Saturday, June 16, 2007

Saturday Sermon: The Value of God

Romans 3:25-26

My aim today is to get you to see salvation from God’s perspective, and to begin to get a real feel for what a God entranced view of things is, and the best, most powerful place to start, the most clear yet misunderstood place for this is the very text we are looking at today. If you can get a hold of this idea it will revolutionize your worship of God and the way you see God and the way you read your bible. It will also help you to become a more discerning believer who can spot heresy much quicker than you used to. It is all about God. Now that seems easy enough for us to say, and we say it because we think it is right, but we don’t really know what that means. He is the starting point, which is why, way back when we started this series in the book of Romans, we titled it “the righteousness of God, the redemption of man”. We must get the order of things right, and then everything else will have a much greater chance of falling into place as we encounter it. It is a tall order, and so may God grant us the grace to hear and believe.

It is all about being God entranced in our thinking, which is the biblical way, the renewed mind, not a self centered way of thinking, which we know we still have to deal with or else Paul wouldn’t tell us to renew our minds. Peter describes growing in grace by saying we must grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). With this text, when we start with a man centered, “what’s it mean to us” then we cannot appreciate the “what this means about God” aspect. If you can see this, you will see the value of a God entranced worldview, not one where we say it but we actually have it, and we can see with God’s eyes. We will begin to learn the value of God, not simply as someone who gives us the treasure of forgiveness, but as the very treasure itself. Today I want to unpack these verses and unleash this treasure.

whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

1 John 2:2, 4:10 – Propitiation – a sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God against sinners. Jesus on the cross not only reveals God’s justice and His righteousness but it actually saves sinners. By expiating (removing the problem of) sin, God was made propitious (favorable) to us. Instead of leaving all consigned to hell, He showed His love to those whom He calls to Himself.

There is a major difference between pardon and justification. Pardon says that you are guilty but suspends the penalty of that guilt. Justification declares you to be righteous and without guilt. How can God do that? By Christ paying the price of redemption. If God were to simply pardon or forgive based on our bits of penance then that would say that the sins weren’t really all that bad and that God was not really all that holy. Think about Islam and Allah in light of this. Because for them, Allah just forgives: not only there is no payment for our sins, there is none needed. However, if God can forgive without payment for sins, then he's no god. If God is not holy and just, then He does not deserve any worship. But the angels cry holy, holy, holy.

Propitiation is set against the flawed notion of penance. Penance is used to pay for the bad we have done, or to offset the bad we do. In other words, since we are going to do bad, it is justified by the good we do, kind of like how many people who do bad things think they can get off the hook because they start a foundation or give to charity or whatever. It is kind of like the carbon offsets of today, it is the old medieval idea of penance brought forward to today, and so many religions do this same thing.

These things may appease our conscience but they do not appease God’s wrath. Your payment isn’t enough. Penance never excuses your own excess. In the New Testament, the act of propitiation always refers to the work of God and not the sacrifices or gifts offered by man. The reason for this is that man is totally incapable of satisfying God’s justice except by spending eternity in hell. Even there he cannot make a full payment and that is why it must continue on. There is no service, sacrifice or gift that man can offer that will appease the holy wrath of God or satisfy His perfect justice. Psalm 51:17 – the sacrifices God wants are a broken spirit and a contrite heart, but these are repentance not propitiation. The only satisfaction, or propitiation, that could be acceptable to God and that could reconcile man to Him, had to be made by God. For this reason God the Son, Jesus Christ, came into the world in human flesh to be the perfect sacrifice for sin and make atonement or “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:14-17).

This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Hebrews 9:15,26 – in His forbearance He passed over the former sins, made during and before the old covenant, knowing justice would be served by a new covenant.

In this passage Paul’s emphasis is not so much on the righteousness that God has provided in Christ as the righteousness that God has demonstrated through Christ. This distinction may seem subtle, but it is one of great significance. Our minds like to avoid this truth, and we much rather focus on what He has done "for" us. It is too easy to fall into the trap of sentimental thinking about the Gospel, and we need to be reminded that the love of God makes absolutely no sense apart from the wrath of God. Take away the latter, and all you have is the image of a kindly old man who wouldn't hurt a fly, much less punish sinners, and then we start thinking that maybe our own sins really aren't that bad. We cheapen His love by downplaying His wrath.

When we choose to look at salvation from a merely human perspective, we see salvation from the standpoint of what it does for us. God becomes the One who “meets our needs.” While God does meet our needs, the focus is wrong. At its core, this focus is selfish and self-centered. God as the Giver should not be our focus, but God as the Gift. Paul thus portrays God’s provision of righteousness from the divine point of view, fixing our attention on God’s purpose for saving men: the demonstration of His righteousness.

The death of Christ proved God’s righteousness. People just want God to pardon but that doesn’t demonstrate His righteousness. That would be saying that sins are really no big deal to God, and it would also mean that offending God and despising Him isn’t all that important. The sins are real and they must be paid for, and yet God seemingly overlooked them before. The problem in God's passing over sin (which the natural mind does not grasp) is that God's worth and glory and righteousness have been despised, and passing over it makes him look cheap. God would be unrighteous if He passed over sins as though the value of His glory were nothing.

God’s worth and His name is dishonored by our sins, but rather than vindicating the worth of his glory by slaying His people, He vindicated His glory by slaying His Son. That is how valuable His glory is and how awful sin really is and what it requires. It is not that we were worth it, that we were worth saving, but that God’s glory was worth vindicating, and that Christ was the only payment that could satisfy the justice of God for us offending and despising His glory. That is what sin is, falling short of and devaluing God’s glory. We have done violence to the throne of God. That is why hell must last forever because you can never pay it back, your worth is nothing compared to His, no amount of penance can offset the terrible injustice you have done against the infinite worth of God.

This is all about the value of God not the value of man, how much He is worth not how much we are worth. Now we square this with John 3:16 by saying that His love for us is so great that He paid the only way it could be done. God, out of His love and justice, renders Himself favorable to us by His own action. He suffers the ultimate offense and yet He takes on the punishment for that Himself. He passed over sins before Christ because He knew the plan, it was the plan all along, and that is why He could wait until it was the right time (Galatians 4:4).

You have heard it said that if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would have come to die for your sins. That is true, but we need to see that in proper perspective. He would do it not just because He loved you so, and He does, but the fountainhead of that love flows because His holiness demanded it, the sin was an assault on the throne of God that must be dealt with, and attack on the infinite worth of God, and it required a payment that you could not meet. He would have done so, not because you were worth saving, but because even one sin is so horrible and such an affront to God’s glory that He must punish it with absolute justice, and since He is of infinite worth, that punishment would be unfathomable, and He would have to pay for it Himself. Think hard and clearly on that. That Jesus had to die shows the worthlessness of any payment we could try and make for sins, and the infinite worth of God.

That statement about Jesus dying just for you makes us feel good about ourselves, and our worth, but we need to realize that we are supposed to worship God, regardless of what He has done for us, He is God Almighty. He died just for His Father, and you as the beneficiary of that plan. This does not diminish His love for us in any way, it lifts up the holiness of God and shows it to be the spring from which God’s mercy and justice can be met together in Christ. His love is grounded in His holiness not in our worthiness or faithfulness and His holiness is that from which His love springs, not vice versa. Hallelujah, I pray you see it, and if you don’t, consider well what I say, and ponder it until God grips you with this truth of His glory.

Did Jesus really have to die to pay for our sins? A Jewish expert addressed this issue. According to him, Jesus’ death was entirely unnecessary. God is perfectly willing and able to forgive us if we are truly and sincerely repentant. No further accommodation or transaction is needed. This sounds wonderful. But is this true? No it isn’t, it devalues God and His glory. The Jewish man was stuck in his OT world where God passed over the sins of the repentant; as if that was all there was every going to be for it, and his messiah is only a political ruler. This man and others who claim it cosmic child abuse to have Christ die on the cross are not looking at this text with spiritual eyes because they are spiritually dead, they have not come forward, as Christ was put forward by God to demonstrate God’s justice and the value of His glory by having Christ be a sacrifice for sins. We make many excuses to repudiate the blood of Jesus. We say, “Certainly we’ve done bad things, but what we’ve done isn’t so bad that a merciful God can’t overlook our failings.” We are wrong on two counts. First, what we have done IS so bad, that we cannot even begin to fathom how horrible it is. Second, God cannot overlook, He cannot wave His hand and let bygones be bygones. He may freely forgive us, but He Himself must bear the cost.

The wrath of God had to be satisfied. God could not simply overlook sin; it had to be judged. And so God provided men with salvation in such a way that He demonstrated His righteousness and satisfied His wrath, all at the same time. God’s forgiveness costs something, He freely forgives but it cost Him something.

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.

The forgiveness of sins is grounded, not in my finite worth or work, but in the infinite worth of the righteousness of God, upholding and vindicating the glory of His name. To pronounce the unrighteous righteous is unjust by itself, yet by the propitiation God is able to justify the ungodly and He is just for doing so (Romans 4:5, 5:6 / 1 John 1:8-9).

What kind of savior do we really need? The bible defines that need. We are saved from God by God. The law had to be fulfilled by humanity. Only God could save us; only a human being should save us. Until that broken law was fulfilled by humanity we were still dead in our sins. We needed a new federal head, a second Adam. To redeem a people He had to be fully God, so as to give the atonement an infinite value, and He had to be fully man to perfectly satisfy the requirements of God’s law, thus becoming an acceptable substitute for sinners. It is not how many bad things you have done, not how many sins you have committed, but actually how bad sin itself really is. The new gospel appeals to those who say, “just let me do what I want but help me deal with the pain”, or “I just want to feel better about myself”. That isn’t the gospel.

The way this redemption worked is that God set Jesus forth as a propitiation. The same Greek word is used in Hebrews 9:5 for the “mercy seat,” the covering for the ark of the covenant, the place where the High Priest would sprinkle the blood on the day of atonement. Jesus is the mercy seat. This includes both expiation (the removal of sin) and propitiation (the averting of wrath). Although there was the wrath of God against sin, it was also God in His love who took the initiative against it. So the Greek term captures both the idea of appeasement of God’s wrath, and the expiation of sin. By this death there is satisfaction of God’s justice and holiness. The holiness of God is preserved by the need for propitiation; the love of God is revealed by the provision.

In the Old Testament age, that is before Christ died, sin was not finally or ultimately punished once and for all, it was only passed over. Yet for the payment for these sins God passed over them until they could all be nailed to the cross in the death of the Messiah, once and for all. In Christ the justice of God is completely satisfied. God wished to harmonize His attribute (righteousness) and His action (justifying). The only way that God could remain righteous and at the same time declare sinners righteous was for God to come in the flesh and die for the sins of the whole human race. Thus, the demands have been met; the sins have been paid for; the way is open for grace to be bestowed on all who believe.

Paul’s words in the first few verses of Romans are an illustration of the great truth he is teaching us here in Romans 3. Paul does not view his salvation as the incorporation of God into his life, he had not added God to his agenda; God had added him to His agenda. The believer must see his salvation as the demonstration of God’s righteousness and himself as subservient to His plans and purposes. When we see our salvation as God’s meeting our needs, we see God as subservient to us. The distinction between these two perspectives is crucial. Ephesians 1:6,12,14 – to the praise of His glory – our redemption was only a part of the larger plan.

The determining factor in God’s choices and actions is not man’s salvation, but the declaration of His righteousness. When we make our salvation the focus, we take the focus from God and put ourselves in His place. Only when we see the demonstration of God’s righteousness as primary, and man’s salvation as secondary, can we see our salvation from God’s point of view.

Is the demonstration of God’s righteousness central in your life? It should be. If believers understood that God’s purpose in the world is to demonstrate His righteousness, would we dare to think it doesn’t matter to God whether or not we live righteously? You have seen the value of God, the question is, what value do you place upon it?


Even So... said...

I know this is a long post, but its truths allow you to see God in a way that perhapos you haven't considered before, and even if you have, it brings you back to the place of worhipping Him in His majesty and is worth reading, trust me...

Anonymous said...

I pray that all the saints get a better understanding of the majesty of God and are able to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.
I thank God for your diligence and devotion.
Happy Father's Day, honey.