Theology Matters

Faith Virtue Knowledge


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The Power of the Cross

This morning I’m teaching on the atonement. In preparation I was reflecting on the various ‘theories’ of atonement and was struck by the inadequacy of any single one of them to explain the wonder of what God has accomplished in Christ. I hope you are blessed today by these few lines I wrote in response:

If sin is a disease, the Cross is the cure,

If sin is a poison, the Cross is the antidote,

If sin is a stain, the blood of Christ washes clean,

If sin is a debt, the Cross is full payment,

If sin takes us captive, the Cross is the ransom,

If sin diminishes God’s honour, the Cross restores it.

Where sin leads us far from God, the Cross leads us back

Where sin separates us from God’s love, the Cross restores

Where sin corrupts, the Cross purifies.

Sin has muffled God’s voice, but in the Cross he speaks clearly,

Sin has obscured our vision, but in the Cross all becomes clear.

Sin has marred God’s image, but in Christ it is restored.

The Cross, the sacrifice of Christ, offered once for all.

Its reach is absolute, its mystery is infinite, its invitation universal.

It is complete. It is sufficient. It is final.

IT IS FINISHED.


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Grace #5: Confidence in God’s Grace

The importance of Confidence
Confidence is incredibly important. The world calls it self-belief. And though I often get frustrated when I hear successful athletes and others who seem to have ‘made it’ in the world’s eyes tritely exhorting others to ‘just believe in yourself,’ there is a kernel of truth in what they say. And this is it. Confidence makes things that seemed impossible possible, and gives us the energy and motivation to persevere, even when things look hopeless. Confidence stands up for truth, while others bow down to idolatrous lies. Confidence speaks up for justice while others tolerate the tyranny of the status quo. Confidence steps up for sacrifice, while others hold back in self preservation. Confidence starts up with optimism, while others surrender to the unhappy comfort of procrastination. The one thing confidence does not do is give up, which is why a confident person is so difficult to defeat. And that is where we Christians are at a huge advantage, because we do not have to believe solely in ourselves. We believe in a God who is infinitely greater, but more than that, who loves us, who has gone to extraordinary lengths to have relationship with us, and who empowers us by his Holy Spirit, to do good in the world. So while self-belief might be capable of winning games, God-confidence changes the world for eternal good. It is literally invincible.

Sin and the Grace Plan
Why is it then, that we sometimes lack the confidence to stand up, speak up, step up, start up for God? Why is it that at times we lack the confidence even to come into his presence? The answer: Sin. Or more precisely, the guilt and shame that is caused by sin. And I actually think that was the devil’s motivation for introducing sin into the world. His desire was not the sin itself, but the separation from the heart of God that the resulting guilt and shame would cause. The devil’s plan was to rob us of our sonship (forgive me – I haven’t found a suitable gender neutral term for this, but of course I mean sonship and daughtership – ‘childhood’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Suggestions?) and our confidence before God, and thus of our inheritance. He knows how powerful our confidence can be. In 1 John 3:21–22 we are told that

…If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask…

His strategy then, is a relatively simple one, and we would do well to be aware of it. All he needs to do is to get us to sin and our own hearts will do the rest through the condemnation of guilt and shame. If our hearts condemn us, we will be separated from God, not because he removes himself from us, but because we ourselves will shrink back from approaching him.
But the devil made one fatal error when he tempted Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden. He activated the Grace Plan. In its simplest form this plan can be found in Romans 5:20

“Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”

This does not mean that we should “continue sinning so that grace may increase.” Romans 6:2 clearly excludes this—“certainly not!” What it means is that God’s grace is always more powerful than your sin. Sin was never going to win, and it it does not need to win in your life. Jesus has made provision. All we need to do is to turn to God and ask for the forgiveness that his grace has already guaranteed.

The throne of grace
The Grace Plan was not a Plan B. It was plan A. The Incarnate Son of God was already there hidden within the parents of humanity as the “Seed of the Woman.” God was always one step ahead. It was his plan that this Son was to come, not just to give his life as a sacrifice for human sin, but to live his life as an example for human behaviour, and then to ascend back to heaven to take his seat at the Father’s right hand, as the perfect advocate for humanity. So Jesus died in our place to take the punishment that we deserved. That is God’s mercy. And he lived the perfect life also in our place so that we might be accounted righteous before a Holy God. That is God’s grace. That is why the throne that he took at his Father’s right hand is know as the “throne of Grace.” From that throne, he makes intercession for us, representing us to the Father. This is why Hebrews refers to him as our “high priest,” for it was the priest’s role in the Old Testament to stand between God and man offering sacrifices for sins, and interceding for people before God.

Hebrews 4:14–15
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith that we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Confidence in God’s grace

So what has this got to do with confidence? Everything. It is with sin that the devil causes us the guilt that keeps us from God’s presence. But grace is greater. And so the next verse urges us to approach the throne of grace with confidence:

Hebrews 4:16
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

When is our time of need? Now! Specifically, any time when our hearts condemn us, when we are feeling guilty or ashamed on account of sin. In other words, the very time that we feel like running and hiding, that is the time to run into his presence, repent and receive forgiveness. The blood of Christ has opened the gates of heaven to us and spoken to the King of kings for us. I’ll finish with the words of an old song by Chris Christensen. Hard to believe its 20 years old this year!

“By your blood I will come boldly,
Run into your presence,
Bow in humble reverence before your throne.
For the blood of Christ has spoken,
The power of sin is broken,
The gates of heaven are open
By your blood.”

Come. Just come. Come now. And come boldly!