The Dynamics of Grace, Part 3
INTRODUCTION – The Church (or body of true believers in Christ), can be likened to a temple of praise, a family, a war room (both Pentagon and boot camp), a survival training institute, a school, an organism and a hospital.
The Church as a “hospital” takes into consideration the application of God’s cure for the sin disease. The solution to human sin is found in the heart of God. His grace, mercy and infinite lovingkindness are sounded forth in the gospel. He has given His only begotten Son to offer an effectual sacrifice that is both substitutionary and penal. Christ’s finished work on Calvary satisfies all the claims of God against us. The Lord has accomplished a complete redemption that gives believers an immutable righteous standing by His shed blood.
THE MANAGEMENT OF GUILT IS THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND MANMADE RELIGION.
The natural man seeks to work his way out of condemnation by religious effort, moral exertion and self-reformation. The sense of justice planted in man’s conscience demands some form of atonement to “offset” the punishment man deserves.
Man’s nature longs for a “score card,” or means by which he measure the merit he has “earned.” (Natural religion provides that score card. Think of examples from Hinduism, Buddhism and Catholicism.)
Scripture regards all efforts at winning God’s favor through the accumulation of merit to be dead works (Heb. 9:14). Dead works not only fail to commend man to God, they also perpetuate the imprisoning principle of fear of punishment. Deeds generated to manage a sense of condemnation cannot lift a person above personal guilt. The person will always be left with the haunting doubt, “Have I done enough to atone for my sins?”
ONLY A PERFECT ATONEMENT WOULD END OUR FEAR OF JUDGMENT.
Natural men devise their own means of atonement. Unregenerate men assume that a zeal for righteousness accompanied by sincerity cannot help but find favor with God. BUT, the problem with atonement is that everything depends upon the value of the sacrifice as measured by the Judge!
If the sacrifice is insufficient and not 100% successful in the eyes of the Judge, then man’s guilt, fear and condemnation remain in place (Rom. 10:1-4). Everything depends upon God’s determination of its value.
Atonement is called for when the first party in the transaction is in a position of actual guilt in regard to the JUDGE. Guilt has estranged the two parties. The power of atonement is its ability to remove guilt from the situation.
God has publicly displayed His own Son as the perfect atonement (Rom. 3:25,26). God has endorsed the infinite value of His Son’s death. “He was raised for our justification,” (Rom. 4:25).
The judgment due us because of our sins has been assumed by Another. Not only are believers freed from judgment, they are reconciled to the Judge! (Rom. 5:10). In the gospel, the Judge gives His authoritative endorsement of the atonement He has provided (Titus 3:4-7; Heb. 6:17-20).
THE ATONEMENT DISARMS THE CONDEMNING FORCE OF THE LAW AND FREES FROM THE FEAR OF PUNISHMENT.
The gospel brings incredible news – that what we know to be true about ourselves (our actual legal guilt and fear of punishment), has been responded to decisively, eternally from outside ourselves.
The human condition has been brought to light by God’s law. God has intervened sending His Son in human flesh in order that the full force of judgment that makes our lives so miserable might fall on Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
The whole oppression of judgment in every sense has descended upon the Son. This spells the end of the law as a power to deal out death to humanity. Jesus Christ is God’s infinite grace gift in Whom all men “killed by the law” are invited to rest (Gal. 2:19-21).
In judging Jesus Christ to death in our place, the law has done its worst. It has prosecuted its standard of obedience to the furthest possible limit – death to the lawbreaker in ultimate condemnation (Gal. 3:10-13; Rom. 10:4).
By disarming the law, the atonement frees from the fear of judgment.
Gospel atonement bursts in upon the fear of judgment. Remember, the law has not only judged what I do, but also what I am! (Our conscience witnesses against us. There is evidence of deliberate sins, conscious moral failures, compulsive patterns of lust and passion. At times, the believer loathes living in his body of flesh, Rom. 7:24,25.)
Because of Christ’s perfect atonement, the law is now powerless to condemn me (Col. 2:13,14; Eph. 2:14-16). The law cannot see me apart from Christ. Because of justification, I am morally and legally one with Him in the eyes of the law (Col. 3:3,4; Phil. 3:9).
GRACE MAKES HEROES OF BELIEVERS.
It was the fear of punishment and condemnation that made cowards of us all. We could not deal with sin courageously. Fear of punishment and exposure held us in a vice grip of guilt. The fear of punishment dominated our lives. We sought to “manage” that fear by hiding, denial, flight, defiance, appeasement and other carnal forms of self-protection.
Only Christ’s atonement could free us from guilt’s captivity. The design of Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice was to deliver us from the bondage of fear, casting it out, that we might be perfected in love (1 Jn. 4:18). (Fellowship with God and one another is the priority of grace – 1 John 1:3-7.)
Through justification, we move from cowardice to heroism.
The roots of cowardice penetrate so deep in our lives because the law condemns our whole being – what we are by nature (2 Cor. 3:9; 1 Cor. 15:56).
BUT, such is the power and wisdom of God in justification that believers are lifted out of cowardice to heroism. The very cause of our cowardice has been dug up by the roots.
It is no longer necessary to turn to flesh mechanisms in order to deflect judgment. The crushing fear of punishment has been mightily dealt with in the atonement. Our bondage to fear is broken by the atonement (Heb. 2:14,15).
JUSTIFICATION GIVES US THE LEGAL RIGHT TO COME OUT OF HIDING AND DEAL WITH SIN COURAGEOUSLY.
The atonement of Jesus Christ exists to make us heroes instead of cowards in the area where the greatest heroism is called for – in the area of human sin. Through justification in Christ, we come out of hiding and deal with sin courageously in true repentance and confession.
A mighty atonement is working in our favor. It is the believer’s responsibility to daily reckon Christ’s work on his behalf, BECAUSE the believer sins everyday. All our natural inclinations are to return to the fleshly strategies of managing guilt, fear and failure. (These are employed in an attempt to ward off threats of condemnation.)
Heroism is manifested when we believe the message of Christ’s work for us. Clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we may admit our sin without fear. The courage and confidence flows from the fact that honesty about indwelling sin cannot jeopardize my position in Christ (Rom. 8:1).
Application – All of the pains taken to avoid the painful truth about ourselves utterly fail. Whether it is denial, rationalizing, blame or defiance, carnal methods of self-defense fall short of the heroism God calls for us to practice (1 Jn. 1:6-10). Gospel “reasoning” is the key to the victory (Gal. 2:20).
WHEN BELIEVERS RETURN TO CARNAL STRATEGIES FOR MANAGING THE FEAR OF PUNISHMENT, RELATIONSHIPS ARE DAMAGED.
The fruits of our cowardly choices hurt those closest to us. The carnal methods of managing a sense of condemnation affect our relationships with others. When we are only concerned about deflecting judgment and winning approval, we cease to love the other person at that point. Not only does the fear of man bring a snare, it also is antithetical to living for God’s glory (See Proverbs 29:25; John 5:44; 12:43).
Every carnal attempt to escape judgment is a flight from realism and heroism. Cowardice moves us to retreat into blame, self-justification, hiding and pretending. The pretender’s attempt to cover guilt ends up hurting those around him.
Cowardice short-circuits conflict resolution.
It is the wise man who is able to receive a rebuke, a correction or an admonishment (Ps. 141:5). By contrast, the individual who is managing his dereliction (fear of judgment), by carnal methods will inevitably be defensive. He will feel too diminished to admit he is wrong (Prov. 9:8; 13:1; 17:10).
Those who are justified by Christ can admit when they are wrong. There is no other way to uphold a spirit of unity and maintain the bond of peace. This must be the case in a fellowship of forgiveness (Eph. 4:1-3,32; Col. 3:12,13 ff.). The justified sinner can admit when he fails others. He does not need to retreat into denial, escape or defensiveness.
UNRESOLVED SIN HURTS THE BELIEVER’S FELLOWHIP WITH GOD.
By “unresolved sin” is meant sin in a believer’s life that has not been confessed and repented of. In those instances, the Christian will not enjoy a sense of God’s favor and forgiveness.
We desperately need heroism at this point. Self-shielding is an effort of hide our deformities from God and ourselves, lest they should invite judgment. Unresolved sin sits there like a malignancy spinning off blame, shame, alienation, guilt and depression.
The Holy Spirit desires to bring us back to gospel reasoning. He wants to convince us of the wisdom of keeping “short accounts” with God (Acts 24:15,16). Gospel reasoning appropriates the unlimited provision for forgiveness found in the New Covenant (Heb. 8:12).
Application – If we as believers continue with unresolved sin, our energies that could be going toward the Lord and others will be squandered. We will be too occupied rationalizing and concealing our sin in an effort to deflect condemnation.
This is often seen in pastoral counseling situations. Delayed repentance only produced a series of further compromises resulting in additional regret. The experience of love and fellowship with God and intimates suffered in the process. (Note the frequent need of “family forgiveness,” John 13:10).
AN ATTITUDE OF CONTRITION IS CENTRAL IN OUR FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD (IS. 66:1,2; 57:15).
Efforts to shield ourselves from judgment alienates us from God’s gracious provision for forgiveness. Moral trust in God involves the daily application of gospel reasoning.
Courage to deal with personal sin entails dropping our defenses, false refuges and systems of self-righteousness. God desires that by the word of justification applied, you might demonstrate a depth of personal responsibility for sin known as contrition. Joy follows on the heels of contrition. It is the contrite who enjoy God the most. There is a joyful “integration” that accompanies the realism associated with contrition. Peace floods the heart when we come out of hiding into the presence of God.
THE CALL TO CHRISTIAN HEROISM IS A CALL TO LIVE A SIN-JUDGED LIFE.
Acknowledging our sin to God is the key to confessing our sin to others. Carnal approaches to conflict destroys unity (some hurl abuse, some hide, some are openly defiant, some appease – Scripture tells us to speak the truth in love, Eph. 4:15)
All of our “prickly” defense mechanisms look as if we carry our own worth and perfection. They appear as if our value would be decimated if we had to admit we were wrong (See 2 Tim. 3:3; Prov. 27:6; Lev. 19:16-18).
By contrast, the justified person is equipped for radical realism. He can admit his offense in the interest of God’s glory, in the interest of the relationship, in the interest of Christian unity and the bond of peace. He doesn’t have to play the “I’m right game.”
The man who trusts in his own righteousness may shun admissions of failure, sin and guilt. But the justified man trusts in an alien righteousness outside of himself,in Christ. He has the resources for radical realism.
Application – The sin-judged life is one of ongoing Biblical self-confrontation. The Christian must guard against attempts to raise himself morally by focusing upon the faults of others (Neh. 4:15; 6:15,16; Luke 18:11).
The Christian’s position is “in Christ.” The source of the believer’s strength and victory is grace (Heb. 13:9; Jude 20; Gal. 2:20).