IIIM Magazine Online,Volume 4, Number 23, June 12 to June 19, 2002



by Rev. Russell B. Smith

In preparation for the Billy Graham Mission, all this month we are working through the series Witness: Sharing our Faith. Last week, we looked at our situation. We saw that the human condition is marked by dignity and depravity. We are made with great dignity — bearing the very image of God and having a calling to build a culture that is pleasing to Him. However we are burdened with great depravity — we have a heart that is inclined to disobey and disregard the good will of God. The tension that exists between these two states is neither good nor healthy, and our depravity separates us from relationship with God.

This week, we talk about the solution that God provides for us. To solve the situation of our dignity and our depravity, God made a sacrifice that leads to salvation.

To understand why this is the solution, we need to take a quick look at the Old Testament to see some fundamental characteristics of God's character: God is a just judge who will punish sin and God is a loving father who desires relationship with his children. The prophet Ezekiel 18:30-32 demonstrates this dual nature in God's call to Israel as he teaches both that God promises to judge, and that he desires for Israel to get a new heart and new spirit.

It is important to understand this, because if God were nothing more than a just judge, then he would have by all rights, destroyed all creation a long time ago. The creator has certain rights over his creation. I remember watching a friend doing a pottery exhibition at an art fair. She spun the wheel and shaped the clay into an interesting looking pot. Then she stopped the wheel, punched the clay back down again — worked it back to a lump. She did this several times. Each time, redoing the creation until she got it just right. She had the right as the creator to do that.

We are created beings — like it or not, we ultimately don't belong to ourselves. God, as creator, has rights over us. But he is also a loving father, and as such, he provided a means to take away the punishment for disobedience. God instituted the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. In some sense, the sacrifice of animals and grain became the replacement for our death and a reminder of how close to judgment every person stood. Look all through the book of Leviticus, and you'll see it's covered with the blood of lambs, doves, goats, and rams. Hebrews 9:22 says "In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."

But the blood of rams and goats wasn't enough to cover the magnitude of human disobedience. When you weigh the sacrifice in the balance with the disobedience, it still didn't out. It is important to understand that the sacrifices in the Old Testament were not enough, in of themselves, to pay for the wrongdoings of the people. They were simply a preview of coming attractions. They were a model, a picture, of the great sacrifice that God would make. They were there to prepare the hearts and imaginations of the people for what was to come.

The only sacrifice that can adequately pay for the wrongdoing and disobedience of millions upon millions of people stretching across time and space is something bigger than a ram or a pigeon. The only being adequate to such a task is God himself. So God himself came to earth as Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life. And he died on the cross as a sacrifice to cover the sins of the whole world.

God's justice required a sacrifice; God's love extends salvation. So God did it all himself. To solve the problem of our dignity and depravity, he made a sacrifice that led to our salvation.

Our passage from Romans explores this.

RO 5:6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

RO 5:9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Verses 6-8 show how we, in our depravity, are powerless to stand before God. It is only by God's actions that we can have relationship with Him. Our own good deeds are not enough. It is only upon the basis of faith in Christ's sacrifice that we can stand before God. Paul restates this truth clearly in Ephesians 2:8-9, saying:

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Now a lot of people stumble on this point. I've heard the question so many times — what if a murderer on death row confesses Christ? I have a hard time believing that they go to heaven. Think about Texas Murderer Karla Faye Tucker. She came to Christ in prison, and spent the last years of her life joyfully leading a prison ministry to women until she was executed for her crimes. Some would say there was no way that she earned God's good graces for teaching a few bible studies. There's no way that could make up for the crimes she did. But such an attitude misses the point. The point is that there is no way anyone can earn God's good graces because our hearts don't allow us to understand what God really wants. If there is no hope for the murderer on death row, then there is no hope for us. If there is no hope for the drug dealer, for the prostitute, for the thief and the addict, then there is no hope for us. The only way anyone can connect to a perfect God is for God to reach out to him or her.

So, to come at it from another angle, the truth is that judgment has already been passed on our own disobedient hearts — and Christ took that judgment upon himself. Thus, through faith in Christ's sacrifice, we are saved from the punishment that God has every right to execute upon us. The good news is that it doesn't stop there. Remember that the human condition is that of being designed for dignity and weighed down with depravity. As we have faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us and orients our lives toward our dignity. Jesus didn't die to make us OK — he died to make us good.

With the power of God working within us, we are able to do what God made us to do — to create a culture that honors God. Remember Brook's prayer — "Whatever happens, be glorified." The power of God working within us enables us to pray that prayer and to work it out in our lives. Salvation then is not a Get out of Hell Free card. We are not only saved from something without being saved to what we were originally designed for.

Therefore, your salvation, your having the Holy Spirit within, should affect every area of your life. Your work life, your family relationships, your friendships, your hobbies, your home, your personal habits, all of it belongs to God and it is the arena in which he chooses to work. You have been saved to the immense privilege of being used by God to work his will in the world. You have been saved so that you can make a difference in the lives of hurting people all around you. One of the best ways you can make a difference in the lives of your co-workers, your neighbors, your friends is to share with them the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Share the story of our dignity and depravity and the sacrifice that leads to salvation. Over the next three messages, we'll talk about how we tell the story, how we live the story, and the Holy Spirit that gives us power to share the story.