Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Finished Work of the Cross



In a nutshell, we teach the finished work of Jesus Christ for all humanity. We believe that our Triune God chose, before the foundation of the world, to create mankind for the very purpose of sharing in His life and love. That's why you and I exist - to participate in the circle of intimate love and life that has been and will forever be known among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Early Church Fathers called this relationship perichoresis, a word that refers to, "the mutual inter-penetration and indwelling within the threefold nature of the Trinity." In other words, "a dance of intimate union." We were made to participate in that Divine Dance.

When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, he took us all down with him. Just as mankind's biological roots are found in Adam, so were our spiritual roots. When he became a sinner, we became a sinner. (See Romans 5:12) However, Adam's fall didn't surprise our God. In fact, He had already solved the problem of sin before it reared its ugly head. (See Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:18-20; Titus 1:2)

The Incarnation wasn't an afterthought on God's part. The eternal plan had always been for God to become man and as the God-Man to bring God and man into union through our adoption in Jesus Christ. (See Ephesians 1:5; 1 Timothy 2:5) The word, "incarnation" refers to the vicarious life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus on behalf of all humanity. In other words, He didn't simply live and die for us as our substitute. While He did that, He also lived and died as us. His obedience to the Father is our obedience. His death was our death. His resurrection and ascension is our resurrection and ascension.

When Jesus cried, "It is finished!" from the cross, we believe that is exactly what He meant. Having died for all mankind, He has finished the necessary work to complete the reason for His coming in flesh. He came to take away the sin of the world (see John 1:29) and He succeeded. It is finished! He came to bring forgiveness. When Jesus was dying, He prayed for those who crucified Him to be forgiven by the Father. (See Luke 23:34) Notice that He prayed that prayer apart from those who crucified Him personally asking to be forgiven. He sought forgiveness on their behalf while they saw Him as an enemy? Yes! Was Jesus successful? Yes! It is finished! What He did for them, He did for us all. The sins of all humanity have been forgiven.

"God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them. . ." (See 2 Corinthians 5:19) The sins of the world have been dealt with by the finished work of Jesus. God has reconciled the world to Himself. He does not count our sins against us. Because of Jesus, it is finished!

It may be hard for some to accept that all are forgiven even before they ask but to think that we must do something to finish the work of Jesus Christ is an insult to Him and His work. To proclaim the gospel is to announce the finished work of Christ. God has committed to us this message of reconciliation. (See 2 Corinthians 5:19). We joyfully share this truth and challenge people to believe it! (See 2 Corinthians 5:20). In Jesus, the Father has reconciled us to Himself. It really is finished! The appeal of the gospel isn't to trust God to do something for us, but to receive and believe what He has already done.

Here's an example: God has given us all His love. Correct? Are you loved by Him whether you receive it or not? Of course you are. You may choose to live your lifestyle outside the experience of His love, but the absolute truth is that He loves you whether you receive it or not. That is an eternal truth. His love for you is factual whether or not you know it to be your actual experience.

The same can be said of all that has been given to us in Jesus Christ. What He did on the cross was for all of us and the benefits of the cross are real whether or not they are realized by a person. If any benefit of the cross (like forgiveness) is true regardless of whether or not we accept it, then every benefit of the cross is true for us. We can't piecemeal the work of the cross and argue that one benefit of the work of Christ is true whether or not we believe but other benefits are only true if we believe. It really is finished and what God has done, He has done whether we believe it or not. Just as Adam took us all down, Jesus Christ has brought us all up.

What has He done for us?

He has forgiven us. (See Ephesians 1:7) We aren't forgiven because of what we do - say "a sinner's prayer," be confirmed, take our first communion, join a local church, or anything else. Forgiveness comes from the cross. It was finished there. We don't finish it now by something we do.

He has justified us by His blood. (See Romans 5:9) It isn't what we do that brings justification, but what He has already done.

He has reconciled us to Himself. (See 2 Corinthians 5:19) God was in Christ "reconciling the world to Himself" when He died on the cross. Did He succeed or fail in His work? Did He really finish it? Or did He simply start the process and it's up to people to finish it by their own personal decision?  Jesus said, "It is finished." He didn't say, "It's your move now."

He has made us righteous. Romans 5:19 says, "For as through the one man's disobedience (that man was Adam) the many (How many? All!) were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One (Jesus) the many (The same "many?" Of course!) will be made righteous."

Did Adam's disobedience affect everybody but the obedience of Jesus affected only those who allow it to affect them? Not according to this verse. It is finished!

He has given us His life. Romans 5:18 says, "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." Adams' transgression brought condemnation (by sin, not God) to all men. What result did one act of righteousness bring? The justification of life! To whom? To all men!

You may be thinking by this point, "Yes, but there are other verses in the Bible that plainly teach that we are forgiven when we receive it!  One verse teaches we are justified by faith! Another verse tells us to challenge people to "be reconciled to God!" Another says we must believe to be righteous! Other verses say we are dead in our sin until we believe!

Those statements are true. There certainly is a tension in the Scripture about these issues, but the question presents itself, "Are we to disregard and reject those verses that plainly teach about the effect of Jesus' work on all humanity? Was Paul wrong when he wrote that God was in Christ "reconciling the world to Himself." Should he have written that "God was making it possible for people to be reconciled?"

Do we accept Romans 5:19 when it says that in Adam all were made sinners but reject the last part of that same verse when it says that in Christ all are made righteous?

Since the Bible is true in totality, must there not be a way that verses like these that seem to contradict may be reconciled together? Yes, there is. The answer is in recognizing and affirming that all the Bible is reliable and trustworthy. The Scripture isn't a buffet where we can pick and choose what we want to believe and what we will reject.

It's true that in Adam all were made sinners. It's also true that in Christ all were made righteous. It's true that forgiveness has been given to all mankind because of the work of Jesus Christ. It's also true that we must receive that forgiveness.

Eternal truth is real, whether we believe it or not. On the other hand, in order for us to benefit from the eternal truth of all that Jesus Christ has done for us, to us and in us, we must believe it. The writer of Hebrews wrote, "For indeed we (believers) have had good news preached to us, just as they (unbelievers) also; but the word they (unbelievers) heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard" (Hebrews 4:2).

Do you see the point in this verse? It's the same truth that is shared with those who believe and those who don't believe. It is truth before we even believe it. Our belief doesn't make the message of the gospel true. The truth is the truth whether we believe it or not. It is an objective reality. It is factual. It is eternal. It is real!  Faith has nothing to do with whether it is true or not. It is true.

However -- in order for a person to "profit" (benefit) from the truth, they must believe it.  We are all loved by God but unless we believe it, we will live as if we are unloved. We will spend our lives trying to find a love that, in reality, we already have. All mankind is forgiven. We have been reconciled to God. We have been justified. Christ has given Himself to us. It is finished! These things are true!

When we teach this objective aspect of the work of Christ, we aren't suggesting that it isn't necessary to believe and receive it. To the contrary, the only way anybody will benefit from the finished work of Christ is to believe it, but our unbelief doesn't nullify the reality of what He has done. Objective truth is grounded in an "object." It's real. It's something concrete.

For that truth to become subjective, we must subject ourselves to it by believing and receiving it. Otherwise, that which is factual won't become actual to us. Although it is real, it won't be personally realized. While it remains an eternal truth, we won't know it as an experiential truth.

Because we teach the eternal truth that "It is finished!" and affirm that in Christ it all has already been done for all humanity, does that mean we don't believe or teach that every person needs to receive and believe? No!

Here's what we are teaching: There's nothing left for God to do for anybody because it has all been done in Jesus Christ. People simply need to believe the good news, personally receive it and be transformed by it.

To seek to avoid confusion among some, here's what we are NOT teaching:

Everybody is going to heaven.
There is no such thing as hell.
How people behave doesn't matter.

When people aren't accustomed to hearing the objective side (eternal truth) of the cross taught and are only familiar with the subjective side (experiential truth), they sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to the universality of the work of Jesus - the reality that every person has been affected by His incarnation. They sometimes frantically seek to find a mental folder to file away the teaching that is new to them.

Unfortunately, they often have no file for the objective truths of the gospel so they "misfile" what they hear. The result is that they think we are teaching Universalism or denying the existence of hell or saying that faith in Christ is unnecessary. Nobody who works with Grace Walk is saying these things.

Our goal and earnest effort is to teach both the objective and subjective truths of the gospel. We want people to see that the benefits of the cross are factual even before they become actual. We desire to proclaim what is real even if people don't realize it in their own lives.

Some who hear us teach are set free by the completeness of the message of the gospel. These are the ones who become excited and with enthusiasm join us in sharing the message of grace. I pray these will increase in number and in boldness.

Others who hear us are skeptical. They haven't heard the objective aspects of the cross before and, because it is new to them, they don't know what to think. Sometimes they encounter others who warn them against our teaching, telling them it's error, false doctrine or even heresy. Sometimes they meet people who encourage them forward in their journey. I pray that these will search the Scriptures and trust the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth.  

Still others weigh out what they hear, study the Bible for themselves and come to a different viewpoint than the one we teach. I respect these people for taking the time to seriously consider a different viewpoint from the one they hold and pray for them to be blessed richly as they move ahead in the direction they believe they are being led.

Finally, some will not listen. They believe that the content of their understanding about grace is the right way and they won't consider anything else. They hurl inflammatory accusations like "heretic, false teaching, unorthodox, dangerous, etc." against us. They are afraid. They have vested too much in the house-of-cards theological position they hold and they don't want to see it threatened. These can be very "ungracious" in their "defense of grace." Sadly, they believe they are doing God a service with such attitudes and actions. I pray for these, that the love of the Father will rise up big within them and that they will be overwhelmed by His love. It's interesting how a person's perspective can change when that one thing takes place.

Dr. Steve McVey,
Gracewalk

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