Sunday, July 15, 2018

Faithful AND Just

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. - 1 John 1:9

Reading this familiar passage today, like I have hundreds of times before, but I was struck by two words I'd always just passed over. Of course the focus of the verse is on the grace of God in forgiveness of our sin if we confess and agree with him that we indeed have sinned. That's the point of this whole section of 1st John. We're reminded of the gracious and merciful nature of God in this verse. But we're also reminded of two other attributes that make this forgiveness possible.

First, God is faithful. He's faithful and true to his promises that he's made to us in his covenant of grace. He's so faithful to these promises that he confirmed them by the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son, Jesus Christ. We can trust that God will be eternally faithful to his promises of redemption, because he can't be otherwise.

Second, God is just. Again, justice is one of his attributes. He is perfectly and absolutely just in all he is and all he does. It's this justice that requires him to judge and punish sin. To do otherwise would mean God would have to violate his own character, something he cannot do. So how then can John say God is just to forgive us our sins? Because the demands of God's justice have been fully and perfectly fulfilled and satisfied by the same incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son Jesus Christ that confirmed his faithfulness. This is expressed well in Romans 3:26 where God is referred to as being "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." He doesn't set aside or violate his perfect justice to forgive us in Christ. Instead he has perfectly fulfilled it for those who are in Christ.

A reminder of who our great and merciful God truly is, and how he has acted on our behalf in Jesus. And a reminder that every word of his Scriptures is there for a reason and a purpose.

We're Not Broken - We're Sinners

It's become popular in evangelicalism to refer to ourselves as being "broken." As in the sense that our problem as people is that we are broken, and that Jesus has come to heal our brokenness. I've become increasingly uncomfortable with this kind of language, because I think it clouds the actual truth of the gospel. So we really need to ask ourselves - is it Biblical? Can we support using these terms of brokenness and healing as a clear expression of the intent and effects of the gospel of Jesus Christ. My view is that it is not.

First, let's consider the therapeutic focus that the term brokenness expresses. To be sure, there are a lot of people in the world who have many kinds of challenges, issues, problems, etc. And they are desperately in search of some kind of relief from their issues, someone or something to help them cope. And yes, Jesus as the great Physician and Healer can and often does provide rescue from life situations for His people. But is this the main intent of the gospel? No, it is not. When we speak of people being broken in this sense we tend to think of them being victims of some sort, victims of injustice, oppression, being taken advantage of, bad family situations, addictions, the whole gamut of human miseries. But the Scriptures don't refer to people primarily as victims who are struggling for relief from their life issues. Instead they tell us who we really are: depraved sinners. In our natural state we aren't unwitting victims, but unrighteous rebels against the rightful rule of God. Out root problem isn't that we need deliverance in the form of therapy for our problems - it's that we are dead in our sin, unable and unwilling to seek God, actively hostile towards Him, and therefore under His just condemnation. This is the the real problem that the gospel addresses - freedom from the eternal wrath of God that we've earned as sinners against a holy God. Provided through the gracious life and death of Jesus, and received by faith in Him, alone.

Second, the term "broken" in the Bible usually refers to someone who is repentant, who has seen the reality of their sin and guilt before God and has been crushed by the weight of their condemnation before Him. The best example of this is Psalm 51:17: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Brokenness is referred to as the right response to God's judgment on our unrighteousness and rebellion, not as the state we need to be relieved of.

When God the Spirit performs His work of regeneration and gives us spiritual life and eyes to see the truth, all of our issues and problems in this life fall away as insignificant compared to the awful state of our sinfulness and standing before God in judgment. This is what brings us to a state of being truly broken, seeing ourselves as we truly are - not victims but rebels. And this brokenness results in repentance and faith as we flee from our sin and flee to Christ for His grace, mercy, pardon and new life for eternity. Then, and only then, can we seek relief from Jesus for our problems in life, as He chooses to provide it as our Lord and Savior.

Let's reclaim a Biblical use of the term brokenness. We're not broken - we're sinners.