Dean Koontz: “Everyone talks about justice, but there can be no justice where there is no truth, and these are times when truth is seldom recognized and often despised.”
If you grew up in a conservative Christian culture like I did you probably feel as if the world is coming undone. ISIS is beheading Christians and other non-complaints with seemingly little consequence. No one stands to defend and protect. Even to “label” the beheaders and beheadees as Muslim and Christian seems to be considered inappropriate. Islam must be accepted as a religion of peace worthy of honor while Christianity must be removed from every public sector and is labeled as intolerant. The Supreme Court is set to rule on gay marriage rights, but much of government and society have already judged it to be acceptable. Not only is it judged to be acceptable, but all are expected to accept – no – embrace – no – celebrate homosexuality – this includes the church and its members. Threats of lawsuits or taxation or even prison are given for those who by their conscience and the Scriptures are convinced that homosexuality is wrong and refuse to participate in celebrating it. Legalization of marijuana for recreational use is popular around the country. Abortion, while at its lowest rate since 1973, continues to increase among the poor in the US and the national toll is pushing 58 million lives lost since Roe vs. Wade. Yet we are told it is a thing to celebrate – a triumph for women’s rights. It is a stain on our society. Right is wrong and wrong is embraced as righteous.
But that is not what I want to talk about.
There is something even more insidious lurking than societies’ moral relativism. And it lurks, to my sorrow, in me and I suspect for many of you. For all the passion and distress we feel over societies’ celebration of abortion, homosexuality and Islam, do we feel the same – no more – distress over our own sins? Do we feel the same hatred towards our own pet sins as we do towards others? Do you? Do I? I can sympathize with and explain and rationalize my own sins. They are excusable to myself. They are reasonable. They should be tolerated. I can even embrace them as valid. Lust – “that porn doesn’t hurt anyone – I need a break.” Anger – “I had a long day and that person was being a jerk – my anger is justified.” Greed – “I will not share what is mine, I’ve earned it! – I deserve a better life than he does.” So while we can wax eloquent about the evils of abortion, we often find ourselves defending and accepting our own sins. Right is wrong and wrong is accepted. Romans 2:1 says: “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”
You see we all stand in the same place – sinners. Now I know the word “sinner” is not a palatable word for many of us. No one wants to be called a sinner. If you confront me and tell me “Ken you are a self-righteous, angry, lustful, lazy man and a bad parent to boot” no matter how accurate you may be it is not a pleasant word. I probably won’t run up to you and hug you and say, “Thanks man, I really needed that.” But I should. Sin is a deadly poison. To live in it is to invite sorrow and pain and death into our lives. Sin harms us and harms those around us. It is for this very reason Scripture over and over again holds up the mirror of God’s law to reveal the exceeding sinfulness of our sin.
The world wants to deal with sin by just accepting or excusing everything. The church often deals with sin by minimizing what God requires – “Just do your best – God will accept your best effort.” Both are attempts to sidestep the word sinners and bring the standards of God down to something we can attain. It is repugnant to us to be labeled “sinners.” We desire to justify our actions to ourselves and you damn well better accept them too. God loves everybody and accepts me as I am and anyone who says otherwise can go just go to hell. To the extent that we minimize or deny our true sinfulness and brokenness and to the extent that we imagine God to be a tolerant God who just receives us because of our intrinsic value as human beings – to that same extent we lose a great and glorious message of Good News that God intensely desires that we hear.
The Cross of Christ speaks two words. If we lose either we lose the entire good news. The first word is that God is a holy God who must judge all unrighteousness and sin. God is not a God like a naïve grandfather who casually overlooks our wrongs, smiling warmly and saying “don’t worry – your sin doesn’t matter.” No! Scripture says he dwells in radiant splendor and unapproachable light. His ways are not our ways, nor our thoughts his thoughts. Were it not for his restraint and undeserved kindness we would all be consumed in our unrighteousness. The Lamb of God did not die for nothing. His death testifies to the grievousness of our sin. The Son did not die to save pretty good people. He died to rescue for himself a people who justly were facing hell’s abyss. Don’t be self-righteous here. Don’t minimize your own sin. As you think about your life your own conscience tells you rightly that you have done wrong. That right now you do not even come close to measuring up to God’s holiness – God’s righteousness – God’s perfection. Romans tells us that we have ALL sinned and come short of the righteousness of God. No one is excluded from this indictment. Don’t compare yourself to your peers and falsely think you are doing well. The requirement is that you must be as holy as God – compare yourself with Him!
Again Romans says, “The wages or penalty for our sin is death.” Now this may seem harsh but do not let its harshness deter you from believing it to be so or you will miss everything. As long as your soul remains in a self-satisfied and indulgent stupor you will never understand the message of the Cross. The Cross shows you that death is the required payment for sin. Nothing else will do. Your earnest efforts – your well-conceived ideals – your hard work and dedication – yes it may merit you something with man, but not with God. No! He requires perfect holiness or death. The Cross’ first word is that sin demands death and eternal separation from God. Until this word is an existential reality for you, grace will be nothing but a meaningless pillow on which to comfort yourself. God will be a grandfatherly, fluffy and meaningless fellow we may check in with from time to time to see if he might be able to help with some bad circumstance we’ve found ourselves in. This is not the God declared in the Bible – nor the God who is mighty to save. He is a god we have created in our minds to quiet our consciences and deceive our minds into believing everything is fine. Instead the Bible over and over declares because of our sin we cannot stand in his presence and that all sin will be punished. Eternal death is its punishment.
There is a second word from the Cross of Christ. It does not deny or minimize the first word rather it reinforces it. It says, “Surely HE has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Though we have sinned HE is the one “smitten by God, and afflicted. “ Though we have ALL gone astray HE is the one “crushed for our iniquity and pierced for our transgressions.” So while the Cross confirms that indeed there is punishment for sin, it at the same time declares to us that the penalty has been borne by someone else. We stand guilty – Christ receives our condemnation. We have fallen and gone our own way – Christ has obeyed perfectly in our place. We deserve judgment, instead we receive grace not just because God is a nice guy, but because of the great suffering of Jesus Christ who died in your place – and mine. This is extravagant love on display. Christ Himself endured the shame of the cross to rescue for Himself a people sinking in their sin. A people who except for this grace would be without hope. BUT GOD even when we were dead in our sins made us alive because of his great mercy and rich love.
This is the Good News of all good news. This is hope that is able to penetrate all the darkness and despair you feel in this life and make you able to stand full of joy in his presence. II Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” God takes your brokenness, your sin, your despair, your dirty rags of trying to get it right and exchanges it for his fullness, his righteousness, his hope, his perfection by means of the precious death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Grace accomplishes what the law never could.
There is an old saying that says, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” All of us – homosexual and self-righteous, baby-aborting and stone-throwing moralist, murderers and haters – stand in the same place – guilty and deserving death. But God has made a way by his grace to rescue you and to deliver you into the kingdom of his dear Son. That way was accomplished when Jesus breathed his last breath and cried out “It is finished!” and three days later rose from the dead conquering sin and death. He now calls you to himself and says, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Take your brokenness and pain and longing and sin to the cross and let the cross speak words of deliverance, – It is Finished, your debt is paid, your rescue accomplished, your sins forgiven by the Friend of Sinners – Jesus Christ.
Charles Spurgeon said, “The gospel of Christ is meant for the scum of the population; it is meant for the lowest of the low, for the worst of the worst. The blood of Christ can wash out blasphemy, adultery, fornication, lying, slander, perjury, theft, murder. Though thou hast raked in the very kennels of hell till though hast blackened thyself…if thou wilt come to Christ and ask mercy, He will absolve thee from all sin.”
This is glorious grace.