When the two-edged sword of the Word of God cuts open our hearts and exposes what is buried there, we initially are shocked. Of course, God has always known what was there, but we had no clue. We knew we aren’t perfect, but we were sincerely trying to do better. We weren’t really bad people anyway, at least compared to everyone else.
And that’s the problem. Everyone else is not the standard; God’s eternal law is. We had no idea that according to His law each of our hearts is, “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Certainly not I!)” (Jeremiah 17:9). This familiar verse has always been only a theological, theoretical idea to us, certainly not a daily reality in our lives and a condition we are helpless to rectify.
But now, just returning to consciousness in Recovery after surgery with a now-exegeted heart whose contents have been exposed, I can suddenly “see” from a brand new perspective three important facts:
1.) Who I am. I am a wicked, rebellious sinner who is helpless to change and be “good.”
2.) Who God is. He is the sovereign, all-powerful, holy, creator God who says to mankind “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).
3.) What happened at the cross. My doomed condition (eternal separation from God), due to the impossibility of reconciling #1. and #2., was once and for all dealt with at the cross 2000 years ago. Because God so loved us—His creatures who were originally created in His image—He refused to let our rebellion and rejection of Him stand. He came to earth looking for us in the person of His son Jesus to die for us and to set us free from the judgment we deserved. “It is finished,” Jesus cried, as He died on the cross for the sin of the whole world, at that point fully accomplishing the task for which He was sent. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Do you see the implications of this verse? They are mind boggling.
Now, with an exegeted heart, I can see for the first time that God’s perfect justice, that holds me accountable for my inability to “be holy as He is holy,” was forever satisfied at the cross. Because of His death for our sins, God is no longer a God who exercises both love and justice toward His creatures—now, He is only a God of love!
Can that be true, that God is no longer a God of justice because of the cross? If that is not true, Christ died only to assure us of escaping hell when we die, and if we don’t live “good” lives and keep the law now, on the earth, we are still accountable to God for our sins! Yes, we escape hell, but is God still, like Santa Claus, “Making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice?”
What if we don’t ever really get it together as Christians in this life? What will happen to us here on earth? Must God still be “just” in this life and punish us when we screw-up, and then we make it through the pearly gates only because God has to let us in because we believed in Jesus? I thought Jesus died for my sin so I would no longer have to suffer for my guilt and shame. Would not this “gospel” mean I am still held accountable for my sin while I live? Is the gospel only “good news” after I die?
Before my heart surgery, what I am now proposing to be the true gospel sounded “dangerous,” “too lenient,” and “promoting license,” much as it did in Paul’s day to his listeners—“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 12:1). But we err in our understanding of the love of God and its power.
God’s love just is. It is not something God does; it is not even one of His characteristics. Love is what He Himself is. He is its definition. Because of the cross, He now is legally free, in the court of His divine judgment, to do nothing else but love; God is love (1 John 4:8). Wherever God is and whatever He is doing, His love is always there, extended fully to us, just because He is there. Our good, religious behavior does not make Him love us more; our wicked, immoral sin does not make Him love us less.
In the very act of either, He sees us exactly the same—as His precious, adorable, delightful children. In all the universe, the agape love with which the Bible says God loves us, is found only where He is, including in those in whom He dwells. It is a fruit of His Spirit; it is “a love without reason.”
Therefore, that means we can never run God off. He is relentless. Curse Him, deny Him, hate Him, it doesn’t matter—as we say in the South, “He just keeps on a’comin’ with His love!” He will not be denied. His love will eventually get you, so you can relax and anticipate that day!
All of us, even atheists, followers of other religions, and those with no religion at all (who all know subconsciously they are accountable to God), are left with two paths to follow as we live our lives.
1.) “I want to obey God so He will be pleased with me,” i.e., the path of daily obedience to His law.
2.) “I know God is already pleased with me. In fact, He loves me unconditionally, whether I obey Him or not; therefore I can’t wait to obey Him,” i.e., the path of faith—trusting that what the Bible says happened at the cross is true.
We are left with only two options as we live our lives on the earth: The cart pulling the horse or the horse pulling the cart; living by obedience to the law, or living by faith.
Nagging questions remain in the wake of this gospel that seems to be “too good to be true” to the “sinner,” or “pandering, easy believism” to the Pharisee. “What about the wreckage I can now see I bring upon myself and others because of my sin? What about the besetting sins I still commit and cannot lick? Can I just forget those and keep on living in sin?” Next week we will deal with these and other questions in a way that will bring joy and victory to the exegeted heart.