Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sola Gratia - Part II

Part II

A Desperate Problem – An Extreme Solution!

Why did Paul stress grace so strongly? Paul knew the ever-present tendency of man to believe in his own ability. Sinners constantly give in to the fatal temptation of attempting to pull themselves up by their own spiritual bootstraps. Paul knew mankind would have to see its utter desolation apart from grace. “All have sinned and continue falling short of God’s glory…” (Romans 3:23). This concise statement of man’s moral bankruptcy underlined the need for a Divine solution. That solution is in grace. Paul’s grace emphasis constantly refers man back to God. It stands as a prominent warning that salvation is never to be achieved by human effort.

Even in our day people are all too ready to say: “You are a grace man, I am a deeds man. You may talk on and on about salvation by grace, but after all, it is we doers who get the job done. God helps those that help themselves.” This last bit of bragging is all too typical, but it deserves only the thoughtful reply of an unknown wit of days gone by: “God help those that help themselves.” You cannot have it this way. Grace and deeds that claim merit before God cannot co-exist (Romans 4:4): “Now as far as the one who is working, the reward is not calculated on the basis of grace, but on the basis of an obligation.” But no one can put God in his debt, no one has a claim on God. All we have a right to expect is our just condemnation, but James tells us “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Our need is mercy, not judgment!

No One Can Put God In His Debt

Mercy is available at the cross. But our problem is not only that we have so much pride we refuse to accept our lost state. It is also that we have failed to grasp how absolutely profound our need is for forgiveness by God. We simply are unaware of the deep sinfulness that has caused our rebellion against His holiness. We will develop a capacity to respond to grace only when we realize the magnitude of the sin problem of mankind. Then, and only then, will we see the amazing dimensions of God’s solution to that problem. An analysis of man’s sinfulness will help us see how magnificent God’s grace is in obtaining man’s reconciliation and forgiveness.

Romans 1:18ff carries the most penetrating analysis of sin and its effects on the life of mankind to be found. It is against this sin that the ‘wrath of God is revealed.’ Notice in this section of Romans that two things are revealed in the Gospel. God’s righteousness (vs. 17) and wrath (vs. 18) are revealed. God’s way of putting men in the right with Himself is revealed, and that is of immense importance. But before that can happen, sinners must also understand God’s wrath is revealed against their sinfulness. Unless the terrible nature of the moral disease called sin is revealed as absolutely repugnant to God, mankind is apt to go on ‘suppressing the truth’ about this dangerous condition.

God Is Not Hostile Toward Sinners, He Is Hostile Toward Sin

God’s wrath does not mean a personal hostility, for God loves us even as unforgiven sinners (John 3:16). Rather, His wrath indicates God’s intense hostility toward sin. This hostility is so serious that God cannot overlook, condone, or dismiss sin. He can forgive it, but never can He accept it. Mankind in attempting to rationalize its sinfulness succeeds only in permanently being alienated from God. It’s no good trying to rationalize our sin; we must listen to God’s revelation of what it is doing to us.

But what exactly has sin done to us? How are we affected? What parts of our being have been involved? Paul’s analysis carries three crushing accusations about our sinfulness. He introduces each of these three thoughts by the frightening statement “God gave them over…” (1:24, 26, 28). God recognized our utter alienation and reluctantly cast us upon ourselves. God abandoned us in our sinfulness, first, in verse 24f because He saw the way we “dishonored our bodies.” God had to abandon us to our physical misuse of the bodies He had given us to glorify Him. Our hearts were not right and our bodies acted out the illicit desires of the heart.

Secondly, in verse 26, Paul mentions that God saw how we had taken legitimate emotions and dishonored them. Mankind had allowed love to become only sex, and that sex degenerated into perversion. All concepts of natural anatomy were violated in this selfish search for emotional thrills. Man’s emotional life was so thoroughly distorted by sin as to place him outside God’s original intentions for this part of his being. This is a very present reality, as is the sin of 1:24.

What follows in verse 28, is what you would inevitably expect. As mankind is abandoned in his physical sin, and his emotional sin, he is also abandoned to his intellectual sin. His mind is recognized by God only as a “reject” (Greek adokimos). This is what the old confession means when it speaks of sins in “thought, word, and deed.” In other words, we have sinned as total beings.

The Total Being Of Man Is Touched By Sin

We have sinned with all of ourselves. Our minds, given us by God to think His wonderful thoughts after Him, are used now only to rationalize our sinfulness. The mind which could enrich our lives and contribute to other’s happiness serves only the selfish desires and thinks up more novel ways to sin. God must reject this prostitution of the thinking process. The mind of man made this tragic decision and now supports what is unworthy and wrong-headed. The total being of man is affected by sin. No part is un-touched.

Such is the picture the Bible reveals of man’s absolute lostness, and thus his absolute need for God’s grace. A sordid, ugly, but accurate picture. There is no use trying to pretend a major problem does not exist. There is no use suggesting halfway solutions like curing man’s monetary poverty, or providing him with a better environment, or giving him a better education. None of these solutions contain the right answer. A major problem takes a major solution.

A big problem takes a big solution. When residents of an area near Buffalo, New York called Love Canal discovered they were living on top of a witch’s brew of noxious chemicals, and when they saw these chemicals were slowly poisoning their children and effectively shortening their own lives, it was no good telling them to relax, all would be well, as some officials tried to do. That was no good; that was no answer. They could not stay on there, and “work it out.” They had to get out!

The Bible says we cannot go on living in sin and try to “work it all out” somehow. We have to get out! Sin has so damaged our relationship with God that we are in no position to make any kind of proposition to Him. If we are to get out, if anything at all is to be done, God must do it. God must give us the means to get out of this moral sinkhole or there is no getting out at all.

The Cross Is God’s Masterpiece of Salvation

God has. God has provided a solution by His grace. The cross is God’s answer to the problem of sin. God’s own solution to the sin problem is a major solution, in fact, the only solution. This is exactly what we need, but for God the extreme cost of this solution is staggering. The cost is extreme—to God. The cost is—His Son!

The One who did not know sin, He made to be sin on our behalf, that we

might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

God, as you can see, takes no halfway measures. The fact that God was willing to adopt such an extreme solution to sin indicates two concepts: one, God completely understood the desperate situation of mankind; secondly, God was willing to do for us what we were in no position to do for ourselves. God’s grace is the Master solution to a problem so huge no human can fully understand, much less solve. This is why we can add absolutely nothing to the cross of Christ. The cross is God’s masterpiece of salvation. It is the only adequate answer to the sin problem and can never be replaced or supplemented.

Humans can add nothing to the cross. The cross represents the finished work of Christ for redemption, sanctification, and total salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30). To preach “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2) is not to preach the details of the crucifixion but the total adequacy of the cross for salvation. Paul’s use of the perfect participle for “crucified” is a strong indication of his realization of the cross as central in God’s gracious plan to save mankind.

The adequacy of the cross is why God’s grace is a masterpiece which will never be replaced (Hebrews 7:27). Those who understand this truth know this is why the possibility of “latter day revelations” is so incredible. What could such revelations say that could add to the cross, or top the grace of God? It would be like some art student bragging that he was going to paint the Mona Lisa over again. Or some music student claiming he was going to put out a better version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Leonardo and Beethoven are quite capable of standing on their own. So is the cross! This mountain peak of redemption towers far above any human efforts at reformation, rehabilitation, or rescue.

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