The Death of Christ

June 21, 2019

“For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23) Physical death is the consequence of sin entering the world. Because of sin we are also spiritually “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) outside of Christ. And if left uncorrected, this leads to eternal separation from God, what Revelation calls “the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Someone may ask, “Why can’t God just forgive us? Why should anyone die on account of sin, including Jesus?”

In explaining the meaning of the death of Christ, Paul states: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26, ESV). God’s own character is at stake in this business of forgiveness.

Suppose a defendant has a trial before a judge. All the evidence points to the defendant being a criminal worthy of punishment, but the judge lets him off. We would not consider such a judge to be just. We would question his character.

In the same way, God’s own justice demanded a substitute, a sacrifice. Paul uses three key terms in his explanation of the death of Christ (Romans 3:21-26): justified, redemption, and propitiation (the NIV’s “sacrifice of atonement”).

Propitiation is a sacrifice that averts wrath. Such a sacrifice satisfies the laws demands. It also involves substitution. The substitute takes our place and receives the wages of sin in our behalf.

Redemption is the payment of a price to set someone free. The debt owed is the wages of sin, which would lead to our eternal punishment. In the death of Christ, he paid our debt.

Justified is a law court term, the rendering of a favorable verdict. The charges are dropped against us in Christ, not because we are innocent, but because the demands of the law have been satisfied by our substitute. The debt we owe has been paid.

Humanity has a sin problem. If uncorrected, it leads to eternal separation from God. It even posed a problem for God: how to remain just and yet forgive. These problems find their solution in the death of Christ.


Striving for the Ideal Father

June 14, 2019

Our society gives mixed messages on fatherhood. The American Psychological Association in an article called “Deconstructing the Essential Father” asserts that fathers do not make a “unique and essential contribution to child development.” Their purpose is to influence public policy by legitimizing a variety of family structures—unmarried parents, gay parents, and single moms.

Yet the empirical evidence supports a conclusion that God’s plan for a family is really best. 70% of juvenile delinquents come from fatherless homes. Sixty percent of rapists and 72% of adolescent murderers come from homes where they have not known or lived with their fathers. Even the mother-child bond is weakened by an absent father.

In the midst of so much brokenness, we need to capture a vision of the ideal father and strive towards it.

God wants fathers to be leaders in their homes. Paul taught “…the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23, NASB). No doubt Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5 was counter cultural to the first century with his emphasis on a husband’s sacrificial love for his wife. Yet it is also counter cultural to feminism and political correctness. The leadership Paul taught is not tyrannical, but the servant leadership that is taught elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 20:25-28). It is a call to sacrificial love and spiritual leadership. Too frequently wives have no spiritual support from their husbands.

God wants fathers to love their wives. Although men often like to point to the words “Wives, be subject to your own husbands” (Eph. 5:22, NASB), Paul wrote more to husbands in this section of Ephesians than to wives. The constant refrain is “love” (the word is used 6 times in Eph. 5:25-33). Love your wives as Christ loves the church—that is sacrificially. Love your wives as you do your own bodies. Love your wives as yourself, which echoes the second greatest commandment “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, NASB). Our culture emphasizes the feelings of love. I suspect that if we followed the New Testament’s emphasis on the deeds of love (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) we would have less trouble maintaining the feelings of love.

God wants fathers to instruct and discipline their children. Paul wrote, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NASB). We will need to know the instruction of the Lord before we can pass it along to the next generation. Teaching and discipline require involvement and time. God has given us a responsibility that we must not shirk.

Few of us would feel like the ideal father, and regrettably, some boys may have to learn to be fathers without ever experiencing as a son what a father should be. But the only answer for the brokenness of our culture is to strive for God’s ideal.


It’s Not About Balance Scales

June 7, 2019

The judgement of the dead in the presence of Osiris

Behind my desk is a framed papyrus depicting a scene from ancient Egyptian religion. My son gave it to me from his trip to Egypt. The scene depicts the judgement of Osiris. Near the center of the picture is a balance scale. The balance scale has two pans or bowls suspended at an equal distance from a fulcrum. Weighing with such a scale might entail putting weights on one pan while the item being weighed on the other. Or two things might be compared. The heavier object’s pan will go down, and the lighter object’s pan will go up. In this judgment scene the deceased soul must weigh lighter than a feather. If it does, this person enters paradise. If not, the soul is eaten by the god Amenti who has a crocodile head. But it is not just ancient Egyptians who have a balance scale in their view of judgment.

I think many Americans think in terms of a balance scale. If my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds, then everything will be good with God, and this good person will enter heaven. Unfortunately, this isn’t the Bible’s teaching.

Paul writes from Romans 1:18 to 3:20 explaining that both Jews and Gentiles are sinners: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23, ESV). Paul makes clear that no one can be justified by law keeping since all of us sin. And the standard is not good deeds outweighing bad deeds, but for law keeping to work, it requires perfection before a holy God. It requires sinlessness on our part.

In Romans 4 Paul also makes this clear with the contrast between wages and gift. If we could present sinlessness to God as our wages, we would have something to boast about before God according to Paul. But none of us can claim that. The alternative is gift. It is what Jesus has done for us by dying on the cross that will save us, and that means listening and following Jesus.

The gospel needs to be shared. The person who is thinking in terms of good deeds outweighing bad deeds hasn’t come to terms with the Bible’s message. It’s not about balance scales.