The Supremacy of Christ and Truth in a Postmodern World
Desiring God 2006 National Conference
The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World
This message appears as a chapter in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World.
There should be little doubt that contemporary culture is in crisis, hurtling toward destruction. Questions that were once considered settled issues are now up for grabs. One hundred years ago, it would have been difficult to anticipate a genuine debate about the nature and definition of marriage, the morality of killing a child in the process of delivery, or whether a man is “too religious” for public office. However, these issues are not only being debated, but they are being practiced. Gay marriage is happening, partial-birth abortion is a common procedure, and political candidates regularly tone down their religious affiliations at the behest of their handlers.
It is in this context that the stark contrast between our culture and our Christ is seen most acutely. There has perhaps never been a better time to see and proclaim the supremacy of Christ, particularly in the area of truth. It is against the backdrop of this culture that calls evil “good” and good “evil” — where sin is celebrated and righteousness is mocked — that the Christ of Truth shines most brilliantly.
Postmodernism is an elusive term — even for its advocates! But if we can say anything for certain about postmodernity, it is that the concept of accessible, knowable, objective truth is antithetical to standard, postmodern epistemology. The ultimate goal of this chapter, however, is to give neither a detailed description of postmodernism nor an extensive defense of objective truth, but rather to celebrate and advocate the supremacy of Christ. Postmodernism is not supreme in this world. Christ is the one who is, and always will be, supreme. So if there is a conflict between Christ and postmodernity, Jesus wins all day, everyday, and twice on Sunday!
Two Competing Worldviews
We can identify two major competing worldviews in our culture. Those two worldviews have been referred to by many different titles, but for our purposes I will refer to them as Christian theism on the one hand, and a postmodern version of secular humanism on the other. Recognizing that this is an oversimplification, it is still helpful to consider these as two broad, competing views on reality. My plan in this chapter is to address “life’s ultimate questions” from the perspective of each of these two worldviews. We’ll look at them through five major worldview categories, asking how they answer:
- the question of God,
- the question of man,
- the question of truth,
- the question of knowledge, and
- the question of ethics.
We will then turn to examine how these two competing worldviews answer the existential questions that each of us has.
The Question of God
Christian theism answers the question of God by positing a necessary, intelligent, all-powerful being. Postmodern secular humanism, on the other hand, is fundamentally and functionally atheistic. Man is the starting point in this convoluted worldview. That is rather ironic, because while secular humanism is the overriding worldview of most of the people in our culture, the overwhelming majority of Americans report to pollsters that they believe in God.
The Question of Man
Christian theism answers the question of the nature of man by seeing man as a special creation made in the very image of God (compare with Genesis 1:26–28; 9:6). In contrast, postmodern secular humanism sees man as a single-celled organism run amuck — a glorified ape who has lost most of his hair and gained opposable thumbs, a cosmic accident with no real rhyme or reason.
The Questions of Truth and Knowledge
Christian theism views truth as absolute. If something is “true,” that is, if it corresponds to God’s perspective, then it is true for all people in all places at all times. However, postmodern secular humanism views truth differently. The previous generation of humanism — what we may call classic secular humanism — viewed truth through the epistemological lens of naturalistic materialism. It was inherently atheistic, as nothing could be known apart from this closed system called “nature.” If nature is a closed system, then by definition there is no such thing as the supernatural. Such thinking is the functional atheism to which I referred above. The majority of Americans claim to believe in God, while espousing an epistemology that rejects the possibility of such a being. If nature is a closed system, then the God in whom one believes cannot possibly be the God of the Bible.
Despite the fact that postmoderns reject naturalistic materialism in favor of philosophical pluralism and experientialism, the end result is the same. Both worldviews reject the absolute, objective truth of God’s Word and, in the case of postmodernism, objective truth in general. Classic secular humanism rejects truth in favor of matter; the postmodern version rejects truth in favor of experience.
Now if you believe in this sort of naturalistic materialism, how can you presume to refer to yourself as a Christian or anything like a Christian? Why say that you have a belief in God when, from an epistemological perspective, you have excluded even the possibility of God? Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong, in his book A New Christianity for a New World, does just that, openly arguing from the perspective of naturalistic materialism (John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born [HarperSanFrancisco, 2002]).
He argues that what we need to do is move toward a non-theistic view of God. Spong claims that humans have evolved into the current theistic perspective, and we need to continue to evolve towards a nontheistic view of God. Here is a man who spent thirty years in pastoral ministry and was a lecturer at Harvard Divinity School, saying things such as:
I do not believe that Jesus entered this world by the miracle of a virgin birth or that virgin births occur anywhere except in mythology. I do not believe that a literal star guided literal wise men to bring Jesus gifts or that literal angels sang to hillside shepherds to announce his birth. I do not believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem or that he fled into Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. I regard these as legends that later became historicized as the tradition grew and developed and as people sought to understand the meaning and the power of the Christ-life. (Ibid., 4)
That’s what happens when you cloak yourself in priestly robes but hold on to this kind of secular human epistemology that views nature as a closed system and man as nothing more than an evolved beast.
The Question of Ethics
Christian theism views ethics — the question of moral rights and wrongs — as absolute, since morality is rooted in the eternal and unchanging character of God. Secular humanism and its postmodern ally, on the other hand, view ethics as completely cultural and negotiable. They claim that what is ethically right in one culture is not necessarily permitted in another culture, and therefore each culture negotiates its own ethical norms. As a result, there are many history professors who are unwilling to say that what Nazi Germany did in its attempt to exterminate the Jews was unethical, because secular humanism allows that somehow it fit within the framework and context of German culture and the negotiated ethics it had developed at that time.
Life’s Ultimate Questions
I now want us to look at how these two frameworks are worked out in real life. I also want to examine how we address the issue of truth, along with its relationship to the supremacy of Christ, in a postmodern world. Every human being who has ever lived or will ever live has asked, is asking, or will ask four basic questions. They are the same questions no matter where you live (whether in Asia, Africa, Europe, or North America) or when you ask (whether in the first century, the twenty-first century, or, if the Lord should tarry, the thirty-first century). The four questions are these: (1) Who am I? (2) Why am I here? (3) What is wrong with the world? and (4) How can what is wrong be made right? While we may not all articulate them, it is in the soul of every person to wrestle with these four basic questions.
“Morality is rooted in the eternal and unchanging character of God.”
Allow me to answer these questions first from the perspective of our culture and then from the perspective of Christian theism, based on Colossians 1. If we ask our culture these four questions, here are the answers we get.
Who Am I?
The answers provided by secular humanism to the first question are these: You are an accident. You are a mistake. You are a glorified ape. You are the result of random evolutionary processes. That’s it. No rhyme. No reason. No purpose. You are ultimately nothing. This is the pathetic reality when evolution runs its ideological course. If the idea is carried to its logical conclusion, man has no more value than a field mouse; and if the field mouse is an endangered species that happens to share the man’s property — guess who has to move?
Why Am I Here?
Secular humanism’s answer to the question, “Why am I here?” is that you are here to consume and enjoy. Get all you can. Can all you get. Sit on the can. That’s why you’re here. That’s the only thing that matters. When the famous philanthropist John D. Rockefeller was asked, “How much money is enough?” he was as honest as any man has ever been. He responded, “Just a little bit more.” Consume and enjoy. That’s why you’re here.
By the way, when you combine pleasure and consumption in a materialistic universe, you get terrible results. If I have no rhyme or reason for my existence — if I am no more than the result of random evolutionary processes, and I only exist to consume and enjoy — the only things that matter are whether I’m more powerful than you are and whether you have something I need for my enjoyment. If so, then it is incumbent upon me to take whatever I need from you in order to increase my own satisfaction.
Have we not seen this lived out in the world? Have we not seen the logical conclusion of this kind of social Darwinism? Have we not seen a culture that at one time said there is one race that is further evolved than all other races? They argued that because the Aryan race is superior to all other races, it is incumbent upon the Aryan race to dominate and/or exterminate other races in order to usher in the next level of our evolution.
Don’t look down on them. Don’t look down on their scientists and their biologists who viewed Jews as things and not people in order to justify their extermination, because that’s exactly what our scientists and biologists do to the baby in the womb. The same concept of eugenics reduces the baby in the womb to an inconvenient lump of flesh. Even more sinister is the fact that severely deformed children are often exterminated in the womb due to their interference with our ability to consume and enjoy. At the other end of the spectrum of life, when people are old and feeble and the end is near, they not only have a right to die — now they have a duty to die. Just give them a cocktail and they can cease being a burden to their children, who are now taking care of them.
Who am I? According to the prevailing worldview in our postmodern culture, I’m nothing. Why am I here? I am here to make the most of it, to consume and enjoy while I can.
What Is Wrong with the World?
If you ask proponents of postmodernism what is wrong with the world, the answer is very simple. People are either insufficiently educated or insufficiently governed. That’s what’s wrong with the world. People either don’t know enough, or they are not being watched enough.
How Can What Is Wrong Be Made Right?
The solution to our woes is more education and more government. That’s the only answer our culture can propose: teach people more stuff and give them more information. How do we combat AIDS? We combat it through AIDS awareness. How do we combat racism? We combat it by offering anti-hate classes. What about the man who beats his wife? We send him to anger-management classes. Just give people more information and everything will be fine.
But if you take a sinful, murderous human being and educate that individual, he merely becomes more sophisticated in his ability to destroy. The world is far more educated today than it was during World War I. So how are we doing? Are we seeing fewer wars? No. Just more sophisticated killing techniques. Now we can kill more people in less time than ever before in history due to our “education.”
If more education is not the answer, perhaps the solution is to be found in more governance. Really? There are two problems with that kind of thinking. First, who’s governing the governors? In order for governance to be a real solution, there would have to be a special class of people who could govern the rest of us while having no need of governance themselves. The second problem is the depravity of man. Man will not simply improve as a result of being governed. On the contrary, he will just find loopholes and exploit them.
Christian Theism and Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Exposition of Colossians 1:12–21
The answers provided by postmodern secular humanism leave its adherents wanting and empty. How then do we respond? We open our Bibles to Colossians 1 to see how the Christian worldview responds to these same issues. Let’s see how the supremacy of Christ can be applied to life’s ultimate questions: (1) Who am I? (2) Why am I here? (3) What is wrong with the world? and (4) How can what is wrong be made right?
Who Am I?
Christian theism answers:
[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things created through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:15–16)
(Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations in this chapter are taken from *The New American Standard Bible [NASB])
Now some of you might be puzzled as to how this text is an answer to the question “Who am I?” The answer is that you cannot figure out who you are until you first discover who he is. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He is the exact representation of the Father. He is the picture of God in human flesh. He is God on this earth. He is God with us, God among us. He is the Almighty, “for by Him all things were created.” He is the Creator of all things.
Which things did Jesus create? He created all things in heaven and on earth. Thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities — all things were made by him. All things were made through him. This harkens back to John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” which in turn harkens back to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If we read on we find these marvelous words: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
So who am I? While our postmodern culture says that I am the result of random processes, Christian theism says I am the crowning glory of the creation of God (compare with Psalm 8:5). Christian theism says he knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). Christian theism says I am no accident. I am no result of random processes. Christian theism says that whether I am tall and beautiful or small and not so handsome, whether my body functions perfectly or is severely deformed, I am the crowning glory of the creation of God, and as a result I have inherent dignity, worth, and value. Christian theism cannot comprehend ideas like racism, classism, or eugenics.
Postmodernism says that you are ultimately nothing.
Christian theism looks at the black man and the not-so-black man as equals. (You categorize the world how you want to; I categorize the world how I want to! But to my white reader, I want to say it’s okay that you’re not black like me; God loves you just the way you are!) Of course the question lingering when this issue is raised is has that really been the case? It’s always hovering, even when people don’t ask it. The question hangs in the air. I don’t like lingering and hovering questions, so let’s deal with this head-on.
Here’s the question: You say that in the context and confines of this Christian theism there is no room for this kind of racism, but we know for a fact that there have been cultures that on the one hand claimed this allegiance to Christian theism and on the other hand embraced racism and slavery. What are you going to do with that? The answer is that I don’t have to do anything with that. Narrative is not normative. Just because it happened doesn’t mean it was right. Here’s the point we need to reckon with: it stopped.
What made it stop? What was the underlying worldview that rose up and said, “This is inconsistent”? What was the underlying worldview that said, “We are an exercise in cognitive dissonance”? What was the underlying worldview that rose up and said, “You cannot on the one hand claim allegiance to Christian theism and on the other hand despise men because of the color of their skin”? Was it Islam? No. Slavery is still rampant in the Muslim world. It was Christian theism that ended slavery in the Western world. Was it wrong? Yes, slavery in the Western world was wrong, but by what standard? Slavery was wrong by the standard of the supremacy of Christ and the Word of God.
Neither secular humanism nor postmodernism can grasp this truth — by what standard would either worldview have ended slavery? But when we grasp the supremacy of Christ, we cannot escape this truth. Who am I? Who are you? We are the crowning glory of the creation of God. I don’t care what anyone has ever said to you. I don’t care if your mother and your father looked you in your eye and told you that you were a mistake. You must never forget that you are created in the image of God as the crowning glory of his creation.
I will never forget the moment I grasped this for the first time. I spent much of my life wondering why? I was raised by a single, teenaged mother. She was seventeen years old when she became pregnant with me. She and my father were briefly married, but from the time I was about a year old, she was raising me alone in the drug-infested, gang-infested projects of South Central Los Angeles, where at that time the average life expectancy for a young black male was somewhere around twenty-four years of age. I have often asked why? — especially in light of our culture today that looks at young women in my mother’s condition and tells them it would be irresponsible to carry their pregnancies through to term. But who am I? I am the crowning glory of the creation of God.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding my birth or yours, regardless of the difficulties or infirmities with which you wrestle, regardless of your class or your station in life — because of the supremacy of Christ in truth, you are what the Creator of the universe says you are. And by breathing into you the very breath of life, he says you have value, dignity, and worth, and he says that I had better recognize that in you as well as in myself. And so we see the supremacy of Christ in truth, and we have the answer to question number one.
Why Am I Here?
This culture basically says that there is no rhyme or reason, so we’re here to make the most of it. Consume. Enjoy. That’s why we’re here. That is the overarching mentality in our culture, both inside and outside the church, resulting in unquenchable materialism and causing us to look at children as a blight and as a burden. While many in the poorest nations of the world talk about the number of children with which they can be blessed, we talk about the number of children we can afford. We have houses that are larger than they’ve ever had and families that are smaller than they’ve ever had. Our attitude toward children is “a boy for me and a girl for you, and praise the Lord we’re finally through.” Why? Because they get in the way of our consumption and our enjoyment. They cost too much. That’s the fruit of postmodernism and secular humanism.
Christian theism looks at the question “Why are we here?” and answers it very differently. Again, we turn to the supremacy of Christ. Look at the next part of the Colossians text:
All things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:16b–18 ESV)
“All things were created through him and for him.” The ultimate purpose of all things is to bring Christ glory and honor, and that he might have the supremacy in all things. So who am I? The crown and glory of the creation of God. Why am I here? To bring glory and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why I exist. That is why you exist. That is why he breathed into us the very breath of life. He is to have supremacy and preeminence in all things. He is to have supremacy and preeminence in your life, supremacy and preeminence in the church, supremacy and preeminence over death and hell and the grave — supremacy and preeminence over all. And because of this, the reason for my existence goes far beyond consumption and enjoyment.
I have the privilege of lecturing on college campuses all around the country, and this is an issue that I love to bring to the fore when dealing with college students. Most of them walk onto campus with one thing in mind: they ask themselves, “What can I get here that will facilitate my consumption and enjoyment?” That’s why most people change their majors three or four times before they get out of college. Here’s how they do it. They come to college with major number one — oftentimes a dream major. It has nothing to do with their aptitude. It’s a dream. I meet students all the time. I shake their hand and ask them a couple of questions. I ask them where they’re from, what they’re studying, and how far along they are in their studies. And this is what happens:
I walk up and shake hands. “Hey, how you doing? Where are you from?”
“Oh, I’m from Podoke, Iowa.”
“Great. What are you studying?”
“Pre-med and microbiology.”
My next question is, “You’re a freshman, right?” to which he or she responds, “Yes, how did you know that?”
I’m not talking about young men and women with the proper aptitude for such study. I’m talking about students who walk into college and choose a major simply based on the prestige of their prospective position. That’s how they get to major number one, the dream major. How do they get to major number two? They flip open Fortune 500 magazine, find out who’s making the most money with the least amount of education, and major in that. But then, after that too gets hard, they start to look around for yet another major.
And how do they get to major number three? Around the second semester of their junior year they walk into a counselor’s office and say, “Excuse me. What do I have the most hours in? Yes, sounds like I’ll be takin’ that right there.” By that time, the major of choice is get-out-ology!
But how about this radical idea: God knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). He gave you a unique mix of gifts, talents, abilities, and desires (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12). What would it look like if you grasped the supremacy of Christ in truth as it relates to your very purpose for existing, and saw to it that all of your education served to advance Christ’s glory, supremacy, and cause here on earth? As Richard Baxter wrote:
The most holy men are the most excellent students of God’s works, and none but the holy can rightly study them or know them. His works are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein, but not for themselves, but for him that made them. Your study of physics and other sciences is not worth a rush, if it be not God that you seek after in them. To see and admire, to reverence and adore, to love and delight in God, as exhibited in his works — this is the true and only philosophy; the contrary is mere foolery, and is so called again and again by God himself. This is the sanctification of your studies, when they are devoted to God, and when He is the end, the object, and the life of them all. (Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, chap. 1)
What if we saw our studies as stewardship? What if we raised our children not to go and do something just because it would make us proud but instead raised them so that they would discover the way that God has put them together? What if we decided to shepherd and nurture them in such a way that God could utilize the gifts he’s given them for his glory? What if we continually taught them to focus on the supremacy of Christ in truth and how he relates to our very purpose for existing?
“Christian theism says that you are the crowning glory of the creation of God.”
Christ “is before all things.” Why did you choose your last job? Was it because of the supremacy of Christ in truth as it relates to your purpose for existing? Or was it because it paid you more than the job you had before? Pastor, how did you choose your current church? Was it because of a pursuit of the supremacy of Christ in truth in all things, even as it relates to your pastoral purpose? Or was it because this position is a little more prestigious than your last one? All things were made through him and for him. That means my life, my family, my ministry — everything that makes up who I am — must be characterized by a commitment to the preeminence of Christ.
What Is Wrong with the World?
Obviously there is something wrong with the world. Let’s look at the next part of the text for the answer in relation to Christ’s supremacy.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds . . . (Colossians 1:19–21 ESV)
What is wrong with the world? You are. “Hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” Despite the fact that you are the crowning glory of the creation of God, created to live and bring glory and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ, you are instead hostile toward the One by whom and for whom you were created. That is what’s wrong with the world. In short, sin is what’s wrong with the world.
Many of the students who want to engage me in conversation are first-semester philosophy students. (As an aside: there ought to be a rule. You should not be able to talk about philosophy unless you’ve had more than a semester of philosophy. If you haven’t had any, that’s fine — you can talk all you want. But if you’ve had only a semester, you are messed up. You’d be better off just not taking a philosophy course at all!) These amateur philosopher-students love to catch me alone and ask me standard questions such as, “I just wanted to ask you if you believe in a God that is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, and if so, how do you reconcile those beliefs with the issue of theodicy?” to which I respond, “You just took a semester of philosophy, right?”
“Well, yes. How did you know?”
“Because if you hadn’t, you’d have just said, ‘If God’s so powerful and so good, how come bad stuff happens?’ But I’m not going to answer the question until you ask it correctly.”
“I worked on that all week! What do you mean, ‘ask it correctly’?”
“You’re not asking the question properly.”
“What do you mean ask the question properly? It’s my question.You can’t tell me how to ask my question.”
To which I patiently respond, “I will answer your question when you ask it properly.”
When they are ready, I tell them how to ask that question properly:
Look me in my eyes and ask me this: “How on earth can a holy and righteous God know what I did and thought and said yesterday and not kill me in my sleep last night?” Ask it that way, and we can talk. But until you ask it that way, you do not understand the issue. Until you ask the question that way, you believe the problem is out there somewhere. Until you ask the question that way, you believe that there are some individuals who, in and of themselves, deserve something other than the wrath of Almighty God. When you ask me the question that way — when you say, “Why is it that we are here today? Why has he not consumed and devoured each and every one of us? Why? Why, O God, does your judgment and your wrath tarry?” — then you truly understand the issue.
The problem with the world is me. The problem is the fact that I do not acknowledge the supremacy of Christ in truth. The problem is that I start with myself as the measure of all things. I judge God based upon how well he carries out my agenda for the world, and I believe in the supremacy of me in truth. As a result, I want a God who is omnipotent but not sovereign. If I have a God who is omnipotent but not sovereign, I can wield his power. But if my God is both omnipotent and sovereign, I am at his mercy.
Who am I? I am the crowning glory of the creation of God, knit together in my mother’s womb. Why am I here? I am here to bring glory and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ. What is wrong with the world? Me. I don’t do what I was meant to do.
How Can What Is Wrong Be Made Right?
How can what is wrong be made right? Look at the last part of the text, Colossians 1:22. The little word yet is one of the most beautiful words in the whole Bible. Can you imagine what life would be like if statements in the Scriptures such as we find in this passage weren’t followed by yet, nevertheless, or but?
Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach — if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. (Colossians 1:22–23)
How can what is wrong be made right? We see two things in that last set of statements. First, we see that what is wrong can be made right by the penal, substitutionary, atoning death of Christ. And second, by that if statement (verse 23), we see that it cannot be made right by any other means — the supremacy of Christ in truth and redemption is found in his exclusivity. There is no other means by which man can be justified. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV).
How can what is wrong be made right? If you’ll pardon the inevitable oversimplification, we can say that every other religion in the world basically boils down to this: “You need to have a religious experience, and from that moment on you need to do more good things than bad and then hope for the best when you die.” They may differ in what that experience needs to be or how “good” should be defined, but ultimately, every other world religion is based on the necessity of doing more good than bad, without any certainty or security of an eternal destination.
"The problem with the world is me."
I wrestled with that as a young freshman in college. I didn’t grow up around Christians or around Christianity. My mother was a practicing Buddhist. I never heard the gospel until I got to college. Here’s what I struggled with: I had been told that I’m supposed to have a religious experience, then do more good than bad, and hope for the best when I die. But I found at least three problems with this perspective.
My first problem: I can’t be good. I tried. I can’t do it. I’m incapable of it. I am totally, radically depraved, as the Reformers would say. Beyond a shadow of any doubt, I can’t be good. Even when I do things that look to be good, I do them with wrong motives and destroy any good that was in them to begin with. I can’t be good.
My second problem: What about all the things I did before my religious experience? Who, or what, is going to wash away the sins of my past? How long will I have to live in order for my good deeds — which we’ve already established as futile — to outweigh my bad?
My third problem concerned my assurance: How can I ultimately know that I’ve crossed the finish line? Is “hoping for the best when I die” the best I’m going to get? Am I doomed to wander through life hoping I make it in the end?
I found the answer to these three problems in the supremacy of Christ in truth as it relates to redemption. The Bible says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). In days gone by God had been passing over, or overlooking, sins. And some were thinking that this called into question the justice of God: God, how can you claim to be righteous and yet not crush Moses the murderer, or crush Abraham the liar, or crush David the adulterer? How, O God?
But in the merciful providence of God there came a day when God the Father crushed and killed his one and only Son in our stead in order to satisfy his wrath, “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26 ESV). Was that enough for the sins of Adam, Abraham, and Moses? Can you hear the rhetorical questions from Calvary? Was that enough for your sin? Was that enough for you to recognize the supremacy of Christ in truth as it relates to redemption? There was nothing else that could have been done that would have allowed God to be both just and justifier. But in the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ we find a resolution to the question, “How can what is wrong be made right?” Listen as the hymn writers proclaim:
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh! precious is the flow That makes me white as snow; No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
(Robert Lowry, “Nothing but the Blood” )
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. (William Cowper, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” )
How can what is wrong be made right? The spotless, sinless Lamb of God was crushed, rejected, and killed to pay a debt that he did not owe on behalf of sinners who could never pay him back.
If these two worldviews — postmodern secular humanism and Christian theism — are juxtaposed, something very interesting happens. With the former you are left empty and hopeless; man is left worthless, and you are left to pursue your own satisfaction and never find it. But with the latter, you are precious; you have purpose, and you are powerless — but it’s okay because you were purchased. This is the supremacy of Christ in truth in a postmodern world.
Ultimately, this is what Christian theism tells us:
- Who am I? I am the crown and glory of the creation of God.
- Why am I here? I am here to bring glory and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ.
- What is wrong with the world? What is wrong is me, and everyone like me who refused to acknowledge the supremacy of Christ and instead chose to live in pursuit of the supremacy of self.
- How can what is wrong be made right? What is wrong can be made right through the penal, substitutionary, atoning death of the Son of God, and through repentance and faith on the part of sinners.
As we walk through the highways and byways and look into the lifeless eyes of individuals who have bought the lie, let us rest assured that by the grace of God we possess the answer and we are possessed by the Answer. The answer is Christ and his supremacy in truth. Let us weep that those who walk aimlessly through this life will never be satisfied with the answers that our culture has seen fit to give. The farther we have run away from the supremacy of Christ, the farther we have run away from the only thing that will ever satisfy and the only thing that will ever suffice. The supremacy of Christ in truth also means the sufficiency of Christ in truth. We preach Jesus and him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
“Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” –Robert Lowry
This is the supremacy of Christ in truth in a postmodern, dying, rotting, decaying, and hurting world. Let us therefore embrace it and proclaim it passionately, confidently, and relentlessly, because, after all, that is why we are here.
More Messages from Desiring God 2006 National Conference
The Supremacy of Christian in a Postmodern World (David Wells)
Love and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (D.A. Carson)
The Church and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (Mark Driscoll)