Chapter 3: What Has Jesus Christ Done For Me?
(Part 2: God’s GOD’S ANSWER TO THE SIN PROBLEM)
This online book (published chapter by chapter on-line through web site Bibleden.com) is a compilation of messages about Jesus Christ given by the author over a period of some years at a variety of different churches and chapels. In the chapters that follow this introduction, the original sermon notes have been adapted to create a readable script that is intended to allow you, the reader, to engage with the ideas presented without struggling through a morass of bullet points, complex arguments and baffling terminology.
Despite aiming for simplicity rather than bewilderment, the content is scripturally based and deliberately challenging, by which I mean that assumptions are examined carefully, difficulties acknowledged and alternatives transparently presented.
Readers who hope for academically grounded arguments and carefully designed theological structures will be disappointed; I leave such matters to those with far deeper knowledge and expertise. Rather, the following pages will appeal to anyone who is sincerely interested in the life, work and witness of this extraordinary man, Jesus of Nazareth (as he was commonly known) and wish to draw closer to the one who, among his various other titles, is referred to as ‘the man of Calvary’ where he offered his life as a ransom for the sins of the world.
Note: The place of Jesus’s execution is called Calvary or Golgotha. Both words refer to the ‘place of the skull’ or ‘bald head’, owing to the skull-shaped topography of the hill in Jerusalem. Calvary is derived from the Latin. Golgotha is derived from Aramaic, though most of the New Testament was written in ‘common’ (not classical) Greek so as to be accessible by ordinary people. Jesus used both Greek and Aramaic and would have been familiar with Hebrew in which the Jewish Old Testament Scriptures were written. In this chapter, the word Calvary will be used to denote the location of Jesus’s death on a wooden cross.
WHAT HAS JESUS CHRIST DONE FOR ME? (Part 2)
Main reading: Romans 5: 5-11 (New Living Translation; other quotations in this account are also taken from the NLT unless otherwise stated.)
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
In Chapter 2, I explored the concepts of sin, sinfulness and their impact on the human condition (‘the sin problem’). In doing so, I endeavoured to confront numerous issues relating to the many and various ways in which we are prone to sin by wandering from God’s commandments (‘statutes’) or deliberately choose to disobey God’s stated requirements or, worst of all, refuse to accept His existence and right to rule in our lives. As part of my attempts to expose the seriousness of sinning, I grappled with issues such as ‘original sin’, personal responsibility and the relevance of individual decision-making.
In the pages that follow, I attempt to respond to the question as to what Jesus Christ has done for each of us based on the following list of propositions:
- Christ voluntarily lived as a human and freely gave his life upon a Roman cross, suffering the kind of death reserved for the worst kind of criminal in response to the need for a perfect offering (‘without spot or blemish’) for the sins committed by every person: past, present and future.
- Even the most morally pure person cannot claim to be worthy to receive the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ’s death because no one fully acknowledges or loves God as He deserves. In Chapter 64 verse 6, Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, describes the way in which our sinful condition taints even our righteous deeds: ‘We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags’.
- The offer of salvation is one-way from God to all mankind but it requires a positive response from each individual to make salvation a reality and not merely an interesting proposition. Jesus invites us to come to him, confess our sin and determine to follow his way, not our own.
- We have opportunity to respond to God’s gracious offer of salvation by listening to personal testimony, reading about or hearing the truth spoken or through supernatural means, such as dreams and angelic manifestations.
- Christ invites our allegiance to Him but does not coerce us to respond to his offer. We read that some of his enthusiastic supporters turned back from following him when they realised what sacrifices would be involved (see Gospel of John Chapter 6).
- Actively rejecting God’s way of salvation through the death of His Son has serious present and future consequences. The Apostle John records Jesus’s words: ‘Anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgement’ (Chapter 3 verse 36).
Further, as we consider what Jesus Christ has done for each one of us, I shall be emphasising the need to acknowledge that everything is by God’s grace; that is, through His undeserved favour. Salvation is not something that can be earned by strenuous effort or good works, though Jesus commended those who serve and show genuine love for others. The Apostle Paul summarises the position in his letter to the church in Ephesus: ‘God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it‘ (Ephesians Chapter 2 verses 8 & 9). See later under: ‘Christ has given us access into the grace of God’.
Christ is the only Saviour
The Scriptures are plain in stating that without Christ’s sacrificial death, we would be lost and eternally separated from the full length and breadth of God’s love and blessing. By ‘lost’ I mean that we do not have the Spirit of Christ within us that comes about through confession of sin, genuine repentance and turning to Christ for forgiveness. In the Apostle John’s first letter, he stresses the need for transparency in confessing our sins to God and God’s response to us: ‘If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness [unrighteousness]’ (Chapter 1 verse 9). Note that we confess to God and not to a person, though there is a place for confession to one another in the case of sickness and the involvement of church elders (see James Chapter 5).
Genuine confession of sin
It is important to recognise that confession as a formality (i.e. ‘going through the motions’) is largely irrelevant if it is not accompanied by true repentance; in other words, our acknowledgement of sin through confession must be motivated by a desire to turn from our own way and seek to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and guiding. The role of the Holy Spirit in the confession and repentance process is of critical significance, as the Apostle Paul underlines in his letter to believers in Rome: ‘If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ’ (Romans Chapter 8 verse 9). People in a lost state are those who fail to acknowledge the harmfulness of sin and its serious implications for their present welfare and eternal destiny. During challenging situations in their lives or when they are grappling with a dangerous situation, normally disinterested people are often more attentive to ways in which God can assist them but they soon lose interest when the crisis is past. If the problem persists or worsens, the same people who were eager for God to intervene are equally likely to accuse Him of being uncaring and therefore non-existent.
God may graciously respond when He is used as a ‘safety net’ by desperate people but it is the fervent prayers of the righteous that yields a positive outcome, as the Apostle James declares: ‘The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much’ (James Chapter 5 verse 16, KJV); or in the NLT: ‘The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results’. Those who have an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ are more willing to accept that His response to their pleas may not be what they were hoping for or expecting, yet still retain a strong belief and trust in God. To use a phrase from William Cowper’s hymn (written in 1773; updated version by Graham Kendrick 2018), true believers embrace the precept that ‘God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform’.
The Bible makes it clear that Christ alone provides the key that unlocks the meaning of life and the mystery of eternity. This exclusiveness is not popular in a world that favours many routes to God, like the spokes of a wheel, all pointing towards the hub at the centre. Jesus stated openly, however, that he is the only way to God the Father, as well as being the truth (i.e. entirely reliable and trustworthy) and the life (i.e. the source of everything we need in our present lives and beyond), so either he was deluded, boastful, deceitful or speaking the truth. If his words are authentic, the practical implications of Jesus’s declaration provides a straightforward choice about whether or not to accept his gracious invitation to ‘come unto me’. In responding to those who argued that they could be indifferent and ‘neutral’ with regard to accepting or rejecting him, Jesus stated firmly that those who were not ‘for’ him were against him with no middle ground between; thus: ‘Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me’ (Gospel of Matthew Chapter 12 verse 30).
Sharing the gospel message
It is self-evident that people can only respond to Jesus’s offer it they first hear the Gospel explained to them, which therefore places a responsibility upon his followers to be messengers of the Good News (‘Gospel’) as the Apostle Paul declared in his letter to the Christians in Rome: ‘But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?’ (Romans Chapter 10 verse 14) The situation is less straightforward in seeking to understand the implications for the many millions who have not been given such an opportunity to hear and respond, as I briefly explore below.
It must be acknowledged that the way God determines the fate of people who have not heard the Gospel is humanly imponderable and we must allow Him to be sovereign over that decision, just as He is Lord over every other element of our lives if we permit Him to intercede and guide. The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes advises against attempting to comprehend all of God’s ways: ‘Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things’ (Chapter 11 verse 5). There is much that we must accept by faith (‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it’, see later) and exercising trust in our Heavenly Father, as Job asserted: ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him’ (Chapter 13 verse 15, NKJV).
Our instinct is probably one of compassion and sadness for those who have not heard the Gospel or have been fed a distorted version of it, reasoning that it is unfair to judge people and deny them the hope of eternal life without offering them the chance to respond to Jesus’s offer of salvation. A minority of scholars insist that God has already determined who will be saved, so we don’t need to worry about such matters. Others declare that God is not obliged to save a single soul but has condescended to save a remnant because of His benevolent grace and kindness of heart. Yet others argue that although Christ is the only “door” to eternal life, God will use unseen means to save sinners who are ignorant of their plight. In truth, we can only speak of what has been revealed in Scripture; we leave the mysterious rest for our sovereign God to enact and sanctify.
What Christ has done
To discover precisely what Christ’s death on the Cross of Calvary has achieved, Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome (with special reference to Chapter 5 verses 5-11) provides an invaluable compilation of what Jesus Christ has done for humanity. There are five key elements to consider:
- Christ has made us righteous (‘made right’) in God’s sight
- Christ has given us access (‘entrance’) into the grace of God
- Christ brings us hope that causes us to rejoice
- Christ offers us salvation from the consequences of sin (i.e. from eternal separation from God)
- Christ reconciles us to God (i.e. brings us together in perfect harmony with Him)
I make further comment on each of these powerful claims below.
Christ has made us righteous (verse 1)
The Bible states plainly that we have been justified (i.e. made righteous in God’s sight) by faith in Jesus Christ. The concept of ‘faith’ is closely associated with hope, which is not to be confused with the worldly idea of ‘hoping for the best’ (i.e. fatalism: ‘whatever will be will be’). The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews describes the close relationship between faith and hope: ‘Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see‘ (Chapter 11 verse 1). The key word in the description is ‘reality’, as faith is rooted in God’s promises and the on-going presence of the Spirit of Christ in the believer; it is not a distorted idealism akin to ‘hoping for the best’. The closer we walk in step with the Spirit of God, the greater the reality becomes until we reach a point where doubts evaporate and are replaced by an ‘unspeakable joy’ to know that our lives are synchronised with His will and purpose. The Apostle Peter speaks of how trusting Jesus Christ, even in his bodily absence, results in such joyful experience: ‘You love him, even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls‘ (1st Letter of Peter, Chapter 1 verse 9). Faith makes Jesus and his promises a present reality and provides us with a certain future hope.
Sceptics have attempted to corrupt the Bible definition of hope by referring to it ‘blind hope’ and implying that the hopeful person’s attitude is equivalent to ‘good luck’ or being psychic or (worse still) being delusional. In fact, the biblical use of the word ‘hope’ does not rely on tangible evidence or on outcomes that satisfy our personal ambitions (e.g. hoping to obtain a better job or gain a place for our children in a particular school or pass an examination). Rather, Spirit-led hope is rooted in three certainties:
(a) The person of God Himself. He knows the end from the beginning and His promises never fail to materialise, for He is utterly trustworthy. In the words of Thomas Chisholm’s famous hymn (Great is Thy Faithfulness), ‘there is no shadow of turning with Thee’. We must therefore ‘hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise’ (Hebrews Chapter 10 verse 23).
(b) The salvation found in Jesus Christ. It is notable that one of Jesus’s descriptive names is the ‘hope of the world’ (Matthew Chapter 12 verse 21). In a world riddled with hopelessness and despair, salvation from the consequences of sin found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ provides a source of joy and confidence.
(c) The prospect of eternal life. The Apostle Paul often spoke of such a hope and Jesus promised the disciples that he would prepare an eternal home for them in heaven where there is unlimited space. Thus: ‘There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?’ (Gospel of John Chapter 14 verse 2)
Each ‘certain hope’ is confirmed by an inner conviction, prompted and sustained by the Holy Spirit, who will counsel and teach Jesus’s disciples (i.e. his wholly committed followers) everything they need to know. Thus, the Apostle Paul prays that: ‘God, the source of hope, will fill you [the Christians] completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Romans, Chapter 15 verse 13). Similarly, the Apostle writes to the church in Galatia: ‘Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ’ (Galatians Chapter 2 verse 16).
Being made right with God through faith in Christ differs from a human Court situation where the accused person, though guilty of the crime, might be set free if, for some reason, he or she is found not guilty through the persuasive argument of a clever lawyer or a legal technicality that prevents the felon from being convicted and punished. Occasionally, the defendant might be guilty but be released without punishment if the judge is lenient or if (say) someone steps in and pays the outstanding fine or clears the debt. Under such circumstances, the individual is legally innocent but morally guilty. By contrast, when we are justified by faith in Christ, though guilty of transgressing and in active rebellion against God, it’s as if we had never sinned, as far as God is concerned, for Jesus has cleansed us by his shed blood on the Cross of Calvary. We cannot claim any merit of our own in this matter; we can only acknowledge what Christ has done and rejoice that our sins are forgiven.
In another section of his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul emphasised that our freedom is not due to our own efforts (‘obeying the law’) but because of faith: ‘Can we boast then that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God [‘justified’] through faith and not by obeying the law’ (Romans Chapter 3 verses 27, 28). Whether or not a lawbreaker is found innocent or guilty by a court of law, his or her guilt remains. When we are justified by faith in Christ, however, no guilt remains and there isn’t any stain on our record. What a wonderful, liberating truth!
Christ has given us access into the grace of God (verse 2a)
Two of God’s attributes are frequently mentioned in the Bible:
- His mercy: which means that God does not treat us as our sins and neglect of Him deserve.
- His grace: which means that God treats us in a compassionate way that we do not deserve
The Apostle Paul describes God’s mercy and grace in his letter to the believers in the church at Ephesus where the link between mercy, love and grace is powerfully expressed: ‘But God is so rich in mercy and he loved us so much that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)’ (Chapter 2 verses 4 & 5). God’s mercy is not of the ‘grovelling’ kind, as we might envisage a slave being prostrate before an ancient Emperor, begging for clemency, or a convicted prisoner pleading to be spared the gallows. No, God’s mercy is available because He is rich (saturated, deeply embedded) in it. God has mercy because it is in His loving nature and He will dispense it lavishly to those who sincerely repent of sin. Love and mercy are freely available because Jesus gave his life for us and we have access to eternal life because he was raised from the dead. Paul underlines the extent to which we are totally reliant on God’s mercy for salvation by adding that it is only by His grace that we have been saved. One popular definition of the word ‘grace’ is using each letter of the word to form a memorable statement: God’s Redemption At Christ’s Expense.
It is important to recognise or perhaps be reminded that grace is not a gift that God provides in the same way that a doting grandfather distributes sweets to his grandchildren. God’s grace is expressed most profoundly in the sacrifice of His Son to atone for the world’s sins. The coming of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary means that the Godhead was in human terms dissembled and heaven was deprived of the holy and sinless Son. The one through whom all things were made and who inhabited eternity was compressed into a tiny, helpless embryo within the womb of an ordinary young woman (Mary). As the adult Jesus, he carried the sins of the world in His body on the Cross of Calvary, where all our guilt, shame, selfishness, depravity, unkindness, greed, anger, fear and envy was heaped upon Him. The Apostle Peter provides a wonderful summary of this truth: ‘He [Jesus] personally carried our sins in his body on the cross, so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed’ (1st letter of Peter Chapter 2 verse 24).
Acknowledging and celebrating the grace of God is not an academic exercise or a subject for casual interest. God’s undeserved favour is a demonstration of His character and desire for our good, such that we are given the widest opportunity to be reconciled to the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Followers of Christ, too, are called to demonstrate the same grace in our attitude towards others. When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandments, he replied that loving God comes first and loving others comes second in the list of priorities. We have the great privilege of ‘God-likeness’ in our conduct and influence as we submit to His will and purpose.
Christ brings us hope that causes us to rejoice (verses 2b-5)
It has been claimed with considerable justification that hopelessness and loneliness are the two ‘curses’ of the modern age. At a time when, despite various setbacks and challenges, most people in democratic nations have never been as privileged and wealthy, there has been a substantial increase in the number of people requiring and seeking support for their mental health needs. Particularly distressing has been the increase in self-harm among young people; in addition, the use of damaging narcotic substances has become a major challenge for law enforcement agencies throughout much of the world.
Far from ‘liberating’ people, the loosening of moral ties and discarding of norms in areas of human behaviour has magnified levels of distress and created uncertainty about what is right and wrong. Families have been dismantled: divorce rates have risen dramatically — in large measure due to easing of the grounds on which divorce can be sought — and the destruction of the unborn (let alone the deprivation of life that it inflicts) has blighted the population to such an extent that number of the next generation of workers to service employment and medical needs in the Western World has sunk to a disturbingly low level. Despite these worrying trends, strident voices, radical organisations and sympathetic funding providers press for further relaxation of laws on the basis (they would argue) that such changes are necessary to end oppressive restrictions on behaviour; the mantra being that ‘anything goes’, providing no one is hurt in the process! Escalation of sexually transmitted infections, single-parent families, loneliness, street violence, abortion, euthanasia and anti-authority attitudes, far from curtailing the aspirations of liberal-minded radicals, seem merely to enflame their insatiable appetites for destabilising society as a whole. What hope can Jesus Christ bring into the turmoil, such that people directly affected by this ‘social tsunami’ of permissiveness can not only feel encouraged and given hope but also find cause to rejoice?
Life worth living
First, we have to accept that without God’s leading and guiding and our conformity to His will, even the most confident, entrepreneurial person is a ‘lost sheep’ in need of rescuing. Jesus referred to himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’ (see John’s Gospel Chapter 10) who rescues those who are lost and he made it clear that by his Spirit working in our lives, the true purpose of life—for the glory of God and not lived for ‘self’—is wonderfully revealed. Worldly fame and fortune is impressive and satisfying to a degree but, as many high achievers have discovered, even dizzying heights of success can leave a curious emptiness and dissatisfaction for which possessions, glamorous lifestyles and celebrity status cannot compensate. It is noteworthy that the search for fulfilment over and beyond their achievements motivates many wealthy people to contribute large sums of money to charity or undertake other commendable deeds in a quest to satisfy their inner longing to have ‘made a positive difference’ in the world.
One of the most powerful examples of a ‘turnabout’ in priorities is found in the life of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish scientist whose notable discoveries included safely controlling highly temperamental nitro-glycerine into a much safer form of explosive called dynamite. After the death of Alfred’s brother, Ludvig, a newspaper erroneously published Alfred’s obituary in which he was condemned for creating a substance that resulted in the death and injury to so many people during armed conflicts. Despite being a highly successful pioneer and linguist, Alfred feared being remembered solely as the inventor of a destructive substance, so he established the ‘Nobel Prizes’ to honour men and women for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace (thus, the Nobel Peace Prize) and left his vast fortune to ensure their continuation. Like so many before and after him, Nobel had a deep desire to make his life count for something that benefitted people and to use his talents as God intends for each one of us to do. We don’t know if Nobel’s motivation for doing good lay in his relationship with Jesus Christ or if it was a desire rising from within his soul that the Holy Spirit provoked; either way, Nobel ended his life positively in obeying Jesus’s commandment to do good to others in every way possible.
Nobel’s life story warms our hearts but also alerts us to the importance of allowing the love of Jesus to live (abide, dwell) in our lives, such that we view our existence as worthwhile in serving him by serving others. The Apostle Paul, writing a second letter to the Christians in Corinth, explains how the act of giving is doubly beneficial: ‘So, two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met and they will joyfully express their thanks to God’ (2 Corinthians Chapter 9 verse 12). We note that the two benefits from giving referred to by Paul are: (1) practical: meeting people’s physical and utilitarian needs (2) spiritual: eliciting joyful thanks to God. Paul emphasises that the giving should be done cheerfully, not reluctantly or under pressure, for unless our deeds are motivated by pure love, they have little eternal value. See also Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13 in which he concludes with a powerful statement about the need for love: ‘Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love’.
It might be seen as paradoxical that by placing our hope in Jesus, we bring hope and blessing to ourselves and to others. However, unlike worldly hope that resides in vague concepts such as luck and chance, Christian hope is characterised by certainty and the knowledge that trusting Jesus not only provides a firm foundation for this life but is also a guarantee of eternal life. Jesus underlined the futility of relying on human effort for salvation and the vital role of the Holy Spirit: ‘The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life’ (Gospel of John Chapter 6 verse 63). The reason for Jesus returning to his Father in heaven was to allow the Holy Spirit not only to convict people of sin and righteousness but also to comfort, support and challenge in such a way that they are empowered to lead purposeful lives, full of hope, trusting in the promises of God that never fail.
Following Christ does not mean that our lives will be trouble free, as clearly outlined in the sequence described in verses 3 and 4 of Romans Chapter 5. In these verses, we first rejoice in our sufferings (i.e. problems and trials that come from being a disciple of Jesus) then our suffering produces perseverance (i.e. being steadfast and determined in pursuing what is right), which helps to form character (loosely defined as the way that we behave when not being observed by other people) which in turn gives rise to hope (or from the NLT, the ‘confident hope of our salvation’). So Paul continues in Romans 5 verse 5: ‘And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love’. In other words, godly hope (as opposed to ‘good luck’ charms found in superstitious practices such as ‘crossing fingers’ and ‘touching wood’ and other childish fantasies) leads to encouragement and strengthening of our faith and hearts full of love. Whereas a secular interpretation of ‘rejoicing’ emphasises personal fulfilment and the absence of trouble, Christians rejoice not only in the pleasure in serving others, the glory of salvation and the providence of God but also in the difficulties brought about from faithful adherence to Jesus Christ and his teaching.
It is said that a wise older man was asked by a younger man to identify the heaviest burden that he had ever borne in his life. The younger man was surprised to hear the answer: “It was when I had no burden to bear”. Without trivialising the pain and distress that some people have to endure in their lives, a wit has remarked that if we find that we are meeting the devil head-on, we should rejoice, as the devil is heading for hell, so we must be going in the right direction towards heaven!
Perseverance in doing what is right develops character for the simple reason that a determination to follow God’s directions will inevitably produce a negative counter reaction from two sources, both of which need to be overcome. Doing so will not only enhance our faith but also strengthen character. The first form of opposition is our own inclination to wander from, as Jesus described it, the narrow path that leads to life; thus: ‘The gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it’ (Gospel of Matthew Chapter 7 verse 14). The second form of opposition is found in ungodly influences that are promoted in many areas of the media, by acquaintances at work and even from well meaning friends, which creates a wave of pressure that for younger people in particular is difficult to resist. During this onslaught, godly character is enhanced by remaining close by the Father’s side, coupled with our own desire to honour God in our thoughts, words and actions, thus providing access to the ‘full armour of God’, as the Apostle Paul described it to the Christians at Ephesus. By using the graphic illustration of Roman armour, Paul listed the way in which disciples of Jesus can be ‘strong in the Lord and in His mighty power’ and stand their ground against the devil’s schemes (see Ephesians Chapter 6). The list of armour consists of: (1) the belt of truth, (2) the breastplate of righteousness, (3) shoes fitted with the gospel of peace, (4) the shield of faith, (5) the helmet of salvation and (6) the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God). It is important to note from Paul’s description that we cannot simply sit back and passively allow the Holy Spirit to work—He invites and requires our active involvement (‘put on’ the whole armour uses an active verb), not least in the need to ‘pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests’. There aren’t any shortcuts to spiritual maturity of this kind: the people with the greatest spiritual depth and most joyful lives are those who have suffered and been tested, yet persevered and remained faithful to the Lord; in other words, they have ‘passed the test’. For such adherents, Jesus promises that a great reward awaits them.
Hope in every circumstance
As noted above, character is closely allied with hope, for the simple reason that the more we get our roots deep into the things concerning God and His intentions for us as individuals and for the world by committing our lives to Him wholeheartedly through Christ, the more we have an unshakeable hope that allows us to hold firmly to the belief expressed in Horatio Spafford’s famous hymn (When peace like a river): ‘Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say it is well with my soul’. The presence of such sincere hope and confidence in God leads to encouragement and strengthening of faith. Smith Wigglesworth’s oft-quoted statement, ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it!’ while viewed by sceptics as simplistic, establishes a fundamental principle that once God’s will and purpose is clear then acceptance and obedience must follow. It is beyond the brief of this present discussion to pursue the implications of Wigglesworth’s assertion further; Chapter 4 will deal more specifically with the implications in following Jesus. Suffice it to say that far from being fearful, tentative and defensive when circumstances are challenging or incomprehensible, believers should be firm in expressing their full confidence in God’s over-ruling hand. In practice, such an attitude means that in addition to our Spirit-directed actions, our daily conversation needs to be peppered with many more faith statements about God’s sovereign rule and far fewer expressions of doubt about our challenging circumstances.
Christ offers us salvation from the consequences of sin (verses 6-8)
The key word in the sub-title is ‘offers’. All those who have the maturity and a sufficiently clear mind to grasp the nature of the divine invitation are given the choice whether or not to accept Jesus’s offer of salvation and freedom from sin. The eternal destiny of children who die in the womb or very young and the situation for people with severe brain damage is discussed in Chapter 1 of the series. The choice for those with adult minds is between remaining spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, and freedom from sin—cleansed by the shed blood of Christ when he gave his life for the sins of the world on the Cross of Calvary.
Different views of time
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome makes a number of key points in respect of Jesus’s entrance into the world to live a perfect life (i.e. wholly pleasing to God the Father) and die as the ‘sacrificial lamb’ for sinners, one of which is that Jesus came at ‘just the right time’ in human history. People judge time with reference to a horizontal line, with the past stretching to the left of the present day and the future stretching forward from it. God, however, is infinite and has no beginning or end. He is referred to as the Alpha (the first) and Omega (the last), a description also accorded to His Son, the one whom we call Jesus Christ. God is outside of human time in that He knows what has been and what will be. Similarly, the life of Jesus on earth reaches back beyond the creation of the earth and embraces the future New Heaven and New Earth, as described in the Book of Revelation (revealed to, and recorded by, the Apostle John).
Time governs all human behaviour; people judge time with reference to a watch, clock or other device, or perhaps by awareness of physical phenomena, such as the rising Sun or phases of the Moon, and by the annual cycle of seasons. In some (mainly Western) cultures, accurate timekeeping is considered to be an essential attribute and a measure of efficiency; in other parts of the world, attitudes to timekeeping are more relaxed and even, as some might describe it, a sign of indolence or apathy. Counter intuitively, lax timekeeping may prove to be beneficial if it saves someone from being involved in a dangerous or deadly situation. For example, a few late passengers were doubtless highly relieved to have missed RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage, which sank after hitting an iceberg in 1912; or those that failed to make it on time to catch RMS Lusitania, subsequently sunk by a German U-boat in 1915; or countless other tragic events. But the Apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear in his letter to the church in Rome that Christ died for the ungodly at exactly the right moment, such that he could cry out in triumph that his work on earth was completed according to God the Father’s timetable (see Gospel of John, Chapter 19).
Time to be saved
As we stand amazed at the perfection of God’s timing in sending His Son to earth to live and die for humanity, it’s also essential that we all take heed of the opportunity to be alert to Paul’s warning later in the letter that ‘time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armour of right living’ (Romans Chapter 13 verses 11 & 12). Similarly, when writing to the church in Corinth, Paul urges that ‘the right time is now; today is the day of salvation’ (2 Corinthians Chapter 6 verse 2). In repenting and turning to Christ, no one can afford to be negligent or delay, as extended time for us in this life is not guaranteed; there is an urgency attached to each day to ensure that we take hold of salvation and then allow God to make effective use of our gifts, talents and opportunities.
Time to pray
For those of us who tend to get impatient over God’s apparent reluctance to intervene or respond to our prayer requests or the desires of our heart, there is an important lesson to be learned from Christ appearing at ‘just the right time’. The reason for the delay in God’s answering our prayers may be the fact that we are not praying according to His will and purpose or we are asking from wrong motives. Assuming that the Holy Spirit is in agreement with our prayer, however, we can remain confident that God is never too early and never too late in answering. Our impatience with God’s apparent procrastination is usually revealed through a tendency to ‘monitor’ God’s response (making sure that He is ‘on the job’), which indicates a lack of faith about His ability to do what is right and in our best interests or intervene to bless the one for whom we have a concern. We may take comfort and reassurance from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome: ‘We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans… in accordance with the will of God’ (Romans Chapter 8 verses 26 & 27, NIVUK). The final phrase ‘in accordance with the will of God’ is of utmost importance in comprehending more clearly why some prayers are answered and some are not answered; or at least, not answered in the way we might anticipate. God knows our hearts and will only respond in a way that serves our best interests, though we must be careful not to fall into the trap of asking from selfish motives, such that God ‘gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul’ (Psalm 106 verse 15, KJV).
Time and Jesus’s return
Furthermore, just as Jesus came to live and die at an appointed, so he will return at a time known only to the Father. The Apostle Matthew records Jesus’s words: ‘No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself; only the Father knows’. (The reason that Jesus is not aware of the date of his return is a matter that has invited considerable debate, the contents of which are outside the range of this chapter.) The uncertainty about Jesus’s return adds additional urgency to the importance for all believers to be constantly prepared and ready to welcome him. Jesus told the disciples to be watchful and stay alert because the Master could return at any time and would expect the members of his household to be ready, active and prepared (see, for example, the Parable of the Tenants in Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 21). It is essential, however, to take note that there is also a warning attached to the circumstances accompanying his return in that he will come to judge the earth and separate ‘good’ from ‘evil’. In every aspect of life, the faithful follower of Jesus need never fret or worry about God’s timing, even after life has ended, as it is always perfect.
The Apostle Paul also emphasises that Christ not only came at the right time but also came when we were powerless (utterly helpless) to redeem our own souls. Acknowledging the fact that we are unable to save ourselves from the curse of sin and its damaging consequences is difficult for many people, who judge their success in life by their ability to be self-sufficient and independent. While it is commendable to be determined and resourceful, salvation cannot be earned and no amount of worldly possession or influence can purchase it. The Apostle Paul summarised the position in his letter to Titus (minister of the church in Crete) ‘Jesus saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit’ (Chapter 3 verse 5). Salvation and eternal life are both a gift of God (free to us but not free to Him, as it involved the sacrifice of His Son) that are available only through Jesus Christ. World events, such as famine, plague, war, recessions and the like can destroy physical goods, ruin businesses and lead to untold misery for those so affected but cannot impact on a person’s eternal destiny, which is bound up with his or her relationship with and faith in the Risen Jesus Christ. Crisis and extreme fear may provoke an interest in God and hopeful prayers from those who would otherwise be dismissive or disinterested in Him but such desire usually evaporates when the period of stress is relieved or languishes into resentment that God has ‘allowed this thing to happen’ if the situation persists. People may look hither and thither for meaning and purpose in life, as they sample one religion or philosophy after another, dabble in the occult or use drugs or exhibit extreme forms of behaviour but fail to find satisfactory answers and remain spiritually unfulfilled. Jesus Christ stands waiting to satisfy every longing need.
The truth of salvation
In reality, a person who lives life without believing in God and accepting the finished work of Christ upon the Cross of Calvary is akin to a drowning man, who resists offers of assistance from a lifeguard by insisting that he can manage on his own, with tragic results. Experience shows that while the majority of people entertain a brief or superficial interest in spiritual matters, they are inclined to adopt childish (as opposed to childlike) beliefs that reside in sentimental images of the Nativity (baby Jesus in a cosy stable) and God as a benevolent Santa Claus figure (giving us the things we desire and satisfying our needs). Heaven is viewed as a place in which we will be reunited with members of our family and friends in a glorious celebration with everyone we knew intimately on earth being present, recognisable and waiting to greet us. Such expectations are borne of desperation or fear or fantasy—a ‘clutching at straws’ in the vain hope that everything will be all right in the end—but are not reflected in the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. In fact, Jesus sombrely warned that not everyone who calls him ‘Lord’ will be saved but those who do what God commands, as Matthew records in his gospel account: ‘Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter’ (Chapter 7 verse 21)
Jesus bore the sins of each person in the world because He has a deep love for each one of us. We will gladly make great sacrifices for those whom we love and are precious to us and for those who are particularly dear to us, we would even give our lives for them. It is unlikely that we would feel the same sacrificial inclination towards our enemies or those we consider to be undeserving of mercy. By contrast, Jesus laid down his life for both the lovely and unlovely, the grateful and ungrateful, the caring and careless, responsible citizens and lawless criminals. He even taught his disciples that they should love their enemies, which must have astounded those who heard him speak, just as it challenges us two millennia later. The Apostle Paul summarised the situation in just a few divinely inspired words: ‘God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners’ (Romans Chapter 5 verse 8). God’s grace is freely available to all who believe but our response to His invitation is for each one of us to decide.
The truth about salvation is that it is solely due to God’s grace and mercy in and through Jesus Christ. As noted earlier, the Apostle Paul made it clear in his letter to the church in Ephesus that ‘God saved you by his grace when you believed and you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God’ (Chapter 2 verse 8). The hymn writer, John G Whittier, phrased the situation poetically but accurately in his hymn (Dear Lord and Father of Mankind) when he wrote: ‘Drop your still dews of quietness until all our strivings cease’. All our ‘striving’ in earning money, acquiring wealth and possessions, doing good works, even sacrificial living, cannot redeem anyone from sin and make us right with God or bring contentment of mind unless it is rooted in a belief in Christ’s work of salvation and the subsequent gift of the Holy Spirit to sanctify (‘make pure’), renew, prompt and guide us each day to do those things that please Him.
Christ reconciled us to God (verses 9-11)
To reconcile means to bring together in an intimate, harmonious relationship. The Apostle Paul underlines this wonderful truth in his second letter to the Christians in Corinth: ‘For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them’ (2 Corinthians Chapter 5 verse 19). Some modern versions (e.g. NLT, see Scripture passage at the start of this chapter) use the phrase ‘friends of God’, which is more powerful than it might sound at first hearing, as true friendship with God means that we have a relationship with the One who is the ever-present and all-knowing Creator and with Christ, who is the one who sustains all things. Where our sinning once separated us from God’s full blessing and favour, we can be now clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Hallelujah! We were far from God without assurance about our eternal destiny but the Good Shepherd promises to prepare a place for us after our life ends and lead us to our eternal home.
Sin and sinning
It is important to note that although it is frequently asserted that sin separates us from God prior to our decision to follow Christ, it is more accurate to say that ‘sinning’ separates us from God. If sin of itself separated us from God, everyone living prior to Christ’s death on the cross and all those living who have not heard the Gospel and even followers of Christ who have become lukewarm in their faith (‘backslidden’) would not have access to God because they were (and still are) sinners. Although Isaiah Chapter 59 verse 2 is sometimes quoted in defence of the claim that ‘sin has separated you from God’, a careful reading of the chapter will reveal that it is directed at the people of Judah (Southern Israel) for their wantonly sinful ways, including murder, lying, corruption, injustice and violence. Little wonder that God says to them through the prophet: ‘It is your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore’. If we continue sinning and ignore God’s commandments and the Holy Spirit’s warnings about our behaviour, our relationship with God is marred until we repent, when it is immediately restored.
Condemnation or no condemnation
Jesus’s parable about a farmer’s two sons (usually referred to as the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’) pictures the father running to meet his repentant son as he returns home after squandering his money on worldly pleasures. Through the parable, Jesus conveys an important truth, namely that God the Father welcomes every person who genuinely repents (i.e. is deeply sorrowful about) his or her failure to live a life that pleases God and is willing to change life direction. The repentant sinner trusts that Jesus has taken away the penalty of sin that should have been rightly his or hers and now desires to live a life approved by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Later in his letter to Roman believers, Paul offers the following assurance to those who are reconciled to the Father in this way: ‘So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death’ (Romans Chapter 8 verse 1). Belonging to Jesus Christ is not an easy option for inadequate people who cannot cope with the challenges and struggles of life. Jesus made it clear than following him would lead to opposition and make us a target for ungodly people and the devil’s wiles.
Whenever preachers and speakers make reference to the above scripture, they understandably emphasise the ‘no condemnation’ element; however, the converse is necessarily the case, namely that those who do not belong to Christ Jesus are condemned! Furthermore, without the ‘life-giving Spirit’, a person is still held by the power of sin that leads to death. Reconciliation to God through Christ has enormous implications for our eternal future; it is not automatic but rather requires a firm decision on our behalf to align our lives with Christ Jesus, who stands with arms open wide, ready to receive us and present us faultless before God the Father. In the words of Charles Wesley’s famous hymn And Can It Be? ‘No condemnation now I dread. Jesus and all in him is mine. Alive in him, my living head and clothed in righteousness divine. Bold I approach the Eternal Throne and claim the crown through Christ, my own’.
What has Jesus Christ ever done for me? To answer that question, we need to imagine what life would be like if the Son of God had chosen to remain in heaven and not become a man and die upon a cross to save sinners like you and I. God does not want anyone to remain lost; that is, He wants every person to seek Him and find Him and exercise faith by accepting and believing that Jesus is everything he claimed to be. In the above account, I have endeavoured to explore the truth and implications of each of the original claims that are listed near the beginning of this chapter, based on the verses extracted from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, namely that:
- Christ has made us righteous in God’s sight
- Christ has given us access into the grace of God
- Christ brings us hope that causes us to rejoice
- Christ offers us salvation from the consequences of sin
- Christ reconciles us to God
Each person reading the above account can respond in one of three ways:
- Dismiss wholesale the claims made about Jesus as God’s answer to the sin problem.
- Treat the above account as a matter of general interest but of no personal relevance.
- Believe the truth of the Gospel, step out in faith and accept that Jesus Christ is the world’s Saviour, who died to set us free from the power and penalty of sin.