Monday, January 14, 2008

Are you saved?

Some people resent the question; others are amused by it. What am I supposed to be saved from? An onrushing train?

We are saved from sin. Sin is a term in archery that means 'missing the target', especially by falling short of it. Paul writes to the Romans, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". It's worse than that, for he goes on to write, "For the wages of sin is death".

God has set a standard and the pass mark is 100%. Here's a challenge: try and live a perfect life. Give up? I tried and couldn't do it. Just one sin is all it takes. Miss the bullseye just one time and you fall short of the standard required.

There is a story of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai and saying to the Children of Israel, "It's no good; I couldn't get him to budge over the adultery thing, but I did manage to get us one day off a week."

Moses was given the Law, not so that we could live by it but to show how impossible it is. Because some people believed they could, Jesus demonstrated how superficially they were interpreting the commandments. Murder? It's as bad to be angry against your neighbor. Adultery? Whenever you look at a pin-up or fantasize over a film star you've as good as done it already. This is Paul to the Romans again, "There is no one righteous, not even one." Jesus saves us from sin because he did live a completely sinless life. Someone once said to me, "I am not phased by the resurrection or by any of the miracles, but I can't believe that anyone could live a sinless life." The Bible tells us that Jesus did just that, and here's the proof: when they tried to kill him, Death spat him out again. Death is the wages of sin, not sinlessness.

Sin is something we need saving from and there is only one savior.

We are saved from the presence of sin, but also from the power of sin. Once we have a grip on Christ (or rather He has a grip on us) sin loses its attractiveness. It doesn't happen all at once, but the things that used to enthrall us begin to seem petty dull. Of course, they don't go overnight; some of them are hooked into us pretty deep. Some of them we have to pray pretty hard about. But even though we might still fall for them we begin to hate ourselves for doing so. Once you have been saved you can never be a happy sinner again. Take it from me, you'll never be completely free from sin in this life. There's a story told of a dinner guest of CH Spurgeon who proudly told his host that he had at last achieved sinless perfection. Whereupon, Spurgeon chucked a jug of water over him. The man's temper flared, "What do you think you are doing?"

"It's as I thought," said Spurgeon, "the Old Man's not dead, just sleeping."

In order to free us from the power of sin Jesus sent His Holy Spirit when he returned to heaven. It's the Spirit's job to sanctify us, to strip away the sin and make us fit for heaven. It can be a hard job and painful when we resist Him, but it's worth it.

There should always be three 'P's and the third one is punishment. Jesus saves us from the punishment of sin. God's wrath, they used to call it, though 'wrath' is a very old-fashioned word. What it means is God's righteousness in action. It's fashionable these days to think of it as a sort of involuntary reaction, like 'nature abhors a vacuum'. Vacuum flasks consist of a double layer of silvered glass with nothing in between - no air, no nitrogen, no oxygen. Smash the glass and the whole thing implodes. The air rushes in to fill the empty space, sucking the broken glass in with it. People say that God's nature is such that He abhors sin, and that He can't be in the same place as sin. they say that His wrath is His natural reaction against sin.

But I think that that is a lame attempt to absolve God from being angry. God is angry. There is such a thing as righteous anger. Suppose you saw a pedophile torturing a child, would you not be angry? There is nothing evil about being angry at such a happening. That is righteous anger. And God is angry at sin. Why are there young women from Eastern Europe in London working as prostitutes? It's because of sin. Why are there children in Africa starving? It's because of sin. Why are children cast into care as their parents' marriage is broken up? It's because of sin. Why are young black kids gunned down on the streets of our cities? It's because of sin. It's wholly right to be angry about these things. We mustn't think of God as just a passionless force; He has feelings.

And the greatest of these feelings is love. He loved us so much that He sent His one and only son to receive the punishment for our sin in His own body. This wasn't 'child abuse' as Richard Dawkins called it. Jesus volunteered for the job. There was no difference between the pain of the son and the pain of the father. What was described for us in the Bible in the flogging and crucifixion was a picture of the greater desecration of the Godhead torn asunder. Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" but what was God the Father feeling at that moment? We can perhaps try to imagine what it is like for Jesus to be separated from His father; it is sometimes called a cry of dereliction. We think of abandonment. Hell is said to be the total and absolute separation from God. When we say that Jesus went through Hell for us, we can begin to imagine what it meant. But how can we imagine what it was like for the Father?

I think of a mother whose baby is ripped from her womb by a Janjaweed bayonet in Darfur. I think of a mother whose child is stolen from her bed as she slept by a pedophile. I think of a father and son at sea when the son is lost to a mighty wave. I think of the parents of that beautiful, Godly young man stuck down and murdered by drunken louts on his way home. I think of the mother who sees her daughter bleeding in the bus queue when a drunken driver has ploughed into her and her baby carriage. I think of the father holding the hand of his dying daughter blown up by a terrorist bomb in Enniskillen. None of these real incidents is enough.

Our salvation is precious because it was bought at such a price.

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer,
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Stuart Townend

1 comment:

Heart of Wisdom said...

Great thought provoking post, beautiful poem. Thank you.