Originally published on http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=436383048975
A multifaceted Jewel
“Why did Jesus die on the cross?”
For Christians, this may seem like an easy question that even non-believers can answer.
If you were to line up ten individual Christians and ask the question, no doubt all would answer: “Jesus died for our sins.”
This is no doubt the cornerstone of the Christian faith: that Jesus Christ, the righteous son of God, died for the sins of those that would trust in Him so that they could enter relationship with God the Father.
However, if you were to ask these believers to give their testimony, chances are that when it comes to individual specifics, the first question diverges into varying answers:
“Jesus took the penalty of my sins so I can now have access to the Father.”
“I was involved in the occult and have been tormented by demons until Jesus gave me victory.”
“I was estranged from my family and was never able to reconcile until Jesus showed me forgiveness.”
“No one wanted to be my friend as I was always prone to fits of anger until I discovered the love of Jesus.”
We’ve all heard these stories from others in our immediate fellowship. Does any present Jesus more genuinely than the other? No, of course not. That being said though, it is all to easy to fall into the trap of limiting the power of the gospel to just one single aspect as opposed to looking at the whole spectrum. As a result of such bias, some of these details are unwittingly downplayed. In other cases, they are deliberately omitted.
This article will look at two of these often-ignored aspects of the Biblical Gospel: Propitiation and Expiation.
“Holy, Holy, Holy – is the Lord God Almighty”
One theme that is consistent throughout the whole Bible is the Holiness of God:
2"Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
5Exalt the LORD our God;
worship at his footstool!
Holy is he!
1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
13But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
12 Are you not from everlasting,
O LORD my God, my Holy One?
We shall not die.
O LORD, you have ordained them as a judgment,
and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
and are silent when the wicked swallows up
the man more righteous than he?
By contrast, apart from the grace of God as expressed by Christ and Him crucified, human beings are sinful by choice and by nature:
9What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
11there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
12All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."
21For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'
9 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.
7the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14
3At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:8-10
The problem is that God does not take any delight in any sin. God is so profoundly troubled by sin that He feels both sorrow and anger as a result:
4For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
16 There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
19 a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.
17do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the LORD."
2but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.
5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
At this point, you’re probably thinking “Ben, that’s the Old Testament. In the New Covenant there’s grace and mercy.” Unfortunately, God “does not change” (Malachi 3:6):
1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
Even Jesus – God made manifest in Human flesh – did not hold back in expressing anger at sin:
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
Furthermore, the book of Revelation prophesies that it will be Jesus himself that will serve as the primary instrument of divine judgment upon his return:
15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
It should be noted that although God is clearly angry at sin and promises wrath and punishment against transgressors, such anger is not to be confused with irrational hotheadedness. Throughout scripture, we are told that although the anger of God is always justly merited, it is also tempered with the promises of mercy and forgiveness towards the repentant:
6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.
9 "For my name’s sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
2 Peter 3:9
Love by Sacrifice: Jesus is Our Propitiation
Herein lies the problem: while both wrath and mercy are both attributes that God has, out of his justice he cannot merely give the latter and merely put the former on the shelf to gather dust. If you were guilty of terrible crimes in a civil court and said to the judge, "Judge, I am guilty but I believe that you are a good man and will therefore overlook my crimes," the judge would probably respond by saying, "You are right about one thing; I am a good man, and it's because of my goodness that I am going to see that justice is done, that you are punished for your crimes." The very thing that many are hoping will save them on Judgment Day, God's "goodness," will be the very thing that will condemn them. If God is good, He should punish murderers. liars, and thieves. If he did not, he would not be true to himself with regards to being Holy and Just. The fine must be paid and justice must be upheld.
This is what God did: he entered into redemptive history as a mortal human being, Jesus of Nazareth, in effect emptying himself of his glory to take on flesh and blood so that he would live a sinless life which would culminate in his crucifixion. Upon the cross, the innocent Jesus placed upon his shoulders the sins of everyone that would come to believe in Him. 2 Corinthins 5:21 tells us that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In that moment, Jesus in effect became the world’s rapists, the murderers, the thieves, the perverts, the adulterers, the liars. When these people rightly deserved death, Jesus took their place and allowed their sins to die with Him. While in the eyes of God the righteous Jesus was seen as The Sinner, The Sinner was seen as having the same righteousness that Christ has.
This is what Martin Luther called “the great exchange”: On the cross God treats Jesus the way he would treat you and me if the record of our lives were brought under scrutiny before the judgment seat of The Law. In return, God treats us the way he treated Jesus for living a life that was completely devoid of any sin whatsoever. Jesus’ personal holiness is credited onto our account pending faith in Him. Theologians refer to this as the doctrine of “Penal Substitutionary Atonement”:
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”
(For a discussion on the often controversial issues relating to the range, effect and limitations of Christ’s atonement, please refer to my earlier note “For Whom Did Christ Die?”http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=94076083975)
Under the Mosaic Law, animal sacrifices we made by the High Priests of Israel as Sin Offerings:
15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.
This sacrifice was a foreshadowing of the work that Jesus would do upon the cross. Not only does Jesus endure the consequences of our sin, and make atonement as a result, he also satisfies wrath of God. By this, we do not mean that the cross changes the nature of God as though Jesus gave God the Father a lobotomy, but rather all of the anger and wrath of God’s holiness is diverted away from us and onto Jesus instead, hence “balancing the equation”. Scripture refers to this as “Propitiation”:
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:1-2
10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10
Propitiation can best be defined as pacifying wrath by taking care of the penalty for the offence that caused the wrath. Most Christians are sadly ignorant of the subject as most modern Bible translations such as Zondervan’s New International Version, Tyndale’s New Living Tranlation, the Revised Standard and the New English Version mix “Propitiation” with other words such “sacrifice”, “atonement” or “substitution”. Not that these terms are wholly irrelevant; they fail to capture the essence of what propitiation specifically is.
“Oh Happy Day, Happy Day
…He Washed my Sins Away”: Jesus is our Expiation
20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.
Following from the High Priest sacrificing a goat as a blood offering to satisfy God’s wrath against the sins of Israel, the Priest would then lay hands upon the live goat, making confession of sin then running the goat out of the city into the wilderness, in effect taking with it the sins of the people. This is called the scapegoat.
Just as Jesus is our propitiation by satisfying via the cross the wrath of God against our sins, he is also the scapegoat from which we are cleansed of our sins. This is called expiation:
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”
17 then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 1:5-7
As we can see, the act of expiation is intimately connected not only to the washing away of our sin, but also the act of regeneration – or being born again. Expiation guarantees a completely clean slate upon which God can write upon us how we are to act as new creations in Christ.
The myth of Unconditional Acceptance
The doctrines of Propitiation and Expiation have two important implications.
Firstly, when one considers the biblical examples of the Cross’ cleansing power, we must presuppose, that human beings are not only sinful by choice, but also by nature:
20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
The sad truth is that we don’t just do bad things, we are bad. In the Garden of Eden, our first parents, Adam and Eve, by eating of the forbidden fruit, not only defiled themselves, they corrupted their future offspring and the surrounding world:
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
Sin includes both omission (where we do not do what we ought) and commission (where we do what we ought not do). Sin includes our thoughts, words, deeds, and motives. Sin includes godlessness, which is ignoring God and living as if there were no God, or as if one were God. Sin is invariably idolatry, which is the replacing of God with something or someone else—most often oneself. Sin includes individuals, communities, networks, and the like as individuals labor together for the cause of sin. Sin includes entire ways of thinking and acting such as racism and pornography. Sometimes a sin is also a crime, such as murder, and sometimes it is not, such as adultery. Sin can be done deliberately or in ignorance. The practice of a particular sin can occur once, regularly, or even frequently. Sin includes the breaking of God’s laws, just human laws, godly authority such as parents or pastors, and the violation of one’s own conscience. Sin includes perversion, which is using good things for evil purposes. Sin includes pollution, which is infecting good things with evil. Lastly, sin is the turning of a good thing (e.g., sex, work, money, comfort) into a bad thing so that it is worshiped as a god in place of God.
Secondly, the doctrine of Propitiation rightly presumes that God is not only angry at sin. but that he actually holds people responsible for their sinfulness.
At this point, some may protest by saying “That’s not true! ‘God hates the sin but loves the sinner!’” Truth be told however, the concept of “hate the sin, love the sinner” comes not from the pages of inspired scripture, but rather the 1929 autobiography of Hindu pacifist Mahatma Ghandi which in turn is a twisting of St Augustine’s “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum”, which translates roughly as "With love for mankind and hatred of sins."
Regardless of the quote’s origin however, take the time to think it through logically. When 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Who or what ends up in the Lake of Fire: the action itself or the person responsible for it?
Unless there exists on God's part a genuine anger towards sin, then the concepts of patience, longsuffering, mercy and forgiveness towards mankind are all robbed of their meaning and relevance. Jesus as our Propitiation therefore, would not make any sense.
Still, others will say: “Doesn’t God love me for who I am? Aren’t we to come before him ‘just as you are?’”
While it is true that apart from grace there is nothing we can do to earn or merit God’s favor on our part, this does not mean that God turns a blind eye to our sins as well as the effects it has on ourselves, our neighbor and our environment. If anything, God’s love towards the sinner is centered not upon unconditional acceptance, but rather transformation that leads to adoption:
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Yes, God is Love. And the range of such love is beyond human comprehension to say the least. But even so, such far-reaching love is not promiscuous. Promiscuity throws love around without boundary nor discretion. God’s love on the other hand purposefully seeks to redeem and change individuals. Rather than loving us “just as we are”, he loves us with the desire that he will make us as he wants us to be, then by his sovereignty working through the power of the Holy Spirit, regenerates us to be the new creation that will respond to such love by faith.
When Jesus called people to respond to his preaching, he did so by declaring “Repent or likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). But if one still ones wants to to cling on the myth of unmerited acceptance, one has to ask the inevitable question: “If God already accepts me just as I am, why do I need to repent? Why do I need to be born again? Why do I need to change?”
The Great Omission
Ask any Christian who belongs to a missional fellowship “What is the ‘Great Commission’”, chances are that they will cite Matthew 28:19-20a:
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
We often have a tendancy to use this passage as our prooftext with regards to what we do. Fewer however will cite Luke 24:47 as to the basis of the content of what Christians are to give the nations:
that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations (Emphasis added)
Though many modern preachers today are articulate enough to describe the basic principles underlying penal substitutionary atonement when it comes to a gospel presentation, few are willing to go on to expound upon the meaning and implications of Jesus being both our propitiation for the wrath of God and expiation for the removal of our sinfulness. Starting with the liberal misinterpretation of “propitiation” in today’s popular Bible translations, there is a growing shift within contemporary Christendom to embrace not only a Christology that puts forward a low view of Christ’s sacrifice, but rather an entire worldview contrary to a biblical view of Human sinfulness. Rather than explain in specific details the nature of human falleness and individual sins as well as their consequences, many of today’s preachers have embraced a humanistic anthropology that sees man not as a fallen creature in need of transformation, but rather as being self-automated and fully deserving of acceptance. Says the pastor of America's largest church congregation:
"God knows your value; He sees your potential. You may not understand everything you are going through right now. But hold your head up high, knowing that God is in control and he has a great plan and purpose for your life. Your dreams may not have turned out exactly as you’d hoped, but the bible says that God’s ways are better and higher than our ways, even when everybody else rejects you, remember, God stands before you with His arms open wide. He always accepts you. He always confirms your value. God sees your two good moves! You are His prized possession. No matter what you go through in life, no matter how many disappointments you suffer, your value in God’s eyes always remains the same. You will always be the apple of His eye. He will never give up on you, so don’t give up on yourself."
This emphasis on self-worth versus finding our worth in Christ as a result of his atoning sacrifice is not only expressed in preaching, but also in contemporary praise and worship. Unlike the hymns of old that are replete with deep theological conviction and Christ-centrdness, much of today’s contemporary Christian Music is focused on exalting the Christian rather than the God who saves them:
Above all powers
Above all things
Above all nature
and all created things
Above all wisdom
and all the ways of man
You were here
before the world began
Above all kingdoms
Above all thrones
Above all wonders
the world has ever known
Above all wealth
and treasures of the earth
There's no way
to measure what You're worth
Laid behind the stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like a rose
trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
While the song beautifully describes the Lordship and Supremacy of Christ, the chorus goes in the complete opposite when it comes to the cross. While Jesus did indeed die for us, he did not necessarily die because of us, as his main intention – as it always was during his time on Earth – was to give glory and honor to God the Father.
Who am I that you are mindful of me
That you hear me, when I call
Is it true that you are thinking of me
How you love me, it's amazing
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend
Now, does God consider those who love and obey Him to be His friends?
Yes! (cf. John 15:13-15, James 2:23).
That being said however, who or what is the subject of the song? The lyrics are focused not upon God Himself, but rather the attributes of the believer as well their experience of knowing God. Those who use this song as part of corporate worship are essentially indulging in spiritual vanity.
In contrast, Pastor James MacDonald says that a high view of self-worth only does more harm than good to one’s spirituality:
Even psychologists themselves began more recently to criticize behaviorism and psychoanalysis, realizing that it was not helping people. (Research shows that those who get into this kind of therapy have a statistically worse chance of seeing personal transformation than if they did nothing at all.) More recently (circa 1960), Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers proposed a third faulty method for helping people called humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology teaches that people are controlled by their values and choices. The goal of this approach is for people to discover and then achieve their own potential. In North America, this is the most popular faulty method for change. We see this message every day in many forms, from TV infomercials to the Internet: "The answer is within you. Find yourself. Love yourself. Help yourself. You have the answer. Pump it up, baby! Find it inside. You're OK. Be all that you can be." And on and on.
I began to wonder just how pervasive this concept was, so I logged on to Amazon.com, the number one Internet bookseller, and typed into their search engine the word self-help. There they were: 12,223 book titles on self-help. By contrast, there were 11,329 on God and 11,414 on marriage. Here are just three of the titles I found:
-101 Ways to Transform Your Life
- 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself and Change Your Life Forever
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I suppose I understand why people who don't know any better might think that they have the power to change themselves.
What troubles me, however, is to see people who claim to believe in the power of almighty God turning to pagan philosophies and ignoring the transforming ministry of the Holy Spirit, which is available to every one of us who comes to God and asks in faith.
The biggest problem with promoting self-esteem as the road to personal growth and fulfillment is that it doesn't work. I was watching Chicago TV news the other day and heard a statistical report on how the self-esteem movement has affected public education. The reporter announced that after spending multiplied millions of dollars and man-hours on building kids' self-esteem at school, "Self-esteem scores have never been higher and educational test scores have never been lower."
Or, to put it another way, "The better I feel about myself, the worse I do."
Once a church removes the sinfulness of man from the foundations of how we define the Gospel, it is only inevitable that the Christian worldview overall falls apart. When you say that man is not utterly defiled by sin, you open the door to saying that one’s own actions are what lead a person to knowing and pleasing God. Discipleship then, is merely a matter of telling a person what to do and how to do it in the hopes that it will bring about the necessary change. Being "Born Again" thus becomes a matter of personal redirection of ability as opposed toregeneration of one's fallen nature. Grace and spirit-led living may be encouraged conceptually, but when it comes to application, Christians who reject expiation are forced to live purely under their own ability and initiative while still under the power of the Law of Sin (cf. Romans 7:15-25); essentially a life of legalism.
In Luke 18:9-14 , Jesus uses the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector to contrast the difference between humanistic self-assertion and the desire to be cleansed of sin:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee had the audacity to stand at the House of God, lift his eyes to heaven and declare: “I am righteous. I have no need of divine assistance or mercy, or cleansing, or salvation. I will pray to God, yet I otherwise have no need for him. I am a good person, and I expect God to accept me just as I am.” The Tax Collector on the other hand, had the exact opposite view of self. He drops to his knees in desperation crying out that God will give him expiation.
I dare say without fear of contradiction that the vast majority of “churches” that refuse to preach Propitiation can only expect to fill their pews with humanistic “Pharisees”. At the same time, when such "churches" are reluctant to explain the hope of Expiation, they can only expect to fill their fellowships with those whose hearts are constantly burning with self-condemnation as a result of a searing conscience that can only be extinguished with the blood of the Lamb. What we should seek is that the disciples we will raise up will be the repentant “Tax Collectors” who go to the house of God with hearts that are broken over sin and go home afterwards with the assurance that they are genuinely justified in the eyes of God.
While some may decry the preaching of sin and repentance as being negative and pessimistic, in actuality to stay silent about such things is to deliberately leave a person under the bondage of sin with no hope of release. If churches honestly want to see their people delivered from the captivity of sin through Christ’s expiation and propitiation, they must expound upon the sinfulness of man and the Holiness of God.
What can wash away my sins?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
Oh precious is that flow
That makes me white as snow
No other fount I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.