Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 11

Jesus’ Death and the Internal Consistency of the Christian Faith

Many people quite naturally think to themselves, If I live a good life and my good deeds outweigh my bad ones, I should be saved. Yes, in the abstract that sounds good, but it ignores so many things that a perfect God cannot allow to be ignored.…[Thus,] God’s salvation plan wasn’t just one plan that He chose among many.…He had no choice other than the one He exercised for our salvation because [of] His moral perfection, His holiness, and His perfect justice inhere[nt] in Him. Unless He was willing to deny His own nature and compromise and violate His perfect holiness and justice, He couldn’t just wipe the slate clean without requiring a sufficient satisfaction of our debt. Far from violating His nature, He vindicated it with this brilliant salvation plan.
—David Limbaugh1

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Although I originally had planned to release an article this Easter weekend about Jesus’ resurrection, I am compelled, in part because I am in the midst of writing a series of posts about the existence of absolute truth, to write instead about Jesus’ death. I trust you’ll see why as my presentation unfolds. I have written earlier about evidence for Christ’s resurrection, including one post about the transformed life of the apostle Peter. Please visit these posts for information about this crucial aspect of Easter.

Today’s discussion will rely heavily on last week’s presentation of the Seven Pillars of Christianity. For easy reference, print out this one-page summary of the Seven Pillars and refer to it as you read this article.


For your convenience, print out this one-page summary of the Seven Pillars and refer to it as you read this article.


Significantly, we’ll highlight all seven and demonstrate their interrelatedness. Unlike relativism, Christianity has perfect internal consistency. Its components fit together and make sense of the world.


Unlike relativism, Christianity has perfect internal consistency.


We start with pillar number three, which upholds the Bible as the true and reliable written revelation of God to humanity. Introductory evidence for this can be found here, here, here, and here. We need to realize as well that the Bible also accurately records the events in which God acted to reveal Himself in history, an element of Christianity upheld by pillar number two. Keeping in mind these two supports, we now move to a third.

The Role of Ethical Teachings in Christianity

In the seven pillars, pillar number five is made up of “ethical teachings that mirror God’s character and that contrast to man’s sinful nature as well as the choice of every human being to follow his or her own way rather than God’s.”

A set of ethical and moral teachings as a component of any religious belief system certainly does not surprise us. While living a pure life is important, Christianity’s moral teachings are unique in that they represent far more than guidelines to follow and ideals for which to strive. Old Testament principles of morality, as well as the broader teachings upheld by Christ in the New Testament—all the moral guidelines of the Bible—point not only to how people should live, but also to both God’s holiness and man’s sin. When we understand this, we begin to uncover a critical way in which the Christian faith stands apart from all other belief systems. We need to ask, therefore, what God is like, and how the moral guidelines He provides reflect His nature.

God Is Perfect

Pillar number one describes God with several important words, including “just and holy.” To the Lord God, “all things are not the same.” Notice that this refutes relativism outright. Also, God “is the source of absolute truth, for He is the source of reality.” There is much more here than we can cover in this short post, but let’s examine just a few Bible passages that showcase God’s righteousness, justice, and holiness. You can see all of the following passages printed on one page here.


To God, who is the source of reality, all things are not the same.


We see in these Bible passages that God is absolutely perfect. He always is just and fair. He consistently does everything right. Keep in mind, though, that He is loving as well. In fact, the Bible declares with profound simplicity that “God is love.”

God’s Laws Reveal His Perfection

Returning to pillar number five, we note further that the ethical teachings of Christianity don’t just tell us what God wishes of us; they also demonstrate His holiness and perfection. We need look no further than the Ten Commandments to see this. Here are some examples.

God’s love is shown in His commands as well. Matthew 22:35-40 says,

35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [see Deut. 6:538 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [see Lev. 19:1840 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

But wait! God isn’t just perfect in what He does, but also in who He is. Therefore, attitudes are important to Him, not just actions. Note Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. The sobering truth is this. If you think you’ve done well by not killing anyone, but have hated someone—anyone—in your heart, you’ve still broken the law. It’s a good thing not to have committed adultery, but you’ve still violated God’s law if you’ve lusted after another person in your heart. Do more than you’re required to do! Go the second mile! Love not just those who love you, but your enemies as well. Finally, Jesus nails us all when He says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

The important point here is God’s character, which is absolutely pure, perfect, and holy. To violate the law of God is to violate His character, and consequently, to offend Him!

God’s Laws Also Put the Spotlight on Human Sinfulness

We ought to be seeing this truth already. If we are attentive, we will hear the Ten Commandments and other divine guidelines telling us not only about God, but also about ourselves. It doesn’t even take Jesus’ expanded guidelines to show us we stand guilty before Almighty God. We tend to think we are pretty good people until we measure ourselves against God’s standard—then we realize how completely we’ve missed the divine mark. We’re reminded of Isaiah. Confronted with God’s holiness, he was overcome with a realization of his own unworthiness and sin. As Psalm 14:2-3 states, “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.” Romans 3:23 echoes this with the testimony that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

On his Facebook page, evangelist Ray Comfort explains.

Have you kept the Ten Commandments? This is what someone would be like if he kept the moral Law—he would always love God with “all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength,” and love his neighbor as much as he has loved himself. He has never made a god to suit himself (either with his hands or in his mind). He has always given God’s name reverence, kept the Sabbath holy, honored his parents implicitly, and never once has he been “angry without cause.” He has never hated anyone, had lust in his heart, or had illicit sex. He has never stolen even a paper clip or ballpoint pen, or told as much as a “white” lie, and not once desired anything that belongs to someone else. He is, and always has been “pure in heart,” perfect in thought, word, and deed.

God is not indifferent to these offences. He cannot be, because of His holy character. He must judge sin. What is the punishment for sin before a holy God? Death, both physical and spiritual: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Ray Comfort continues,

The truth is, we are not like that. We have all “sinned” many times, and therefore we have stored up God’s wrath, which will be revealed on Judgment Day. The proof that we have sinned will be our death, and after death we must face God in judgment. Think of it—if He has seen our every thought, word, and deed, and if He is going to bring all our sins out as evidence of our guilt on the Day of Judgment, we will all be found to be guilty. Our conscience has shown us right from wrong; we will be without excuse. God will give us justice, and Hell will be the place of our eternal punishment. “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known” [Luke 12:2]. That’s why you need the Savior.

Before moving ahead, we do well to recognize that all of these things are true because of absolutes. God is, and He is who He is. We are humans made in God’s image but marred by sin. We not only have a bent to sin but also have freely chosen to disobey God. We face the dilemma we face because of the real circumstances that prevail. We cannot dodge these realities or imagine them away. We cannot come up with our own “truth” to rescue us.


God is, and He is who He is. Moreover, as sinners, we have offended God and stand guilty before Him. We face the dilemma we face because of the real circumstances that prevail. We cannot dodge these realities or imagine them away. We cannot come up with our own “truth” to rescue us.


What, then, can we do? As Ray Comfort declares, we “need the Savior,” One who can rescue us from our otherwise helpless state. Only God can provide a Savior, and the good news of Easter is that He did just that in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Law Points Us to Our Need for Christ

Accordingly, the Bible affirms, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). Obeying the law was and is insufficient to save us, because we cannot obey it perfectly. Only God can do that. So, God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, who was and is God, down to earth as a human being to live a perfect life and to reveal the truth about God. Pillar number four speaks to this. The apostle John wrote,

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.… 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:1-5-5,14,17-18).

Artist Enrique Simonet depicts Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem.

Jesus not only revealed truth about God; He also obeyed God’s moral law perfectly. In other words, He “fulfilled the law” (see Matt. 5:17). Having done that, He could die in the place of sinners, paying their penalty for them. Indeed, the only way their penalty could be paid was through His death. Accordingly, Jesus sacrificed Himself willingly as He was crucified on a Roman cross. Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection were the two most important historical events orchestrated by God and alluded to in pillar number two. What did God accomplish through Jesus’ death and resurrection? These passages tell us.

Artist James Tissot depicts what Jesus saw from the cross.

From the writings of Paul:

  • For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (1 Tim. 2:5-6).

From the writings of Peter:

  • For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit (1 Pet. 3:18).

From the writings of John:

  • He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:10-13).
  • And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:14-17).

Significantly, John went on to write in John 3:18 these reassuring—and jarring—words: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”


He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
—the apostle John in John 3:18—


God’s Invitation, and Real Answers for Life as it Really Is

Christ died for all, but His death is credited only to those who receive God’s invitation “making it possible to avoid His wrath, experience His mercy and grace, and get to know Him personally and intimately. When we accept God’s invitation, the Holy Spirit regenerates us, giving us a new spiritual life.” This is pillar number six.

We note here also that God’s plan of salvation and the way it addresses life’s critical issues give us real answers to the questions we naturally ask about the imperfect world that surrounds us. We saw this in pillar number seven. Here is one such question. Why does a holy, perfect, all-powerful, and good God continue to allow suffering and evil in the world? Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise [to return and to set the world right], as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Seeing the internal consistency of Christianity should compel us to embrace it. It explains reality as does no other belief system. Our questions are answered, not completely, but adequately. Relativism, on the other hand, is a house of cards.


Seeing the internal consistency of Christianity should compel us to embrace it. It explains reality as does no other belief system. Our questions are answered, not completely, but adequately. Relativism, in contrast, is a house of cards.


Knowing all these things, however, is not enough. We must respond. Returning to the invitation we highlighted in pillar number six, we emphasize that Jesus’ death and resurrection place before us life’s most important question. Pilate faced it, as will every other human being. Pilate asked, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matt. 27:22). Again, because of the absolute realities of (1) a holy God who exists and loves you, (2) your sinful condition, and (3) Christ’s provision for you on the cross, you must answer this question. You can’t “make up your own truth” to detour around it.


Because of the absolute realities of (1) a holy God who exists and loves you, (2) your sinful condition, and (3) Christ’s provision for you on the cross, you must determine what you will do with Jesus. You can’t “make up your own truth” to detour around this issue.


How will you respond?

Next week, against the backdrop of this post, we’ll offer answers to two common objections to God’s plan of salvation.

Written on Good Friday, April 14, 2017

Part 12 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Christmas—Divinely Orchestrated, Part 2

Becoming One of Us and Paying Our Penalty

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.…For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 1:1,14; 3:17

God acts like the judge in this anecdote. It is on record that of two young men who studied law together, one rose to a seat on the Bench, while the other took to drink and wasted his life. On one occasion this poor fellow was brought before his old companion, charged with a crime. The lawyers present wondered what kind of justice would be administered by the judge under such trying circumstances. To their surprise, he sentenced his one-time companion to the heaviest penalty the law would allow, and then paid the fine himself and set his old friend free.…[You see,] God the Father, God the Son [Jesus Christ], and God the Holy Spirit are one God. The same God against whom we had sinned passed the judgment, paid the penalty, and now offers you a full and free pardon, based upon [His own] absolute righteousness.
Robert Laidlaw

Last week we began exploring ways in which God prepared the world arrival of His Son. We considered Galatians 4:4-5 in the New King James Version; let’s read it now in the New International Version.

4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Using the NIV’s rendering, we indicated that “the set time had fully come” after God had placed on the world stage “all that was required for the birth of His Son as far as the world’s national, political, spiritual, linguistic, and commercial climates were concerned.”

This week we will give attention to these phrases in the passage.

  • God sent his Son
  • born of a woman
  • born under the law
  • to redeem those under the law

God’s work to prepare the world externally for His Son’s birth was remarkable, but equally remarkable were His “internal” actions to involve human beings in the process. The names of these people represent lives that were directly involved in Jesus’ birth and the events surrounding it. While some were willing participants, others God used without their thoroughly knowing or understanding: Zechariah, ElizabethMary, Joseph, Caesar AugustusShepherds, Herod the Great, and Wise Men from the East.

In particular, God’s bringing Mary and Joseph into the process leaves us in awe and wonder. Risking rumor and great misunderstanding, the couple obeyed God and even were honored to have the special responsibilities He was giving them. Remember what the Lord was doing; Paul told us in Galatians 4:4: “God sent his Son” to the earth. Jesus would make a very unusual entrance in some ways and a very ordinary entrance in others.

How was His birth unique? First, His existence did not begin at conception, because He had no beginning. As God, He has been alive from eternity past. Second, He was conceived in a virgin. Mary had had no sexual activity with any man. Third, related to this, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and caused the conception to occur. Fourth, although He became a human being, Jesus never ceased to be God. Finally (although this isn’t an exhaustive list), Jesus was born without having been or tainted or marred by sin and would remain holy and righteous.

Yet His birth was quite ordinary as well. Jesus was born as a real baby into the world’s surroundings—surroundings that actually were quite primitive for a child’s birth, even according to the standards of His day.

He cried, became hungry, and “had to have his diaper changed.” Moreover, He grew as other children did. He experienced childhood and grew into manhood.

As the apostle John stated in His Gospel, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Being God’s Son, Jesus revealed divine glory in the process, thus bringing us truth about God (see v. 14)—and about life, death, sin, salvation, and us!

The apostle Paul underscored the reality that Jesus was both divine and human in these two phrases in Galatians 4:4: “God sent his Son” and “born of a woman.” This is the miracle of the incarnation, God in human flesh! Christmas emphasizes the miracle for us, and, pondering it, we are overwhelmed—especially when we realize why Jesus came. He came to die—to give His life to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity.


Jesus came to die to pay the penalty for people’s sins.


Here’s the deal. Everyone has sinned and disobeyed God’s law, and in the Court of Heaven, the penalty for even the “slightest” sin is death. Jesus was crucified; He was executed on a Roman cross as though He had committed a capital crime. Instead, everyone else was guilty! Dying as One who was totally innocent, Jesus made it possible for sinners to be forgiven of their sins and to come to know God and have fellowship with Him.

But did Jesus have to die? Yes, he absolutely had to die to solve the core problem facing humanity. Not only was no other remedy for the problem of human sin available, no other remedy even was possible! As Paul wrote in Romans 5:6-8,

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

In a previous post, we cited these insightful words from Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer. Originally offered in one of Schaeffer’s Christmas sermons, they are especially powerful now. Jesus, God’s only Son,

lies in the manger for a reason. Because He loves the world, He has come not just to eliminate the peripheral results of man’s fall (though these will be totally removed at His second coming); He is here to cut the nerve of man’s real dilemma, to solve the problem from which all other problems flow. The “condition of man” is not what modern man thinks it is. Man is a sinner who needs an overwhelming love. Jesus has come to save His people from their sins. This is not to say that He has no interest in…other things now, but we must not get the matters reversed—the central thing is central1


The “condition of man” is not what modern man thinks it is.
—Francis Schaeffer—


So Jesus came to die. Significantly, His death could not count as payment for anyone else’s sin unless three things were true of Him. Already we have highlighted the first two, which address Jesus’ divinity and humanity separately.

  1. Jesus had to be God and totally sinless Himself, and
  2. He had to be a human being, for only a human can die for another person.

The third quality combines the essential requirements of humanity and divinity into one.

  1. As a human being, Jesus had to have lived a sinless life, despite temptations to do wrong. Had He sinned, His death would go to pay for His own sins and could not be applied to anyone else’s account.

Thankfully, Jesus was “born under the law” and obeyed it perfectly. He Himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Moreover, the inspired writer of Hebrews testified, “For we [who have asked God to credit Jesus’ death to our accounts] do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15). The writer continued, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16).

Those who have believed in Jesus and received Him into their lives—those who have had His death credited to their accounts and on that basis experienced God’s forgiveness—have been redeemed, or bought back, by God. Through His death, therefore, Jesus accomplished the purpose for which He came—“to redeem those under the law.”  

Remember that this statement comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. Of all people, they needed to hear this! They were being enticed to think that what Jesus already had done on the cross wasn’t enough to secure their forgiveness, that they also needed to keep various aspects of the law. Paul reminded them that for their salvation, Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection needed nothing from them other than turning away from the old way of life and being willing to be bought back. Christians live exemplary lives, not to obtain salvation, but because they have been saved.

Thus, the Christmas gift of Jesus means an offer of salvation to all. Relying on Him for redemption, we escape the punishment of hell that our sin otherwise would require us to endure!

This is the good news of Christmas, but there is more! It gets even better! Next week we’ll explore what receiving “adoption to sonship” means for us in practical terms. I can think of no more wonderful realities to explore as we transition into a new year.

I close this week with President Ronald Reagan’s Christmas address, delivered 35 years ago this year, on December 23, 1981:

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note:

1Francis Schaeffer, “What Difference Has Looking Made? (A Christmas Study)” No Little People, in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. 3: A Christian View of Spirituality, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982) 123-124.

top image: Announcement to the Shepherds by Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1600

image credits: Mary in labor and Jesus on the cross: www.lumoproject.com

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations in this article are from the New International Version. THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.