If there was a video recording of all your thoughts from yesterday, and they were going to be posted on the internet, would you ever be able to show your face again? Probably not. This is the sermon for you. The final part will be posted tomorrow…
Remember, everything you have ever done (thought, felt, or pondered), will be exposed. Have a great day!
The second problem is that fulfilling your duty to obey the law does not earn you any rewards, and obeying God’s law is our duty. Luke 17:7-10, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Since there is no merit in performing one’s duty and only guilt is incurred by failing to do so, the scale of good would be empty and the scale of evil would be full. Let’s be perfectly clear that there is no justification in that.
Legalism and Moralism are forms of self-justification which rely on a goodness, a righteousness inside of ourselves where only guilt and sin exist. It is self-delusional to look to the source of a problem in the hope of finding the solution to that problem. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” (Mt. 7:18) Permanent guilt is not removed by obeying the law, unless it is obeyed perfectly. And it has become an almost cliché truism to recognize that “nobody’s perfect.”
In fact, the statement “nobody’s perfect” exemplifies the basis for another, opposite theory of justification commonly held today. I naively used to think that when people said “nobody’s perfect” that this was a kind of tacit acknowledgement of the biblical doctrine of original sin, that everyone is sinful by nature and choice. However, as I began to ask deeper questions and listen more intently to what people were saying I realized I was completely wrong. “Nobody’s perfect” is used to justify nearly any infidelity, even when recognized as wrong, by an appeal to the universal failures of others. In fact, if you confront someone about a specific instance of wrongdoing “nobody’s perfect” is often used very basically as a “you too” deflection (tu quoque), but it is still more complicated than that.
When confronted with our own guilt the tendency is to “squirm” or deflect, to seek to justify ourselves. This self-justification, oddly enough, often comes through an appeal to universal imperfection: “yeah, well, nobody’s perfect.” “Nobody’s perfect” becomes the justification for our own sinfulness, rather than the grace of Christ. “Nobody’s perfect” becomes the practical basis for doing whatever we like as though we are in fact perfect, since our wrongs aren’t any wronger than anyone else’s. “Nobody’s perfect” is not a tacit acceptance of Original Sin, it is a practical way of shifting responsibility so that we no longer consider ourselves guilty when staring in the face of our own guilt. If “nobody’s perfect” then, simply by adjusting our ethical standard to match the level of our ethical failure, then it is as if everybody is perfect, which is sheer relativism.
“Nobody’s perfect” really means “nobody can judge me.” If everyone is guilty, then nobody is guilty; or so the logic goes. It’s not an admission of guilt.
We can place this view of justification into the categories of Antinomianism or Lawlessness and the category of Relativism. It is a form of self-justification which looks outside of us to the common guilt of others as the basis for our justification. It seeks to lower the standard, since if everybody breaks the law, then the law must be wrong. If you want to see a great example of this kind of relativistic, lawless self-justification, watch the documentary “Bigger Stronger Faster.” The premise is a film about the use of performance enhancing drugs in American culture, particularly in sports; but it becomes an interesting exercise in self-justification and rationalization. Well, worth the rental.
As I said, Legalism and Lawlessness are the “two thieves” between which the Gospel is “crucified.” Legalism and Moralism look inside of us for a righteousness that isn’t there while Lawlessness and Relativism look outside of ourselves in order to declare our own comparative righteousness based on the fact of universal guilt.
This is just spiritual alchemy. No amount of special pleading will turn your own guilt or your neighbor’s guilt into righteousness when God judges the secrets of men.
No amount of self-deception will remove your guilt.
Now, keep clear in your mind that there are Christianized forms of Legalism and Moralism, which give lip-service to the idea of being justified by faith in Christ, while still practically looking inside one’s self for the righteousness of doctrinal orthodoxy or church attendance or adherence to extra-biblical standards of goodness as the basis for God’s favor. “Run, John, run. The law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands. Yet sweeter news the gospel brings. It bids me fly and gives me wing.”
And there are also Christianized forms of Lawlessness and Relativism which give lip-service to the idea of seeking an “alien righteousness” outside of ourselves in Christ, but uses the idea of that righteousness as the basis for continuing to love sin, to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. “Free from the law, Oh blessed condition. I can sin as I please and still have remission.” I don’t think it’s too harsh to say that someone who views being rescued from a burning building as a good reason to rush back into the building is stupid. Lawlessness is stupid.
Here’s a quick check for believers: Do you tend to justify yourself? When your co-workers or parents or spouse or friends confront you about a mistake or a failure or a sin, do you look for ways to excuse yourself or do you live a life of repentance, as if your justification for all of your life is entirely outside of yourself in Christ alone? If in even the simple, basic interactions of daily life you seek to justify yourself, what evidence is there in you that would lead anyone to conclude that you have been justified in Christ alone? Live and breathe and laugh and weep and suffer and die as if you can only ever be justified in Christ alone. And when confronted with your failures, don’t justify yourself; repent and be justified in Christ.
So, having demonstrated the errors of justification by legalism or lawlessness we return to the question: can permanent, everlasting guilt be removed? Not easily. In fact, with man this is impossible. However, with God all things are possible.
Proverbs 17:15 says that “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” So how does God justify the wicked (Rom. 4:5) and condemn Christ the righteous (Is. 53:6) without being an abomination to Himself? How does God impute evil to a sinless man, let criminals go free, even graciously rewarding them, and still be just and righteous? How can the cross on which Christ died ever be considered justice, rather than an abomination?
The answer lies in the implications of the following statement: Christ was completely God and completely human, perfectly sinless. Theologians commonly make the distinction between Christ’s active obedience (His life lived in perfect righteousness, fully obeying the commands of God in all things at all times) and His passive obedience (submitting Himself to the shame and agony of death on a cross at the hands of wicked men). It is commonly recognized that in the totality of Christ’s obedience is the foundation of the complete righteousness imputed to sinners.
Christ’s active obedience necessarily entails obeying the two greatest commandments of God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt. 22:37-40)
It is my argument that, given a world full of sinners and the law of love quoted above, the death of a perfectly obedient man given the God-like opportunity to accept the judgment of “his neighbors” would be a case of consequent absolute necessity.
In other words, if the history of the world is full of sinners (and it is) and the penalty for sin is death (and it is) and the two greatest commandments are to love God and people (and they are), then the substitutionary death of Christ must occur if He is to remain truly perfect, sinless (and he is).
If Christ is to remain perfectly good He must choose to become evil; if He is to be completely sinless He must choose to become sin; if He is to remain completely obedient to God He must embody disobedience. If permanent, everlasting guilt is to be removed then it must be the case that “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
You see, in order for Christ to continue to love God with all His heart, soul and mind He must (among other things) live in such a way as to display that God is just, that no sin will go unpunished and no truly good act will go unrewarded. Christ was “put forward as a (sacrifice) by his blood… to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Rom. 3:25) God had mercifully chosen to largely “overlook” the sins of men from the time of Adam to Christ, being patient and not exacting the punishment deserved from men for their disobedience. This, however, could open the door for questions regarding whether or not God is just (not that He could be charged with being too harsh, mind you, but for being too lax in His judgments). In order for Christ to obey the two greatest commandments, He had to choose to become evil out of love for God (by choosing to accept in Himself the evils committed by all of humanity throughout history), so that God might be just in delivering his wrath upon Christ, who had become the evil of all humanity.
Christ chooses to become evil, to have our sin counted as his own, in an act of loving obedience to the two greatest commandments.
For Christ to choose to become evil, to choose the cross, was the only way for God to be just in punishing a perfectly sinless man, and Christ remains perfectly sinless in choosing to become evil because becoming evil for the purpose of proving God’s justice was done out of love for God and people, obedience to the two greatest commandments. He necessarily chose to become sin in order to remain sinless. The absolute only way for Christ to perfectly obey the two greatest commandments in a sinful world was for Him to become the sinful world and for God to punish Him for it in death. Because of this loving act of obedience, God puts all things in subjection under His feet (1 Cor. 15:27) and He purchases the chosen people for whom He laid down His life, receiving their punishment and displaying the greatest love (Jn. 15:13).
And all of this was done according to God’s eternal plan, in order that His righteousness might be shown, “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:26)
So how can permanent guilt be removed? How can God be both just and the justifier of sinners? Christ, in order to remain perfectly sinless, becomes sin and receives the just wrath of God for being evil (which was severe physical, emotional and spiritual punishment culminating in death), while the reward of His obedience is graciously given to those for whom he died, and Christ is raised again to life because of His perfect sinlessness. He pays the penalty for sin and overcomes the power of sin, proven by His resurrection. Death could not keep him, since he owed nothing and he could not be held. It’s not wrong for God to impute sin to Christ, for Christ had chosen to become sinful out of love for God and man; and it’s not wrong for God to impute Christ’s righteousness to us, since he will make us the righteousness of God. In this way we are declared righteous in Christ and we begin to progressively be made righteous by Christ.
Our justification and our sanctification are both in the gospel, in union with Christ; not by works of the law and not by adjustments of the law. Justification and sanctification are both inseparably in Christ. Just as he can’t be divided into parts (or merely be our Savior and not our Lord), we cannot have justification without sanctification. “We are justified not without works, yet not through works, since in our sharing in Christ, which justifies us, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness.” (Calvin, Inst. 3.16.1) We are justified by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone. Faith = Justification + Works.
(To be continued…)