If you have followed my blog postings for the last few months you already know what the fourth pillar that supports learning to think by faith, “How does God relates to us?”, will be. You are sure it will be, “God relates to us absolutely by grace alone, and not assisted by anything we do ourselves,” and you are right.
However, just in the last ten years or so, after 50 years as a serious, involved Christian who would have answered the same way for the majority of that time, I have discovered a whole, new experience of what that means that has brought new love, joy and peace to my life.
That should not be surprising to me. As a 30 year-old, after ten years as a Christian and seven “in the ministry” as a campus evangelist, fulltime in a student Christian evangelistic organization, and “following the Lord with all my heart,” I thought I knew everything I needed to know about God and this Christian life.
I have since discovered, embarrassingly, that this attitude characterized my life for the next 40 years. When I realized this, at first it was very discouraging to me. In some aspects of my faith, I was so blind for a very long time. Ironically, I realized that I am a know-it-all who doesn’t! However, the Bible tells me that I am not alone. People like me are everywhere on its pages.
For example, Job is described in Job 1:1, as a “man (who) was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” Could you think of a better description of a “righteous man?” But listen to Job’s own description of Himself after his eyes were opened later in life: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5, 6).
Isaiah, David, Peter, and Paul were similar biblical figures, who were all, “following the Lord with all my heart,” when they each had a similar experience to Job’s. They saw—not only intellectually, but now experientially—the reality of pillar #3. I am absolutely, with no exceptions, sinful, as well as #4: God relates to me, absolutely, with no exceptions, completely by grace alone.
My limited understanding, of which I was so unaware, was primarily due to a truncated understanding of the cross and what happened there. The cross is the divide of history; B.C. (before Christ), and Anno Domini (the year of our Lord), and without understanding it, history is meaningless. Paul says, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The full range of everything he taught began and ended with the cross.
A passage in Ephesians, which a good friend of mine told me, years ago, “is the most tragic passage in the Bible,” paints a picture of the world without the cross:
”And you…who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others…having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:1-3, 12).
Man could do nothing—no matter how hard he tried—to satisfy, fulfill, or even enjoy this life. He could not even believe in God, because dead men cannot believe. But listen to Paul in Ephesians 2:4: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…” Motivated by love for His fallen, lost, blind and deceived creatures, in one, three-day period, in “the fullness of time,” God acted.
At the cross and resurrection, God accomplished all the heavy lifting of restoring His creation to its original state, and more. He finished the task. We all had died in the “first man,” Adam, at the Tree in the Garden, and therefore we became fallen sinners there. Now, Jesus, the Son of God Himself, came as a man, to die for all of those fallen sinners (“He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” – 1 John 2:2), at the cross on Golgotha. There He fully satisfied God’s judgment for that sin. That is the gospel we know and love.
However, there is much more to the gospel, more “good news.” Paul says “If One died for all, then all died” (2 Corinthians 5:1). When Jesus died, He not only paid the penalty for our sins, but He took the whole, fallen, Adamic race to the cross with Him, and we all died there too, putting an end to sinful mankind. Thus, Paul calls Jesus the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45). Through a man who was not a member of that original human race, God committed genocide to that race that He Himself had created and loved!
But, in His beautiful divine plan, our extermination was somehow not the end of us. Paul also called Jesus the ”second man” (1 Corinthians 15:47). When He burst out of the grave on the first Easter morning, He did so as the federal head—the first man, the beginning—of a whole new race of human beings, a new type of creature (a “second man”).
Just as the “first man,” Adam, was the original federal head of mankind, 2000 years ago, at the resurrection we have all already been made alive as brand new creatures of a new race (1 Corinthians 15:22) in the second man, Jesus. We have only to awaken (Ephesians 5:14) to that fact. That will occur when our sovereign Father decides to open our eyes to the reality of what Jesus said as He died, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Evangelism has become, “Wake up! All your wickedness and selfishness has already been forgiven by a God Who loves you!”
I am realizing that a part of who I am is a know-it-all. I never, in my heart of hearts, follow Paul’s admonition in Philippians 2:3, 4 to, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” But God promises to be at work in my life, unbeknownst to me, conforming me to the image of Christ, without my knowledge.
Most people think that being a senior citizen makes one wise and more holy. I have found that not to be the case. My experience has been more similar to Paul’s: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). Discovering new sins has been a not-always-pleasant journey for Jill and me in our old age, and although Kindergarten was pretty tough for us, we are graduating and are excited to jump into First Grade in the Lord’s classroom. Bet there are a lot of know-it-alls there!