Did Christ Die for Us or for God?

Passion | Austin, Texas


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

There’s a little baby in our church named Naomi Faith and she’s been in the hospital now for three months and hasn’t been home yet since she was born. I went to the hospital soon after she was born. I sat in a little waiting room with her father, David, with whom I play basketball twice a week, and her mother Lori. We were just talking about her condition. David said something like, “Well, either she’ll die or the Lord will glorify himself through her healing.” Lori in one of those moments of unforgettable precious pastoral privileges reached out her hand and touched her husband’s arm and said, “The Lord will get glory either way.”

C.S. Lewis said one time, “Everybody is going to glorify God eventually, but it matters a lot to you whether you glorify him like Judas or like John.” It’s a terrifying thing to treat the glory of God’s grace as a small thing only to find yourself on occasion whereby you become the means by which the glory of God’s wrath is made a big thing.

This declaration, this 268 Declaration is a remarkable document underneath the text of Isaiah 26:8, “Your glory and your renown are the desire of our soul.” There’s that statement just underneath that. I want to be a part of a generation that glorifies You. I want that. I want to glorify God in my relationship to Noël. We’re in our 30th year of marriage and God has been good. I want to be a God-glorifying husband and I want to glorify God with my five children: Karsten and Benjamin and Abraham and Barnabas and Talitha, spread out from twenty-five years to two years. I want to be a God-centered, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting father to those kids. I want to be a God-glorifying pastor to my church and a God-glorifying speaker to you for these two sessions we have together. I resonate very deeply with this declaration here that you have.

Two Mindsets

You know there are huge obstacles to doing that in this room and in your mind right now and in this city and in this world. Let me tackle an obstacle that I see and try to take us through the obstacle to the cross and then let the cross make the obstacle even bigger and then solve the obstacle and deliver us from the obstacle. That’s my goal this morning. We’ll get to the cross in Romans 3:25 and 26 in just a moment. Let me set the stage with what the obstacle is. It’s the difference between what I would call a secular mindset and the biblical mindset. Let me sketch for you a secular mindset, put over against it, a biblical mindset and show you why that is a huge obstacle to our fulfilling this declaration and living our lives on our campuses for the glory of God.

A Secular Mindset

Here’s what I mean by a secular mindset. I do not mean a mind that has no room for God in it. I don’t mean that. I also do not mean a mind that does not believe the Bible is true. What I mean by a secular mindset is a mindset where man, mankind, the human being, ourselves, are at the center of reality. We are there starting point. Our needs and our rights are the given in the universe and from there you start. Problems become problems because situations and circumstances and developments in life and in history don’t fit with my rights and my needs. We define problems that way. That’s what a problem is. That’s the essence of the secular mindset.

It starts with man. We are born with this I believe. It’s part of our nature to think this way, and every day it is reaffirmed, cultivated, built up by advertising which leans heavily on it by Rose Bowl and every other ball games because every turkey strut after a touchdown is growing out of this mindset all day long. The mentality of being number one grows out of this mindset. It’s called the mind that is set on the flesh in Romans 8:6. It’s called the natural man or the natural person in 1 Corinthians 2:14. It is so much a part of this room, apart from the glorious, liberating work of the Holy Spirit that you can scarcely know that you even have it.

A fish scarcely knows it’s in water. We can scarcely know that we have a man-centered mindset whereby man and his rights and his needs are the measure of all things, defining problems, defining successes, defining happiness. You don’t know you have it until your run right up against another mindset.

A Biblical Mindset

At first, another mindset, the biblical mindset is so strange, so peculiar that it is called names: folly, foolish, incomprehensible. The defining mark of this biblical mindset is that it has a radically different starting point. God is the basic given in reality and God’s rights and God’s goals define reality. They define problems. They define successes.

When God said to Moses, “You go down there to Egypt and tell them that I’m coming to deliver them.” Moses said, “Whom shall we say, whom shall I say sent me?” God said, “Tell them I Am sent you. I Am who I Am, not I am who you think I am or I am who you feel that I am or I am what I am becoming or what I will be. I Am who I Am. I am absolute reality. I didn’t come to be. I had no beginning. I have no ending. I cannot be accounted for or explained.”

You know when we say, “How do you explain this act of love,” or, “How do you explain Terry Nichols,” or, “How do you explain the Holocaust,” or, “How do you explain birth or creation?” What we mean when we say that is, “How did it get to be that way?” When you ask, “How do you explain God,” the answer is you don’t because you didn’t get to be that way.

Creator Rights

This is the bottom line folly of the secular mind. God did not get to be that way. He absolutely is what He is. He never came to be. He was never becoming. There is no family of origin to account for his personality. He is absolutely there and there’s where the biblical mindset starts. He is there with rights as the Creator of the Universe. How we talk about human rights and civil rights. Have you ever read an article about Creator rights? They are the ultimate rights of the universe.

The ultimate rights of the universe are Creator rights and the ultimate goal of the universe is the goals of the Creator. What constitutes a problem in the universe is what doesn’t fit with his goal and what contradicts his rights, — quite apart from your rights and your needs. That’s the clash of the universe. The difference between a God-exalting, God-centered, beginning-with-God mindset, which I call the biblical mindset. Man-centered mindset says, “I have rights. I can even call God into question. I can put God Almighty in the dark and demand that He explain himself,” is another mindset and they don’t fit very easily.

The Fundamental Riddle

What is the basic riddle of the universe, therefore? Is the basic riddle of the universe how to preserve man’s rights and solve his problems — say the problem of self-determination or the problem of suffering? Is that the basic riddle of the universe? Is the basic riddle of the universe how can an infinitely glorious, never-beginning, never-ending, holy, righteous God display in the creation he has made the full range of all his perfections including his grace and his wrath and justice? Which of those is the riddle of the universe? If you answer, “My problems are the riddle of the universe, my suffering is the riddle of the universe,” not how shall God be known in the fullness of his personhood and glory, then you will not comprehend the cross of Christ.

At the Cross

Now we’re at the cross. It’s where I’ve been heading. You cannot comprehend the glory of Christ-crucified from a secular mindset that I’ve been trying to describe. It’s incomprehensible. The Bible says it’s foolishness, it’s folly from a Christian mindset or from a secular mindset.

Now I’m going to read two verses. If you brought a Bible along and you want to see these verses in your own Bible, I encourage you now to take them out and to turn to Romans 3:25 and 26. I’m going to penetrate through a hope leaving behind the glorious truths of justification and reconciliation, all of which are brought for us at the cross. I’m going straight to what C.E.B. Cranfield calls the innermost meaning of the cross. That’s what I want you to listen for. As I read these two verses, Romans 3:25 and 26, ask yourself this question: What problem in the universe is God solving by the cross, the death of his son?

God Put Christ Forward

Verse 25 of Romans 3: “God put Christ forward,” he put him forward and depending on what version you have, “as a propitiation,” that’s the really old versions, “an expiation,” that’s the next oldest version, or, “as a sacrifice of atonement,” that’s the modern version, depending on how theological you want to be. The word is appeasing the wrath of God, taking away his wrath from me as a guilty sinner. “God put Christ forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood,” that is by his death, effective through faith. Now here comes the key sentence: “He did this to show his righteousness. He did it to demonstrate his righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over sins previously committed.” Now let’s just stop there.

Boil that down to the basic problem that God is trying to solve. It says, “God put his son,” that is he sent his son from glory into humanity, clothed him with flesh so that he would become mortal, killable, murderable, so that God might demonstrate his righteousness or justice, same word in Greek, justice. The problem that needs solving evidently for some reason is that God either seems to be or would be unrighteous and unjust if this didn’t happen. his name, his reputation, his honor are at stake, and he means to be vindicated in his holiness and his righteousness and his justice, and therefore he puts his Son forward to demonstrate his righteousness, to vindicate his name, his renown.

In other words, the theme of Passion ’98, “Your name and Your renown are the desire of our souls,” has meaning because it’s rooted in eternity where God says, “My name and my renown are the desire of my soul and I will kill my son to preserve them.” It was the will of the Lord to bruise him. People did not steal Jesus away from his Father and kill him as ransom. God gave him as ransom because He loves his renown and his righteousness. Here’s the question: why was that a problem? Why was the righteousness of God in jeopardy? The answer is given in verse 25 in the last phrase where it says, “Because in his divine forbearance he had passed over sins previously committed.” You get it?

Forbearing for Centuries

For centuries, God had been doing Psalm 110:3, “He does not deal with us according to our iniquities.” Therefore, he is wrong. He’s unjust, unless something happens to set things right. You don’t sweep the sins of the world under the rug and call yourself a righteous judge. Let me give you an example. Probably the most famous example from the Old Testament, David in 2 Samuel 12, he’s confronted by the Prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:9. Because David had committed adultery with this beautiful woman Bathsheba he had killed her husband to hide it, the prophet comes and he says, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord?” David says, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan responds, “The Lord has put away your sin.” Just like that — adultery, murder.

The Unjust Judge?

You tell me if a circuit judge in this city had a cold-blooded murderer and rapist in front of him with witnesses enough to prove every last possibility that he’s guilty. He finally says, “Judge, I’m so sorry. I won’t do it again.” The judge says, “Okay. You can go.” He will not stay on the bench, folks. Neither would God be God. This is a problem, but not for the secular mindset. The secular mind has never lain awake at night struggling with how God can be kind and be God.

The secular mindset never wrestles with the ultimate problem of the universe. Why does the rain fall on the just and the unjust? How can that be in a holy universe? How can goodness come to man in this universe? How can God be a holy, just God and treat sinners so well? Where is anybody wrestling with that problem, which is the central problem of Romans 3:25–26. Look at verse 23 just to make it clear. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What is sin? It’s a God issue. It’s a glory issue. Sin is stepping on the glory of God and just putting it into the dirt.

We can imagine David saying when Nathan said later on in this text. “Why have you despised me,” says the Lord. “Me.” You can imagine David saying, “I didn’t despise you. I was just red hot for this woman and then I was scared to death that my kingship was going to be in jeopardy and I killed her husband. You weren’t even on the horizon. What do you mean I despised you?” God of course would say, “The creator of the universe, the one who holds your life and being moment by moment, the one who installed you as king, the one who has enabled you to defeat bears and lions and Goliath, wasn’t even on the horizon that night. That’s what I mean, David, when I say, ‘Why have you despised me?’”

Long before sin is a damage to man, it is a dishonor to God, and that’s the problem of the universe. How can a holy God whose esteem, his renown and his glory and his righteousness and his holiness and his justice, above all things, just say to a David, “I have put your sin away.” That’s a huge problem if you love God and his glory. That’s what this conference is about. Don’t say these words if you don’t mean them. Your name and your renown and your righteousness and your justice and your holiness are the desire of my soul. If that’s true for you, your forgiveness is a huge problem, that God would forgive you is a huge crisis in the cosmos. There must be a way for God to both be just and justifier of the ungodly. The problem is that he passed over sins. He just passed over them.

Treason Pardoned

Let me give you another illustration. I’ll make this up out of my own head. Suppose there were anarchists who, in their shrewdness and in their technological prowess, want to blow up the White House and kill the president and blow up his cabinet and kill all the leaders and throw America into chaos. Owing to some very careful counterespionage they are detected in the last minute and there’s an aversion and the part of the White House that blows up does not have the president in it. He escapes, and many others die and these anarchists are found. Most of them are kept alive as the machine guns settle down. They’re brought to trial for treason, the highest crime in the American Constitution.

What would it say to the nations, all of whom are watching, just as all the nations are watching or will be watching someday as God goes on to the throne as judge and the nations are gathered before him? What would it say if the panel of judges said, “Well, since this is your only time of being caught like this, we’ll let you all go. In fact, we’ll clothe you and provide you vacations and, if you really want to run the analogy, eternal happiness.” What would the nation say about the esteem with which we hold our president? It would say we don’t value him very highly, and the security and coherence of this government is not a big deal to us. That’s what it would say about God. If He can just forgive you and let bygones be bygones and nothing happened.

God Did Not Spare His Own Son

That’s not what happened. He did not spare, but rather he put his Son forward to demonstrate his righteousness because, in his divine forbearance, he had passed over sins previously committed. It was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous. God could have done it another way. He could have sent all of us to hell and the score would’ve been even. And eternal suffering would’ve been an even score to sin because sin committed against an infinitely holy God is an infinitely heinous act and therefore deserves an infinitely long and painful suffering.

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved. Therefore, there is between God and hell a Mediator and a Savior. God, in crucifying his Son, vindicated his glory for all who will hide in this Jesus and say, “Jesus and his name and his glory and his work are my only hope of right standing with the holy judge.”

The foundation of your salvation is God’s love for his glory. God wants you saved but he wants something more than that. He wants his name to be honored. He wants his righteousness to be vindicated. He wants his holiness to be established and thus it cost him his son to preserve the glory of his name in saving sinners.

God Loves You Best When He Loves Himself Most

One last question: Is this love? Is a God-centered crucifixion loving toward me or only toward God? The question betrays the world mindset. You know why? It assumes that for us to be loved, God must make us the center.

Check yourself here. Right here the message is coming down. It’s coming down to a test in your heart. When you look at the cross, do you love the cross because it makes much of you or because it enables you, an ungodly person, to enjoy making much of God? I wish I could make this land on you because if you were to agree that the point of the cross is not to make much of you but to enable you in spite of hell-deserving sin to enjoy an eternity of making much of God. If you agree with that, you will be so out of step with this culture. You will scarcely be able to watch television without weeping. You will scarcely be able to sit in secular university classrooms without breaking inside at the almost universal assumption that makes nonsense out of the cross. Test yourself here. I plead with you because evangelical Christianity is profoundly contaminated with this mindset. Book after book, message after message, making the cross an echo of my excellence and thus making it unintelligible for what it really is.

I believe that the love of God comes to its apex in the cross of Jesus for me and you because I define the love of God for me as the act by which, in spite of all my sin, he takes me and makes me able to enjoy infinitely his making much of God. That is what love is, which is why many of you need to be dredged with the love of God right now in a way vastly different thing you thought when you were singing those songs because you’ve been taught all your lifelong that self-esteem is the bottom line of all virtue and all health and all being lovedness and it is not God-esteem.

How Great Thou Art

Why do you go to the Grand Canyon? Why do you go to the Alps? Do you really go to the glories of creation to see how great you are? Tell me about it as you stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon. You go there because you were made to see the whole and enjoy greatness and the Grand Canyon is nothing compared to God. You were made for God and you will find yourself loved. When you awaken to the truth that to be loved infinitely is to be forgiven, cleansed, and enabled to see and to feel the wonder that God makes much of God.

I love Passion ’98. I love Louie Giglio’s vision and Choice Ministry is doing this because I think, unless I’m wrong, that in this declaration that’s what they’re trying to do. It would turn this nation on its head if this five-thousand got it. Let me pray with you and for you that we’ll get it.