Monday, October 24, 2016

Did the Cross condemn the world?

Some do say that with the coming of the cross came condemnation, but not those who know their Bible, for the Bible plainly teaches that Christ did not come to condemn the world but rather that the world through him might be saved. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent came to Eve, and throughout history many have argued that Eve did not really have the moral fortitude to withstand the wily devil. Indeed, Paul later supports this position with noting that Eve was deceived, though Adam was not. Adam, in contrast to his wife, knew fully well he was disobeying God. But however it happened, happen it did, and sin was let loose in the world, and as Paul says, the whole of creation has been groaning since. Condemnation came with sin, and man has been living under condemnation ever since.

My theme verse for the answer to this question could not be clearer: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). God is concerned much with the world. The prior verse, perhaps more famous, declares that God so loved the world. The gospel is available to all, and the angel in Luke 2 says, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Notice again the “all”. If Christ’s sacrifice was to be offered only to a few, the angel must have been wrong, for instead of a notice of great joy to all, should it not have been great joy to just a few? The offer of Christ to the world must have been a viable one—that is, one that is offered to every man of the entire world. Again in the same chapter, the entire angelic host declares, “good will toward men.” And similarly, how could the angelic host proclaim good will toward men if most men were destined for hell?

It is evident from any study of Scripture that the message of the gospel was always intended to be freely offered to the world, that those in the world might hear and be saved. Having said that, it is also clear from John 3 that the end result of Christ’s coming would end with many rejecting the Christ: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (v.36). Paul himself, evidently believing in the famous passages of Ezekiel 3, 18, and 33, spoke often of the necessity of proclaiming the gospel to every man, that he might be free of having their blood on his hands. These passages of Ezekiel all delve deeply into our responsibility to warn the wicked men to turn from their ways, and Paul’s ministry definitely centered around the responsibility of telling the wicked to repent. He believed that it was his responsibility from God to declare the gospel, even to those who would not listen, that he might follow these dictates of Ezekiel, and be free from the responsibility of their blood. In other words, Paul wanted to make sure that men heard the gospel, and thus were more responsible for their own choices. From the very beginning the apostles each recognized the hardness of the hearts of men, and they all knew that, as John 3:16 tells us, that many would continue in their unbelief.

So, what is to be done with creatures who continue their rebellion? What could God do to save them? Could not God cause all to believe? Could not an all-powerful God work simple belief in the hearts of men? And there is where we err in our thinking. God is indeed all-powerful. But he created man with the ability to make choices. We might argue that he could have created man differently, but once they were created the way that they were, with choices, it is impossible for God to make their choices, and also at the same time to give them choices. Men are responsible for their own choices. As Spurgeon himself says, “We must have divine sovereignty, and we must have man’s responsibility.”1 What is a logical impossibility remains impossible even in the light of an all-powerful God. It is no less impossible because of God’s power.

The only sense, at least that I can conceive, in which the cross might be construed to condemn the world, is the sense that men, after hearing the gospel of Christ, choose to reject it, and thus face condemnation. But the condemnation of mankind preceded the cross by many thousands of years, and those that will have it, even after being offered the freedom of the gospel, will have it. So, while the cross is not their condemnation, their denial of the Christ secures their just condemnation. However free God created man, and there are many theological disputes about that freedom, he at least created him free enough to deny his Savior, a denial that must earn condemnation.

All of this is difficult for Christians to see, and I confess to many wonderings about it. I speak about the judgment of the common but unregenerate man, perhaps my own neighbor. What in him who I know so well is such an affront to the justice of God? I cannot but dimly perceive it, and usually I use that thought to generate prayer for the salvation of my neighbor. But I have every conviction that on that day of judgment, when the Lord lays the souls of men bare, the world will see what it means to be in “quiet rebellion” against the Creator. On that day, I have no doubt that we will see the righteousness of God, and will understand for once and all what it means to love the King, and to reject the King.

We have many promises of that righteousness, and perhaps it would be fitting to close with this one from Jeremiah: “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord” (9:24). On that day, at long last, the world will see the plan of God come to fruition, and the judgment of the unsaved will be a part of it.

In the end, either man takes the sacrifice offered for him through Christ’s death on the cross, or he depends on his own behavior, and faces the judgment of God based on that behavior. So far as I can see this is the biggest deception of the devil, to quietly murmur to our fellow neighbors that others are worse, and surely God will overlook their “small” faults. The gates of Hell open most widely for those with convictions that it is all a contest for God’s approval, when all the while God has already paid for your salvation, totally apart from approval, if you will but receive it. Instead, choosing to rely on the self, the devil assures us, is the reasonable way of meeting God. So he whispers millions softly into their graves. Hell is going to be full of those mostly quiet but deceived souls, who when all is said and done, are in full rebellion against their God.

But the cross stands as a clarion call to all of mankind, if they will but heed that call. Notice the cross is empty. Empty because his death could not stand, as empty as the tomb in which they tried to immortalize him. One of the most well researched facts about the history of Christianity is that, from the first, the disciples believed in the resurrection of Jesus, and that belief has galvanized 2,000 years of history since then. It is the essential element of Christianity; take it away and you have left the weakest of religions. But with the resurrection the condemnation of man is at an end, the power of God has been extended, as the angels said, “to bring us tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” The cross stands not to condemn, but to remind us that death has lost its grip on man, and to offer a way out from condemnation, if we will avail ourselves with it.

1. Spurgeon, Charles. The Complete Works of Charles Spurgeon: Volume 1, Sermons 1-53 (Kindle Locations 10800-10801). Kindle Edition.

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