Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sin's Double Cure

This morning in worship at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, we sang that great old Augustus Toplady hymn of the faith, Rock of Ages. Very familiar words, but part of the first verse caught my attention.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.
What does "double cure" for sin mean? At first it made me think of the complete and absolute sufficiency of the death of Jesus Christ, that is able to save to the uttermost. But then I read the next line, which explains that the cure for sin found in Christ is actually twofold. And that double cure for sin is absolutely necessary, as both aspects mentioned here are required to put us in right standing before God. Christ provides both, in full measure.

First, the salvation from wrath. This is the aspect of the benefit of Christ's death that we most often focus on, and rightly so. The substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, as a payment for the sins of all people who will come to Him in faith and repentance, pays the awful debt that sin has earned all of us - the just and righteous wrath of God against sinners. For those in Christ, we stand fully and forever forgiven as a gift of God's grace, as our sin was placed on Christ and He became the object of God's wrath for us, in our place. Theologians call this Christ's penal substitutionary atonement. We call it incredible mercy, pouring out the judgment we justly deserve for our sin onto God the Son.

But consider that if all Christ's sacrifice did for us is to remove the debt of our sins, we would still be in a terrible position. We would at best be in the same situation as Adam in the garden, in a neutral state with a clean slate, but still under the requirements of the covenant of works. In other words, fully forgiven but still with no righteousness to be able to stand before God. Our first thought or act of rebellion against God (which would probably happen within seconds) would put us under the condemnation of God and His wrath again. As fallen sinners, we need more that to just be forgiven, to have the debt of our sins removed by Christ. We need a positive righteousness that changes both our standing before a holy and righteous God, and that changes our disposition towards Him and towards sin. And this is found in the double cure provided in the gospel and only in Jesus.

This double cure for sin is most clearly seen in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where the Apostle Paul describes the conversion transaction in these terms: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." This is the great exchange that occurs when a person places saving faith in Jesus. We've seen the first part, that God the Father placed our sin onto Christ, literally made Him to be that sin on our behalf and in our place, to take the full punishment for it. Jesus could do this because He had no sin of His own to pay for.

And here's where the second part of the cure for sin comes in. Because Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law of God during His life on earth as a human, He earned a perfect, infinite righteousness. And as we see here, when we are in Him, that is in Christ by having trusted Him for eternal life, we receive as a gift of God's grace that perfect righteousness, the very righteousness of Christ Himself, credited to us. In exchange for our sin, God grants us His own righteousness.

As believers in Jesus Christ we stand both fully forgiven for sin, and fully righteous in the sight of God. As Toplady says, we are saved from wrath and made pure in positive righteousness before God. And the Scriptures are clear that the imputed righteousness of Christ changes our disposition so that we will seek to live a pure life that glorifies God by displaying the fruits of His righteousness within us, because the ruling power of sin in our lives has been destroyed.

So yes, be thankful for the forgiveness at the cross found only in Jesus Christ. But also be thankful that God's gospel of salvation provided the needed double cure for our sin and unrighteousness. Faith in Christ, and in Christ alone, is fully sufficient.  "Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." Hebrews 7:25

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Speaking in Son

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son... - Hebrews 1:1-2 NASB
I've been rereading the entire epistle to the Hebrews over and over lately, in preparation for possibly writing a study guide for the book. The themes of the superiority of Christ and the New Covenant as pointed to in the types and shadows of the Old Covenant are so rich, I keep getting drawn back to them.

Tonight, though, I couldn't get past the opening two verses. The writer to the Hebrews starts his letter with a reminder of the revelation that God has given over time to His people. He refers to God in times past speaking to the Hebrew fathers through the mouths of prophets, and delivering His message progressively through many different stages of the history of the nation of Israel, and revealing His voice in diverse ways like dreams, visions, direct speech, even animals. A great reminder for us all that we have a God who is not silent, who has spoken clearly to His people as He has seen fit.

And the writer goes on to point to the culmination of Gods revelation in "these last days". There's a sense of finality in the wording used here, that God spoke long ago but now, as the ages are moving to a close, He has spoken to us fully and finally. And the form of that speech is in His Son, Jesus Christ. Literally, in Son or by Son.

This sounds odd to us in English. How can God speak "in Son" or "by Son"?  In reality we talk like this all the time. For example, when referring to using a foreign language, we might say that someone spoke to me "in Spanish." The means and mode and medium of communication was the Spanish language. Or that I received a message "by email". The message was delivered via the media and means of an email. Makes perfect sense. So apply that to God speaking to us in/by Son. What we see is that the means of God's revelation, the medium of His speech, and the mode of what He has spoken to us is Christ. Jesus, God's Son, is the language and also the content of His full and final revelation to His people. He didn't just speak to us through Jesus as a mouthpiece like He did with the prophets, who had to preface their words from God with "thus says the Lord." No, in contrast to that, Jesus is more than a spokesman. He's the language, the means, and the message, in one glorious revelation.

So what are the implications of this? First, I think it should inform how we view Christ. If we seek to understand the full revelation of God, His character, His purposes, His actions, His will and His grace and His justice, we must look to Christ. Not a made up Jesus, but the Jesus in which He's spoken to us. God's communication of His gracious gospel is wrapped up in the person and work of His gracious Son.

Second, we need look for no further word from God after He has spoken to us in Christ. What further revelation of God could possibly be needed after He has fully and finally revealed Himself to us in the second person of the triune Godhead? When we ask for more, or think some fresh new word or sign from God is needed, we in essence are treating God's speech to us in His Son as insufficient, not enough for us. God has spoken His Son to us, yet we arrogantly look for something more or something else.

We are surely still in these last days as the church and people of God in Christ. The last days will end when Christ returns and time is no more, all things are made new and right, and there will be no more need of God's revelation since we who know Him will be eternally with Him. But in the meanwhile, let's rest in the speech God has given in Son, and look to Him only for all we need.