Let me review with you from this morning to put this in context. Wherever the passion for Christ, the treasuring of Christ, the affectional embrace of Christ is missing, doctrine becomes intellectualistic, and the counter error is debunking doctrine as though it’s not important. And wherever that passion is missing and wherever that treasuring of Christ, and that joy in Christ, and that satisfaction in Christ is missing, action or behavior becomes legalistic. The counter error is to become antinomian and to do whatever you please, because nobody wants to be legalistic. And therefore, getting our hearts passionate for God, getting churches emotionally engaged with the infinite value of Christ is hugely significant in the world. When it’s put in its proper place, as a means of glorifying God, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. When it’s in its proper place, then doctrine has the magnificent function of roots feeding into that joy.
Therefore, everybody loves it because it’s producing something beautiful. And out of that joy is overflowing the fruits of love and sacrifice, laying down your life and giving yourself away for other people. Therefore, doctrine is really important. Right views of the glory of Christ make all the difference in the world in the church. It’s a sad thing in our day that doctrine is undervalued. We have a God with contours and edges. This is what he is, and this is what he’s not. He’s not smudgy. He’s not a fog. The cross is not a fog. The way he saved his people is not a fog. There are contours, there’s an in and an out, a right and a wrong, a good, a bad, an ugly, and a beautiful. It’s tragic that has been trashed today, really tragic. And it’s not because of any intellectual ego trip that anybody’s on, but because of joy being ruined and because of love being destroyed.
So I’m on a crusade here to try to remedy that. I was asked to spot pitfalls that are out there for younger pastors and apply it to everybody, that you might be alert for regarding how the glory of Christ is called into question by wrong thinking. That’s where I’m at. And tonight we focus on the cross. What kinds of things should you be looking for in how not to treat them cross of Christ?
The Glory of the Cross
Galatians 6:14 says:
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .
Now that’s a remarkable statement, really remarkable. It takes a lot of thinking to have that be anything but pious mumbo-jumbo, especially when you read 1 Corinthians 1:31, which says that God has done all of his effecting, saving, calling, preserving work so that no one will boast in man: “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” So now you have Galatians 6:14 saying, “God forbid that I should boast in anything except the cross,” and you have 1 Corinthians 1:30 saying, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
What makes a theologian — and you don’t have to be a professional one — is that you see things like that and you think about them. You get a piece of paper out or a computer program that you can never figure out how to work, and you put these verses together in your heart and your mind and say, “Okay, how do I only boast in the cross and only boast in Lord?” And you might conclude something like this. This is where I would come out: the cross, therefore, must be the place where the Lord shines most brightly. If I’m only to boast in the Lord, and yet I’m only to boast in the cross, the cross must be the apex, the pinnacle, the climax of everything this great Lord Jesus stands for. If I could see him at the cross, in the cross, I would see him most clearly. I think that’s probably what the bringing together of those two verses signifies.
Where the Glory of Christ Shines Most Brightly
Here’s another pair. First Corinthians 15:3 says:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures . . .
Paul is saying, “I would remind you of the gospel. I received this as a first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried. He was raised from the dead, all according to the Scriptures. That’s the gospel.” And then you go to 2 Corinthians 4:4, and you read:
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The gospel is a message. It’s good news about the glory of Christ, but I’ll speak more on that tomorrow night. Bring these two passages together. The gospel is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose, all according to God’s Scripture plan. And here in 2 Corinthians 4:4, the gospel is the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. You put those two together and you think, and again you say, “It must be in his death and in his burial and in his mighty, victorious, all-defeating resurrection that the glory of Christ shines most brightly.”
For me, all of that goes back to my original premise: right doctrine is about right views of the glory of Christ. Now we’re on the cross. So we’re saying that right doctrines about the cross are about how the glory shines in the cross. And if you get the cross wrong, you get the glory wrong. If you get the cross wrong, you get the Lord wrong. Wrong views about the cross are hugely devastating and hugely destructive to worship, mission, and love in the church.
Seven Exhortations Regarding the Cross
I’ve got seven things to talk about tonight. And I said, “Now when should I be done tonight?” The tech guy said 8:10 p.m. and Mark Driscoll said, “Sometimes I go two hours.” I’ll try to discern if there are any Eutychuses who fall off their chair, though I’ll have to block out the light, like this, just to check on you. But I won’t push you beyond your limits I hope. There’s seven of these and I really don’t know how many we can get through. We’ll do the best we can. If it feels like it’s getting too late, I’ll do some more tomorrow night. There’s a very close connection between tomorrow night and this, so it won’t be awkward if I do that.
1. Don’t make culture and its bent the measure of the cross.
Young, hip church planters, don’t say, “They can’t grasp that aspect of the cross, so I won’t preach it.” Don’t talk like that. Don’t let the culture become the measure of what you preach. Now you will labor your dead-level, Pauline-missiological best to become all things to all people, but you will tell the whole truth because otherwise their blood will be on your hands. Do you remember how Paul said that in Acts 20:27? He said, “I leave you elders, and your blood is not in my hands because I preached you the whole counsel of God.” And there are so many people that are fitting the message into the culture, instead of transforming culture so that it has categories to get the message. Let’s not assume that every culture in the world has all the categories necessary to understand the cross. If they don’t — let’s say they have never heard of a sheep — you don’t leave that out. You teach them about sheep.
Let’s go to 1 Corinthians 1:22 together. I want to put in a text for each of these, at least one. I want to show you something about how to think about the culture in relation to the cross. It says:
Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom . . .
One group is intellectually astute, and the other is into signs and proofs. Paul continues:
But we preach Christ crucified (and how do they take it?), a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23–24).
Now think about that for a moment and what it means to preaching in any culture. It means that in any culture, there have to be some people who hear it and say it makes no sense whatsoever. They stumble over it. Others are going to hear it and say, “From what I hear, this is absolutely stupid. I’m out of here.” And then there’s going to be another group.
To Those Who Are Called
Now here’s the interesting thing. This other group is within those two groups. Only one thing makes the difference — they’re called. Now we’re into theology, big time. Because you might say, “Well, wait a minute. A good evangelist, a good culturally sensitive evangelist stands in front of the whole crowd, like Billy Graham in front of the whole 55,000 people, and he calls people doesn’t he? He says, “Come to Christ and believe and you will be saved.” And he does. And that’s right.
That’s not what this text says. This text is talking about another call. You don’t have to put a name on it, but historical theology has put a name on it. And they’ve called it the effectual call, the effective call, or the irresistible call — the call that triumphs over all hearts that it wills to triumph over. In Reformed theology, we talk about irresistible grace, and of course the natural, immediate biblical response to that is, “What do you mean irresistible grace? Stephen said, ‘You stiff-necked people. You always resist the Holy spirit’ (Acts 7:51). How can there be resistible grace? The Bible says we resist.” And of course you do. Of course you resist, as long as God lets you resist.
When he is done letting you resist, he can, anytime he pleases, triumph with the majesty of his Son and the beauty of the gospel over your hard heart so that suddenly, without any explanation in your part, you find Christ magnificently attractive and powerful and wise, and you have no explanation. Nobody I’ve ever met who now regards Christ as beautiful, attractive, powerful, true, and compelling says it was owing to them being smarter than their brother. Nobody talks like that who knows Jesus. God did that, and it’s called a calling here.
The reason I’m stressing it is because when you stand up to preach hard truths like the cross, people will think, “A crucified God? I’m sure, in the 21st century. All this bloody crap about a divine child abuse. I can’t believe you believe that. I can’t believe you preach that in Seattle.”
You have to say in those people’s faces, “When God calls you, you will see it. When God opens your heart, you will see it. I will do my best to love you into the kingdom. But until God calls you, you will continue making fun of the gospel.” That’s number one. Don’t make the culture and its bent the measure of the cross. Of course they can’t understand it. We speak spiritual things to those who are spiritual. And how do people become spiritual? By the almighty work of the Holy Spirit awakening their minds to spiritual things. It would be a glorious thing to take 10 minutes here, probably, and just hear testimony after testimony. There was a Christian who told me in the car today that he was saved at this church. For two Sundays it all sounded foolish, then the third Sunday it was no longer foolish. What’s that? That’s God. That’s what it is. It’s not Mark Driscoll.
2. Don’t make the cross the echo of your value but the display of God’s grace.
Oh, how prevalent is the teaching of self-esteem by which the cross is made to serve your value. People say, “Look what he paid for you. Look how valuable you must be. You’re a diamond in the rough.” Don’t think about the cross as God dealing with the problem of how he can find a payment high enough to get you for himself. Rather, think of the cross as dealing with the problem of how he could find a sacrifice great enough to vindicate the righteousness of God for doing the abominable thing of justifying you.”
I didn’t make that word up (abominable). I’m quoting Proverbs 17:15, which is talking about a human court:
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord.
If you’re in a courtroom and somebody’s guilty in front of you and you say, “Not guilty,” you’re abominable. You should get out of the courtroom. We would think, “We will get a new judge who does think justly around here.” And God looks out on a world of ungodly people who deserve to suffer forever because of their treason and their contempt against the king of the universe, and his heart overflows mercy. And he conceives of a way that he can be both just and the justifier of those who are ungodly and just believe in Jesus. And what he conceives of is something that declares to the whole world, “When I save sinners, I don’t sweep sin under the rug.”
This is not about your value. This is about God’s glory and how his righteousness must be vindicated. Let’s go to Romans 3:23–26. I don’t want you to take my word for this. This is the most important paragraph in the Bible, I think. If we had to vote, I’d vote for this one. Paul writes:
All have sinned (that includes you) and fall short of (lack, exchanged, traded) the glory of God, and are justified (declared innocent and righteous) by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (removal of the wrath of God), to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins (Romans 3:23–25).
The problem that Paul wrestled with was totally different than the problem that this culture wrestles with. And we need to get this culture to wrestle with this problem and not just wrestle with their problems. They don’t wrestle with the right problems. The problem that Paul wrestled with was, “How can a just God forgive sinners and not become unjust?” Nobody in America cares about that problem. We have exactly the opposite. We think, “How can God treat me badly and be just?” We’ve got our fist in God’s face all day long. Someone loses a job and they think, “Where are you God?” Someone loses a son and they think, “Where are you God?” Someone loses a marriage and they think, “Where are you God?”
We’re in God’s face continually. God is in the dock in America. That is not a biblical picture. And I don’t know how you’ll make any headway in preaching the gospel until you help people recognize that their rebellion has put them in a position where the problem of the universe is, “How can God treat you well and not become unjust?”
People need to feel that God has treated them well and has found a way to overcome the injustice of treating them well. And the reason it’s unjust — of course you’ve got to put this category in their head — is that unrighteousness or injustice means acting in a way that belittles the glory of God. And it looks like God belittles his glory when he takes people who’ve trampled his glory all their life and says, “I just let it go. I welcome you into my family. I can let you be my son and daughter.” And it looks as though he is saying, “Oh, just let bygones be bygones. Trampling on the glory of God really doesn’t matter.”
That’s the essence of unrighteousness. God would be unrighteous if he treated his glory with such small regard, and therefore he doesn’t treat it with that small regard. He says to his Son, “Son, we have to make a transaction here in order to vindicate my righteousness, because I really do want to justify the ungodly. I’m going to justify the ungodly. Now I know justifying the ungodly is abominable and unjust, but if you will bear this, if I can demonstrate to the world my righteousness an my love for my glory by your dying for the vindication of my glory, I know we can pull this off so that I will shine as righteous and they will be saved.” Don’t make the cross the echo of your value but the display of God’s grace.
A Shock to Man-Centered Culture
Jonathan Edwards is so helpful because he, and most of the Puritans, did heart surgery on the human soul like nobody can today. Nobody. We are so drenched with man-centered thinking everywhere we turn in this culture. And we are so inebriated with self-esteem doctrine. That is the gospel of America. All parenting is about self-esteem, education is about self esteem, managerial techniques to keep people happy at work are about self-esteem. Everything is done by the gospel of self-esteem. And therefore, we have hardly a chance to grasp the biblical categories of sin. If you read Edwards and you go back a few hundred years, you get a lot of help. Let me read you a passage that I just read this past week. I read this in a little gathering of theological students at our church just to show you the magnitude of what Edward sees that hardly anybody sees:
The increase of grace has a tendency another way to cause the saints to think of their deformity vastly more than their goodness.
Now there’s a sentence that’s just incomprehensible unless you really analyze yourself. I could tell you stories from my marriage where the only thing that broke me as a husband to show me my selfishness and my pride, my quickness to anger and slowness to listen, was not first a rebuke from anybody, but in my huffing and puffing to take the garbage can, grab it, and walk it out to the edge of the street to see a bright, beautiful April day shine down on me with a breeze caressing my cheek, and then look up and wonder that I have not been struck dead. In that moment I feel grace holding me in being when I deserve to have been shocked a minute ago. And it breaks my heart and I feel horrible. Grace made me feel horrible. That’s what he’s talking about. You’ve probably tasted it, but of course if you live in a world where you only operate with categories that make you think grace is the echo of your excellence that makes no sense whatsoever. Let me keep reading from him:
It not only tends to convince them that their corruption is much greater than their goodness, which is indeed the case, but it also tends to cause the deformity that there is in the least sin or the least degree of corruption to appear so great as vastly to outweigh all the beauty that there is in their greatest holiness, for this also is indeed the case. For the least sin against an infinite God has an infinite hatefulness or deformity in it. But the highest degree of holiness in a creature has not an infinite loveliness in it. And therefore the loveliness of it is as nothing in comparison to the deformity of the least sin.
Where have you ever read anything like that? You have to go back 250 years if you want your heart slain, if you want to know your heart. Of course the Bible is always there, but we read through such amazingly distorted glasses that a paragraph like this is like a foreign language to most people. And yet, the logic of it is rock solid.
The least sin against an infinite God has an infinite hatefulness and deformity in it. But the highest degree of holiness in a creature does not have an infinite loveliness in it. It’s mine, so it’s not infinite. And therefore, the loveliness of it is as nothing in comparison to the deformity of the least sin, which shows the kind of problem that God was up against in justifying us, treating us well, delivering us from hell, forgiving our sin, adopting us into his family, and promising that everything would work together for good. That God would take sinners like us described in Romans 3:23–26 and do all that, required some massive display of the value of his grace, the vindication of his righteousness, and the exceeding sinfulness of sin.
Thinking with Sober Judgment
And therefore I say again, do not let the cross become the evidence of your value. Let it become the evidence of God’s grace. Let it magnify your sin and God’s grace. If you were to ask me — this is kind of a little partenthesis that’s coming from our last Sunday sermon at home — “So what’s the alternative to self-esteem if you don’t think it’s the gospel?”
Romans 12 is what I preached on last Sunday, and I stressed Romans 12:3, which says:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think . . .
There’s a warning to beware of how you think about yourself. The alternative to thinking too highly of yourself is surprising. It says, “but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 13:3). That costs me days of reflection.
He is saying, “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Let your thinking about yourself be with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith God has assigned.” Let me put in one minute that sermon. The alternative to thinking highly of yourself is thinking highly of Jesus, and not just thinking highly of Jesus, but going out from yourself because what is faith? Faith in Jesus is a going out. It’s an outward movement. When faith stands in front of a mirror, it falls away and becomes a window on the other side of which is the glory of Jesus. There are no mirrors in heaven. Heaven is not a hall of mirrors where you like what you see, in spite of what the self-esteem gospel says. Heaven will not be a hall of mirrors where you like what you see, heaven will be Christ is all.
If you asked a person in heaven, “Are you humble?” They would say, “Christ is all.” That’s one of those language games. “Are you humble?” is a non-answerable question. If you say no, that’s true, but you don’t want it to be so. And if you say, “Yes,” it’s wrong because the essence of the alternative to thinking too highly of yourself is to forget yourself in your rapture with Jesus. It is a looking away and a miracle happens. And it’s usually called worship vertically and love horizontally where you wake up at the end of the day and the miracle you say — and here the miracle has ceased to happen for a moment — “I didn’t think of myself all day. I was free. I didn’t have a positive self-image. I never even thought about me. I was just caught up in the beauty of Christ. I was overflowing with joy for other people.”
The alternative to taking the cross and making it an echo of your excellence is to die at the cross to help a new person come into being — the essence of which is faith. The essence of which is looking away to the infinite value of Jesus and forgetting yourself.
3. Don’t remove the blood and violence of the cross.
Even in the most Christian congregation, nobody likes to hear about the cross the way Mel Gibson displayed the cross. Nobody wants to think about it. And in this culture, the sentiment is, “Thank you, we get enough blood in Iraq. We don’t need any more blood at church. Say something comfortable here, please. Don’t give us gore. Don’t give us a God who kills people, and especially his own Son. Just tell us something comfortable here.” And there are so many pastors who buy into that so tragically.
Living in a World of Horrors
Now, there are three issues here in the blood and violence of the cross. Number one: in order to make sense out of the blood, violence, whipping, spitting, beard pulling, thorns, spears, and horror of the cross . . . I mean, it was horrible. I think Mel Gibson made light work of it on the cross. Of course, the beating was almost too much, but at the cross he missed it. I think Jesus’s throat would have been absolutely raw with screaming. And I don’t think he screamed in Mel Gibson’s movie. There’s no way you can not scream when they put nails through your hands and hang you on them. The screaming would have been long, loud, and horrible. And Mary would have been beating on her chest screaming, “No, no, no.” Nobody has ever portrayed the cross too violently or too horribly. It is the most horrific way to torture somebody that humans have designed.
The only way to make sense of that in the gospel is to ask the question, why do we live in a world where there is so much horror? Don’t insulate yourself from horror in the world. I said this to you this morning. I could give you the website where you can watch the beheadings. You have to pay five bucks, and you can see them, every one of them. It takes about five minutes. Don’t insulate yourself from the horror in the world. If you can’t handle the horror in the world, what are you going to do with Bible? It is the most horrific book.
My answer to the question comes from Romans eight. And this is really crucial. If you don’t buy what I’m about to say in Romans 8:20 and following, you probably will do something else with the cross than I think you should do. Romans 8:20 says:
The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope . . .
Who did that? God did that, because if you say the devil did it, he didn’t do it in hope. God did that. This is a picture of Genesis 3. Mankind fell, rebelled, and decided to become wise and independent, they commited treason against the King and hate against the Father, and God consigned the creation to futility. And that’s where all tornadoes, monsoons, earthquakes, volcanoes, pestilences, famines, and punishments by sword come from. God put the world under a curse. This is divine curse.
Moral Evil and Physical Evil
Now think that through. Every horrible, loathsome disease comes from this. I passed a man in my own neighborhood the other day. I’d never seen a face like his. I was hurrying to church and I was just knocked back. I went back not to stop him. He may have not wanted it. I’d never seen a more horrible face in my life. I won’t describe it to your lest you have a relative with this condition but it was like something out of a movie.
Everything in me wants an answer for that man’s life. It’s just so easy. I’ve got a wife. I’ve got five kids. I’m paid. I’m healthy. I’ve got indoor plumbing. I’ve got everything and this man has to live with this face. And all these people are sick in my church. And the world is just filled with pain and filled with horrific conditions. Where did they come from? They came from God’s curse on sin.
Now that has a meaning. What is that? It means this: moral evil, which was what was inside Adam and Eve at that moment, is so horrific, so ugly, so distorted, and so depraved, the only way God can give us a hint as to what it’s like is with physical forms of curse.
So if you wonder what the chaos and the horrors of the physical world are all about — things that kill hundreds of thousands of people in one month, like the monsoon in Bangladesh — the answer is that it’s about teaching you the horrific nature of your moral corruption. God wouldn’t do it this way unless he needed to make a physical statement with physical corruption about the seriousness and the ugliness of moral corruption. That’s the first thing we’ve got to get into our heads for the cross and it’s physical horror to begin to make sense.
God’s Judgment and the Horror of Calvary
Here’s the second thing we’ve got to make clear. God’s judgments in the Bible all over the place are physically horrible. Let’s just go to Ezekiel 5:8–10. I read this passage a few days ago in my devotion. So I’m just picking this off the front burner. God’s very angry at his people, really angry. It says:
Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, even I, am against you. And I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations. And because of all your abominations (this is just like Adam and Eve all over again) I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again. Therefore fathers shall eat their sons . . .
How serious is sin? As Edward says, “The slightest sin has an infinite hatefulness in it.” Otherwise, that’s an overreaction. God is saying, “I will ordain starvation and the eating of your children to testify to you of your abominable deeds. This is about your sin, but I will it. I will physical horrors to display moral horrors.”
And so we come to the cross and you read Mark 10:33–34, and it says:
The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.
The spitting, the whipping, the nails are necessary. Isaiah 53:5, “By his stripes we are healed.” There had to be stripes on a fleshly back. First Peter 2:24 says, “He bore our sins in his body.” There’s no simple, little intellectual way to deal with sin. Sin must be dealt with in a physical way, with physical horror and physical blood shedding. That’s the way it’s been from the beginning, and that’s the way it is now.
Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood (Hebrews 13:12).
Oh, don’t sanitize the cross. Don’t make it a little simple demonstration of love. Get gutsy, get real, get horrible. I don’t know what’s going to become of America. We are the Disneyland of the world. You know that, don’t you? Living in America is like living in Disneyland as far as the rest of the world is concerned. We have 911 and we’re bent out of shape that we don’t have all the flu shots that we’re supposed to have.
Everything couches us in comfort and ease and protection, so that when the slightest little thing happens to us and we just think something horrible has happened. We need to be around be-headings. We need to be around these things. This is what the world has been like. This is the price that has been paid by the spread of the gospel for all time. We live in about a 250-year time warp. It will not last. It cannot last. It dare not last.
If the Great Commission is going to be finished, how are we going to breed people that can live in the world where a God hates sin so much that he ordains a starvation that results in the eating of children? Will we ever have the kind of personal makeup that will enable us to even emotionally survive in the prisons of such horrors, let alone believe in the God who ordains them? Oh, we have so much work to do for our people, to help them understand the cross.
4. Don’t remove God’s wrath from the cross.
This is almost the same, but not quite. Don’t remove God’s wrath from the cross.
[The gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . .
Do you understand the ground clause there? Underneath these two massive statements — “the gospel is the power of God into salvation” (Romans 1:16), and “because in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17) — is this massive reason: God’s wrath is being poured out against all ungodliness. That’s why there’s a desperate need for the gospel.
The gospel is most fundamentally the removal of the wrath of God, by God, through the death of his Son. The cross cannot begin to be cherished as it is meant to be cherished until you see it as the absorption of the wrath of God by the Son of God, so that you do not have to bear it.
Galatians 3:13 says:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law . . .
Whose curse is that? It’s God’s on us — the curse of the law. It conintues:
By becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” . . .
The essence of the gospel is that God has cursed us in sin and we are all hell-bound. You can’t preach the gospel if people don’t know that. The gospel is not helping people have better marriages, and the gospel is not psychological well-being; the gospel is the objective removal of the wrath of God from off of us forever and ever.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
The True Remedy for Guilt
Don’t take the wrath of God out of the cross. It is written across every human soul, “I am guilty.” God is angry. My conscience testifies to that. I try to drown it, drug it, or work it off. I’ll do anything, but it rises up at night.” And they will go to a church perhaps the next morning if they’ve just heard, “They take sin really seriously there. They take corruption and guilt really seriously there and they have an answer for it. They have an answer for my worst sins, my worst guilt, and my worst fears of the wrath of God. They don’t blow that off at this church. They have an answer for it.” That’s the gospel.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9).
Now here’s the gospel at the end of that story. And if it’s hard for modern people to believe in the bad news about their hearts, which it always has been, it’s hard to get Christians to believe the good news that since the cross happened and all the wrath appointed for you has been diverted onto Jesus, there’s only one thing left for you: mercy. And that’s all you ever experience. That’s really hard for Christians to believe in the middle of divorce, cancer, and wayward children. The only thing God treats you with is mercy. That’s all.
So if you say, “Well, wait a minute now. Some really bad things happened to me — really bad things — and you’re saying the only thing God treats his children with his mercy?” I say, “Absolutely, I believe that.” Because otherwise I would believe in double jeopardy: Christ bears it and you bear it.
You don’t ever bear any punishment from God. Christ bears all of it. These bad things that are happening to you are no longer punishment, they are purifying. They are discipline. They are loving. It’s all described in Hebrews 12:5–11. Christ absorbs all the punitive work of God that was coming to you. Everything bad that happens to you now is not in that category anymore. The cross has diverted all punishments to Christ. What comes your way now is transformed into purifying. So if you’re a Christian in the Twin Towers in New York and it comes down — let’s say there was a believer and an unbeliever right next to each other — it’s punishment for one and it’s paradise for the other. If you survive with legs missing and they survive with legs missing, it’s a little more ambiguous now. Because you don’t know if they’re going to believe and say, “It’s a wake up call to get serious about God.”
But for you, it’s all purifying. It’s Joni Eareckson Tada being prepared for the world if you will have it. Don’t remove God’s wrath. If you were to ask me tonight, “Do you have a favorite Bible verse?” I already said what I thought was the most important text in the Bible. But I think if I were forced to pick a favorite Bible verse it would be Romans 8:32 because of the massive logic of the verse on my behalf as a sinner. It says:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
The answer is, “Yes.” But think about the logic. He didn’t spare his Son, and therein lies the absolute assurance of “all things.” What does that mean? It means death will be yours. Nakedness will be yours. Peril will be yours. Sword will be yours. And in all of those you will be more than a conqueror as they purify your soul and prepare you for heaven and make you a more loving person. None of them will be condemnation and none of them will be punitive. Don’t remove God’s wrath from the cross.
5. Don’t neglect or deny the covenant effectiveness of the cross.
There’s another name for this. It’s called limited atonement, or definite atonement, or particular redemption. I’m going to linger on this for a few minutes, because as I’ve been talking around to people here I’ve found that Acts 29 is a Reformed movement. Reformed means, generally, that one believes in the five points of Calvinism, sometimes called the doctrines of grace. And I know from experience and from conversations that the doctrine of limited atonement is the one that people stumble over the longest on their way, and so did I. I’m going to try to explain it in a way that you may have never heard it explained for a few minutes in the hope that you will be able to embrace it as good news, not as an embarrassing doctrine that Calvinists have to apologize for or as something that doesn’t fit texts like 1 John 2:2, 2 Peter 3:1, and others.
Let’s make a stab at it. And this may be the last one we have to do. I’ve got others, but we’ll see how we do here. Here’s the question. I’m going to try to do this in a way that those of you who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about yet will be able to get on board. I’m going to give you some texts that in my understanding of them — and I hope I can show you that it’s the right understanding — lead me to believe that in the atonement, in the death of Christ, God had the design to do a complete, full saving work from beginning to end for a group of people, not everybody. We’ll come to the issue of how the cross relates to everybody in a moment. But I first want to persuade you that the Bible does talk about the cross relating distinctly to a group of people (the elect, those who are called), and they also are coterminous with those who believe.
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).
He lifts up the cup and says, “This cup poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” What I think that means is that his blood secures the new covenant promises. He is purchasing the new covenant. The covenant blood guarantees the new covenant. Were there no blood of the covenant there would be no covenant. He is saying, “My blood is the blood of the new covenant.” Matthew 26:28 also says:
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
First Corinthians 11:25 says:
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
What’s New About the new covenant
Now, if that’s true, if the death of Jesus and the blood shedding of Jesus is the purchase, the secure, the guarantee of the new covenant, now we have to figure out what the new covenant is. I’ll read you a few key texts about the new covenant. This is Jeremiah 31:33:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Now the difference between the new covenant and the old covenant is that God wrote his law in stone at Mount Sinai, and he said, “There it is. Obey that.” And they failed. It aborted. It didn’t work. Nobody was saved that way. So God said, “I’m going to make a new covenant. This time I’m not going to just put the law on stone and say, ‘There, do that.’ I’m going to move inside and write it on your heart.” That is a code word for saying, “I’m going to incline you that way. I’m going to see to it that this gets done and that the covenant doesn’t abort.” You’ll see that even more clearly in these other two texts.
Jeremiah 32:38–40 says:
And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
Where does the fear of God come from in the new covenant people? God gives it to them. That’s why the new covenant succeeds with absolute certainty. God puts his fear in the heart and he sees to it that they fear him always. That’s why we believe in the perseverance of the saints. It’s not because we are such consistent people, but because God makes promises like that.
Obedience from the Heart
Here’s one more. Ezekiel 11:19 says:
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh . . .
This is conversion folks. Or listen to Ezekiel 36:26–27:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Now I conclude from all those new covenant passages that the difference between the old covenant written on stone and the new covenant by the Spirit is that God will see to it that the new covenant happens and does not abort. He will make sure that he has a people who humble themselves, do what’s written on their hearts, believe him, trust him, and don’t have hearts of stone but have hearts of flesh.
Christ bought that at the price of his blood, and God doesn’t do that for everybody; otherwise, everybody would be saved. When you talk about the covenant blood — “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” — it means, “I bought these promises. I lay down my life so that the Father by the Spirit would fulfill those covenant promises in the people for whom they are appointed. Some people have a heart of stone taken out and a heart of flesh put in, and they will come to trust in the living God.” So that’s my first set of texts pointing to the fact that the death of Christ does have a design for a group of people, namely, those who are converted. The conversion was bought by Jesus.
My Sheep Hear My Voice
Now here are some other texts. This is John 6:37:
All that the Father gives me will come to me . . .
Get inside John’s head here. It’s amazing that we give John to new believers. Oh man, John is the most predestinarian book in the Bible, and we put it in the hands of new believers! Unbelievable. Here’s a little piece of it:
All that the Father gives me will come to me . . . (John 6:37).
So who comes to Jesus? Those whom the Father gives to him.
And whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:37–39).
Now the thing to think about here is that God has a group of people. He gives them to the Son. Therefore, they come to the Son. Nobody comes to the Son unless the Father draws him (John 6:44), and Jesus says, “I came down to do a work for those people.” Now, what is that work? John 10:10 says:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
That’s who they are. Jesus is saying, “The sheep come. I see them. I know that in order for them to be saved I must lay down my life for them.” He doesn’t lay down his life for the wolves. This is for the sheep. We’ll talk about the wolves in a minute and how the cross relates to them. But just see John’s particularity here. John 10:14–16 says:
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
You see how John is thinking? Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep, and I have other sheep. I haven’t gathered them. Some of them are in Angola, some of them are in Iraq, and some are in Russia and China.” We must go and preach the gospel, and Jesus says, “I will gather them. They will hear my voice and they will follow me. I laid down my life for these sheep.”
For Those Whom You Have Given Me
Then there is the high priestly prayer in John 17:6, where Jesus says:
I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
And then in John 17:9, he says:
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
That’s a very significant statement in the high priestly prayer of Jesus. This prayer is a prayer of the application of the cross. We will see that in a moment. In John 17:19, he continues:
And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
The Gospel of John is a Gospel pointing to the cross as an event that secures the coming of the sheep.
Gathering into One the Children of God
Now, here are two texts that I don’t know if you’ve ever put together. First John 2:2 is one of the most common objections to definite atonement. And it goes like this:
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Have you ever lined that text up beside its Gospel parallel? That’s the letter of 1 John 2:2. And here’s the Gospel of John 11:50–52, Caiaphas speaking:
“It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
What does that mean? First John 2:2 says, “Not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” This text says that it isn’t for Jews only, but what does it say? He’s dying and he’s laying down his life “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad,” which is another way of saying, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also” (John 10:16). One image is children, and one image is sheep. He is saying, “I lay down my life for the sheep, and I lay down my life to gather into one the children of God scattered abroad.” This verse in 1 John 2:2. I think “the world” in 1 John 2:2 — “he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” — means the whole world in the sense that he’s going to gather from every nation under heaven the children of God by dying for them.
You meditate on that, whether you think John 11:52 is an explanatory parallel to 1 John 2:2. And then see if this verse from the Revelation applies. You know there are three books about the gospel by the apostle John. This is Revelation 5:9–10. Have you ever thought about it this way?
And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation . . .”
That’s exactly what John 11:52 is saying. He gave his life not only for Jews. He gave his life to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad — that is, he gave his life to ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. The effectual work of the cross gathers a new covenant people from all the tribes on planet Earth.
The Wife of the Lamb
Let me move towards practical application and how to deal with the more expansive texts. When I’m standing in front of my people and I want to help them get an emotional grip on the effectual work of the cross for the elect or for the church or for the sheep or for the children, whatever language you want to use, the text that has been most helpful for my people has been Ephesians 5:25, addressed to husbands:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . .
And I look at the women in my church and I say, “Now, please, I love you all, but you won’t be offended if I say, ‘I love Noël in a covenant way that I don’t love you,’ will you? I’ll serve you. I’ll be there for you, but I don’t love you the way I love my wife.”
And then I say, “Jesus has a wife, and he died for her. It was a dowry. And he meant to get one woman for his own. It doesn’t mean he has no heart for the rest of the world.” Matthew 5:44 says to love your enemies and you will become like your Father in heaven because he makes the sun rise on the evil and the good. That teaches God’s love for his enemies. The sun came up on Seattle. We couldn’t see it this morning, but it came up. And that’s pure grace. We should have all been incinerated last night for the sins of this city and our own sins. But it came up, which is God’s arms extended to people. Every suffering and every blessing that comes into a fallen world is either a wake-up call or a wooing call from the living God in love speaking to a fallen world, but he loves his church differently. He pays for her. He pays a dowry for her. He goes after her.
For the Church or for All?
Maybe someone would say, “Piper, just be simple for a minute. Do you believe Jesus died for all people? Just give us a straight out answer.” I’m not going to play politics. I’m not going to answer another question, but I am going to do this before I answer it. I’m going to force you to define, “For all people.” I’m going to say, “Just tell me exactly what you mean and I’ll answer you, because I don’t want to answer in a way that would cause you to misunderstand.” What do you mean by, “For all people?” Now I think I know what most people are saying — is it okay if I use the word Arminians? — who are having a hard time with limited atonement; that is, the atonement which expects something special for a limited group.
I think I know what they all mean. I’m going to quote Millard Erickson’s theology, because I think he’s right. He says, “God intended the atonement to make salvation possible for all persons. Christ died for all persons, but this atoning death becomes effective only when accepted by the individual. This is the view of all Arminians.”
If that’s the view of all Arminians, I totally agree with it — no qualifications. So if you say, “Did Christ die for all people?” And I say, “What do you mean by ‘for all people?’” And you answer, “I mean, did he die in such a way so that anybody, anywhere who believes will be saved by that blood?” I would say, “Absolutely he did.” That’s John 3:16, pure and simple:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
I believe that totally without qualification. Every individual person on planet earth who believes in Jesus has their life covered by the blood of Jesus. So you preach that. You stand up on Sunday morning and you say, “Christ died in such a way so that anybody in this room who believes has their sins covered by the blood of Jesus.” There’s no massage of language there or anything. If you want to say, “Christ died for all of you,” just be sure that you eventually, sometime in your teaching program, explain what you mean. Because they’re going to take you to mean perhaps some things you don’t.
But if all they take you to mean is that Christ died in such a way that a bonafide offer of the gospel and salvation could be made to every person face-to-face on the street, saying, “If you will believe the blood of Jesus covers your sin, that’s true,” I would entirely affirm that. Then, I simply say that Calvinists believe more than that, not less.
More than an Offer
They believe that. They affirm everything the Arminan says about the availability of the blood of Christ for all who will believe, and then they say, “And he did more than that” — namely, in the cross he has in view a people that he has chosen from the foundation of the world. And he purchased in this dowry, their faith, repentance, conversion, and their new covenant closure with Christ. He will get a people for himself. That’s not less than the Arminians believe; that’s more.
In other words, Christ doesn’t just go around in general relating to women. He gets a wife and he pays for her and he loves his wife differently than he loves the world. I just find it mind-boggling that some people have a view of the cross that actually says to people, “It can mean no more for you than it means for people in hell. He didn’t do anything special for you that he didn’t do for the person in hell.” That is so gospel-destroying, so cross-gutting. The whole new covenant collapses under that kind of teaching, because it leaves absolutely everything on you.
If you have the grace to believe, Christ bought that grace, and you should give him glory for it and give the cross credit for it. So glory with your people again in Romans 8:32:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
I wish there were a Q & A after this so that people who are still confused about that could ask me because that has been so liberating for me. I just want you to get that limited atonement thing. That’s not a good word. Call it definite atonement or covenant effectiveness. Get another word. The term limited atonement just gets us in trouble.
I just want all of you Calvinists from now on to say, “Calvinist don’t believe less about the death of Jesus. We believe more than that he made salvation available to all who will believe. Yes, we do believe that the blood is sufficient for all who will believe, and everyone who believes is covered by the blood of Jesus.” Amen. Let’s preach that. Then we also say, “And to all those who do believe, guess what? Jesus bought your awakening. He paid for your coming to him, and your coming cannot be boasted in. It goes like a trophy at the foot of the cross.” But I’m repeating myself.
6. Don’t deny the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.
I wish we had hours to talk about the new perspective on Paul and about the way the historic understanding of the doctrine of justification was in two senses, not just one sense. Let me see if I can boil this down and show you why it’s so precious pastorally and so precious in terms of worship.
Let me plead with you. I can’t defend it enough tonight, but just plead with you to read the ancient old writers. If you’re going to read Tom Wright, be sure to read John Owen, because there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s all old and it’s all dangerous if it’s not old. I’ve spent 25 years using new language to argue that I haven’t said anything new under the sun about Christian Hedonism, but that’s another language issue.
Justification, historically, if you go all the way back to Chrysostom and the Epistle to Diognetus about this, was a doctrine Christians always believed. There’s a little Justification Reader by Thomas Oden in which you can read the history. It’s not like, “Oh, this was invented at the Reformation. Luther thought this up and now we need to get it straight.” The two issues in justification are, first, Christ becomes a pardon for our sin by bearing our sin and God’s wrath, and second, Christ becomes our perfection and our righteousness at the cross where all of his life of obedience comes to its climax.
If you chop off this half and say, “Justification only has to do with the forgiveness of sins and the engrafting into the people of God, and it does not consist in Christ providing a righteousness for us,” you do three things. One, you’re unbiblical, I believe, and I’ll try to show it for a few minutes. Two, you rip a huge weapon out of your pastoral-care arsenal for depressed people. And three, you cut the glory of the cross in half.
Jesus means to get glory on the cross for bearing sin and providing righteousness. And it’s not just the elimination of sin, but the positive procuring of a righteousness that counts in heaven, credited to our account. That is justification, at least half of it. So it grieves me that evangelicals all over America today are being fascinated with new views of justification. I wrote my whole little book in response to just two articles by Robert Gundry down at Westmont, who says imputation is not in the Bible.
Arguing from the Scriptures
I was absolutely blown away by these two articles. I just grieved so deeply that a Professor at Westmont would write two articles like that, and that the books and culture edited by my friend, Mark Noll, would print the stuff, and not even print a counter article until two issues later. And the counter article was not exegetical.
It felt like a false teacher was about to say checkmate on the doctrine of imputation, and when that happened we went out to get another chess player to come in and find out how to get out of this checkmate, because it’s really not checkmate, you hope. But what we got was a guy who wrote a history of chess. That was the article that followed it. I said, “This is not going to help,” so I sat down and wrote a book. We have to respond. Gundry is no pushover, exegetically. He is one of the sharpest guys around. You just can’t write a history of doctrine when guys arguing from the Bible.
I knew they wouldn’t fit in another article and I couldn’t squeeze it into an article anyway, so I wrote a little book. I just tried to argue exegetically for this doctrine. I commend to you to argue exegetically. So maybe we could look at two or three verses and then stop.
The Imputed Righteousness of Jesus Christ
Second Corinthians 5:21 is where I’m going first. I want you to cherish this. Then I will come back to that pastoral counseling issue and tell you why I said that one of your weapons is removed if you lose this and why it is. Second Corinthians 5:21 says:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin . . .
Now let’s stop there and let’s get that straight because it’s the parallel of the verses that make it work. In what sense did God make Christ to be sin? Christ did not become a morally defective person on the cross. My sin was imputed to Christ. It was counted as Christ’s. He never sinned, which is why he could wear my sin imputed to him. That’s half of it. Then the next half of the verse says:
So that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
When you believe in Jesus, you are united to Jesus, and that union with Christ is essential in how to understand justification. I think it’s fair to say most New Testament scholars have always taken it this way. There are some novel ways of handling this verse now, but I don’t think they’re compelling. Historically, that has been taken to mean that just as in the negative half of the verse God imputed to Christ my sin, so in the positive half of the verse, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to me.
I know it says the righteousness of God. I know that I’m not going to quibble here because what it says is that “in Christ” we become the righteousness of God. I think I could take you to the flow of thought in Romans three and four and argue that the righteousness of God is the righteousness of Christ, and that when you’re in Christ, you’re identified with him. He is the outworking and outliving of God’s righteousness.
Therefore, in Christ, you have God’s righteousness, which is Christ’s righteousness. So you say to a church, “If you believe in Jesus, not only will all the junk of your past be wiped away, but you will not be left as a morally neutral zero hovering between A minus and F minus, or A plus and A minus. You won’t be hovering; rather, in Christ, all Christ’s fulfilled righteousness and obedience is imputed to you, and you are an A plus in God’s sight.”
So imputed righteousness means it’s none of my own. There’s no boasting, saying, “I’m an A plus!” That would totally misunderstand that Christ is an A plus, you’re hell bound, and in the miracle of the death of Christ and the life of Christ, God imputes to you, by faith alone, the righteousness of his Son. First Corinthians 1:30 says:
Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption . . .
Wisdom, Righteousness, Santification, Redemption
Christ was made to be our righteousness. Now I know that Tom Wright responds cynically to that and says, “Okay, if you’re going to take that verse to mean that righteousness is imputed to you, then you have to take sanctification as being imputed to you, wisdom being imputed to you, and redemption being imputed to you, which would make no nsense out of the verse.” I agree it would. I don’t think you have to do that.
It may be that the thought that Christ is our righteousness here doesn’t mean that his righteousness becomes ours by imputation. That may be right. Maybe we shouldn’t use this verse. If it drops out of my arsenal, I won’t change my mind. But I don’t want to stop with that objection because it doesn’t necessarily hold. Christ can be my sanctification in the sense that he comes in and works my sanctification.
He can be my righteousness in the sense that he becomes my righteousness by fulfilling it and having it imputed to me. He can become my redemption by dying as my liberator. And he can become my wisdom by functioning as the one who teaches me wisdom. It might be that in every piece of this text he is for me in a different way. But since the objection is caught up in that way, I will linger there. I do believe that it’s right to say that Christ is our righteousness and to sing songs about it. We’d have to drop a lot of hymns if the new perspective were proved to be true.
Thy Righteousness Is in Heaven
Listen to Philippians 3:8–9:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith . . .
In Christ, I have a righteousness that is not my own. Perhaps you remember how John Bunyan, who wrote Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, struggled in his mid 20s with whether he was saved or not. His conscience condemned him perfectly. He had no assurance of faith. And he was walking one day among the groves, feeling suicidally depressed, thinking, “How in the world can I ever be righteous enough? How can I even know if I’m righteous enough? What if I were to become improved and sanctified? Could I ever be righteous enough?” And he said, “There came into my mind a thought,” and then he went home to find the verse. It was the thought your righteousness is in heaven and it is perfect.
Your righteousness is in heaven. It isn’t in you. Luther had this great gospel phrase that he loved called extra nos, which means outside of us. The glory of the gospel is that it was accomplished outside of us on the cross, and that the righteousness that counts for me in heaven before the holy judge is a righteousness outside of me. Christ is my righteousness. In Christ, his righteousness and justice is commended to the Father. I stand clothed in Christ. His righteousness is my only hope.
A Mighty Weapon in the Cause of Comfort
Now I say, this is a weapon in the arsenal of counseling depressed people that I do not want to surrender. One of the hardest things in dealing with introverted, introspective, depressed, and insecure people, who, every time you give them a promise, divert it this way or deflect it that way and can’t wear it, is that there is no answer for them, except a miracle.
The miracle is, “Would you please stop thinking about yourself? Let’s pray that God would set you free from the mirror, the curse of the condemning mirror, and let you begin to think of Christ.” There are many things you can say at that point about Christ. But one of the precious things is that you can say, “Your measuring up will never happen on planet earth. You will never be good enough ever, ever, ever. Relax. You will never be good enough. There is one who has been good enough and only one, and he has died as a climax to that obedience, such that your sins have been taken away. And the righteousness you so long to have has been provided perfectly in Christ before the holy judge. God looks upon it and says, ‘I count you perfect and all that are in my Son.’ And you may be in by simply falling on him.”
Can you fall? Let’s practice. Try falling out of that chair. If you don’t fall, I’ll push you out of that chair. That’s the way the Holy Spirit works. I don’t know how to help people who are desperately dealing with their own condemnation if we lose that path of justification. It is a precious and glorious half. And not only is it valuable for the people, but it is a great honor to Christ when we say, “Not only did you bear my sins, but you also provided my righteousness.”
So I hope at this church and all the churches where you come from will keep singing those songs, that Christ is our righteousness and our perfect dress. Don’t let your people miss the pleasures, the peace, the power, and the glory of the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness in Christ by faith alone, on the basis of grace alone, because of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, learned about in Scripture alone.