Reflections on the Cross

Posted: April 6, 2012 in Theologababble

 

The sounds of shattering glass and the desperate cries of frightened people fill your ears as you struggle to think your way through this mess. People are running, falling, crying, scurrying to their hiding places. Not everyone, though. Some are still carefree, refusing to believe that the storm is coming. Idiots. It’s beyond you how they can delude themselves into thinking that life is ok, that this storm of epic proportions isn’t just over the horizon, yet they have.

You still remember watching the weather channel last month, when talks of a superstorm first hit the airwaves and television screens. From the very beginning there were doubters…but there were also believers. Who could have ever thought the those crazy environmentalists were right, that our carefree consumption of natural resources, coupled with our harmful pollution of the atmosphere, could somehow trigger a storm to end all storms?

As the month progressed, you had found yourself going from mild interest, to general belief, to firm conviction that the predictions were accurate. Not only was the storm coming- it was going to be a doozy. And now with the sky growing blacker and the winds getting stronger, many more were believing…but not enough. Too many of your friends and even family scoffed at your concern. They just didn’t get it. No time to dwell on that, though. Gotta get to the Dome.

The Dome. You’re not even sure where the thing came from, yet somehow it just appeared. Impossibly huge, the Dome supposedly offered a safe haven from the coming storm. It was kinda like that ark (who was that guy…Noah?) that saved those people and animals from drowning. Except the Dome doesn’t float. Couldn’t if it wanted to. Too big. But the Prophets kept promising that within the Dome was safety from the storm. Within it was a new life, a new community, a Kingdom of sorts. A chance to do things right. This was even harder for some to believe in than the storm itself, though oddly enough it makes sense to you. Time to go- things are getting crazy. Need the Dome. And the Door. Gotta find the door.

Making your way through the town, you get the sense that you’re not the only one headed to the Dome, and as you look around you see that there is a small handful of you on the same path, but it’s not enough. There’s just too many that are still going about their lives, it’s all business as usual. Calling loudly to them, you try to convince them of the coming storm. A few believe you and begin to come with you, but the majority scoffs at you and your stupid Dome with its stupid Door. True, you’ve never seen the Door to this thing, but the Prophets said that there was only one way into the Dome. One Door. And you believe them. And you’re trusting that you can go through it.

Passing through humanity, you offer aid where it’s needed in the chaos around you, and you’re glad to see those travelling on your path doing the same thing. Everyone is expressing love and concern to those around them, telling them of the Door to the Dome, of the storm coming, of the salvation available to everyone coming to the Dome. You have time to see lives transforming instantly, and in a few cases you see disbelief and skepticism slowly fade to puzzlement, belief, and joy as they hop on this narrow road leading to the Dome.

Then you’re there. And it’s massive. And you have no doubt that it’s big enough for everyone (and a good thing, because there seems to be people from all over the world here, too). But…there’s no Door. Were the Prophets wrong? Your bewilderment turns to slight anxiety, and you can tell by the growing murmur that no one else can see a Door, either. As the storm swirls high above the Dome, you find yourself wondering if you were really any better off than the ones back home who are blissfully and purposefully ignorant of the coming destruction…but then you see him.

Standing slightly taller than those around him, this man is the picture of serenity. Calm, a slight smile on his lips, eyes full of love, he appears to gather his thoughts as the crowd of thousands all somehow see him standing there, and a hush falls over the crowd so they can hear what he’s about to say. Looking at the multitude of us standing there, the man says four simple words that leave you reeling in surprise: “I am the Door.”

Wait- what? He’s the Door?

And then he does something that you know is beyond the realm of possibility. Reshaping the very fabric of reality, the man reaches over to the dome and creates a portal into the Dome, framed by his own body. The Door! It’s real!

But as the first excited person in the crowd passes through this Door, an anguished scream rips loose from the man’s lips. It’s a sound unlike any other that you’ve ever heard. It’s so loud that the entire crowd around you freezes as everyone searched for the source of this scream. They realize it’s coming from the Door, and they look closer. They see electricity crackling along his arms, his back, his legs. His skin appears to roll from the turmoil within his body, and they can see that he is in pure agony. Dying, in fact.

Holding wide the opening into the Dome, the man who was the Door waved in more people, and as the numbers poured through into the Dome, the suffering intensified, and it dawns on you- he was suffering the storm in your place. This storm that would have no doubt killed every one of you was somehow contained in his body, and as long as he was willing to absorb the wrath of this storm on behalf of this crowd, the Door would be open.

It hits you then that he’s going to die. No one can survive the storm, yet he’s able to bear it on your behalf. And bear it he does, screaming, writhing in agony, bursting with love, he holds the Dome open as the crowd grows smaller and smaller, and then it’s just you. And as you step into the Dome in total safety from the storm that you created for yourself, he speaks these simple words: “Paid in full.”

And the Door is gone.

Crushed. Battered. Dead.

Because of you.

For you.

Looking around, you see a world like no other. What you thought was a Dome can’t be a Dome, because there are plains, and mountains, and streams, and oceans. It’s another world with crystal clear skies. Everyone is running now, and the excitement among the people is contagious. You hear bits and pieces of conversation. “He’s here!” “He’s alive!” And there He is- the Door. Your salvation. Your Savior. The One who died in your place. Risen from the dead, and extending His arms in welcome to you.

***

I realize that I’m no storyteller. I also realize that it’s impossible to do justice to the Gospel in three pages, when God used 40+ writers in three languages over the course of 1500 years to write His Word, this incredible story of redemption.  No doubt there are many places in my story where the analogy breaks down, but that’s not the point.

Today is Good Friday, the day traditionally celebrated as the day that Jesus went to the Cross. What better day than this to write about the Cross and what happened there? What greater time than one in which the Cross’ purpose and effect is widely contested among evangelical Christians? It’s a sad reality that there are largely three camps in this battle for the Truth, and what I’d like to do is use the story above as the backdrop for these positions.

The first camp is that of Universalism. This position teaches that the entire human race was present at the Dome, and as Jesus suffered the wrath of His Father, God’s wrath against mankind was satisfied and as such they all enter the Dome and receive eternal life. They base this on passages like John 1:29, which says “The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” They also like 1 John 2:2, which says that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” They like verses like Romans 6:23, where God’s gift to us is eternal life, instead of the death we deserve. They like 1 Tim 4:10, which teaches that God is the Savior of all people. They like 2 Peter 3:9, which says that God “is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” I mean, it makes sense. If Jesus’ death truly paid your sin debt, and our sovereign God does not want anyone to perish, then it is reasonable to believe that God gets His will, all are saved, and all the “hell” passages need to be re-evaluated for a proper understanding.

I would be lying if I said this position wasn’t attractive. I mean, it must be, given the explosion of acceptance this sort of theology has found. I wish that everyone would be spared the wrath of God. I wish that Hell were not real, or forever. Nonetheless, the Bibical record is convincing that Hell is real, and it is forever, and it is for unforgiven sinners. There are two natural responses to this reality- we can limit what Jesus did on the Cross, or we can limit for whom Jesus suffered. Position two does the former.

People in group two are diverse in heritage and theology. Freewillers, Arminians, moderate Arminians, Amyraldians, 4-point Calvinists, moderate Calvinists, semi-Pelagians, all agree on the three things: the Cross did not save anyone in particular, we play a role in our own salvation, and God does not get His greatest desire. Their introductory story would go like this: Jesus suffered the wrath of His Father on behalf of all mankind, but this alone accomplished nothing. Jesus is now at the Dome beckoning everyone to come through. Those that do will be forgiven, those that do not will still face the storm. God doesn’t want you to perish, but at the same time He can’t bring you into the Dome. You have to do that yourself. He did His part, now you do yours and be saved.

This position is also attractive, because now you can love the verses that the Universalists love, yet still believe in Hell. Hell is now not for rebelling against God, but rather for rejecting the forgiveness of God who punished His Son for you. Hell is voluntary now, and though God wants you to be saved, He only accepts freewill love and therefore leaves the choice up to us. God is fair, we get what we want, and passages like Isaiah 53:6, John 1:29, John 3:16-17, John 4:42, John 6:51, Acts 17:30, Romans 5:18, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 18-19, I Tim 2:3-6, Titus 2:11, Hebrews 2:9, 2 Peter 2:1, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:14 make perfect sense when read alone.

The third camp sees both of the previous camps as equally unbiblical. Known through history as Augustinians, Reformed, Calvinists, Particular Redemptionists, Monergists, or simply “Sovereign Grace”, those in this camp are unified by a common theme: Jesus redeemed sinners at the Cross who were given to Him by His Father and drawn to Him by the Spirit. In other words, the Cross wasn’t an isolated event, but one that was planned in eternity to obtain salvation for a particular group of people. They do not see the Cross as merely making men savable, but rather saving them by removing the wrath of God due them for their sins. Camp two is laden with errors, and to do justice in my own position against theirs I would need to write a book. Can’t do that at the moment, so forgive me for the following meager apologetic.

  1. My first problem with camp two is that it purports an atonement that doesn’t actually atone. It doesn’t truly remove God’s wrath from mankind, because we see in Colossians 3:6 and other passages that God’s wrath is still coming. Hell is still going to be populated by people who are suffering the wrath of God that their sins earned. If this is true, then God could not have been fully satisfied by the Cross 2000 years ago. While many in camp three agree that the atoning work of Christ is indeed sufficient to cover the sins of humanity, in actuality it does not. It covers only those for whom Christ specifically suffered, i.e, all who will repent and believe. That the Cross was actually effective in atonement is seen throughout Scripture. It was indeed the reason for the Messiah to come.
  2. My second problem is that it makes salvation synergistic, or the resulting product from God doing His part and you doing yours. While it is true that faith is required for salvation or occur, camp three recognizes that faith is a gift from God, purchased in the Cross, bestowed onto people at God’s will. In other words, camp three recognizes that faith is a grace of God that flows from regeneration- it doesn’t cause it.
  3. My third problem is that camp two’s position belittles sin’s effect on people. However, the Biblical account is clear that a lost person is (1) wicked at his very core– Gen 6:5, 8:21, Mk… 7:21-23, Ps 5:9, Jer 17:9, Titus 1:15-16, Ecc 9:3, Eph 4:17-18, (2) Enslaved by his sinful desires – Jn 8:34, Titus 3:3, 2 Tim 2:25-26, (3) Perverted in his will – Jn 8:44, Eph 2:3, Pro 21:10, Jn 3:19, Rom 7:18, (4) Unwilling and unable to change himself – Jer 13:23, Matt 7:18, Matt 12:34-35, Job 14:4, (5) Born hating God – Jn 3:20, Rom 8:7, Col 1:21 (6) Separated from God and not seeking Him Ps 58:3, Eph 2:12-13, Eph 2:3, Ps 10:4, Jn 3:20, Is 64:7, Rom 3:10-12, (7) Completely unable to please God – Pro 15:9, Pro 28:9, Is 64:6, Rom 8:7-8, (8) Uncomprehending the Gospel and thinking it foolish – 1 Cor 2:14, 2 Cor 4:3-4, 1 Cor 1:18, 21-24, Deut 29:2-4, Matt 11:27, (9) Unable to respond positively to the Gospel – Jn 3:27, Jn 14:16-17, Jn 1:12-13, John 6:44, 65, (10) Spiritually dead – Col 2:13, Eph 2:1, Jn 3:3, Jn 3:7.

 

In other words, if all God does is sit back and leave everyone alone, everyone will still continue in their rebellion against God and perish. Camp two advocates believe that God throws out a life jacket to drowning people, but the jacket won’t save you unless you grab it. Camp three advocates believe that you’ve drowned, and unless God gives you new life you will remain dead. Camp two espouses libertarian free will; camp three denies this in favor of compatiblistic free will.

 

4. My fourth issue is that camps one and two deny the fundamental purpose of the Cross, which was to truly redeem unto a God a bride for His Son, comprised of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation.

5. My fifth issue is that camp two denies the unconditionality of God’s electing grace, which is a Biblical necessity given the state of a lost person and the graciousness of repentance and faith.

So here’s how it plays out in terms of the opening story. There is a storm brewing, and that storm is the infinite wrath of God in a place called Hell, where rebels against the Creator will pay the due penalty for their crimes. This covers the entire human race (Romans 3:23, 5:12). God, though, to display His love and mercy, chose for Himself a people who He would change from the wicked sinners they are into someone who looks more like His own Son (Romans 9:24, Eph. 1:1-14). They would be Jesus’ Bride. As God cannot simply forgive their sin (Proverbs 17:15), Jesus volunteered to take their place and pay their debt, a sacrifice that we are united to by faith (Romans 3:23-26). Unable and unwilling to come to God as spiritual corpses (John 6:44), God gives new life through His Holy Spirit that brings spiritual life and faith in Christ (John 1:13, 5-8, 1 John 5:1). Justifying us by His grace through the faith He gave us (Eph. 2:8-9), He then seals us with His Spirit, a surety that we are indeed saved forever (Eph 1:13-14).

The value of Christ’s sacrifice is such that if the entire world were to come to the Cross, there is sufficient salvation for all mankind. But the reality is that the atoning work of Christ only covers those who come. This underlies the necessity to go worldwide and implore all people, everywhere, to see their sins as God does and trust Christ to be their savior. Jesus, upon the Cross, beckons for whosoever will, to come and be saved. Refuse to do this, and you will die in your sins. You will get what you want, which is that separation from the God you hate. So no one can say “salvation is impossible for some, because Jesus didn’t suffer for all.” Those in camp two who claim this lose sight of the fact that Jesus’ work saves those for whom it was intended, which are those who indeed come.

And as I’ve said before, if you have been born again, you are born again because God elected to save you before you were even born. This decision of God’s was not based upon any foreseen faith on your part, because faith itself is a gift from God, and even if it wasn’t you would never put your faith in the cross because prior to your rebirth you saw the cross as foolish and stupid. Apart from grace, you would have never seen your sin for what it was, because repentance is also a gift from God. You never would have come to Jesus had the Father not drawn you, and all who the Father draw will be saved. God formed an intimate relationship with you before you were born, and he predestined you to receive eternal life, rather than the eternity in Hell that you yourself chose apart from grace. In time, God regenerated your dead heart and drew you to Himself, giving you the faith you placed in Christ, which in turn led to your justification, ongoing sanctification, and eventual glorification. If you are saved today, you are saved because God gave you to Jesus, who died for you, appeasing God’s wrath upon your sins, and the Holy Spirit gave you new life. It was, is, and will always be about God. You are saved by grace, NOT because of anything you did apart from grace. You deserved Hell, you rejected God, you hated God, you rebelled against God, you chose Hell over God, and everything you did prior to your salvation was all for you, not for Him. And yet…God showed His love for us by saving us- not because of us, but in spite of us.

Who did Jesus die for? Everyone coming to Him for salvation.

So come.

Comments
  1. Never post stuff like this an a Friday. Haha. No debate here, but how would you answer this according to your #2 objection: if faith was purchased at the cross, would it be fair to say that the lost of the world fall in 2 different categories, those who have had the wrath of God removed from them and those who still have the wrath of God over them? Although both are wicked at his very core- Gen 6:5, 8:21, Mk… 7:21-23, Ps 5:9, Jer 17:9, Titus 1:15-16, Ecc 9:3, Eph 4:17-18, (2) Enslaved by his sinful desires – Jn 8:34, Titus 3:3, 2 Tim 2:25-26, (3) Perverted in his will – Jn 8:44, Eph 2:3, Pro 21:10, Jn 3:19, Rom 7:18, (4) Unwilling and unable to change himself – Jer 13:23, Matt 7:18, Matt 12:34-35, Job 14:4, (5)Born hating God – Jn 3:20, Rom 8:7, Col 1:21 (6)Separated from God and not seeking Him – Ps 58:3, Eph 2:12-13, Eph 2:3, Ps 10:4, Jn 3:20, Is 64:7, Rom 3:10-12, (7) Completely unable to please God – Pro 15:9, Pro 28:9, Is 64:6, Rom 8:7-8, (8) Uncomprehending the Gospel and thinking it foolish – 1 Cor 2:14, 2 Cor 4:3-4, 1 Cor 1:18, 21-24, Deut 29:2-4, Matt 11:27, (9) Unable to respond positively to the Gospel – Jn 3:27, Jn 14:16-17, Jn 1:12-13, John 6:44, 65, (10) Spiritually dead – Col 2:13, Eph 2:1, Jn 3:3, Jn 3:7.

    • Good question- really has a lot to with provision/application of the atoning work of Christ. In all honesty, it’s an area of theology that I myself find a bit paradoxical…much like God dying, Jesus being tempted, the Trinity, and prayer. If Jesus’ death and resurrection saved me and raised me to new life, and it happened on the cross, how could I truly be born beneath the wrath of God? If salvation was accomplished at the cross, wouldn’t I be born saved? If I was under the wrath of God until being united to faith in Christ, how could propitiation on my behalf happen on the cross 2000 years ago? I’d be the first admit that I don’t have enough answers to tie everything together into a nice, neat, theologically concise package. I wish I could!

      For me, though, the problems are greater on the other side of the coin. If atonement happened for all, how are men still being punished for said sins? How can God’s wrath still befall men when Jesus supposedly absorbed it on the cross?

      In answer to your question, I would say the answer is both. Much like the question “was Jesus God or man” cannot be answered as one or the other, in ways seemingly paradoxical I believe the answer to your question is “both.” All men not united to Christ by faith are beneath the wrath of God- wrath that was exhausted in its fullest upon Christ on the cross on behalf of the believer. Those trusting Christ as Savior will be forgiven justly on the grounds of Christ’s work in their place; those refusing to will bear God’s wrath in their own being.

      Part of the intricacies of soteriology is trying to figure out when something really happens. Was God’s wrath upon me gone when God elected me to salvation, bore my sins, or justified me? Was my salvation sealed at election, atonement, or justification? In God’s eyes, was I reconciled to Him at election, the Cross, or 2006?

      Don’t really know how it all works, to be honest. What I do know is that Christ’s work saves infallibly- but only for the believer.

      • I'll end with this cause I think I know the knot in the stomach we get when we see the other replied says:

        I respect the fact you admit it’s paradoxical, as long as you would afford me the same pass were I go that route with your objections to my view. Ultimately we must all appeal to mystery, although I think it should be as far down the road as logically possible and in the same balance as Scripture appeals to mystery. (Although I don’t think I would classify your examples as paradoxes)

  2. I appreciate the gracefulness. We’re both stubborn dogs, and I think we both favor “purity over unity,” albeit to varying degrees with varying issues. You should rest assured that I bar no one from salvation and that weekly I’m urging my listeners to embrace Jesus as Savior. To borrow (horribly so!) from Spurgeon, I would rather myself be seen as inconsistent (paradoxical) than to purport that Scripture is. One day I’d love for us to walk through a book espousing our theological variances (i.e., soteriology) and “converse” about the points we disagree with. Until then, I’m happy to wait for your thesis!

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