How should we understand our responsibility in everyday life? How do I obey the radical commands of Christ in the normal routines of life? In this session of Secret Church 14, Pastor David Platt helps Christians understand how the cross practically changes everyday life, even in the midst of the mundane and regular rhythms of life.
- The Purpose in Our Everyday Lives
- How the Death of Christ Changed Everything in History Then
- How the Death of Christ Changes Everything in Our Lives Today
The Cross and Everyday Life
Christ in me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ with me, Christ above me, Christ beneath me, Christ on my right Christ on my left, Christ when I sit, Christ when I rise, Christ when I stand. Christ in my marriage, Christ in my home, Christ in my work, Christ in my rest, Christ when I preach, Christ when I pray, Christ over self, Christ under nothing. Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me, Christ in every mouth that speaks of me, Christ in every mind that thinks of me. His strength in my arms, His service on my hands, His tears in my eyes, His touch on my mouth, His anointing on my head, His Word on my heart, His glory in my aim, His humility in my all. Christ in me.
So, these are words of prayer that years ago God put on my heart based on a prayer that a man named St. Patrick of England had written. St. Patrick was a missionary to Celtic barbarians in Ireland. And the prayer represents the heart of what we’re gathered for. So what does it mean for God in Christ to affect, to transform, to infuse every single detail of our lives? More specifically, how does the cross of Christ inform every single detail of your day, from the moment you set your feet on the floor out of bed in the morning to the moment you lie down and go to sleep?
That is the question we’re going to ask together and explore together, all 60,000 of us in all different countries represented. So we’re all together with people from all over the world. Oh what a joy just to be part of a gathering like this.
Now, let me invite you to pull out the Study Guide that hopefully you have wherever you are, whether you’re in a church gathering or in a home somewhere. For those of you who are new to Secret Church, we welcome you. I hope you have chosen wisely in the person you are sitting next to right now, because you’re going to need that person. If they are a frequent sleeper, or if they’re not good listeners or note takers, then you’re going to be at a significant disadvantage in your seat. So look around this room, your house and church, wherever, because it’s not too late to switch seats. You might want to make a switch. Nobody be offended.
Now, the purpose of this Study Guide is multi-faceted, and one of those purposes is to enable us to cover as much material as possible in one sitting. So when I’ve gathered together with persecuted brothers and sisters in different places in the world, at the risk of their lives, they make the most of that time. So our goal is to make the most of our time, to drink from the fire hydrant of God’s Word. We can digest later. We’re going to drink tonight. Maybe even choke a little bit.
But my hope is that we’re going to equip one another with God’s Word in the world. That’s why I want to remind you—whether this is your first Secret Church or you’ve been to every single Secret Church—that the goal is not entertainment. The goal is equipping. And that’s key. The goal is not just for many people to have a good Bible study. If that’s our goal, then we’ve missed the whole point from the start.
The goal is for all of us to consider together how the cross of Christ affects everything we do, and then to leave the places where we’re gathered, all around the world, equipped with the Word of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, to apply the cross to every single detail of our lives, and to proclaim the cross to every single people group on the planet. So that’s the point.
So this is the question before us: How do I obey the radical commands of Christ? So, Jesus has said to every single one of His disciples in Luke 9:23–24, “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” Luke 14:25–33 also says,
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he had laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
You’ve got Matthew 28. It says, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” How do I obey the command of Christ to go and make disciples of all nations? Or what about Acts 1:8, which says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” How do I live as a witness to the ends of the earth?
What about Revelation 12:11? It says,
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
How do I not love my life even unto death? How do I do these things? So here’s the question. How do I obey the radical commands of Christ in the normal routine of everyday life? So what does Luke 9, Luke 14, Matthew 28, Acts 1:8 and Revelation 12 look like in the life of a stay-at-home mom? Or college student? Or an accountant? Or a senior adult?
Ever since I wrote a book called Radical, people have asked me, “What about verses like 1 Thessalonians 4:10–11, that says, ‘…for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you…’” What do you do with verses like 1 Timothy 5:8? It says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Also, Titus 2:1–3 says,
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
You may be thinking, “Radical is not on that list.” So, how do we in a sense reconcile the radical words of Christ with the normal responsibilities of everyday life?
So here’s what we’re going to do. This is the plan ahead of us. In your Study Guide, there is basically an outline of our time in the Word. We’re going to start with “A Gospel Foundation for Understanding Everyday Life.” So I’m going to lay a foundation upon which everything else it built. We’re going to think about the overall purpose of our everyday lives. Then we’re going to think about the primary problems in our everyday lives. Then we’re going to pause and we’re going to contemplate on this Good Friday how the death of Christ changed everything in history 2,000 years ago. And then we’re going to contemplate how the death of Christ changes everything in our lives today. So that’s the foundation.
Then we’ll move on to a gospel framework for approaching everyday life. So what is the overall approach to everyday life based on the two primary commandments that Christ has given us: To love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself? So these are the guiding commands Christ has given us for our everyday life. So we’re going to think about how do you live everyday to love God with all your heart and soul. We’re going to study in depth a call to daily prayer and questions about daily prayer.
Then we’re going to think about living every day to love God with all your mind and strength. We’re going to think about how to fill your mind daily with truth from God’s Word, how to sharpen your mind daily within God’s world, how to take care of your body daily as the temple of God’s Spirit. We’re going to think about how do you honor God in what you wear every day? How do you honor God in what you eat every day? How do you honor God in how you exercise every day? And then how do you keep control of your body daily in accordance with God’s will? We’re going to talk about a biblical expression of physical denial—fasting regularly—and then a biblical expression of physical discipline—fleeing sexual immorality.
And then that will lead us to think about living every day to love your neighbor as yourself, where we’ll see what Scripture says about a husband’s daily approach to his wife, a wife’s daily approach to her husband, a parent’s daily approach to children and a single’s daily approach to others. Then we’ll think about a Christian’s daily approach to other Christians, and a Christian’s daily approach to non-Christians. And then from there, with that foundation framework set, which will take much of the night, I want us to finish by thinking through how the cross of Christ literally affects what happens when our feet hit the floor in the morning until we lay back down at night.
So we’ll think about the cross and waking up in the morning, the cross and working all day long, the cross and playing after work. And then we’re going to think about the cross and listening, watching, reading, texting, receiving, sending, posting, tweeting, instagramming, blogging, messaging, tumbling, liking, poking, following, unfollowing, emailing, snapping, chatting, vining and networking. I don’t even know what half those words mean, but we’re going to talk about them. So all of that will then lead to us what happens when we close our eyes at night—the cross and resting. So we’re basically going to finish Secret Church, Lord willing, talking about a theology of sleep. And by then you will want it, if you have not already inadvertently experienced it. Sound good?
All right, here we go! Got a lot of ground to cover.
A Gospel Foundation for Understanding Everyday Life
One of my favorite quotes from C.J. Mahaney:
The gospel isn’t one class among many that you’ll attend during your life as a Christian—the gospel is the whole building where all the classes take place! Rightly approached, all the topics you’ll study and focus on as a believer will be offered to you ‘within the walls’ of the glorious gospel… [Nothing in the Christian life] can be rightly understood apart from God’s grace through Jesus’ death. They, and indeed all topics, should be studied through the lens of the gospel.”
“What does that mean? I thought the gospel was just what saves me, and then I kind of move in the Christian life.” No. The gospel—which centers around the cross of Christ—is everything. Think about The Purpose of our Everyday Lives from the very beginning of Scripture. Genesis 1:26–31 says,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
So from the start of Scripture, we see a two-fold purpose here for human life. One, we have been created to enjoy God’s grace in a relationship with Him. So God creates man and woman in His image, with a unique capacity to relate to Him, to walk with Him. You have been created with the unique capacity and ability to know God. And the first thing God did after He created man and woman is He blessed them. This is the pure, unadulterated goodness of God being poured out upon His prize creation.
And then He says, after He blessed them, “Now be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” In other words, “Fill all creation with my image, with my blessing, with my goodness.” So we have been created to enjoy God’s grace, our relationship with Him, and we’ve been created—so this is the second part of the purpose, twofold here—we’ve been created to exalt God’s glory to the ends of the earth. We are to enjoy God’s grace in relationship with Him and exalt God’s glory to the ends of the earth. These initial verses in the Bible set the stage for an entire book that is permeated by this purpose.
So we look at other passages in Genesis. In Genesis 12:1–3, God is speaking with Abraham. The passage says, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” So I’m going to bless you and through blessing is going to be made known among all the families of the earth.
God said the same thing to Abraham’s son Isaac in Genesis 26:2–5:
And the LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
Same thing with Jacob in Genesis 28:13–15:
And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
You get to Exodus 14:4, and God’s about to deliver His people from the Egyptians, who are about to overtake them as they stand at the Red Sea. And listen to what He says. God says, “‘And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.’ And they did so.” So notice how God blesses His people. He splits a sea in half. Why? So the Egyptians will know that He is God. This is extravagant grace for extravagant glory. This is the motivation that drives God throughout all history.
You see this in other passages as well. Psalm 106:7–8 says, “Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.” Or look at Deuteronomy 4:5–8. It says,
“See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?”
Look at 1 Samuel 12:22. “And Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.’” Second Samuel 7:23, “And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods?” Look at 2 Kings 19:34. “For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”
We see this, even in the Psalms. Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Look at Psalm 23, this beloved Psalm. Verses 1 through 3 say, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” We’re created to enjoy God’s grace. In Him, we have everything we want. Verse 2, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” Why does God do all of this? “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Psalm 25:11, “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”
Listen to Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Did you catch that? That’s a command in the Word of God. Christian, you are commanded to delight yourself in God, to be happy in God. That’s a good command. For God is glorified in a people who delight in Him. Keep going. Psalm 67, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” We are to enjoy His grace, right? For what purpose? “That your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” And we are to extend His glory. It goes on to say,
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!
It continues throughout the Psalms. Psalm 69:30–33 says, “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let our hearts revive. For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.” Psalm 70:4, “May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’” And Psalm 97:1, “The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!”
Go down to Isaiah, chapter 30, verse 18. “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” He exalts Himself by showing us mercy.
Isaiah 43 are some of the most beautiful words in the Bible. It says,
But not thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
God forgives our sins. Why? Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 48:9, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” Also, Isaiah 64:4 says, “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” Or look at Jeremiah 13:11: “For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that htey might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.”
Now jump down to Ezekiel 36:22–23, when God says to His people,
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations….And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.”
Habakkuk 2:14, all history headed for the day “when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
Which is why, when you get to the New Testament, Jesus’ ministry ends with a commission for Christians to go, make disciples among all the nations. Matthew 28:18–20 says, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the earth.” So spread the image of Christ among all nations. John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” This is why Jesus went to the cross. John 12:27–28, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’”
This is why we pray, John 14:13: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” This is why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit — John 16, John 17 and Acts 1 — so that people who enjoy His grace will extend His glory, His witnesses to the ends of the earth. John 16:14, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Romans 9:22–23, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory…” Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Look at Romans 15:8–9, “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.’” Look down at 1 Corinthians 10:31. “So,” so people of God who know the grace of God, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Or think about Galatians 1:15–16, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone…” Turn over the the glorious passage in Ephesians 1:13–14. It says,
Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished on upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Look at other examples from Paul’s Epistles. Philippians 1:9–11, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Colossians 3:23–24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Also, 2 Thessalonians 1:9–12,
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Or Jude 24–25,
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Even the book of Revelation addresses this in Revelation 5:9–12:
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Jump down to Revelation 7 where all this is headed. This is where all eternity’s going. This is the last passage in that section there. All of eternity’s headed toward the day when “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice,” they will cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They’ve been saved by His grace.
“And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’” Saved by His grace, enjoying His grace they exalt Him for His glory. This is where all of eternity is headed.
Revelation 21:22–27 says,
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day — and there will be no more night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Revelation 22:3–5 says,
“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
So Jonathan Edwards rightly said, “The great end of God’s works, which is so variously expressed in Scripture, is indeed by one; and this one end is most properly and comprehensively called, the glory of God.” He continues,
“God glorifies Himself toward the creatures in two ways:
- By appearing to…their understanding.
- In communicating Himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying, the manifestations which He makes of Himself…God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it… He that testifies his idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it.”
Richard Baxter, a Puritan pastor of old, said, “[God’s] glorifying himself and the saving of his people are not two decrees with God, but one decree, to glorify His mercy in their salvation, though we may say that one is the end of the other: so I think they should be with us together indeed.” He continues, “May the Living God, who is the portion and rest of the saints, make these our carnal minds so spiritual, and our earthy hearts so heavenly, that loving Him, and delighting in Him,” listen to this, “may be the work of our lives.” Yes. This is our work. So this is our everyday work—delighting in our God. And there is no greater delight than this.
It’s why C.S. Lewis said:
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.
Hear what he’s saying there. Lewis is saying, “It’s not bad to desire good, to desire enjoyment or to desire satisfaction. Because if you really desire good, if you really desire enjoyment, if you really desire satisfaction, then that desire will ultimately lead you to God, Who is infinitely good, Who is infinitely enjoyable, and infinitely satisfying.” So he says:
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Don’t be pleased with what this world says satisfies you, when you’ve been created to enjoy God, for the glory of God. It’s why John Piper said, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” This is mammoth truth. And this is the purpose of your life. So you, right where you’re sitting, here or wherever you are in the world—you have been created to enjoy God and to exalt God, and these go together. The more you enjoy God the more you exalt God. The more you exalt God the more you enjoy God. Enjoyment by exaltation—this is the reason why you have breath right now, the purpose of our lives.
But the problem in our everyday lives is that “all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23. God is glorious. He’s sovereign over all, a word that describes how God created all things. Psalm 24:1–2, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” Nehemiah 9:6, “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.” He knows all things. Job 37:16, “Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge…” 1 John 3:20, “…for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”
He sustains all things. Psalm 104:24–30 says,
O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it. These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.
And He owns all things. So sovereignty means authority. God is the author of all things, which means He has authority over all things. He has authority to govern the world, and God has authority to govern every one of our lives. He has all the rights. All the rights belong to God. Deuteronomy 10:14, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.” He’s sovereign over all.
And God is holy above all. He is holy above all. He’s unique, set apart, completely pure, completely true, completely other. “There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God,” 1 Samuel 2:2. “And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” Isaiah 6:3. Revelation 4:8 says, “And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” He’s holy above all.
He’s righteous in all His ways, which means He’s right in all that He does. Genesis 18:25, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Deuteronomy 32:4, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” Psalm 145:17, “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.”
He’s righteous in all His ways, and He is just in all His wrath. Because God is holy and righteous, He cannot stand sin. Romans 3:5–6 says, “But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world?” Also, look at 2 Thessalonians 1:5–10. It says,
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering — since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
He is intolerant of sin. Holiness can’t co-exist with sin. God can’t tolerate it. Psalm 45:7, “…you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions…” Also, Habakkuk 1:13 says, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” And God is indignant toward sinners, which may sound like strong language to some, but listen to the language of Scripture. Psalm 5:5–6, “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
And this is not an isolated verse in the Bible. I mean, look at Exodus 32 here and Numbers 16. They describe the white-hot wrath of God due sinners. Exodus 32:9–10, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.’” Numbers 16:43–46 says,
And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.”
Look down at Deuteronomy 9:7–8. It describes how the Lord was so angry in His wrath toward His people that He was ready to destroy them. It says, “Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD. Even at Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, and the LORD was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you.” Another example is from Joshua 22:20, which says, “Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.” Also, 2 Kings 22:13 says, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
Psalm 78:49–51 describes His wrath toward Pharaoh and the Egyptians, saying he “let loose on them his burning anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels. He made a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death, but gave their lives over to the plague. He struck down every firstborn in Egypt, the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham.” This is God. And it’s not just the Old Testament either. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira struck down dead for their deception in the church. Acts 5:10–11 says, “Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” That will hurt your attendance the next Sunday if people start dying in the offering.
But I fear that we have no sense of this in the church today. There is far too much shallowness and levity among us. You just look at our worship. Where are the scenes of biblical worship? They’re so radically different from contemporary worship. Where’s Nehemiah, with the people bowing down on their faces, worshipping God? Where’s Ezra, who cried out in worship, “O my God, I’m too ashamed and disgraced to even lift my face to you”? In Ezra 10, people were weeping together before the Lord. We don’t do these things today. We clap our hands and we dance around, and it never occurs to us that God might send us away. If you think about the seriousness of God’s holiness, His righteousness, and His wrath in Scripture, and you’ll see why they approach God with this kind of humility.
Thankfully the glory of God does not end with His wrath. For not only is He just in all His wrath, but God is loving toward all His creation. First John 4:16 makes it clear. It says, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” God doesn’t just demonstrate love. God defines love. Now, if you’re feeling a little bit of tension between those last two characteristics—His wrath and His love—we will address that tension shortly.
Now while God is glorious, we are sinful, meaning we’ve denounced His sovereignty. We’ve rebelled against the authority of God. This is the picture of the first sin in Genesis 3. Even though God said not to eat from the tree, we’re going to do it anyway. He’s not lord over us. We can do what we want. Genesis 3:6–7 says,
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
This is the God Who beckons storm clouds in creation and they come. This is the God Who says to the mountains, “You go here,” and they go there, and the stars, “You go there,” and they go there. This is the God Who speaks to all creation. All creation responds in obedience to Him until you get to you and me, and we have the audacity to look at God in the face and say, “No. You’re not an authority over our lives.” And in this verse from Leviticus 16, sin is described as a transgression, literally a rebellion against authority. Leviticus 16:21 says, “And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.”
Sin is defiance against the Author of our lives. We’ve denounced His sovereignty. We’ve dishonored His holiness. Ezekiel 36:22–23, which we read earlier, says,
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.”
We’ve despised His righteousness. None of us are righteous, Romans 3:10–12 says, “…as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” And we’ve disregarded His wrath, virtually pretending it’s not even there—or violently objecting that it’s there. Ephesians 2:1–4,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Ultimately, we have denied His love. Romans 2:4, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”
When you ask someone in the church today what sin is, they’ll say, “Well, it’s messing up or doing something wrong or making a bad decision.” But ladies and gentlemen, sin is far worse than that. The problem in our lives is that we’ve denounced the sovereign God. We’ve dishonored His holiness, despised His righteousness. Though we deserve His wrath, we have totally disregarded it, and we have denied His love.
This all leads to the ultimate problem in all the universe: How can a just, holy God save rebellious sinners who are due His wrath? We’ve got to feel the weight of this. Look at this verse from Proverbs—Proverbs 17:15. “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” So think about that. God is a just judge Who says to the wicked, “You’re wicked.” And He says to the righteous, “You’re righteous.” Consequently, He detests those who say to the wicked, “You are righteous,” or to the evil, “You’re good.” And He detests those who say to the good, “You’re evil,” or to the innocent, “You’re guilty.”
That is an abomination to God, because God is a good judge. He’s a just judge. Like any good judge, He says to the guilty, “You’re guilty,” and He says to the innocent, “You’re innocent.” He says to the good, “You’re good.” He says to the evil, “You’re evil.” So follow this. God Himself says that if you justify the guilty, if you say the guilty are innocent, then you’re an abomination to the Lord. Well, that’s not good for us because it begs the question, “Well then how can God justify the guilty?” How can God say to those who are guilty, “You are innocent”? Because as soon as He does, He’s an abomination to Himself. How can God look at those who are guilty and say, “Innocent,” and still be just?
This is the ultimate question of the Bible, and the ultimate problem for every person in this gathering. Now, it’s not what we ought to look at as our ultimate problem. Most people in our culture are not worried about how God can be just and kind to sinners at the same time. How many people are losing sleep at night because God is being kind to sinners? On the contrary, we’re pointing the finger at God, saying, “How can you punish sinners? How can you let people go to hell?”
But the question of the Bible is just the opposite. “God, how can you be just and let rebels into heaven?” So feel the tension here. How can God express His holiness without consuming us in our sin? How can God express His love without condoning us in our sin? How can God judge sin and justify the sinner at the same time? How can God satisfy His character and save our souls at the same time? How can this happen? You see the tension in Hosea 11, a tension between what the Lord ought to do because of His righteousness and what He cannot do because of His love. Hosea 11:8–9 says,
How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
There’s a conflict here of sorts between compassion and wrath, both of which are attributes of a good and holy God.
And so this tension then leads us to How the Death of Christ Changed Everything in History on Good Friday, two thousand year ago, when God satisfied His character by sacrificing His Son in the place of sinners. Romans 3:23–26 says,
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 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.
God satisfied His character by sacrificing His Son in the place of sinners. So follow this. Understand why Good Friday, why the cross of Christ, is the centerpiece of all human history. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…”
See Who Christ is. See what sets Him apart from everybody else in history. He’s fully man like us, yet without sin. Some examples of this are Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Luke 2:7, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:40, “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”
Luke 2:52, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Matthew 26:38, “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’” Hebrews 4:15–16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Finally, Hebrews 5:7–8, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Jesus was, is, a man like us—human.
At the same time, Jesus was fully God. C.S. Lewis said, “The doctrine of Christ’s divinity seems to me not something stuck on which you can unstick but something that peeps out at every point so that you’d have to unravel the whole web to get rid of it.” It’s clear all throughout the New Testament. Jesus is equated with God. John 1:1–4 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Colossians 1:15–17 says,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Colossians 2:9, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Hebrews 1:3, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” Jesus says in Revelation 1, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” Which is why John Owen, commenting on the cross, said, “He suffered not as God, but he who suffered was God.”
So, when you think about the person of Christ on the cross, don’t think Jesus alone, as if He had no divine nature. Don’t think God alone as if He had no human nature. But think God in Christ—this is Who was on the cross. He is not man alone or God alone, but God in Christ, fully God and fully man, Who was therefore uniquely qualified to mediate between God and man because of Who He is. Colossians 1:19–20 says, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
So see Who Christ is, and then see what Christ did two thousand years ago. Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” First and foremost, He lived a sinless life. Unlike us, Jesus never sinned against God. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 1 John 3:5, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” He was obedient, perfectly obedient to God. And He had to do this. Otherwise He could not have died for us, for our sins. Or, He could have died when He was just a young child, or He could have just come from heaven at whatever age and gone straight to the cross. But His obedience in life was necessary for our salvation. John 15:10 says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just ask I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” He was obedient.
He was righteous in order to reconcile men to God. He had to possess the righteousness of God, which is the picture we see in the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Also, 1 John 2:1 says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
So Jesus lived a sinless life, and then He died a substitutionary death. And here’s what the Bible means by that. Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” That word “propitiation” means to turn aside punishment, to turn aside wrath.
So picture it. You and I stand before God as sinners, deserving judgment in our sin. We are guilty before God. We deserve His wrath. Jesus was innocent before God. He did not deserve wrath. Yet what He did on the cross is He took our place as a substitute. He stood in the place of sinners. He died in the place of the disobedient. He died in the place of the unrighteous. He took the wrath of God that we deserved that it might be turned away from you and me. He died our death.
This is what the Bible means when it says Christ died for us. That word “for” means “instead of, in the place of, on behalf of.” Romans 5:6, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” He died in the place of the ungodly. The passage continues: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree…’” He became a curse instead of us. First Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
So get the picture here. This is God Himself, in the flesh, in Christ, taking the place of sinners who deserve His wrath. And this is how the ultimate problem was solved at the cross. For at the cross, the totality of God’s character was expressed. The justice of God was poured out on sin so that the mercy of God could be poured out on sinners. We see mercy and justice both. We see love and wrath both. We see holiness and goodness both.
First and foremost—follow this—the cross is a demonstration of the character of God. This is why Romans 3:25 says the cross “was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 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.” So think about this. God’s forgiveness of our sin is a threat to His character. Think about that. When Romans 3 talks about God in His patience passing over sins, you’ve got to feel the weight of that.
I put 2 Samuel 12:13 there. David is guilty of adultery and murder. Nathan the prophet confronts him. “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’” Just like that. The Lord has put away your sin. Adultery and murder are just passed over. Is that justice? No. If a judge today were to look at that case, and say, “I just put adultery and murder away,” we would have that judge off the bench in a heartbeat. That judge is not right. Do you realize this? God’s forgiveness of our sin is a threat to His character. God cannot be just and look at you and me in our sin or rebellion, in our guilt, and just say, “Innocent.” You can’t just pass over that.
People say, “Well, God is loving, isn’t He? Why can’t He just forgive our sins? Why does there have to a payment? After all, we just forgive one another.” And some church father of old responded, “If anybody imagines that God can simply forgive us as we forgive others, that person has not yet considered the seriousness of sin.” Or literally, that person hasn’t considered what a heavy weight sin is against God.
Do we realize the greatness of the One Whom we have sinned against? Do we realize that if He were to overlook sin, His justice and holiness would be completely compromised, and He would no longer be God? This is why John Stott said, “Forgiveness is for God the Father the profoundest of problems.” Don’t miss this: The cross is primarily and ultimately the demonstration of the character of God, which means before the cross is for anyone else’s sake, the cross is for God’s sake. The cross, Romans 3 says, is displaying God’s righteousness and His justice toward sin.
Who did Christ die for? Did Christ die for you? Did Christ die for me? Yes, but that’s an incomplete answer. Did He die for the nations? That is still incomplete. Ultimately Christ died for God. “If I were to appreciate the blood of Christ I must accept God’s valuation of it, for the blood is not primarily for me, but for God.” Ladies and gentlemen, see it. The glory of God drove Jesus to the cross that Good Friday. Listen to His words in John 12:27–28: “‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. ‘Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’”
On the cross, Jesus is showing us that sin is infinitely offensive. The severity of sin is put on display. This means there is no room for self-exaltation at the cross. Everything at the cross is God-exaltation. The cross is the end of self-exaltation. Now we see why Jesus says things like, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” The cross is completely and totally and radically about God-exaltation. The cross shows us that sin is infinitely offensive, and the cross shows us that God is infinitely glorious. The cross is not a display of the finite worth of man. This is not a picture ultimately of how valuable we are, but how valuable He is. The cross is a display of the infinite worth of God.
Now, follow this. Don’t miss this. When we see the cross as good news for God, for the first time we will see that the cross is really good news for us. Because at the cross, we see the value of God on display, the God Who we’re reconciled to, the God Who is infinitely glorious. And this, brothers and sisters, is the God that we enjoy and delight in and are satisfied in.
And then think about the rock-solid foundation here. God has grounded our salvation in His love for His own glory, and as such, we can know that He is radically committed to preserving our salvation throughout all eternity. God will be true to His character. He will be true to His promise to save.
At the cross, Psalm 85:10 is true: “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” So is Habakkuk 3:2, which says, “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” And at the cross the totality of God’s character was expressed, and salvation through God’s Son was achieved. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” At the cross, God expressed His judgment on sin. He at the same time endured His judgment against sin. And at the cross, God enabled salvation for sinners. The death of Christ on the cross changed everything then, for our good and for His glory.
So then, how does His death then change everything in our lives today? So see this. In the words of Jerry Bridges, “The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living in it.” So this is what I want. I want you to live in this, to consider the joy of living in this and of knowing that.
All right, follow this: Christ is the basis of our salvation. Ladies and gentlemen, Christ has done the work for our salvation at the cross. He’s conquered sin. He’s purchased righteousness for us. There’s no work for us to do. He has done it. Ephesians 2:4–10 expresses this truth:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
This is huge. It’s there in Ephesians 2. If I were to ask you, “How do you know that you’re right before God?”, if the first words out of your mouth are, “Because I…” — “Because I have done this,” or “Because I did that,” — then you may be missing the point of the gospel. How are you right before God? Because Christ lived the life you could not live. Because Christ has died the death you deserved to die. This is the starting place.
And so then the question becomes, “Okay, well then how can the work of Christ on the cross be applied to my life? How can it be appropriated in my life? Is it just automatic? Is it something that I’m born into, or is there something I have to do?” This is the next truth. Christ alone is the basis of our salvation. Faith is the means of our salvation. Faith is the anti-work. Galatians 2:15–16 says, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” So faith is trust. Faith is surrender. Faith is the realization that there’s nothing you can do but trust in what has been done for you. Faith is a turning from yourself and your sin and a trusting in Christ as Savior of your sins and Lord over your life.
If you have never done this, then I invite you—I implore you—I urge you to do this. Even as we’re talking about the cross, I pray that you in your heart for the first time would say, “I need Christ and what He’s done on my behalf to reconcile me to God.” I beg you to put your trust, your hope, your faith in Him.
Here’s how it works. By initial faith in Christ, we are made right before God the Father. So when, by God’s grace, we turn to Him and trust Him for salvation, we’re reconciled to God. Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:10–11, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 8:14–17 says,
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Galatians 4:4–5 continues this thought, when it says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Also, 1 John 3:1–2 says,
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are. The Reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
And with that moment of initial faith, we experience what the Bible calls “new birth.” The language in John 3 is that we’re born again. We are born again to a new life where God opens our eyes to our need for Him. Jesus explains this to a man named Nicodemus in John 3. John 3:5–8 says,
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
We realize that even our best religious works count nothing before a holy God. We need His grace. We need His mercies. So God opens our eyes to this. John 3:3 says, “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” God changes our heart. So a heart that was once hard toward Him changes. Now we want God. We desire God. This is not duty, but delight. Titus 3:4–7 says,
But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
1 Peter 1:23 says, …since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…” God changes our heart.
God enables our belief. And here’s what belief means biblically. Belief is a work of God’s grace that He does in our hearts. You see this all over the New Testament. John 6:44 says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” Acts 11:18, “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” Acts 14:27, “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” Acts 15:9, “…and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” Look at Acts 16:14, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”
And by His grace we turn from our sin and ourselves. We repent, the Bible says, for it means to turn. Acts 2:38 says, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Acts 3:19, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out…” We see our sin for what it is—it’s rebellion against God—and we run from it.
We turn from it, from our sin and ourselves, and by His grace, we trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. We trust in Him as the One Who can save us from our sin and the One Who reigns as Lord over our lives. Acts 2:36 says, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Or Acts 16:31, “And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” This is why Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” And when this happens, when by God’s grace you do this, you are made right before God the Father.
So, I know that in all the people gathered together, there are some, likely many, who have never done this. I invite you to let this be the day where you turn from your sin and yourself and you trust in Jesus as Savior of your sins and as Lord over your life. And by initial faith in Christ, right where you’re sitting, by faith in Him, you become right before God the Father. You say, “I need to do something.” No. That’s the beauty of Good Friday. He has done it. It is finished. He’s done the work. He’s paid the price for your sin. You just need to trust in Him. By initial faith in Christ, we are made right with God, at peace with God.
Now follow this. The beauty of new birth is just beginning. Because by continual faith in Christ, we now walk with God as our Friend. So Jesus says in John 15:15, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn’t know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” So now we’re not just talking about new birth. We’re talking about experiencing new life. Paul says in Galatians 2:17–21,
But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now lives in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
So hear that. Your life when you put your faith in Christ is united with God.
So every Christian within the sound of my voice, every man, woman, student who has put their faith, their hope, their trust in Christ, your life has been united with God. Today, we’re united with Christ. And Scripture talks about this in just a myriad of ways to make sure we get the point. In John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” And it’ll change your everyday life when you realize this, when you believe this, when you live in this reality that Christian, Christ is in us today. Colossians 1:27, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Do you hear that? Christ—the image of the invisible God, the Author of all creation, the Savior and Sustainer of the world—dwells in you.
That could knock you over if you really think about it. Jesus died on a cross 2,000 years ago so He could live in your heart at this moment. Christ in you. Jesus is not just our Savior. He’s our life. This is mammoth truth, and it changes everything. Listen to Hudson Taylor, missionary to China.
Oh, it is joy to feel Jesus living in you; to find your heart all taken up by Him; to be reminded of His love by His seeking communion with you at all times, not by your painful attempts to abide in Him. He is our life, our strength, our salvation… I am no longer anxious about anything… for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. So if God should place me in great perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength. I have no fear that His resources will be unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine—for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.
See this. Scripture teaches that Christ is in us today. And then Scripture turns it around, and says we are in Christ today. Listen to the language Scripture uses to describe what it means to live in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” 2 Corinthians 5:17. We are new creations, which means we live in Christ. 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” We rejoice in Christ. Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” We find encouragement in Christ. Philippians 2:1–2 says, So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
We find strength in Christ. Ephesians 6:10, “Finally, be strong in the Lord an din the strength of his might.” 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 says,
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Also, Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” You just go back and maybe take one of these a day and meditate on these verses. We find strength in Christ.
We find confidence in Christ. Philippians 1:14, “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” We have freedom in Christ. Galatians 2:4–5, “Yet because of the false brothers secretly brought in–who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery–to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” We have peace in Christ. Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We have wisdom in Christ. 1 Corinthians 4:10, “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.” We have victory in Christ. 2 Corinthians 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” We have hope in Christ. Ephesians 1:11–12, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” Philippians 2:19, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.” We have a hope in Christ.
We obey our parents in Christ. Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” We’ll talk about this later. Wives submit to husbands in Christ. Colossians 3:18, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” We agree in Christ, Philippians 4:2, which says, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” We stand in Christ. Philippians 4:1, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” 1 Thessalonians 3:8, “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.”
We work in Christ. Romans 16:12, “Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.” We are blessed in Christ. Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” All these things we do in Christ.
And as if we haven’t gotten the point yet, Scripture then teaches not only Christ in us and we’re in Christ, but we are with Christ today. Romans 6:8 says, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” We have been crucified with Christ. Romans 6:6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
We’ve been buried with Christ. Romans 6:4, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” We’ve been resurrected with Christ. Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Colossians 2:11–13,
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…
Listen to Ephesians 2:4–7, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” We’re seated with Christ in the heavenly places. We are in Christ—with Him and in Him. “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
This is just awesome to think about. We now fellowship with Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:9, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” We now work with Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21–6:1, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” Philippians 3:10 talks about how we suffer with Christ. It says, “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” He’s familiar with our sufferings. We identify with Christ as we walk through suffering. We suffer with Christ.
And one day we will reign with Christ. Romans 8:16–17 says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Philippians 1:23, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
And in all of this, we’re with Christ and Christ is with us. So the Scripture uses that language. 1 Corinthians 16:23, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” Or 2 Thessalonians 3:16–18, which says, “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of min; it is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” He’s with us in the church. Matthew 18:19–20, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Romans 16:17–20 says,
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
He’s with us in the world. Acts 18:9–11, “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.’ And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”
Ultimately, He’s with us forever. Matthew 28:20, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Christians, know this: Your life is secure. Christ is in you. You’re in Christ. Christ is with you. You are with Christ. Christ is with you today, every single day, forever.
Now what that means is, today we are being conformed to Christ. As He’s in us, with us, we’re with Him, and we’re in Him, He’s making us more and more into His image. Romans 8:28–30 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Well, what’s God’s purpose? “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed,” to be conformed—that’s the purpose, “to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” So the Christian life begins at a point in time, and it triggers a process over time whereby we are daily more and more, through every single thing that happens in our lives—the best things and the worst things—we’re being conformed in the image of Christ.
Now, to be sure, there’s daily struggle there. Because even though we’re in Christ and Christ is in us, sin is also in us as well. And it will be as long as we’re in this world. Even after all that Christ has done, all that He’s doing in our lives and His love for us, we are still prone to rebel against Him. We’re still prone to prefer our way over God’s way, to worry instead of trusting, to depend on ourselves instead of depending on Him. So there’s a daily struggle between the Spirit of Christ in us and the flesh in us, the remaining sin in us. The Bible talks about this in Galatians 5:16–18, which says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”
The daily struggle is between mortification of the flesh—in other words, the struggle to “Deny yourself, take up your cross, turn from sin”—mortification of the flesh, and the vivification of the Spirit, following the Spirit of Christ in us and coming to life in us. Galatians 5 goes on, in verses 19 through 21, and says, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
And all these passages I’ve listed here talk about that struggle. Being conformed into the image of Christ is a daily struggle. There are many passages that speak to this. Galatians 5:22–25 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Ephesians 4:20–24 also says,
But that is not the way you learned Christ!–assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these, the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves to righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Also, Romans 7:15–25 says,
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
And this daily struggle is a gradual transformation, which is why Philippians 2:12–13 talks about how we’re working out our salvation. It says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling as God works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” It’s not that we’re working our way into some kind of favor before God; we’re at peace with God through trust in Christ. But now we’re being conformed into His image. This transformation is taking place more and more in every single day of our life.
He’s transforming our minds today. We’re going to talk about each of these things. He’s transforming our minds today. Romans 12:1–2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 2 Corinthians 10:3–5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” Also, Colossians 1:9–10, “And so, from the day we heard, we have no ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
He’s transforming our emotions today. 1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” He’s transforming our wills today. Philippians 2:12–13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” He’s transforming our bodies today, which we’ll talk about. 2 Corinthians 6:16–7:1 says,
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from the, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
He’s transforming our relationships today in the church. John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Galatians 4:18–19, “It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” Hebrews 10:24–25, “And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” 1 John 3:16–18, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
God is also transforming our relationships with the lost people around us. Matthew 28:18–20, the Great Commission, says, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” 1 Peter 3:15–16, “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” He’s transforming every single facet of our lives.
Now, in this daily struggle we have to constantly be aware of two daily dangers. One, we must beware of legalism. So we’ve got to be on guard against thinking that our work before God can make us right before Him, or more right before Him, thinking that in our actions we’re earning acceptance from God. So then we start thinking, “I need to pray. I need to read the Bible. I need to go to church. I need to do these things in order to be accepted by God.”
But that kind of thinking—this is the whole point of salvation—that you’re somehow gaining some kind of credit before God, when the reality is you’ve already been credited with the righteousness of Christ Himself, is not biblical. What will you add to that? You have nothing to add to that. Don’t think that way. Paul says in Galatians 3:1–3, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Also, Galatians 5:1–4 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Paul in these passages is saying, “If you think like this, you’ll lose the benefits of Christ. If you’re working for God, then what do you need Christ for? You apparently can do this on your own, so Christ is of no value to you.” Either Christ will do everything for us, or He can do nothing for us. You lose the benefits of Christ; you gain the burden of the law where you have to work tirelessly to try to earn the favor of God—and ultimately you miss the grace of God.
Martin Luther said, “What can be more insane and wicked than to want to lose the grace and favor of God and to retain the law of Moses, whose retention makes it necessary for you to accumulate wrath and every other evil for yourself?” I think that’s a good thought, Martin. So, we don’t want to miss the grace of God. Beware of the trap of legalism.
And then on the other side of the spectrum, we want to beware of license, thinking that, “Okay, I’m credited with the righteousness of Christ. Then I can live however I want.” But this is not the effect of the cross on everyday life, because this fundamentally misses the transformation that God intends for us. James 2:14 makes clear that faith without fruit is no faith at all. It says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” Gospel truth is never intended to only be accepted in our heads. Gospel truth is always intended to be applied in our lives. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” Philippians 1:27. Remember that we’re not free from Christ—we’re free to Christ. But live with Him. Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” He’s our life. We’re not free to sin; we’re free from sin. Romans 6:12–14 says.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
We’re not free to flaunt God’s commands; we’re free to follow God’s command. It’s what Paul means when he talks about the obedience of faith in all this in Romans 1:5: “…through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations…”
So here are two daily implications. One: Every day we rest with radical confidence in the grace of God. Follow this. Christ is our righteousness. We have found in Him the rest our souls long for. You are free in Christ from the attempt to try to earn the favor of God. Christ has done that on our behalf. He’s lived the life we couldn’t live. He’s died the death we deserve to die. By grace through faith, you’ve been united with Him. Rest with radical confidence in His blood-bought grace.
There are many passages in Scripture that speak to this truth. Matthew 11:28–30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Ephesians 1:11–14,
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Also, 1 John 5:13–15 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”
At the same time, by the power of His Spirit at work in our lives, we work with radical obedience for the glory of God. So follow this. We work, not to earn the favor of God. We work because we’ve been given favor from God. We work not to earn His love. We work because He’s given us His life. And so we gladly deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him wherever He leads. Luke 9:23–24, “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’”
This leads to this last reality: Grace is the basis of our salvation, and faith, the means, and works are the evidence of our salvation, which hopefully makes sense in light of all that we’ve seen. James makes clear in James 2:14–26 that faith compels daily work. The passage states,
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothes and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
When we walk with God through faith in Christ, this kind of faith compels daily work with Christ, in Christ, for the glory of Christ. Philippians 2:12–13, which we mentioned earlier, states, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling as God works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We’re not talking about negative work that’s fueled by the flesh to earn favor before God. Ephesians 2:8–9 speaks against this, when it says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Also, Galatians 3:10 says, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” That’s not the kind of work we’re talking about.
We’re talking about positive work that’s fueled by faith to bring glory to God. And faith in Christ compels that kind of work on a daily basis. 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 talks about this kind of work: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Also, Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
And our daily work completes our faith, which is what I put earlier James 2. He said Abraham’s faith was made complete by what he did. Abraham’s works matured his faith, brought his faith to its completed goal. James is saying that when we obey God, when we work, our faith grows up and matures. It’s brought to completion. The more you obey God, the more your faith grows.
Think about this practically. We’re going to talk in a moment about praying and reading the Bible on a daily basis. Now, if you are doing that work in the flesh, because you feel like this is a religious routine that you need to do in order to earn favor before God, then that is not a good work. But if you believe that your supreme delight is found in God, and you want to know Him, you want to hear from Him, you want to express the longings of your heart to Him, then prayer and daily Bible reading is a really, really good work. And in this way faith will compel you to pray and read, and your faith will grow and mature as you pray and read. That’s what we’re after.
And this is important. It’s so important, because when this is the reality in our everyday lives, when faith is producing work like this, then God glorifies Himself in salvation that’s free. It’s all based on His grace. 1 John 3:20–21 says, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” And at the same time God glorifies Himself in lives that are full. Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Also, John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Grace that’s free; lives that are full.
The basis (Christ), the means (faith), the evidence (works) of our salvation are all ultimately involved—now follow this—in eternal judgment before God. In Matthew 7:21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 24:13, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Romans 2:6–8 says, “[God] will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”
Colossians 1:22–23 carries along this truth: “…he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” 1 Timothy 4:16, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul says in Acts 26:19–20, “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and also the the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” Matthew 25:41–46, Jesus says,
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirst or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Now you hear that, and if we’re not careful we begin to think that these passages are saying that the basis of our salvation will be our works—whether or not we’ve done God’s will. But that’s not the case. We’ve covered that. In the end, the basis of our salvation is going to be the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ. And in the end, the only means by which that work is applied to our lives is through faith alone in what Christ has done.
But in the end it will also be clear whether or not that faith was genuine. According to Matthew 7, we will have walked in the will of God. Matthew 24, our faith will have endured through trial. Romans 2, we will have sought God’s glory instead of our own. So get the picture. When you stand before God, in heaven, or before heaven—we’re talking final judgment here—when it will be declared openly and finally your eternal destiny, what will be the basis by which you will enter into heaven and dwell in the presence of God for all of eternity? The only way that you can ever get into heaven is on the basis of the shed blood of Christ.
What is the means by which you’ll be declared openly, at that moment, that you’re welcomed into the presence of God for all of eternity? The means is faith. You said, “Father, I’ve nothing in me to stand on. I trust wholly in the righteousness of Christ to stand before you. You opened my eyes to your holiness, my sin, Christ as Savior and Lord by your grace. Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to the cross I cling.” And in the background of your life on that day it will be evident that faith was indeed a reality in your life. So works are not the basis. Christ is the basis. Work are not the means. Faith is the means. Works are evidence of salvation.
And, don’t miss it, in all of this: The basis (Christ), the means (faith), and the evidence (works) of our salvation are all only possible by everyday grace from God. So the work of Christ on the cross obviously demonstrates God’s grace. But don’t miss this. The grace of God is the foundation for the other two realities there too. We were sinners, enemies of God, having rebelled against Him, and there was nothing in us to draw us to Him. So how do we come to faith? Well, by grace. Faith is a gift of grace. And our works are the work of His ongoing grace in our life. Everything here is by grace.
I picture it this way. Imagine giving money to your child for them to buy a present to give to you. So they give you a present. But did they really? I mean, it came from you in the first place, right? But was it an expression of their love? Well, sure it was. So the illustration isn’t perfect. Don’t carry it too far. This is the reality: Anything you or I bring to God as an offering that’s pleasing to Him is going to be the overflow of what He’s given to me. Everything. It’s all of grace. All three of these realities only possible by the grace of God.
So in every way Ephesians 2:8–10 is true. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This truth is also spoken of in Colossians 1:27–29, which says, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Now this is good news. God’s pleasure in you is not based on your performance for Him. God’s pleasure in you is based upon Christ’s performance for you.
I may sound like I’m repeating some of the same things over and over here in different ways, but I’m only trying to heed the counsel of Luther, who said:
The law is divine and holy. Let the law have its glory, but yet no law, be it never so divine and holy, ought to teach me that I am justified, and shall live through it. I grant it may teach me that I ought to love God and my neighbor; also to live in love, soberness, patience, etc., but it ought not to show me how I should be delivered from sin, the devil, death, and hell. Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teaches me, not what I ought to do but what Jesus Christ the son of God hath done for me: that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel wills me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.
I’m just trying to beat it into your head.
A great biblical example is 1 Corinthians 15:3–10. Paul says,
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Do you hear that? Paul says, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” But then he says, “I worked harder than any of these other guys.” And he worked. Paul is working hard. But it was grace that did it. So who did the work? Paul did, but only because of grace from Christ.
So do you get the picture? So this is the way I picture it. Every day of life, Paul is getting up, and he’s saying to God, “Apart from your grace I can’t do a thing. With your grace working through me I can live with power.” And then he goes into his day and he works hard. He works harder than anybody else, constantly aware of his dependence on God. And he works hard all day long and gets to the end of the day, and he looks back and he says, “Thank you for grace. It was all grace. Not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”
This is a gospel foundation for understanding everyday life. The purpose of our everyday lives is to enjoy His grace as we extend His glory. The problem is we’ve sinned against Him. The good news is the death of Christ has changed everything. God has poured out His wrath on His Son, and He has paid the price for our sin, so that through trust, through faith, through hope in Him, we can be delivered from our sins, reconciled to God. You and I can know God, be at peace with God, be in Christ, Christ in you, with Christ, Christ with you, now, today, every single day, for all of eternity.
For the next ten billion years, we’re just getting started. Christ is in you, and you are in Christ, with Christ. That changes everything about what happens when you get up in the morning, and you realize you’re in Christ; you’re with Christ, Christ with you. You realize you don’t have to earn salvation. You realize you’ve been given salvation, and you’re driven by the grace of God in you to work hard, to enjoy Him as you exalt Him. So, there’s the foundation.