Secret Church: The Cross of Christ - Part 4
THE INTENT OF THE CROSS
The Question: For whom did Christ die?
We’ve got two main sections to go. The first is the intent of the cross. “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom,” two words, “for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” The question is: for whom did Christ die? I mentioned at the very beginning, when it comes to what has been classically defined as the five points of Calvinism, what you have is total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints, and in the middle, you have limited atonement. It’s probably the one where there is the most disagreement. So, this is the question, for whom did Christ die?
Areas of agreement on this. The sufficiency of Christ’s death. I say “agreement,” between Evangelical Christians – Bible-believing, gospel-following Christians. The sufficiency of Christ’s death – Christ’s payment for sin on the cross is sufficient for the sins of the whole world. So, there’s no question about the fact that Christ’s death is enough for, sufficient for, the sins of however many people, an unlimited number of people.
The efficacy of Christ’s death. Efficacy, that’s a challenge for 11:30. Only those that trust in Christ for salvation, which we are going to refer to in one of two ways. The first way is “the elect” of the church. By the elect – and this is a term, it’s a Scriptural term. Oftentimes, when we think of election, there are a lot of thoughts, and it’s a part of the Calvinism discussion, but the elect is how the Church is sometimes described in the New Testament. So, only those who trust in Christ for salvation experience the effects of the cross. So, it’s only when you trust in Christ that the cross and the realities of the cross – redemption, reconciliation – become effective in your life by faith in Christ. It’s not just automatic. It’s not universalism, for example, that because Christ did that, everybody is saved automatically. Well, you have to trust in Christ.
Then third, the proclamation of Christ’s death. The gospel is to be preached to all people. I think we can safely say that people on both sides of this discussion would agree on those three things.
Areas of disagreement – really, the area of disagreement – does God in Christ intend to possibly save all people, or does God in Christ intend to definitely save some people, meaning the elect, the Church? Does God in Christ intend to possibly save everybody? Did Christ die to make salvation possible for everybody, or did Christ die to make salvation definite for some people? Did Jesus pay for the sins of all people, or did Jesus pay for the sins of the elect only?
Now, the word that’s been used in the debate about Calvinism is “limited atonement.” I’m not going to use that word tonight. Instead of “unlimited” and “limited,” I’m going to talk about general atonement and definite atonement. That word, “limited,” I don’t think is a good word. Even for those that believe that, or those who don’t, because who wants to limit the beauty of what we’ve been talking about with the cross? Nobody wants to limit that, and in a sense, everybody, by nature of the fact that only those who believe in Christ will be saved by the effects of the cross, we are all limiting atonement in some sense. As long as not everybody is saved, then there is a limit here to who is saved, and it’s based on faith.
So, general and definite atonement.
Christ died to pay the penalty for the sins of all people, thus making it possible for any and all people to be saved.
So, I want us to dive into those two sides. General atonement is first. Those who would say that Christ died to pay the penalty for the sins of all people, thus making it possible for any and all people to be saved. That’s what we mean by general atonement. Here are some truths in Scripture that inform that. God loves all people and wants all people to be saved. You look at all the passages that talk about Christ dying for sin and the universal language there. John 3:16, obviously, the quintessential example, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” 2 Peter 3:9, “(He’s) not wanting anyone to perish.” “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” 1 John 2:2, “and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 4:14, “And we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” “World” – that word occurs 28 times in 1 John, most often to refer to the universal picture. Christ died to be the Savior of the world. Even the text that we’re looking at, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, says, “for all.” So, general atonement says, God loves all people and wants all people to be saved.
Christ died for the sins of all people. If God loves everyone and truly wants everyone to be saved, then it would be inconceivable – I’m going to kind of step into these shoes for a minute – it would be inconceivable that He would offer Christ to pay for the sin of only some people. The universal love of God requires a universal payment for sin. “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the (whole) world!” John 1:29.
“…We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10) That’s where you see “all men;” that’s a universal picture. “And especially those who believe.” So, He’s the Savior of everybody, not just the believers. The believers are added onto this picture, but He’s the Savior of all men. Hebrews 2:9 says the same thing: “By the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” 2 Peter 2:1 says, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even,” listen to this language, “denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.” These are false prophets, false teachers, and God bought them. Christ bought them. So, Christ bought, in some sense here, clearly, all men, even false prophets and false teachers.
Next truth, faith in Christ is necessary for the benefits of Christ’s death to be applied to our lives. We’ve talked about that already, those who believe in Him will have eternal life. “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
Finally, the gospel then must be preached to all people because any person may possibly come to salvation. Obviously, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:18-20) The Spirit is in you to go to the ends of the earth. How can we really preach, authentically preach, the gospel to all people if it’s not actually available to all people. If Christ only died for some people, then how can we go to all people and say, “Christ died for you”? This is what Jesus said, He said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” He said, “all you who are weary.” He didn’t say, “some of you.” So, the picture here in general atonement is that God designed the cross to make salvation possible for all people. That’s general atonement.
Christ died to pay the penalty for the sins of the elect, thus making it certain that His people will be saved.
Definite atonement – let me step into these shoes – Christ died to pay the penalty for the sins of the elect, thus making it certain that His people will be saved. Here’s the picture that those in the definite atonement camp would drive us to. God loves the elect and designs their salvation in the cross. Ephesians 1. We’ve got a long passage listed here, but what we see in Ephesians 1:3-14 is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Listen to this language.
We’ll start with the Father:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace.
So the Father chose us, predestined us, adopted us before the creation of the world, to belong to Him. Then, He talks about Christ,
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
You get a couple more sentences down, and it says,
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
Then, you’ve got the Spirit:
Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.
So, what you’ve got is, speaking from definite atonement here, is you’ve got the Father, who before the creation of the world has chosen, set His affections on, adopted, predestined people to be adopted as His own. You’ve got the Spirit who is making that a reality, sealing them for all of eternity. If the Father and the Spirit are focused on a definite people then why would the Son die for all people? The Father has chosen, predestined this certain people. That’s what Ephesians 1 is saying. So, why would the Son die for people that the Father has not predestined to be adopted as His sons? That would put the Son and the Father at odds. The Son trying to make it available to all people, but the Father, really only predestining, calling, adopting a few people, a certain people.
So, a picture of definite atonement says that God loves the elect and designs their salvation on the cross. Christ died to definitively save His people. Matthew 1:21 says, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Not might save, not make possible – He will save His people. John 6:37, Jesus Himself says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me, I will never drive away…For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” “I shall lose none of all that he has given me,” Jesus says. (John 6:37-40) “I will lose none of them. So, everybody the Father is drawing to me, I will not lose.”
There is a definitive people here. Acts 20:28, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which (Christ) bought with his own blood.” He bought the Church. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) For the Church. Titus 2, “…Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
Now, this is where those who would advocate definite atonement would say, “Obviously, not all people are saved.” Not all people are saved. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 makes that clear. Not all people are saved. So, let’s think about this. Think about this with me. Not all people are saved. So, if Christ died to pay for the sins of all people, then that means that He has paid for the sins of all people. So, why do some still go to hell? If He has paid for the sins of all people then how would they go to hell?
You say, “Well, they haven’t trusted,” but unbelief is sin, keep in mind, their sins include the sin of unbelief, and that’s been paid for. So, if their sin of unbelief has been paid for, then how can people be in hell if their sins have been paid for, even the sin of unbelief? That’s why Hebrews 2:17 says, “For this reason, he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” That’s the propitiation picture – Hebrews 2, “make atonement for.” God’s wrath has been satisfied. Sins have been paid for. How will they still go to hell if their sins have been paid for, and God’s wrath has been turned away? That’s what those who would advocate definite atonement would say.
So, they basically would say, we have three options. Number one, Christ endured the wrath of God for all sins of all men. If that’s the case, then all people go to heaven, because He’s endured the wrath. There is no more wrath, He’s taken it all. So, there is no more wrath to be experienced. So, all men go to heaven. Well, that’s universalism, and we know that’s not true. Let’s skip down to the third option. We’ll come back to the second one. Christ endured the wrath of God for all sins of all men, or Christ endured the wrath of God for some sins of some men. If that’s the case, then nobody goes to heaven. So, we know that’s not true.
So, that leaves one option. Christ endured the wrath of God for all sins of some men. Let’s take it a step deeper: does God always accomplish His purposes? If God always accomplishes His purposes and Christ died for the purpose of saving all people, then why are not all people saved? So, does He accomplish His purposes or not? “No plan of yours can be thwarted,” Job says. “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please…What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that will I do,” Isaiah 46. John Owen said, “If Christ died for all and not all are saved, then Christ died ineffectively, which cannot be.” If Christ died for all and not all are saved, then His purpose was not accomplished. Are you going to say that the cross of Christ is ineffective to save, that He died to make it possible, and now He’s sitting back just hoping that somebody is going to take this offer?
Does that weaken the picture of God in Christ? Christ therefore died for the purpose of saving a certain people, the elect. He said, “I am the good shepherd...(The good shepherd) lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) “I lay my life down for the sheep.” When you get to John 17, He says, “I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me...My prayer is not for them alone. I pray for those who will believe in me through their message…” He’s praying for Christians there. Jesus is not praying for everyone. Did Jesus die for people whom He refused to pray for, those He was not praying for before He went to the cross? He’s praying for certain people.
You get to Romans 8 and this picture, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” He talks about “Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from (him)?” When you get to the end of this picture, “(Nothing) will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Now, it says that God gave His Son up for us all, but the whole picture there is – “who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?” Do you see that right in the middle of that passage right there? So, it’s talking about the people of God are those whom God has chosen and who have Christ for a Savior, who is interceding at the right hand of the Father for us.
Now, those who advocate definite atonement would say faith in Christ is the God-ordained means and Christ-bought gift for the elect to be saved. This is where things get a little interesting, even a bit heated. Look at Acts 18. “When Apollos wanted to go Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.” They believed by grace. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29) It’s granted to you to believe in Him, that faith is the gift. Faith is something we have by grace. It’s not, “God has done all these things in Christ to come to this part of the table, and now we have to add faith.” The reality is - what definite atonement advocates are saying here - is that Scripture is saying that faith itself is a gift. You can't even believe if grace isn’t on you to believe. You don’t have it in you. You’re dead in your sin. How can you come to life, if you are dead?
You need grace as a gift to even believe. J.I. Packer, talking about the comparison between general and definite atonement, says,
“One makes salvation dependent on the work of God; the other on the work of man. One regards faith as a part of God’s gift of salvation; the other regards faith as man’s contribution to salvation. One gives all the glory of saving believers to God; the other divides the praise between God and man. God, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation and now man has to, by believing, operate it.”
Talking about general atonement, he said,
“We want to proclaim Christ as Savior. Yet we end up saying that Christ, having made salvation possible, has left us to become our own saviors. It comes about in this way – we want to magnify the saving grace of God, and the saving power of Christ, so we declare that God’s redeeming love extends to every man and that Christ has died to save every man. And then in order to avoid universalism, we have to depreciate all that we were previously saying and to explain that, after all, nothing that God and Christ have done can save us unless we add something to it.
“And now,” Packer says, “the decisive factor which actually saves us is our own believing. What we say comes to this, that Christ saves us with our help. And what that means, when one thinks it out, is that we save ourselves with Christ’s help. Faith is the God-ordained means in Christ’s bought gift for the elect to be saved, it’s not our contribution. Everything is God’s contribution to us.”
So, coming to the end here, the gospel must be preached to all people because some people are definitely going to be saved. Now, there are people who would take limited atonement or definite atonement to the end that we don’t need to go preach, and we don’t need to do this, but there are many throughout history, there are many evangelistic preachers – Charles Spurgeon, George Whitfield – who have preached the gospel passionately and faithfully for people to come to Christ that were advocates of definite atonement. So, they would say, “Yes, we preach the gospel to all people because we don’t know who the elect are; who those are that are going to respond by the grace of God. So, we preach the gospel to all people, and we know that somebody, somebody is going to be saved, but we don’t know who they are, so we preach the gospel to all people.” Bring those two together, and it’s interesting when you look at church history. I mentioned George Whitfield. George Whitfield was an evangelist, John Wesley an evangelist at the same time. Both of them had divergent views on this; really interesting debates that they would have with one another.
So, which is it? It is 11:45 at night and we are going to solve this thing right now, you ready? Okay? Clear it up, all church history coming down to this moment right here. If only they could all be here, you know? This is good. The danger is that we’re going to dive into this, and tomorrow morning we’re going to have all kinds of ideas about whatever we just concluded, because we are all getting tired.
So, conclusions, here we go. It’s not a yes or no answer, and in all seriousness, I want to approach this whole picture with as much humility as is in me because we are in a long line of brothers and sisters who have gone before us and have had a lot of discussions about these things. Obviously, God has used great men of God, great women of God, who have believed divergent things on some of these issues.
There are multiple perceptions of the will of God.
So, here is how, as a pastor, I look at this picture as best as I can based on the truth of God’s word. There are multiple perceptions of the will of God. Multiple perceptions of the will of God. Now this is going to go back to a year ago when we looked at the “Who is God? Secret Church,” and I want you to follow with me. “Yet, it was the Lord’s will to crush (Jesus) and cause him to suffer.” (Isaiah 53:10) We’ve talked about that. Acts 2:23, just think about the cross. “(Jesus) was handed over to you and by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” So, it was the will of God for Christ to be crucified. Does that mean that it’s the will of God for people to murder? Multiple perceptions here of the will of God.
Think about it in two ways. In Scripture, first, God’s revealed will; what He declares. It’s His word. He says, “This is what I command you to do, call you to do. My word, this is what I declare.” 1 Timothy 2:3-4, His revealed will, “(He) wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” That’s His revealed will, but do all men come to salvation and knowledge of the truth? No. Does that mean that the will of God is not accomplished?
No, it means that His revealed will, what He declares, is different from, second, God’s secret will; what He decrees. His revealed will is what He says, what He declares in His word. His decreed will is what happens, what actually happens on the earth. He doesn’t command us to sin. Is there sin on the earth? Yes. Revealed will, do not sin. Decreed will, there is sin, and God is in control of it all. Psalm 139, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
You see the picture that’s together in Genesis 50:20. Joseph, when he was sold into slavery by his brothers, he says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Did God declare to Joseph’s brothers, “Sell him into slavery?” No, but He decreed it, so that in the end, Joseph’s entire family would be saved from the famine because he would be in Egypt. So, declared will and decreed will both there. Two senses of the will of God here.
Now, how does that come together? This is where we talked about mystery last year. The sovereignty of God; He is in control. God is absolutely sovereign. He is absolutely sovereign over all things. There is nothing we can do, nothing you or I can say, in order to catch God off-guard. The sovereignty of God; He is in control.
At the same time, there is responsibility in man. Responsibility of man; we are making choices. Now, you see the sovereignty of God in passages like Romans 9, John 15, and Ephesians 1, which we looked at earlier, “I chose you, predestined you.” This is the sovereignty of God; He’s in control of everything. At the same time, Scripture does not give us a picture of us as robots responding to a mechanical God. This is not a deterministic fatalism, where we are just doing everything that He says. There’s a picture here of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. We are making choices, so that when we come to Acts 2:23, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross,” we see that this was sovereignty of God. This was not God sitting in heaven hoping that they were going to crucify His Son. He ordained that His Son would be crucified. At the same time, these are not robots who are doing this. These are men who put Him to death, making choices, and they are responsible for what they have done.
Now, here’s the deal about our choices. Our choices are certain, not necessary. What I mean by that is, necessary choices must happen. That’s robotic deterministic fatalism. We cannot act in a way contrary to God’s plan. Certain choices, differences, they will happen. We will not act in a way contrary to God’s plan, and that’s where Scripture teaches us here that our choices are completely real. We make real choices, but not completely free choices. We’re not free in the sense of we can do stuff that can catch God off-guard, and He never saw coming.
At the same time, our choices are real. We make real choices everyday; we can’t blame someone else for the choices we make. We make choices. We can’t blame God for the choices we make. Yes, He is sovereign, but we are responsible. Our choices have real consequences with real responsibility. Now, how God brings this together, His sovereignty and man’s responsibility, that’s where the mystery comes in, but we are naturally responsible to God. The people who nailed Jesus to the cross were responsible for what they had done. You and I are responsible to God for our sin, even though we sin underneath the umbrella of the overall sovereignty of God.
We are naturally and morally responsible to God; intellectually responsible to God, and we are ultimately responsible to God. I listed some Scriptures there, where you see – we won’t dive into them – but in every single one of those Scriptures you can see the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man together.
Acts 13:48, I’ll just point that one out, “When the Gentiles heard this,” the gospel, “they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” The sovereignty of God – “they were appointed for eternal life.” The responsibility of man – “they believed.” It’s both together. It’s just assumed; they go together. So, we see multiple perceptions of the will of God. Keep that in mind.
There are multiple dimensions of the love of God.
Second, there are multiple dimensions of the love of God. “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) What does that mean? Well, think about God’s love expressed in five different ways in Scripture. First of all, His love within the Trinity. We see a picture of how the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father – God’s love within the Trinity. That’s sometimes used to describe God’s love. Second, God’s love for all creation. The Bible talks about how God loves all of His creation. Even the birds of the air are loved by God, provided for, sustained by God. God’s love for all creation.
Third, sometimes Scripture talks about God’s general love for all people, His love for the whole world. Scripture definitely talks about the fact that God loves the entire world, all people in the world. At the same time, fourth, God has a particular love for a chosen people, in Scripture, undeniably. Listen to this description of God and His people in Deuteronomy:
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
It’s in love that He said, “I’m putting my affection on Israel.” You see the same in Deuteronomy 10. Malachi 1, “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” This is a picture of God’s love for a particular people. Then, you get to the New Testament. Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” So, Scripture talks about God having a particular love for a particular people.
The fifth way we see God’s love described is God's conditional love. Is God’s love unconditional? Before you answer that question, think about these Scriptures. “(He) showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:6) John 15:9-10, Jesus says, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.” “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Jude 21) By obedience.
Now, this is where our clichés today come in. We have to be very careful. God’s love is unconditional, true or false? You’re like, “Dude, it’s midnight, we don’t know.” Well, here’s the deal. In one sense, yes, in the sense of His love for all creation. In the sense of His love for all people, yes, but not in the sense of His conditional love. Often in Scripture, the love of God is talked about as conditional. What about this statement? “Well, God loves everybody the same.” True or false? Both! Yes, He loves the whole world in the sense of His universal love for all people. Yes, He loves everyone the same. Does He love everyone the same as He loves Israel in the Old Testament? Absolutely not. So, we have to be careful with these clichés that we use.
There are multiple intentions in the cross of Christ.
Multiple perceptions of the will of God. Multiple dimensions of the love of God, lead to – and this is where you are like, “Okay, I don’t see where this is connecting.” Okay, this is where it connects – there are multiple intentions in the cross of Christ, and this is where I just bring it all together – the will of God, the love of God, the cross of Christ.
I would say, based on what we’ve seen in Scripture, Jesus died for all. He died for all, in the sense that His death is sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world, referring here to God’s general love for all people. He desires all to come to repentance. That’s what the Scripture teaches. He has a general love for all people. Through the cross, God desires and demands that all people trust in Him. That is His revealed will; what He declares. So, in the sense of His general love for all people, God’s revealed will, what He declares, Jesus died for all.
However, at the same time, to stop there would be incomplete. Jesus died for the elect, for the Church, in the sense that His death is indeed efficient only for them. God has a particular love for a chosen people. That is what Scripture teaches. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, it’s the way Scripture talks about His love sometimes. So, through the cross, God enables and empowers His people to trust in Him, and this is God’s secret will; what He decrees. It’s what happens, not everybody trusts in Him. He has declared, “All turn to me.” Not everybody trusts in Him. That’s the decreed will of God, the secret will, what He decrees. Through the cross, God is enabling and empowering His people to trust in Him.
Multiple intentions, multiple implications
So where does that bring us? Multiple intentions, multiple implications. Three implications. Number one, we boldly confess the supreme sufficiency of Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of the whole world. We boldly confess that. Supreme sufficiency in Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of the whole world. We in no way minimize that.
At the same time, second, we humbly acknowledge the gracious efficacy of Christ’s death, which secures the salvation of the elect. Here’s where I believe this whole picture brings everybody here in this room to our knees, because there is not contribution from man to make salvation possible. It is all of grace, and it is all for His glory, and even our ability to believe is blood-bought from Christ, and it is unfathomable, unexplainable. The reality is I have contributed nothing to my salvation; He has saved me; He has bought me. I have been saved. Not active, passive. He has done a work of grace in my heart, and there is no other way to explain it than the grace of God. That is humbling, and it should be humbling. At the same time, what does that mean for evangelism in mission then?
We fearlessly proclaim the cross of Christ to the nations. We go to all peoples with a clear message. Our message is God loves you and desires your salvation. Some who claim definite atonement would say, “Well, you can’t say God loves you or God desires your salvation. Are you willing to say that?” Absolutely! Scripture demands that we say, “God loves you and desires your salvation.” That is His revealed will, declared will. He wants people to come to repentance.
Does God love everyone? Yes. Does God want all people to come to salvation? Yes, absolutely. So, we preach that boldly, a clear message. At the same time, we go to all peoples with a confident guarantee, and the guarantee is, as we proclaim the gospel, ladies and gentlemen, people will believe and be saved. It’s not a might. There’s coming a day, to take us to the end in Revelation 7, when every nation, tribe, people and language will be represented around the throne of God singing His praises.
Do you know what that means? That means that you can go to the deepest, darkest, most entrenched place in the world, unreached people group on this planet, and you can preach the gospel and rest confident that somebody is coming out. Somebody is going to be around the throne that day. Christ has made sure that every tribe and people and language will gather around singing His praises. So, that is great confidence. So, we preach the gospel fearlessly in our work places, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and we’re confident this gospel has power to save. Not maybe—it will save people from their sins.
THE EFFECTS OF THE CROSS
Seven Reasons Why We Boast in the Cross
So, there we go. Solved. Next. All right, you’ve got more questions than answers. That’s good, so do I. So, this last thing here is where we’re going to close out. The effects of the cross. Galatians 6:14, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” I hope that that verse makes more sense to you now than it did at 6:00 this evening. It’s a weird statement, “My only boast is in a cross.” A cross. In the first century, “My boast is an instrument of torture.” It’s like coming on the scene today and saying, “My only boast is in an electric chair.”
Because the cross confronts us with who we once were.
What is it about the cross that would cause us to say, “I glory in this one thing. I boast, and I’m obsessed, and I’m passionate about this one thing in my life? My life is consumed with this one thing – the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Why? Why do we boast in the cross? Seven reasons. One, because the cross confronts us with who we once were. You see Ephesians 2 mentioned there. “…You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live…gratifying the cravings of (your) sinful nature…objects of wrath.”
The cross reminds us how horrible sin is. We need to see this. The cross gives us a picture of the inexpressible horror in sin. As a result, this is where the cross protects us. Brothers and sisters, the cross protects us from falling into the self-deceiving optimism that grips our culture today. This is why the cross does not work on Oprah, and it’s why the cross doesn’t work in so many settings in our culture today that say, “Self-improvement, improve yourself.” The cross says, “Impossible.” There’s no self-exaltation at the cross.
The cross reminds us, and here’s the deal. This is why we can’t embrace the cross, and then move on from our Christian life to other things. This is why C.J. Mahaney said, “The cross is not one class in the Christian life. It’s the building in which all the other classes are contained.” Everything is penetrated by the cross. This is why we can’t leave it behind. The more we know the truth of the cross, the more we hate sin. The more we see ourselves going back to the sin that we have been saved from, that put Christ on the cross, we say, “No! I don’t want it.” The key to our growing in holiness is a firm understanding of the cross, and we need this. We have become so desensitized to sin in our culture. We sit in front of the TV and movies, and we hear God’s name in vain, and we don’t even recognize it. We look at images, men looking at images on the Internet, followers of Christ looking at things and think, “Well, other men do this.” Saying things; thinking thoughts.
Cornelius Plantinga wrote a great book, called, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be. He said,
The awareness of sin, a deep awareness of disobedience, and painful confession of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin. They feared it. They fled from it. They grieved over it. Some of our forefathers agonized over their sins. A man who lost his temper might wonder if he could still go to Holy Communion. A woman who for years envied her more attractive and intelligent sister might wonder if this sin threatened her very salvation. That shadow has dimmed. Nowadays, the accusation, “You have sinned,” is often said with a grin and with a tone that signals an inside joke. At one time this accusation still had the power to jolt people.
We need to look at the cross and remember how infinitely horrible one sin is. We need to see that every single day.
Next, the cross reminds us how humbling grace is because we realize what one Puritan said, “Even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of Jesus.” There is nothing we bring to the table. We need His grace at every single moment. The cross reminds us who we once were. I love 1 Peter 1:17-21. Please pay close attention to these words.
Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
You catch that? Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear because you know what you were bought with. God, help us to be done with praying a prayer and going on and living our lives however we want. Help us live every day in fear. Fear living in such a way that you show this cross is not precious to you, brother or sister.
Fear being casual with sin in a way that you show that the cross is not your treasure, where you have found life. The cross reminds us who we once were.
Because the cross comforts us with who we now are.
Second, why do we boast in the cross? Because the cross comforts us with who we now are. If we were to take a survey of the four pictures we saw – the four scenes - The Last Supper, Garden of Gethsemane, cry of dereliction, and the declaration of triumph – we see these truths. The cross comforts us with who we now are.
We are alive to God. Ladies and gentlemen, He has died our death. We were dead; now we live. We live. We’re not dead in sin; we’re dead to sin. Not slaves to ourselves. Not only are we alive to God, but we have an advocate before God. His work is not done. We have a High Priest who is at the right hand of God, at this very moment, interceding on our behalf. He has entered into the presence of God; His sacrifice is complete. He has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God, and He is interceding for us.
He endured our condemnation. We were afraid; now we are friends! We’re friends. Friends of God. You and I, hell-deserving sinners – friends of God. We have an advocate before God. We have access to God. “Let us draw near to God.” (Hebrews 10:19-22) He suffered our separation. We were cast out; now, ladies and gentlemen, now we are invited in. Think of that – hell-deserving sinners safely in the presence of God. Not just safely in His presence, welcomed into His presence, invited into His presence, cherished in the presence of God.
We were adopted by God. Redemption, He paid our debt. Ladies and gentlemen, we were slaves, now we are sons! Sons – the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if we are His children then we are heirs, heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ. If indeed we may share in His sufferings in order that, one day, we’re going to share in His glory as sons of God, adopted into the family of God. Don’t miss this – as we walk in Christianity, we do not relate to God as one who is standing ready to condemn us in our sin at every moment. As we walk, we are in relationship with God as a Father and us as sons and daughters. Sons and daughters of God. Christ has taken our condemnation. He’s paid our debt, and we’re sons. We don’t carry the weight of our sin anymore. You don’t carry the weight of your sin, Christian, anymore. Don’t carry the weight of your sin anymore. You are a son, daughter of God, and these are good reasons to boast in the cross.
Because the cross teaches us what it means to be saved.
Third, because the cross teaches us what it means to be saved. What do I mean by that? I mean the cross makes clear our justification. Galatians 2:15-20 talks about how we believe in Christ and, when you get to the end, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We’re not justified by observing the law. He says, in the very beginning there, that it is by faith in Jesus Christ. This is what justification is all about. Christ died for us. There is no basis for justification in us.
Christ died for us. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Listen to this, Heidelberg Catechism, question number 60, just let this soak in.
How are you righteous before God? Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have not kept any one of them, and that I am still ever prone to all that is evil, nevertheless, God, without any merit of my own, out of pure grace, grants me the benefits of the perfect sacrifice of Christ, imputing to me His righteousness and holiness, as if I had never committed a single sin or had ever been sinful, having fulfilled myself all the obedience which Christ has carried out for me, if only I accept such favor with a trusting heart.
“As if I had never committed a single sin.” We talked about this in Galatians a couple of months ago. Years ago, a wealthy Englishman purchased a Rolls Royce. He took his new car to France. It had been advertised as the car of all cars. No problems could be had with this car. When the man got his car to France, it broke down. So, he called the Rolls Royce folks in England, and they flew a mechanic to France to fix his car. Of course the man expected to get a heavy bill from Rolls Royce for sending somebody out and fixing his car in a whole other country. Months passed by and he never heard from them.
So finally, he wrote to them and said, “I can pay the bill, just send it to me.” The Rolls Royce Company sent him a note back and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but we have absolutely no record of anything ever having gone wrong with your car.” The God of the universe has no record of anything ever having gone wrong in your life. He looks upon you, and He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and it is not that He has just swept it under the rug and pretends it’s not there. That’s the point of the cross: He has taken it all. That’s justification.
As a result – don’t miss this – we are not working for righteousness; we are working from righteousness. That’s good. That changes everything. How? Sinclair Ferguson says, “How easily we fall into the trap of assuming that we remain justified only so long as there is grounds in our character for justification.” Don’t work to be made right before God. Believe, by faith in Christ, you are right before God.
The cross makes possible our sanctification. Christ now lives in us. We’re in Christ. Christ in us. It’s the whole picture and promise of the Holy Spirit and God working out our salvation, Philippians 2, and here’s the beauty of it – pay close attention – we are not in debt to Christ. Do not walk out of here tonight, after looking at the cross of Christ, saying, “I owe Christ so much.” The reality is that is not true. It’s not true because, if we owed Him something, then we begin to look at our life as a Christian as paying Him back. We even say things like, “Christ did all of this for you; the least you could do for Him is to do this or this or this or this,” but as soon as we begin one moment of trying to pay Christ back, we undercut the whole point of grace. It’s grace because it can’t be paid back.
We’re not in debt to Christ; we’re indwelt by Christ. This is the reality. When we talk about the cross, often times we talk about what Christ did for us. The reality is, anything good that I do now is still based on Christ. Anything good that I do in the future is still based on Christ. My entire life is dependent on His indwelling presence in me. It’s what Colossians 1 is all about, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
The cross clears up our justification, makes possible our sanctification, and the cross makes certain our glorification. “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30) Christ is coming back for us, and we are not living for this world. We are living for the world to come. “(He) sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)
Because the cross shows us what it means to love.
The fourth reason why we boast in the cross – and this goes back to one of those theories. It is incomplete, but it is evident here. Because the cross shows us what it means to love.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16-18) This is how they know we are disciples of Christ, when we love one another. What it means to love in the church. We talked about this in the Last Supper. We unite around the cross. Conversion to Christ means conversion to community. We’re a body. We belong together, in the church.
Among the lost, we proclaim the cross. You cannot embrace this truth and not proclaim this truth. If we do not proclaim this truth, it’s because we don’t realize the wonders of the truth, and toward the poor, we embody the cross. “…Christ, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) Brothers and sisters, real quickly, our affluent indulgence in the things of this world does not add up with the cross of Jesus Christ, and it does not display the cross of Jesus Christ to a world where 30,000 children today have died of starvation or preventable diseases. It doesn’t add up. We embody the cross toward the poor.
Because the cross reminds us that our safety is not in this world.
Fifth, we boast in it because the cross reminds us that our safety is not in this world. What a great word from our brother earlier – the safest place to be is right where God wants you to be, even in the darkest most difficult place in the world. The cross isn’t about playing it safe. We do not fear suffering. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can kill both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:26-31) Jesus is telling His disciples there, when you go out, you will be persecuted. You will be hated, that’s what He says in Matthew 10. It will be difficult, but here’s the good news: the worst thing they can do is kill you. Good news. All right, let’s go get them. That’s what He’s saying, that’s the glory of this picture. The worst that can happen is we die, and that is gain because of the cross. So don’t be afraid of anything. Don’t be afraid of what any man can do to you because our brother who was shot and killed is experiencing the fruit of his salvation and our salvation, and will continue to for all of eternity – this is the picture.
We don’t need to be afraid of anything. We are now free to suffer. Free to suffer. “It has been granted to you…to suffer for him,” Philippians 1. Come to Christ and get a gift: suffering. God’s strategy for making His glory and His love known in the world centers around a Suffering Servant, and the self-sacrifice of His only Son. How are we to think today that God’s strategy for making His love in the world now is going to be through us having easy lives? How will we show the Christ of the cross if everything goes well for us and if everything is easy for us? It’s in suffering that Christ is most clearly displayed in His people. We’re free to suffer.
Because the cross keeps us from wasting our lives in this world.
Six, because the cross keeps us from wasting our lives in this world. Philippians 3, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for this cross of Christ.” Everything in this world is rubbish compared to one thing – the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. Paul is saying here very clearly that this world has nothing for us. Paul is dead to the world. Dead to the world. This world is not the source of his life and satisfaction and joy, and it’s not ours either. All of it together—even the best things combined together—are dung compared to one thing – knowing Christ. The world has nothing for us because Christ is everything to us. God, help us to show that our lives are totally and wholly surrendered to Christ and not the pursuit of money, and bigger houses, and nicer cars, and better jobs, and better salaries, and more comfortable family arrangements. God, help us to show that this world has nothing for us if Christ is everything to us.
You say, “Well, is everything in the world bad? Is it, ‘Boast only in the cross?’ Does that mean you can’t be boasting when your own son starts walking? When your two, almost three-year-old son does this or that, or your wife does this, can’t you boast in that?” Yes, but here’s the deal, we realize that every single good thing we experience in this world is only there because Christ has bought it for us at the cross. Now, we look at our sons and daughters and wives and husbands and moms and dads and successes, and everything is now grounded in the fact that Christ bought this at the cross because we deserve none of it.
Because the cross grips us with a vision of the world to come.
Finally, the cross grips us with the vision of the world to come. Go with me to Revelation 5. This is where we’ll close. Revelation 5. Incredible picture. You’ve got some of the verses that are listed in here. The cross grips us with the vision of the world to come. Here’s the deal, we’ve got a picture of Jesus in Revelation 5. Jesus has identified the ultimate problem. 5:1 says, “Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.” The picture here is a scroll, and we see this mentioned at different points in Revelation.
It’s a picture of a scroll that uncovers the fullness of redemptive history and the end to sin and suffering. It takes us all the way to the picture of a new creation that unfolds in Revelation 21 and 22. The picture is a scroll and the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. “And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’” Who is worthy to go into the very presence of God, and take the scroll of how human history is going to unfold. The end of sin and full redemption and unfold it. Who is worthy to do that? John says, “But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.”
Why was he weeping? Put yourself in the context of first century believers who were reading this book, most likely facing persecution. Is there no one who can bring an end to this? Is there no one who can bring an end to suffering and sin and cancer and disease and persecution? John is weeping because no one was found. This is the ultimate problem of the universe. We’ve talked about it tonight. Who is able to handle the sin problem and take care of it? We stand before a holy God in this situation hopeless and helpless.
It’s like when you go to Chuck E. Cheese. Have you ever been to that place? That will give you a headache instantly. As a kid, you go to Chuck E. Cheese, and you get these tokens, and you go play games. You play Skiball for like an hour. Then, you play these other games, and as you play the games, what comes out of there? Little tickets come out, and these tickets are being turned out, and you are trying to collect them all. Then, it hits you as you are leaving what the tickets are all for, because as you walk out, there’s a place called a redemption counter that’s right there.
You know how this whole deal works. You walk up to the redemption counter, and you’re a little kid, and your mom or dad are there with you, and you have your tickets in your hand, and you look up at the very top, top shelf. There’s this huge stuffed animal, a big bear, for 80,000 tickets, and you look at your mom and dad, and you don’t know any better, you say, “I think I want the bear,” and your mom and dad say, “Uh, son, I don’t think you have enough tickets for the bear.”
So, your eyes come down a little bit and you see a lava lamp. The most useless thing in the world, but a lava lamp, and you’re like, “Okay, I want the lava lamp.” Sorry, 60,0000 tickets, and you don't have it. You come down, you come down, you come down until you get to this little dinky display right in front of you, and over here you see an eraser. If you put it together with your other friends, you can get a pencil with it, and you say, “All right, I’ll take that.” It’s one of the most depressing moments a child has. Spent hours playing Skiball, and he’s got an eraser to show for it as he walks out, looking at the bear on the top shelf.
Keep that picture in mind. When you come to Revelation 5, the reality is the stakes are much higher, top shelf, redemption of man. End to sin, full redemption, ushered into human history, and the roll call in heaven – who is able to open that scroll? Who has got enough tickets? You can the roll call. “Abraham, you’re the father of the people of God in the Old Testament. Do you have enough tickets?” Abraham looks; doesn’t have enough. “Moses, the Mosaic Covenant, surely you do.” Moses looks down; doesn’t have enough. Prophet after prophet after prophet; not enough. “Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul you wrote most of the New Testament, do you have enough tickets?” Paul looks. He doesn’t have enough tickets. He continues on down the line, “Billy Graham, you preached to more people than anybody else in the history of the world, surely you’ve got enough.” Billy Graham’s got nothing, and John’s weeping. Who will go? Who will go? Will Mohamed go? No. The Buddha? Absolutely not. Oprah? No. Then, you and me. We look down, and we’ve got nothing, and our conclusion is that “I don’t have enough tickets.” The picture is uncontrollable sorrow. “I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy.”
Then – you‘ve got it in your notes – Jesus paid the ultimate price. “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’" He is a conquering Lion. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David. Take it all the way back to Genesis 49, but not just a conquering lion, but “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne...” What a picture! A suffering lamb, did you catch that? A lamb slain, a lamb that looks like it’s been butchered, but it’s standing in the center of the throne.
What a shock! Lamb, Lion; Lion like Lamb, and we find that Jesus can fulfill the ultimate purpose. Revelation 5:7, “He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.” Can you imagine that? We are standing there with our dinky tickets in our hands, and we cannot do it. We see, we want, we long for full redemption, and we have nothing to bring to the table. All of a sudden, one steps up and says, “I have enough tickets.” He’s got enough tickets, and He says, “I pay for it all.” He pays for it all! He pays for it all, and He ushers in redemptive history.
This is where all of eternity is headed, and what happens is, there is a song of praise. Jesus deserves the ultimate praise. “And they sang a new song,” in verse 9. "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Our song, ladies and gentlemen, will be new, and our song will be never-ending. Never-ending from every tribe, tongue, people and language; all the ransomed church of God will sing His praises forever.
All this leads to the very end of Scripture, Revelation 22:1-5, and you can read that Scripture later, but, basically, because of the satisfactory substitute on the cross, here’s the reality. Those once dead in sin will one day live with God. Those once under God’s wrath will experience His blessing. Those once separated from God now see His face. Those once captive to sin and death now reign with God in life forever. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
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