Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Radical: The Gospel
This morning, before the sun had peeked it's sleepy head over the horizon, I read this beautiful rendition of the gospel. It was a wonderful beginning to my day. Phrases and sentences have lingered in my soul all day long. I wanted to share it with you.
I know this post is super long and in our culture of sound-bytes and catch-phrases, it's hard to sit down and read something of this length, but please do. You'll be blessed!
"An old preaching professor used to take his students to a cemetery every semester. Standing on the perimeter overlooking scores of headstones, he would ask his students in all sincerity to speak over the graves and call people from the ground to rise up and live. With some embarrassment and an awkward chuckle or two, they would try it. Of course, one by one they would fail. The professor would then look at his students and remind them of a core truth in the gospel: people are spiritually dead, just as those corpses in the cemetery were physically dead and only words from God can bring them to spiritual life.
"This is the reality about humanity. We are each born with an evil, God-hating heart. Genesis 8:21 says that every inclination of man's heart is evil from childhood, and Jesus' words in Luke 11:13 assume that we know we are evil. Many people say, "Well, I have always loved God," but the reality is, no one has. We may have loved a god that we made up in our minds, but the God of the Bible, we hate.
"In our evil we rebel against God. We take the law of God, written in his Word and on our hearts, and we disobey it. This is the picture of the very first sin in Genesis 3. Even if God has said not to eat from the tree of knowledge, we are going to do it anyway.
"We spurn our Creator's authority over us. God beckons storm clouds and they come. He tells the wind to blow and the rain to fall, and they obey immediately. He speaks to the mountains, "You go there," and he says to the seas, "You stop here," and they do it. Everything in all creation responds in obedience to the Creator...until we get to you and me. We have the audacity to look God in the face and say, "No."
"Jesus told us that everyone who sins is a slave to sin, and Paul went so far as to say that we are captive to the devil himself. And because we are slaves to sin, we are blinded to God's truth. Ephesians 4:18 says that we are darkened in our understanding and our hearts are like stone. According to 2 Corinthians 4:4, we can't even see Christ because of the depth of our spiritual blindness.
"The Bible describes us as enemies of God and objects of his wrath. We are spiritually dead and eternally separated from God. What's worse is that we can do nothing to change our status before God. No one who is morally evil can choose good, no man who is a slave can set himself free, no woman who is blind can give herself sight, and no person who is dead can cause himself to come to life.
"The gospel confronts us with the hopelessness of our sinful condition. But we don't like what we see of ourselves in the gospel, so we shrink back from it. We live in a land of self-improvement. Certainly there are steps we can take to make ourselves better. So we modify what the gospel says about us.
"We are not evil, we think, and certainly not spiritually dead. Haven't you heard of the power of positive thinking? I can become a better me and experience my best life now. That's why God is there - to make that happen. My life is not going right, but God loves me and has a plan to fix my life. I simply need to follow certain steps, think certain things, and check off certain boxes, and then I am good.
"Both our diagnosis of the situation and our conclusion regarding the solution fit nicely in a culture that exalts self-suffiiciency, self-esteem, and self-confidence. We already have a fairly high view of our morality, so when we add a superstitious prayer, a subsequent dose of church attendance, and obedience to some of the Bible, we feel pretty sure that we will be all right in the end.
"Note the contrast, however, when you diagnose the problem biblically. The modern-day gospel says, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved." Meanwhile, the biblical gospel says, "You are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less to cause yourself to come to life. Therefore, you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do."
"The former sells books and draws crowds. The latter saves souls. Which is more important?
"In the gospel God reveals the depth of our need for him. He shows us that there is absolutely nothing we can do to come to him. We can't manufacture salvation. We can't program it. We can't produce it. We can't even initiate it. God has to open our eyes, set us free, overcome our evil, and appease his wrath. He has to come to us.
"Now we are getting to the beauty of the gospel."
And skipping ahead...
"This is the gospel. As long as you and I understand salvation as checking off boxes to get to God, we will find ourselves in the meaningless sea of world religions that actually condemn the human race by exalting our supposed ability to get to God. On the other hand, when you and I realize that we are morally evil, dead in sin, and deserving of God's wrath with no way out on our own, we begin to discover our desperate need for Christ.
"Our understanding of who God is and who we are drastically affects our understanding of who Christ is and why we need him. For example, if God is only a loving Father who wants to help his people, then we will see Christ as a mere exampple of that love. We will view the Cross as a just a demonstration of God's love in which he allowed Roman soldiers to crucify his Son so that sinful man would know how much he loves us.
"But this picture of Christ and the Cross is woefully inadequate, missing the entire point of the gospel. We are not saved from our sins because Jesus was falsely tried by Jewish and Roman officials and sentenced by Pilate to die. Neither are we saved because Roman persecutors thrust nails into the hands and feet of Christ and hung him on the cross.
"Do we really think that the false judgement of men heaped upon Christ would pay the debt for all of humankind's sin? Do we really think that a crown of thorns and whips and nails and a wooden cross and all the other facets of the crucifixion that we glamorize are powerful enough to save us?
"Picture Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. As he kneels before his Father, drops of sweat and blood fall together from his head. Why is he in such agony and pain? The answer is not because he is afraid of crucifixion. He is not trembling because of what the Roman soldiers are about to do to him.
"Since that day countless men and women in the history of Christianity have died for their faith. Some of them were not just hung on crosses; they were burned there. Many of them went to their crosses singing.
"One Christian in India, while being skinned alive, looked at his persecutors and said, "I thank you for this. Tear off my old garment, for I will soon put on Christ's garment of righteousness."
"As he prepared to head to his execution, Christopher Love wrote a note to his wife, saying, "Today they will sever me from my physical head, but they cannot sever me from my spiritual head, Christ." As he walked to his death, his wife applauded while he sang of glory.
"Did these men and women in Christian history have more courage than Christ himself? Why was he trembling in that garden, weeping and full of anguish? We can rest assured that he was not a coward about to face Roman soldiers. Instead he was a Savior about to endure divine wrath.
"Listen to his words: "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." The "cup" is not a reference to a wooden cross; it is a reference to a divine judgement. It is the cup of God's wrath.
"This is what Jesus is recoiling from in the garden. All God's holy wrath and hatred toward sin and sinners, stored up since the beginning of the world, is about to be poured out on him, and he is sweating blood at the thought of it.
"What happened at the cross was not primarily about nails being thrust into Jesus' hands and feet but about the wrath due your sin and my sin being thrust upon his soul. In that holy moment, all the righteous wrath and justice of God due us came rushing down like a torrent on Christ himself. Some say, "God looked down and could not bear to see the suffering that the soldiers were inflicting on Jesus, so he turned away." But this is not true. God turned away because he could not bear to see your sin and my sin on his Son.
"One preacher described it as if you and I were standing a short hundred yards away from a dam of water ten thousand miles high and ten thousand miles wide. All of a sudden that dam was breached, and a torrential flood of water came crashing toward us. Right before it reahed our feet, the ground in front of us opened up and swallowed it all. At the Cross, Christ drank the full cup of the wrath of God and when he had downed the last drop, he turned the cup over and cried out, "It is finished."
"This is the gospel. The just and loving Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent his Son, God in the flesh to bear his wrath against sin on the cross and to show his power over sin in the Resurrection so that all who trust in him will be reconciled to God forever."
~ David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream, pages 30-36