Joy Exchanged and Joy Forfeited
What we are doing in this series of messages is unfolding the biblical truth that will make the good news of Jesus Christ understandable. Notice, I don't say we can make it understood. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that the "natural man [the person who is not opened by the Holy Spirit] does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."
We Can Make Truth Understandable, Not Understood
In the last analysis we do not make anyone understand the truth of the gospel. It is possible to be so opposed to an idea in your heart that it becomes nothing but foolishness in your head. Many behavioral psychologists have shown that we are all prone not even to see what we don't want to see. And just as the will can dictate that we see selectively (only what we want to see!), so the will can also dictate that we understand selectively. If we oppose an idea strongly enough, our will can create an intellectual atmosphere that makes understanding that idea virtually impossible.
This implies two things for sharing the truth of the gospel.
- It implies that the work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. He can remove the deep opposition to the truth and open the mind to consider it honestly.
- It implies that we must make every effort to make the gospel understandable and attractive. The Holy Spirit coordinates his convicting work with our evangelistic work. He doesn't open the hearts of men and women where there is no understandable truth to look at. He has a work to do from the inside softening the heart, and we have a work to do from the outside commending an understandable truth.
What We Must Do to Make Truth Understandable
Now to make the truth of the gospel understandable—especially in our day, in our culture—we have to communicate 1) something about God and his purposes, 2) something about human beings and our duties, and 3) something about sin and its consequences. Without these things the death of Jesus for sinners will simply not be understandable. It will be warped all out of biblical proportion without the background of God's purposes, man's duties, and sin's nature and consequences.
So three weeks ago we spoke on Truth #1 and tried to show that God's ultimate purpose in creation was to display his glory. This is the greatest value in the universe. Last week we spoke on Truth #2 and tried to show that the duty of all humans is that we should live for God's glory. Our duty comes from God's design.
I labored last week to show that even though this duty has the binding force of divine law, it was not intended to be burdensome or oppressive. Loving, trusting, thanking, and obeying God is required to glorify him. But to love a Person who is infinitely lovely, to trust a Person who is infinitely reliable, to thank a Person who is infinitely generous, and to obey a Person who is infinitely wise, is NOT hard work. It is freedom and fulfillment and joy. It satisfies the soul and glorifies God's character. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. He gets the glory. We get the joy. That is the way it was supposed to be.
But now today we must face a third truth that makes the gospel understandable. Truth #3 is this: "All of us have failed to glorify God as we should."
Now Jesus said in John 16:8 that the Holy Spirit would come into the world to convince the world of sin. I think I can make sin understandable this morning. But I can't make your heart break because of it. We need to pray that what I have to say from here on will do what Peter's message did in Acts 2:37, "When they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said . . . What shall we do?"
We All Have Failed to Glorify God as We Should
Romans 3:23 says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." First of all, notice the word "all." There are no exceptions here (see Romans 3:9–12, 19; Ephesians 2:3). All of us are included. Preachers and prostitutes. Billy Graham and Genghis Khan. President Bush and Ted Bundy. Corrie Ten Boom and Al Capone. The best person and the worst person you can think of are included here. ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
The second thing to notice is the connection between sin and falling short of God's glory. Sin is a falling short of God's glory. This is very important in sharing the gospel.
The Depth and Essence of Our Depravity
If you tell the average law-abiding, hard-working, civic-minded, humane, unbelieving American that he needs Jesus because he's a bad person, he will have a dozen arguments ready at hand to show that he is not bad. He will point to his honesty, his civic duties, his clothed and educated children, his charitable contributions, etc.
What's the problem here? The problem is that God is missing from the equation. The most important issue in the universe is left out of account, namely, the glory of GOD. The most important Person is being ignored. The reason we need Jesus is not because we have fallen short of man's goodness, but because we have fallen short of God's glory. The issue is how we have treated God not man.
That's why Truth #1 and #2 are so crucial. They set the stage for showing how terribly sinful we are. God made us for his glory. It is our duty, therefore, as his creatures, to live for his glory by loving and trusting and thanking and obeying him. But what have we done?
- Instead of glorifying God by loving him, we have dishonored him through neglect or disdain, and by loving other things more.
- Instead of glorifying God by trusting him, we have dishonored him by trying to find security and hope in ourselves and our money and our technology and our weapons, but not in God.
- Instead of glorifying God by being thankful to him for life and breath and everything, we have dishonored him by ignoring his generosity and by treating life as a right and happiness as something we deserve.
- Instead of glorifying God by obeying him, we have dishonored him by disregarding or rejecting his counsel for our sexuality, and our finances, and our job, and our attitudes, and our politics, and almost everything else in our life.
The issue between us and God is not whether we have pleased men, but whether we have utterly disdained the infinite worth of the glory of our Maker. And we have. All of us have.
"Falling Short of the Glory of God"
One of the passages of Scripture that makes this plain is Romans 1:22–23. It's helpful to remember that Romans 1:23 is a good explanation of Romans 3:23. I have this written under Truth #3. Let's read that part.
What does it mean to "fall short of the glory of God"? It means that none of us has trusted God the way we should. None of us has obeyed him the way we should. We have trusted ourselves. We have turned from his commandments. We thought we knew a better way. In Romans 1:22–23 it says, "Although they knew God they did not glorify him as God or give thanks to him . . . but exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images . . . "
This is what it means to fall short of the glory of God—to exchange it for something else. God offers us the glory of his beauty and strength and generosity and wisdom for our enjoyment, and we sniff at it and fall in love with the things he has made. He offers us himself as our infinite treasure and we trade him in on a secondhand pleasure.
The Reason We Need a Savior
The reason we need a Savior is not because we have offended man's laws but because we have insulted God. We have profaned his name by indifference and distrust and ingratitude and disobedience.
When the prophet Ezekiel wanted to make the greatness of Israel's sin clear, he said,
Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 36:22–23)
This is why we need a Savior. This is what makes the cross understandable. The depth of our sin is not that we have offended the laws of man, but that we have slighted the honor of God and degraded his worth and belittled his greatness and dishonored his name and desecrated his glory. And in all of this we have exchanged our joy for the dead-end street of judgment.
Which leads us now to Truth #4:
All of Us Are Subject to God's Just Condemnation
Today some of us become incensed at the thought of innocent babies in the womb being butchered with suction machines and forceps. Some are outraged at the rape and murder of dozens of young women. Some are angered at apartheid and racial discrimination. Some are incensed over the destruction of our environment. I hope you are in some or all of those categories.
But now test yourself. Do you think that the degradation of God implied in our distrust and disobedience and ingratitude and indifference is a greater or less crime than these?
An Infinitely Blameworthy Offense
A crime is wicked and blameworthy in direct proportion to the worth of the one assaulted. So there are no penalties for slapping mosquitoes. However if you kill dogs with the same disregard, you can get into trouble. And you'll be in worse trouble if you do the same thing with horses. And when you assault a person, your guilt increases in the same way that the worth of a person is greater than the worth of an animal.
And so it is when you assault the glory of God. Since God is infinitely greater, infinitely more valuable, than human beings, an assault on his worth is wicked and blameworthy beyond measure. And therefore it is just and right that God should condemn people to eternal condemnation.
The Horror of Eternal Condemnation
Jonathan Edwards said, "This doctrine is indeed awful and dreadful, yet 'tis of God." The Lord Jesus himself is the one who went to the greatest lengths to help us feel the horror of hell. He repeatedly calls it a place of fire. Matthew 5:22, "Whoever says, You fool, shall be liable to the hell of fire." Matthew 18:9, "It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire." Mark 9:47–48, "It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched." At least four times he said that there would be "weeping and gnashing of teeth."
John said in Revelation 14:11 that the wine of God's wrath will be poured unmixed into the cup of his anger and that the smoke of torment will go up forever and ever; and they will have no rest, day or night. Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 that those who reject the gospel "shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might."
We have all been created for God's glory. It is our duty to live for God's glory. We have all exchanged his glory for grass that withers. And we would all be excluded from that glory if it were not for Jesus, who came into the world to vindicate God's glory and save sinners. That's what we will talk about next week.
An Urgent Appeal in Closing
But the glory of God and the love of Christ and the longing of my own heart compel me to close this service with an urgent appeal. If you are not trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and for the fulfillment of all his promises, then the wrath of God abides on you this morning (John 3:36). And you do not have to leave this room under that condemnation.
The Bible says that Jesus "delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10). It says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). It says, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36). "God is rich unto all who call upon him. For every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 14:12–13). "Repent and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out" (Acts 3:19). "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). "Let him who is thirsty come, let the one who desires take of the water of life without price" (Revelation 22:17).
I invite you to do that right now as we bow in silence, and for all believers to pray and reaffirm your allegiance to Christ.