to me.  It happens to every new Christian.  You may have changed but the people in the world around you have not changed.  Temptations are still there that existed before you were born-again.  Your old way of living may not seem appropriate anymore but old habits are almost impossible to break instantly.  It is impossible to emerge from a born-again experience with no complications arising from your past.

I had a lot of questions about my new life.  How could I navigate in the world with my new perspective?  I want to share some of my concerns with readers because I have written three posts on sin: September 16th on Christian awareness of sin, September 23rd on human sin nature and September 30th on the nature of sin.  What worried me about sinning after I gave my life to Christ?**

First of all, can a born-again Christian still fall into sin?  God would rather we not sin, but God knows that human beings cannot live lives of sinless perfection.  He tells us not to sin but He knows we will.  First John 1: 10 says “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”  The Apostle Paul speaks of “dying to self” which means that he wanted to be less concerned about his own selfish needs and more concerned with serving Jesus Christ.  Born-again Christians fall into sin, for they are human.

Are there different degrees of sin?  The most common answer I hear from Christians is no; they are all bad.  Technically the answer should be yes.  Jesus said that the ones who delivered Him to Pilate had greater sin than Pilate even though the Roman Prefect allowed Jesus to be crucified.  Also the Old Testament recognizes the difference between murder and manslaughter.  Murder is premeditated and intentional.  Beyond that, the answer is not clear, but it is not a solid “no.”  In the last judgement, the unsaved will stand before God and He will open the Lamb’s Book of Life.  If a person’s name is in the book, they will go to heaven.  If their name is not in that book, the book of works will be opened and God will determine an individual’s punishment in hell depending on the record of a person’s works.  It is not at all clear how that determination is made. 

Is some sin so bad that a born-again Christian can lose their salvation?  The Bible is full of people who commit grievous sins.  David committed adultery and murder.  Samson was a serial adulterer.  Peter denied Jesus three times.  Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  If a person is truly born-again, they will repent of their sins and return to their belief in God and God will forgive them.   The answer to this question revolves around a person’s “persistent and continual sin.”  If the practice of sin becomes so pervasive that a believer dies a spiritual death, they may indeed lose their salvation.  They have no desire to ever do the will of God.  They see no need for asking forgiveness.  They only want to satisfy their sinful desires.

Do some Christians feel that their born-again declaration can “cover” all that they do on this earth?  In essence, do they have eternal security which can give a person a license to sin?  This question seems to overlap with the previous one but it is a little different regarding man’s understanding of God’s grace.  I have always felt that some people practice “grace abuse.”  When one declares their dedication of their life to Jesus that is enough for them; from that point on, all their sins are ok.  One can quit worrying about salvation.  In fact, a born-again person will not be perfectly sinless but they will have a desire to do the will of God which means they will have less and less desire to sin.    Elmer Towns writes that “a Christian should not plan on sinning, nor use any doctrine as an excuse to sin, but should plan to keep the words of Jesus: “Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” [Matthew 5: 48].

Lastly, is it normal to have doubts about your salvation?  The short answer is yes.  I have always felt that the devil uses our doubts against us to steal our motivation to do better in our Christian lives.  But the Lord says if you receive Him, He will receive you.  If you accept Jesus Christ into your life, He will make you one of His children and He will be true to you.  For many they are waiting for some sort of miracle regarding their salvation.  Life gives us up and downs, joy and guilt but God is always there for us in the good times and the bad times.  Towns says that God is interested in our “sincerity.”  Giving your life to Christ is not an act that you can perform to manipulate God into giving you eternal life because God knows our hearts.  Once you have made a sincere commitment, Christians can feel assurance, a freedom from doubt.  The inner witness of the Holy Spirit will confirm that we have been made right with God.

It is normal to have questions about our faith; maybe that is just our nature.  We would like to have definitive answers but we won’t have those until the time when “Each one’s work will become clear” [First Corinthians 3: 13-15].   We’re talking about final judgement when we quote this scripture. 

I don’t have all the answers as one can tell from my questions above, but I have faith that I am moving in the right direction.  That weekend in October 1998 was a turning point for me, a weekend that resulted in me finding a new way to live, a better way to live.  It all started with a trip to the altar and declaration that I believed in Jesus and an effort to seek forgiveness from God for my many sins.

I am far from perfect but to quote the evangelist Joyce Meyer “I may not be where I want to be, but thank God I am not where I used to be.”

Yes… we must thank God.

*Content in this post was centered on my own questions, answers from John Stott’s  Basic Christianity,  Elmer Town’s Bible Answers for Almost All Your Questions and various other sources.

**This is post number four of a series of posts concerning sin in the life of the Christian.  This post was inspired by part two of John Stott’s book, Chapter 5, “The Fact and Nature of Sin.”

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Picking Me Up and Dusting Me Off…

Recently, on September 16, the topic on this blog was sin and how Christians seem to be obsessed with it.*  All Christians know sin is real and we know we need to admit that it is real in our lives but there is overwhelming evidence that we struggle to acknowledge it.  On September 23, the topic was the sin nature that humans have and where that sin nature comes from.  I stated repeatedly that the only way we can deal with this “nature” is to utilize the power of Jesus Christ in our lives.

But I have to ask, why is sin so confusing? 

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.   As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.   For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.   For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.   Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.   So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.   What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”  [from the Apostle Paul, writing in Romans 7].

Of course these words are written by one of the most important figures of Christianity; some say the second most important person after Jesus Christ. 

And Paul is struggling to understand why he sins. 

On September 23rd, we discussed the sin nature that all humans have; now let’s discuss the nature of sin.

What is sin?

It can be an act, it can be an attitude or it can be a response against the Person of God or the law of God.**  As I have already stated, all of us have choices in life and one of the most important choices we have to make is to live within God’s laws and honor Him or to break those laws and dishonor Him.  It is the choice that we inherit from Adam and Eve.  It is the choice to choose ourselves over God.

Sin is based on the temptation to declare that we are independent.  We are saying that we are so powerful that we can rebel against God.  James 1: 14 says it best:  “But each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed.”  We really don’t need our Lord and Savior when we allow ourselves to be lured away.

When James writes “Each one” of course he means all of us.

This desire to sin is the beginning of the act of sinning, yet the desire to sin is not sinning.  James admits when desire happens it can give birth to sin but it does not have to.  We can stop the process if we listen to the Holy Spirit which is within us, the Holy Spirit which strengthens us against our weaknesses [some simply like to refer to this as “the conscience”]. 

But what if you can’t stop the process?  Obviously the Apostle Paul wants to stop his desire to sin but he cannot.  He has the desire to do what is good but he cannot carry it out.  Elmer Towns describes this as a six step process: first desire, then intention [the intention to sin].  The third step is to execute a plan to get the object or commit the act.  The fourth step is to willingly put the plan into action.  The fifth step is to physically move to get the object of sin or to do the wrong action.  The final step is to gratify oneself with the sinful object or sinful action.

John Stott sheds more light on sin by grouping sin into two categories, “according to whether wrongdoing is regarded negatively or positively.  Negatively, it is a shortcoming.  One word represents it as a lapse, a slip, a shooting at a target.  Yet another shows it to be an inward badness, a disposition which falls short of what is good.  Positively, sin is transgression.  One word makes sin the trespass of a boundary.  Another reveals it as lawlessness, and another as an act which violates justice” [Stott, 64].

Sin can be premeditated, a rebellious act against God that willfully disobeys God’s clear command.  There is also such a thing as a sin of ignorance which is breaking God’s law without being consciously aware that one is sinning.  A sin of commission is doing something contrary to God’s laws.  A sin of omission is failing to do something that God has commanded that we do.

Let’s return to Paul.  Why is he in a struggle with sin?  This is a man who had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  This is a man who did more to spread the Christian faith than almost any other. 

He knew Jesus Christ, yet he was still human.

Like Paul, we can know Jesus Christ but we are still human.  This raises the question can a person be a “born again believer” and fall into sin? 

You bet…

Expect it will happen.  When I was born-again, one of the first things I learned was that Satan will continue to attack me through my sin nature.  It won’t go away just because I become a believer.  I remember a mature Christian telling me that your previous sin is like an “old man” that you carry around in a bag that is slung across your back.  We try to keep the old man in the bag but despite our best efforts the old man comes out from time to time.  When he does we should try to stuff him back into the bag.

First John 2: 1 says “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin” but he has already said “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” [1 John 1: 8].  God tells us not to sin, but He knows that we will.  He is faithful to forgive us of our sins and He promises to cleanse us from our unrighteousness.

In short, God does not expect sinless perfection.  He knows we are not capable.  But Towns comments that when “a person is saved he no longer lives in a continual habitual state of sin…there is a breaking of the perpetual hold of sin in the life of the believer” [76]. 

What can happen over time to the believer who tries to live a more righteous life?  God will begin to live inside you and you will hear Him speak to you in thoughts that are not your own.  Isaiah 30: 21 says “This is the way; walk in it.”  If we listen to God’s guidance, we will do more and more that pleases Him and less and less that pleases only ourselves.  He will show great love for the believer and the believer will desire more and more time with Him in worship, prayer and study.  Will temptation rear its ugly head?  Yes.  That is why the Apostle Paul writes in First Corinthians 15:31: “I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.”  Every day temptations occur but Paul is relying on his faith in God and His Son Jesus to overcome the temptations.  Will he achieve sinless perfection?  He knows he will not. 

Just as we began this post with Paul’s confusion about his efforts to conquer sin, we close this post with Paul’s admission of continual weakness regarding his sinning.  In Second Corinthians 12: 7-8 he says “So to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”  But the Lord would not.  Maybe you have been so disheartened by your sinning that you wish God would take your weaknesses away…but He won’t. 

One of the most stunning revelations I have ever had in my life to this point was what God told Paul about His weaknesses.  God said “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.”  I took that to mean that when I fall I am weak and that is when God is His strongest.  In my weakness is His strength.

God never desired for man to be sinless.  There was only one man who was sinless and that was His Son Jesus Christ, the one who came to show us how to live righteous lives, the one who came to forgive us of our sins, the one who showed us that accepting God as our Savior is the true pathway to eternal life.

When I sin, I feel a palpable sense of despair.  That is not surprising, but I know that I will never lead a sinless life.  When I sin I also feel God’s greatest strength as He picks me up, dusts me off and says to me “stand tall and continue forward in life, a life dedicated to Me.”

Truly His grace is sufficient…

*This is post number three of a series of posts from John Stott’s Basic Christianity.  This is from part two of his book, Chapter 5, “The Fact and Nature of Sin.”

**helpful information came from Bible Answers for All Your Questions by Elmer Towns.

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This may be one of the least popular posts I have written…

John Stott writes* “Christians are often criticized for harping on it too much.  But it is only because Christians are realists that they do so…it is a fact of human experience” [61].

In my previous post, I got personal.  I wrote about approaches to sin, approaches that I illustrated with people I have actually known, people who really did not deal with the reality of their sin: the “nice” person, the man with the “laundry list” of good deeds and Mr. “Goody Two-Shoes.”

Sometimes illustrations are effective because they make a point and they are easy to understand, but in this post I want to get into the specifics of why human beings sin, why it is a fact of human experience.

This may be one of the least popular posts I have written since I began this blog in December 2014.

“We don’t want to admit that we have a “sin nature.”  This is an extremely harsh statement but it is true:  sinning is “baked into” who we are as human beings.  We are made to be rebellious against God; we have a natural inclination to sin.  God has given us a choice in life:  to do His will or to do our own.  Naturally we choose to do our own” [from “Dirt in the Carpet…”  St. John Studies, September 16, 2021].

To understand why we sin, we have to consider the first man.  God created Adam without sin but it was not long until he fell into sinning.  In Genesis it says “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them” [1: 27].  However by Genesis 3, things had drastically changed.   The first man and the first woman had disobeyed God, choosing to do what they wanted instead of doing God’s will.  By their one action with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they introduced sin into the world.  When God said “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” [Genesis 2: 17], they chose to do the opposite.  They ate of that tree.

Most of us know the story.  Immediately they were stricken with a sense of shame and unfitness and they hid from God [as if anyone can “hide” from God].  God punished them for their sinning but he did not start over with another man and another woman.  Adam and Eve were allowed to have children and their sinful nature was passed on from them.  Adam’s “image and likeness” was passed on to his offspring and their first child Cain became the very first person to commit murder. 

Romans 5: 12 states “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”

That’s why I can write one of the most unpopular statements about Christians, a statement that many do not want to hear: we are all sinners.

Surely people argue that we not born bad.  How could a little baby be a sinner?  The Bible teaches that every one of is affected by Adam’s sin, even babies have a sin nature inherited from Adam.  Proverbs 22:15 states that “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.”  As soon as a child is able to choose between obedience and disobedience, children exhibit selfish behavior and they will invariably choose disobedience.  In Psalm 51: 5 David speaks of his own sinful nature in the words “I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.” 

There is nothing inherently good in any of us despite what we think.  There is nothing we can do to earn our own salvation, being nice, accomplishing great acts of goodness or adopting a “good” façade will not do the trick.  What do we deserve as human beings? 

Here’s another unpopular statement: what we deserve is God’s wrath.

This is where John Stott makes his fundamental point in his book Basic Christianity: after explaining the deity of Jesus Christ in the first four chapters of his book, he is ready to explain Jesus’ mission: what Jesus came to earth to do.  He came to save us sinners.  Stott writes that the “Lord from heaven” and “Savior of sinners” are two labels that cannot be separated when one describes Jesus.  We need to understand that we are sinners and He is our only hope.  “We must understand who we are as well as who He was.  His work was done for us.  It was the work of a Person for persons by the only Person competent to meet their need.  His competence lies in His deity; our need lies in our sin.  We have tested His competence; we must now expose our need” [Basic, 61].

It is hard to take on the label of sinner? Yes.  Is it something we want to do?  No.  Stott continues “After we have clearly grasped what we are, shall we be in a position to perceive the wonder of what He has done for us and offers to us.  Only when we have had our malady accurately diagnosed shall we be willing to take the medicine prescribed” [Basic, 61].

I have read the Old Testament many times and this part of the Bible is [in my simple view] God trying to communicate to man that certain standards must be met.  This is very inadequate description but I think God is using the carrot and stick method of behavior modification in the Old Testament.  When man does right, God gives him a carrot.  When man does wrong God gives man the stick.  A simple description of what is going on in the Old Testament is that man is just not getting the message.  Serious sins are occurring over and over and man is experiencing God’s wrath but man continues to sin and God continues to punish him.

Until…

The only sinless person in the history of the world enters the picture:  Jesus Christ.  Instead of having a normal birth in which He would have to inherit Adam’s sin nature, Jesus had a virgin birth.  He bypassed the curse the rest of us are born with.  “God made Him who had no sin to be Sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” [2 Corinthians 5:21].  “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot” [1 Peter 1: 18-19].

My wife and I have had this discussion many times over the years.  I have told her that I think that humanity has a thin veneer of civilization that keeps all of us from committing acts we would not be proud of.  Stott takes it further.  He feels that “civilized” society is based on the assumption that humans are sinners.  Legislation is based on the idea that humans cannot be trusted to settle their own disputes without self-interest.  Promising something to someone else is not enough; we have to have contracts.  Doors have to have locks and bolts because humans sin.  Payment of fares is not enough; we have to issue tickets.  “Law and order are not enough; we need the police to enforce them.  All this is due to man’s sin.  We cannot trust each other.  We need protection against one another” [Stott, 62].

It is a sorry state we live in, this world that is full of sin.  It impacts us all.  As I think on this post about why human beings sin, why it is a fact of human experience, it is a depressing post. This may be one of the least popular posts I have written since I began this blog in December 2014, but we have to be real about sin.  Stott says “It is a terrible indictment of human nature.”

But as Stott writes “we must now expose our need. Our need lies in our sin.”

We have need of a Savior, a Savior of sinners…

Jesus Christ.

*This is post number two of a series of posts from John Stott’s Basic Christianity.  This is from part two of his book, Chapter 5, “The Fact and Nature of Sin.”

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Dirt in the Carpet: We Need the Power of Jesus Christ…

John Stott writes* “Christians are often criticized for harping on it too much.  But it is only because Christians are realists that they do so…it is a fact of human experience” [61].

What is it?

We are talking about sin.

Sin is really not a popular topic. Given that, Stott even says that some preachers may use the idea of sin to keep themselves employed.  I have seen numerous pastors over the years threaten their congregations with God’s punishment for sin.  The only way to conquer sin is to “get right with God” and people do that by needing the pastor’s church, filling the pews, following the admonitions of the pastor [of course, his or her messages are directed by God Himself, having nothing to do with an earthly person threatening others in order to stay employed].   I have seen some preachers overdo the sin message.  Some churches do not want to be reminded constantly of their shortcomings.  Pastors can dwell on sin so much that I have seen their approach cost them their jobs.  It seems that some congregations can only stand to be threatened to a certain degree.  One of the largest churches in my community requested a pastoral reassignment due to this very “problem:” too much preaching on sin and damnation.

Ok, maybe Christians are obsessed with sin.

Maybe we don’t talk about it one hundred percent of the time, but it is there, hanging over our heads.  We commit sins or we neglect to do what we know we should do.  Committing sin is sinning by commission.  Neglecting to do something we know we should do is a sin of omission. 

Let me tell you about three friends I have, three friends who represent how Christians deal with our human shortcomings. 

One of my friends refuses to deal directly with the idea of sin.  She has told me repeatedly that she does not have to worry about it.  She admits to not being a regular church attendee.  She admits that she has never really read the Bible.  She seems to be a good person, and her “goodness” (in her mind) is good enough.  She has made up her mind that she is going to get through the ups and downs of life with her stalwart attempt at being nice.  That (for her) is enough.

Another of my friends is a fellow who is very active in his life.  He volunteers all over the community.  Whenever there is a need, he is the first to try to do something about it.  He is not shy about his activity.  He will tell you about what he is doing.  In fact, I have attended an accountability group with this man and he regularly brings out a laundry list of all the things he has done throughout the week [making the rest of us feel “small” by comparison].  He is a Christian and is aware of sin.  He attends church and knows a bit about the Bible.  His approach to sin is different from the woman above.  He is working his way into God’s good graces.

My third friend is an older man who is obsessed with his public image.  He talks in very measured words, carefully watching his display of emotions. He likes to tell everyone that he is constantly in prayer for the downtrodden of the church; he especially has a heart for persecuted Christians in overseas churches.   He won’t admit that he watches any entertainment program that is evil.  He avoids that at all costs and lets everyone know it.  Once, he declared that he would not read a book because he encountered a word in the pages that offended him.   He stopped reading immediately (so his mind would not be polluted).  When I think of him, a descriptive phrase comes to mind:  “goody two shoes.”    That phrase today is used in a pejorative sense for someone who is self-righteous and ostentatiously virtuous.  He has constructed the sin-free façade to perfection.

What do my three friends have to do with sin?

All three need a good dose of reality; the reality that sin is alive and well and living in all of us (including them).

Let’s go back to the opening sentence of this post and focus on key words: “Christians are realists.”  If you profess to be a Christian, you must grapple with the fact that all humans sin.

Stott refers to a liberal movement in the Nineteenth Century that was extremely optimistic. Many people in the world at that time felt that increasing industrialization and improving living conditions could conquer any problem, even sin.  Many believed the only reason sin existed was ignorance, poor housing and lack of education.  If we only practiced social reform, the sins of man would disappear because we will all be given the opportunities we need to live better lives.  There will no longer be any need to commit sinful acts.

Well “educational opportunities have spread rapidly in the western world, and many welfare states have been created.  Yet the atrocities which accompanied both world wars, the subsequent international conflicts, the continuance of political oppression and racial discrimination, and the general increase of violence and crime have forced thoughtful people to acknowledge the existence in every man of a hard core of selfishness [and sin]” [62].

It seems that we indeed have a hard time admitting that we all sin.

Let’s go further.  We don’t want to admit that we have a “sin nature.”  This is extremely harsh but true:  sinning is baked into who we are as human beings.  We are made to be rebellious against God; we have a natural inclination to sin.  God has given us a choice in life:  do His will or do our own.  Naturally we choose to do our own. 

The idea that we are born “good” is not true.  The idea that we can socially engineer sin out of our makeup is false.  My friend who is relying on her “good nature” to get her through life will find herself faced one day with problems that are beyond her ability to control.  Life is not easy.  It is full of wonderful times and awful times. “Goodness” is easy when situations are wonderful but goodness is not easy when situations are extremely challenging.  We need a power that is stronger than our own self-generated goodness to get us through challenging times.  We need the power of Jesus Christ.

My friend who is active in the community should be lauded for his efforts.  Everyone knows that countless people need help in the world today.  He knows the Bible and he seems to have forgotten what is said in Matthew 6:  “Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.  I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  Helping others is commendable but announcing your works in public is not.  Also, working in the community will not guarantee that God will reward you with a pass into heaven.  God does not require that we produce X number of good deeds in order to win His favor.  God asks that we give our lives to Him, to have faith in Him.  Will “good works” flow from that?  They will but there is not enough work that we can do to overpower our nature to sin.  We need the power of Jesus Christ.

My last friend who has mastered his Godly façade needs to be realistic also.  He needs to recognize that it is only a façade and not reality.   It says in First John 1:8 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  It is galling to be around a self-righteous person.  Jesus was terribly irritated by Pharisees who worked hard to keep up appearances: it doesn’t matter so much what you are on the inside, as long as you keep the rules (at least publicly). The Pharisees were hypocrites. What they pretended to be in public was not really what they were like in private. They claimed to be perfect in keeping God’s law, but as humans, they were sinners like everyone else.  What they were very good at is putting on an act.  They did not need their legalistic view of religion.  None of us need that.  We need the power of Jesus.

“Christians are often criticized for harping on it too much.  But it is only because Christians are realists that they do so…it is a fact of human experience”

It is sin. 

Some readers may not like the upcoming posts.  They may make you uncomfortable.  My wife just came downstairs with a vacuum cleaner full of dirt.  She vacuums regularly and yet the canister has an “unbelievable” amount of dirt in it every time.  Should we not turn on the vacuum and play like the dirt is not there or should we run the vacuum and look at the canister and say “I got rid of some of the dirt today,” knowing that in a few days the canister will be full again. 

You get the metaphor.

Sin is like dirt in the carpet.  Let’s vacuum and get some of it out.  We won’t get it all out and it will come right back but let’s be real.

It does exist and it is not going to go away due to our feeble efforts.

We need the power of Jesus Christ.

*This is post number one of a series of posts from John Stott’s Basic Christianity.  This is from part two of his book, Chapter 5, “The Fact and Nature of Sin.”

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Chapter Six John Stott Quotes from “The Cross of Christ”………

“So much of the explanation that Stott furnishes is superb, superb to the point that it is quotable.” [I wrote that in my previous post.] I could not comment on all the wonderful thoughts in the chapter but the content was too good to ignore so I thought I would share some of his more profound thinking. I promised at the end of the previous post that “I will have a special post with some of the most quotable passages included on this website following this post.” So……

Here are some superb quotes from Chapter Six:

“What we see, then, in the drama of the cross is not three actors but two, ourselves on the one hand and God on the other. Not God as He is in Himself (the Father), but God nevertheless, God-made-man-in-Christ (the Son). Hence the importance of those New Testament passages that speak of the death of Christ as the death of God’s Son: for example, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” (John 3: 16), “He…did not spare His own Son” (Romans 8: 32). and “we were reconciled to God through the death of His son” (Romans 5: 10). For in giving His Son He was giving Himself.” from p. 158.

“For in order to save us in such a way as to satisfy Himself, God through Christ substituted Himself for us. Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self sacrifice. The cross was an act simultaneously of punishment and amnesty, severity and grace, justice and mercy.” from p. 158.

“…the righteous, loving Father humbled Himself to become in and through His only Son flesh, sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising His own character. The theological words satisfaction and substitution need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they cannot in any circumstances be given up. The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying Himself by substituting Himself for us.” from p. 159

“For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices Himself for man and puts Himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone; God accepts penalties that belong to man alone.” from p. 159

In my next post I will comment on Chapter 5 of John Stott’s book Basic Christianity. It is time to make that transition……

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The Self-Substitution of God

Why does author and theologian John Stott entitle Chapter Six of The Cross of Christ the “Self-Substitution of God?”  As I conclude my comments on Chapter Six, let’s revisit this extremely complicated idea.  What makes it complicated?  God felt wrath toward man because of man’s bent toward sinning.  To “make things right” God [in the form of Jesus] comes to earth to reach out to man and teach man how to live a righteous life.  In the process, God [in the form of Jesus] suffers on the cross, taking the punishment for His own wrath.  This is why Stott calls the sacrifice “self-substitution.”  This is also why Stott loves to call Jesus “God-man”, God in human form. “God-man” is the mediator between God and man [part God and part man].

Complex theology…you bet…

After a series of posts dedicated to the idea that Jesus was destined to be the sacrifice for man’s sins (foretold in the sacrificial foreshadowing of the Old Testament), Stott begins the last part of Chapter Six with questions which seem  surprising: “Who was our substitute?  Who took our place, bore our sin, became our curse, endured our penalty, and died our death?” [149].

Duh…Jesus Christ you might say?

“But who was this Christ?  How are we to think of Him?”

Stott makes a case that some theologians think that Jesus Christ was a man, separate from God and separate from humans, “an independent third party.”  Then he refutes this idea, saying that many might think of Jesus in this manner but “Scripture forbid[s] us to interpret the language of propitiation and advocacy that way.” 

Then he explains that some think that God alone took our place, bore our sins and died our death.  That won’t work either because as Stott explains, “no verse specifically declares that ‘God Himself’ died on the cross.  Scripture bears witness to the deity of the Person who gave Himself for us, but it stops short of the unequivocal affirmation that ‘God died’” [154].

Back to our original questions:  “But who was this Christ?  How are we to think of Him?”

For seven pages, Stott attempts to answer this question.  “Our substitute, then…was neither Christ alone…nor God alone but God in Christ, who was truly and fully God and man who on that account was uniquely qualified to represent both God and man and mediate between them” (my italics, bolding, and underlining) [156].

Why is this God in Christ idea so important?  Why do theologians need to spend so many words discussing the topic?  Do ordinary Christians need to know this?

Well Stott provides a “theological” reason for this knowledge which he calls a “theological inference”.  He feels is it impossible to believe in the historic doctrine of the cross without believing in the historic doctrine of Jesus Christ “as the one and only God-man and Mediator”.  Christ alone as man will not suffice.  The Father alone as God will not suffice.  It takes “God in Christ, God the Father’s one and only Son made man” to take our place.

So much of the explanation that Stott furnishes is superb, superb to the point that it is quotable.*   I can’t paraphrase these thoughts and do them justice.  “The person and work of Christ belong together.  If he did not say who the Apostles say he was, then He could not have done what they say He did.  The incarnation is indispensable to the atonement.  In particular, it is essential to affirm that the love, the holiness and the will of the Father are identical with the love the holiness and the will of the Son.  God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” [Stott, 159].

Stott references Karl Barth who has studied the person, nature, and role of Christ (what theologians call “Christology’).  Barth feels (like Stott) that Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and man.  In Jesus, God actively intervenes on behalf of man to reconcile God and man.  In Jesus, Barth feels like we have a true man, but a man who is “altogether man and altogether God.”  Finally Barth comments that Jesus is “very God and very man” and Jesus Christ is one, He is the God–man.

Barth writes “It is the Judge who in this passion takes the place of those who ought to be judged, who in this passion allows Himself to be Judge in their place. The passion of Jesus Christ is the judgement of God, in which the Judge Himself was the judged” [from Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics]. 

I have quickly summarized the “theological inference” but Stott goes further.  He feels there is also a personal inference (ideas that “ordinary Christians should know).   The personal interference focuses on rebellious humans (how personal do you want to get?).   “Therefore, as we stand before the cross, we begin to gain a clear view both of God and ourselves, especially in relation to each other.  Instead of inflicting on us the judgement we deserved, God in Christ endures it in our place.  Hell is the only alternative.  The problem is that our proud hearts rebel against this.  We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin and guilt or our utter indebtedness to the cross.”  I have heard this said so much by people who are seeking a faith and I have also felt it: surely there must be something we can do, or at least contribute, in order to make amends?  It is almost like we want to suffer our own punishment rather than feel the humiliation of seeing God through Christ bear it in our place. 

We don’t want His charity, His gift, His grace.  We insist on paying our own way: this is pure pride.  Instead of acknowledging our need and our powerlessness, we suffer humiliation because we are “bankrupt.”   Stott says “We would rather perish than repent, rather lose ourselves than humble ourselves” [161].  The proud human heart is revealed in all of this. 

Theologian Emil Brunner writes “All other forms of religion…deal with the problem of guilt apart from the intervention of God, and therefore they come to a ‘cheap’ conclusion…man is spared the final humiliation of knowing that the Mediator must bear the punishment instead of him…He is not stripped absolutely naked” [from The Mediator]. 

“We cannot escape the embarrassment of standing stark naked before God.  It is no use for us to try to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden” [Stott, 162].  There is no use trying to justify ourselves.  We need to acknowledge our sin, give thanks for the Divine Substitute who wears our “filthy rags” instead of us.  Yes we need to be thankful for His righteousness which clothes us. 

“But who was this Christ?  How are we to think of Him?”

Theologians may need to expound on these questions over and over again and despite all types of explanations from various people with various opinions, Stott summarizes his answer in three words:  we go back to God in Christ.  Ordinary Christians need to face up to the debt we owe God in Christ as He took what we deserved and left us with a chance at a righteous life.  I found it striking that Stott took the well-known hymn “Rock of Ages” as his closing thought for Chapter Six. 

Just attend to the words, the writer of the hymn knows the debt we owe God-man, the “personal inference” that we should all know.

“Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to your Cross I cling;                                                                                 

Naked, come to you for dress;                                                                                  

Helpless, look to you for grace;                                                                                      

Foul, I to the fountain fly;                                                                                                       

Wash me, Savior, or I die.”

*I will have a special post with some of the most quotable passages included on this website following this post.

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“Help Is On The Way”

I get inklings.

I don’t claim to have the gift of “prophecy”.  I don’t believe I can look into the future and see things that are coming, but sometimes I get inklings, those little hints at what may happen.  Maybe we all do.

This past Sunday I had an inkling.  I prepared for my adult Sunday school class and while I was preparing a phrase came to me unexpectedly, a phrase that I could not shake.  It was the words “help is on the way.”  Strange phrase…

Did I need help? 

I did not make too much of it until it kept repeating in my mind.  I could not shake it.  Several times I found myself thinking “help is on the way”.

I travelled to church only to find the church’s tech person in my classroom informing me that the internet was down in the building.  That means there would be no video to show to the class.  I usually start the class with a short video that sets the tone for the lesson.  This morning it was a twelve minute video by pastor Tony Evans.

“Help is on the way” echoes again in my mind.

Our pastor was on the scene and she apologized and suggested that we move to another building.  My thirty-six years of teaching told me that was just too much trouble so I said no we would stay… “help is on the way.”  Strange thing to say to someone who had no idea what that meant, but I felt strangely confident.  I felt something was going to happen that would compensate adequately for the lack of a video.

Then it happened.  I began the class and people began to respond to my questions.  We were studying Scripture in First John.  I could see that the class did not need a twelve minute video.  They wanted to talk.

Then…

An extremely honest revealing student piped up.

Joe [a name I will use to disguise his identity] stated that he tried to follow God’s ways but he had a boatload of doubt from time to time.  He was not sure of God’s ways and he was not sure he was following them.  Doubt…  Not a word that believers hear very often “in church.”   Many come to church with the intent to display their stalwart, righteous attitude.  The prevailing mood is “I believe and I have got it all together!”  Few want to expose the fact that within those stalwart, righteous people are several who really have doubts.

Then I threw gasoline on the fire.  “I have doubts too; I sometimes think that what Jesus Christ did for me with His sacrifice on the cross is just too good to be true.  I also think if it was real, that I am not worthy of His sacrifice.”

There you have it.

The effect of reading so much about atonement, propitiation and the self-substitution of Jesus Christ.  Too much writing about John Stott’s The Cross of Christ.

Stott has an entire chapter on “The Self-Substitution of God.”  That is his wording for what Jesus did on the cross.  God sent his Son to earth to redeem sinful man.  Jesus is God.  Jesus was a man.  When Jesus had His years on earth He lived the life of a human being, yet He was God (God-man).

His life and His death served as a bridge between humanity and God.  He showed us how to live as He lived His life.  He died so that “sin barrier” between man and God could be removed.

God substituted Himself in the process of atonement.  He took the punishment that we deserved.  He took His own wrath so we would not endure it.  Jesus Christ satisfied God’s law by His perfect obedience in His life and then Jesus Christ satisfied God’s justice because of His perfect sacrifice for sin, bearing its penalty in His death.

Stott recounts numerous theologians who struggle with the penal nature of God’s “sin bearing.”  Why must God suffer a penalty or punishment?  God is perfectly capable of redeeming man without this penalty.

Stott believes Jesus’s sacrifice had to be penal.  It was prophesized in the Old Testament.  “It is clear from Old Testament usage that to ‘bear sin’ means neither to sympathize with sinners, nor to identify with their pain, nor to express their penitence, nor to be persecuted on account of their sinfulness (as others have argued), nor even to suffer the consequences of sin in personal or social terms, but specifically to endure its penal consequences.”

Suffering a penalty was not an uncommon practice in the Old Testament.

Moses told the Israelites that they had to wander in the desert in order to suffer for their unfaithfulness.  Ezekiel was told to lie down and bear the sin of the house of Israel.  The annual Day of Atonement was when the Israelite community took two male goats for a sin offering for the community as a whole.  One goat was to be sacrificed and its blood sprinkled while the living goat bore the sin.  The priest put his hands on the goat’s head and confessed the community’s sins.  Then the “sin-filled” goat was turned away into the desert so it would “carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place” [Leviticus 16: 22].  Both goats were sin offerings; both goats are examples of animals that are “bearing sin.”

Stott writes “more spiritually minded Israelites must have realized that an animal cannot be a satisfactory substitute for a human being” [144].  He claims that the Israelite community began to come to grips with the need for a human to sacrifice for human sins.  One can see this in the words of Isaiah the prophet in Chapter Fifty-three where we see a “servant” suffering and dying.   Many believe Isaiah’s words foretold the coming of Jesus Christ.  Eight verses in particular seem to point to the coming of Jesus Christ.  “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” [1]. “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” [4].  “That we have gone astray like sheep” [6].  “By His wounds we have been healed” [5].  “Nor was any deceit in His mouth” [9].  “He will bear their iniquities” [11].   He would be led “like a sheep to the slaughter” [7].  He would be “deprived of justice and life” [8].  That makes eight verses out of twelve which refer to Jesus.   Stott further asserts that if these are accepted, then “His [Jesus’s] whole public career, from His baptism through His ministry, sufferings and death to His resurrection and ascension, is seen as a fulfillment of the pattern foretold in Isaiah 53”. 

Was His sin-bearing sacrifice obvious to Jesus?  Did He know that He would have to suffer severe penalty?  It would truly seem so as we look at His words in the Last Supper.  Jesus declared his blood would be “poured out for many” [Mark 14: 24 and Matthew 26: 28 and echo of Isaiah 53: 12].  It would seem that Jesus applied Isaiah 53 to Himself, that He understood His death as a sin-bearing death.  “The Lord would lay on Him the iniquity of us all, that he would thus be numbered with the transgressors, and He would Himself bear their iniquities” [Stott, 147].   The Apostle Paul explains it “The sinless one was made sin for us” which clearly means that Jesus bore the penalty of our sin instead of us and He redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming the curse for us.  Elsewhere Paul uses the word “impute.”  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: 19 that “God declined to impute our sins to us, or count them against us.  He imputed them to Christ instead”. 

In summary, Stott writes “When we review all this Old Testament material (the shedding and sprinkling of blood, the sin offering, the Passover, the meaning of sin-bearing, the scapegoat and Isaiah 53) and consider its New Testament application to the death of Christ, we are obliged to conclude that the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice” [149].

Where does that leave me and Joe with our doubts?

Stott summarizes his conclusions in Chapter 5 of the Cross of Christ:  Christ died for us, Christ died instead of us.  Jesus died without sin in substitution for our sins.

Sound too good to be true?

Maybe it does to some; sometimes it does to me.

Sometimes I just don’t feel worthy.

Maybe Joe and I should just relax and accept what God did for us.  Man in his sinfulness and separateness cried out for we needed to be reconciled to The Father.

God responded. 

He sent Jesus.

He said to man: “help is on the way.”

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Passover and the Self-substitution of God

My first church experiences were in a Methodist church in a rural area of Kentucky.  It was called Hebron Methodist Church; it was my father’s home church.  However my mother was raised in a Disciples of Christ church and she preferred for the family to attend her church [which was in the town of Marion, Ky.].  Mom prevailed. 

Most of my basic Christian belief was molded by Disciples doctrine so I had many experiences with Holy Communion.  Disciples celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.  When you do something every Sunday, you get very, very good at it so my Disciples church celebrated communion very efficiently.

The down side of this is when you do something so often it can lose its significance.  People can take things for granted [I really don’t know if people did actually take communion for granted].  In the context of John Stott’s discussion of “The Self-Substitution of God” [Chapter 6 of The Cross of Christ], the roots of the practice of communion come center stage.  Why do Christians practice communion?  What is the meaning for Christians?  Why is this act so significant? I have commented on Stott’s ideas that blood sacrifices in the Old Testament foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross [see “Old Testament Sacrifice: The ‘Type’ and ‘Shadow’ of Jesus’ Death on the Cross…” St. John Studies, August 19, 2021], but what about a particular blood sacrifice like the Jewish celebration of Passover?  Does Passover foreshadow the death of Christ?  Some would say of course Passover and Jesus’ death are connected, but Stott does not just say “of course;” he parses out that connection because he wants the reader to know how Passover really relates to the self-substitution of God.

Without a doubt, the Passover celebration is important for the Jewish faith.  It marks the beginning of Israel’s national life.  When God redeemed His people from Egyptian bondage, He renewed the covenant He made with them on Mount Sinai.  Even though this renewal of the covenant is significant for Israelites, it was “before the exodus and the covenant came the Passover” [Stott, 139]. 

As Christians, we are a bit less focused on Passover as the beginning of Israel’s national life and more focused on Passover as it relates to the death of Christ.  That makes it more important for us.  In the Book of John, John the Baptist declares that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world [John 1: 29, 36].  It is also important that when Jesus was on the cross that was the very time when Jews were slaughtering their own Passover lambs.  Stott points out that in the Book of Revelation Jesus is worshipped as the slain lamb that by His death has “purchased” men for God.  The Apostle Paul declares in First Corinthians 5: 7-8 “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Therefore let us keep the Festival.”

Stott explains that the Passover story reveals a God who fulfills three roles in the life of His people.  First of all, God is Judge.  Moses warned Pharaoh that God would pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn male.  This judgement was not discriminatory; every household was judged.  There was only one way to avoid this tragedy and God designed the way of escape.  Secondly, God is Redeemer.  If a household would choose a lamb on the tenth day of the month [a male lamb with no blemish], they could slay it on the fourteenth day, dip hyssop in its blood and spread its blood on the lintel and side posts of their entrance doorway.  They were not to go out that evening because they needed to shelter under this protection; Yahweh promised He would pass over every blood-marked house.  Thirdly, God revealed Himself to the Israelites as their Covenant God.  He made them once again His people.  He saved them from judgement and they should celebrate His goodness.  They were to feast on the roasted lamb, eat bitter herbs, unleavened bread and do so with their cloak tucked into their belt.   These symbolic acts were meant to remind them of their oppression [bitter herbs] and their future liberation [ready to be rescued, with the cloak tucked, sandals on their feet and staff in hand]. 

Let’s stop and ask who has benefited most from that first Passover?  The answer should be obvious.  The firstborn male children are the greatest beneficiaries for they have been rescued from certain death.  These firstborn male children belong to the Lord, for He has “purchased” them by the means of blood.

For Christians, Passover is the ages old celebration that means so much because Jesus celebrated it with His Disciples in the Upper Room on the eve of His crucifixion.  As we celebrate communion, the Christian story  of Jesus’ sacrifice is told over and over.  Christ broke the bread and passed it to His Disciples saying “this is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me”.  He passed the cup to His Disciples saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you”. In the original Passover, a suitable sacrifice was a “lamb without blemish.”  In the “Christian Passover” Jesus became the lamb without blemish.

For Christians, the New Covenant replacing the Old Covenant means something very different.  The temple veil was torn at Jesus’ death, diminishing the distance between God and man.   Access to God was available as Jesus took away the sin of the world.  Believers did not have to have a priest as an intermediary; they could pray directly to God.      “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (First Corinthians 5:7).   “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to My covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.  This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put My laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.  By calling this covenant ‘new,’ He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:8-13). 

With this in place, the sacrificial system was no longer needed and communion is what the Christian community does to remind us of what Christ did for us.  Communion is also a celebration of what we receive as a result of His sacrifice.

My home church is a Methodist church now.*  Methodist churches have communion once a month, the first Sunday of each month.  Our communion is open communion; that is, it should be available to anyone who wishes to receive it.  My hope and prayer is that a communion service is a meaningful service for everyone involved. 

Does the Passover celebration of the Jewish people foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus Christ?

It does.

Does the service symbolize the special sacrifice that Jesus made for all of us?

It does.

Thank you God, that you love us………….

So much………..

*St. John United Methodist Church Hopkinsville, Ky. [This blog is named after my home church].

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Old Testament Sacrifice: The “Type” and “Shadow” of Jesus’ Death on the Cross…

“An archetype is an emotion, character type, or event that is notably recurrent across the human experience. In the arts, an archetype creates an immediate sense of familiarity, allowing an audience member to relate to an event or character without having to necessarily ponder why they relate. Thanks to our instincts and life experiences, we’re able to recognize archetypes without any need for explanation.”*

In college in the 70’s, I majored in English and I was taught to apply numerous theories to the meaning of literature in order to understand it better.  One of those interpretive theories centered on the use of archetypes.  We studied literary theorists who based their discussions on Carl Jung, the psychologist who advanced the idea that there are images and themes that derive for a “collective unconsciousness.”  Those images and themes were called archetypes.  They have universal meanings across cultures and may show up in dreams, literature, art or religion.  They are deeply felt ideas, so ingrained into human life that everyone knows of them whether they can explain them or not.

How does this relate to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross?

Was it inevitable that Jesus go to the cross because of Old Testament need for sacrifice?  Does the Hebrew peoples’ use of animal sacrifice “predict” the cross?  Theologians like John Stott use words like “type” and “shadow” to connect the Old Testament to the New.  Is Jesus’ sacrifice archetypal in the Old Testament?  Is Jesus’ sacrifice foreshadowed by animal sacrifice in the Old Testament, humanity’s need for someone to take our place so they can be punished for our sinning?

The answers to both questions is yes.

In my previous post [“He Is The ‘Self-substitution’ Of God”*], I tried to reflect Stott’s concern that Christians just don’t understand the significance of a perfect God allowing His perfect Son to experience horrible punishment for sins He did not commit.  He went to the cross for the sins of humanity.  Since the Garden of Eden, humans have been far less than perfect.  Something had to be done to restore man’s relationship with God so He provided “a divine substitute for the sinner so that the substitute would receive the judgement and the sinner the pardon” [Stott, 134].

The question Stott is trying to answer follows: “How are we to understand and justify the notion of His substituting Himself for us?” [Stott, 134].  One way to do that is to look at the Old Testament notion of “sacrifice.”

The idea that there were priests with altars who offered up sacrifices to various gods is nothing new.  The ancient world has plenty of examples of this practice.  Stott says that anthropologists call this practice a “universal phenomenon.”  These sacrifices (other than those done by Hebrews) he refers to as “pagan.”  Hebrew sacrifice was another matter.  The Old Testament tells the story of a people who don’t keep their covenant relationship with God and their sacrifices were a direct response to their breaking of that covenant.  Their sacrifices were for two reasons: the expression that they belonged to God and when they felt the need to repent from sin, they sacrificed to erase their alienation from God due to their sinful acts.    Stott cites theologian B.B. Warfield who describes these sacrifices as human beings “claiming protection” and “sinners craving pardon” [in Stott, 136]. 

This still does not explain how Old Testament sacrificial acts foreshadowed the New Testament sacrifice of Jesus for humanity.  When one looks at Hebrew Old Testament society, they had an elaborate system of offerings which are detailed in the book of Leviticus.  These are characterized as burnt, cereal, peace, sin and guilt.  Besides the cereal offering (which consisted of grain) the rest of the offerings dealt with blood sacrifices of animals.  The worshipper brought the animal offering to the altar, he laid his hands on it and killed it on the altar. 

Stott writes that the laying on of hands is significant.  When a worshipper “laid hands” this symbolized that they were identifying with the animal; in other words, the animal was taking their place.  “The substitute animal was killed in recognition that the penalty for sin was death, its blood (symbolizing that the death had been accomplished) was sprinkled, and the offerer’s life was spared” [Stott, 137].

One can turn to Leviticus 17: 11 and read “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

It is very clear that the Hebrew notion of blood is that blood is the symbol of life.   This is an ancient idea that goes back to the days of Noah when God told him not to eat meat that had “lifeblood” still in it.    It is very clear that the ancient Hebrew culture felt that blood meant atonement:  the life of a creature is in the blood and that blood atones for the sins of the worshipping offerer.  “Life was given for life.”  It is also very clear that blood is given by God for the purpose of atonement.  The Hebrews believed their sacrificial system was given to them by God for them to appease a God who was disappointed in their behavior.  If this is what they believed, maybe it would not be such a mental “stretch” that God would give His Son for them to sacrifice because He wants to rid them of their sin.

Stott makes his Old to New Testament connection stronger with two Scriptures from Hebrews:  Hebrews 9: 22 “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” and Hebrews 10: 4 “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”  Animals were just not good enough; humans needed to sacrifice a man and that man was Jesus Christ.

Stott summarizes the situation as the Hebrews grew to see that animal sacrifices could not atone for the sins of human beings because humans are much more valuable than sheep.   Atonement was achieved “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” [from First Peter 1: 19-20].

W.P. Paterson* is quoted in Stott saying “The interpretation of Christ’s death as a sacrifice is embedded in every important type of the New Testament teaching.”  Stott comments “the letter to the Hebrews [referenced above] portrays the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as having perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament “shadows.”  For He sacrificed Himself (not animals), once and for all (not repeatedly), and thus secured for us not only ceremonial cleansing and restoration to favor in the covenant community but the purification of our consciences and restoration of fellowship with the living God” [135].

It is so hard to comprehend the immensity of what Jesus did for us, what God did for us but here goes.  I have been reading a book by Pastor David Platt and in a hyper-exaggerated manner, he tries to picture what Jesus did with His sacrifice.  Read the word picture and just let the imagery affect you:  “You and I were standing a short hundred yards away from a dam of water ten thousand miles high and ten thousand miles wide.  All of a sudden that dam was breached, and a torrential flood of water came crashing toward us.  Right before it reached our feet, the ground in front of us opened up and swallowed it all….The just and loving Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent His Son, God in the flesh, to bear His wrath against sin on the cross and to show His power over sin in the Resurrection so that all who trust in Him will be reconciled to God forever.”****

The result of the spilling of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

All forecast in Old Testament types and shadows …

*“Writing 101: The Twelve Literary Archtypes” accessed on 8/16/21.

**St. John Studies, August 12, 2021.

***W.P. Paterson in A Dictionary of the Bible, from his article “Sacrifice.”

****David Platt, Radical.

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