Knowing God is more than knowing about Him; it is a matter of dealing with Him as He opens up to you, and being dealt with by Him as He takes knowledge of you. Knowing about Him is a necessary precondition of trusting in Him, but the width of our knowledge about Him is no gauge of our knowledge of Him…What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we have in life? To know God. What is the eternal life that Jesus gives? To know God. What is the best thing in life? To know God. What in humans gives God most pleasure? Knowledge of himself. – J.I. Packer
As I go about my day, I often ask people what they believe it takes for someone to get to heaven. Over the years I have received a multiplicity of answers—be a good person, help the poor, don’t break God’s rules, or just go to church. All these answers rely on human works to obtain right standing before God. The truth is none of these will ever move us one inch closer to heaven.
Sometimes human works and the gospel look an awful lot alike; however, the difference between the two are worlds apart. In a recent post J.D. Greear clearly explains what the gospel can do that human works (religion) cannot.
Chapter 9 of Hebrews is all about dealing with guilt. The author explains that the entire Old Testament system was set up to deal with guilt, though it was powerless to do the only thing we needed it to do: purify our consciences. Religious rituals only cover sin, they cannot change the heart. Christ, to whom all the Old Testament points, is able to transform us in 3 ways that the old Temple, and, in fact, no religion, can:
1. From guilt to purity.
Hebrews 9:14 says that the blood of Christ “purifies our conscience.” The tabernacle sacrifices only ever served to cover guilt, but they could never remove it. The blood of Christ takes the penalty of guilt away forever, because through his death Jesus absorbed the penalty of sin—death—into himself. As Charles Spurgeon has said, God would be unjust to punish us for our sins, because then He would be requiring two payments for the same sin.
The forgiveness now available to us because of Christ’s death is more than a mere waiving of penalty, however. Our guilt has not only been removed, but has been replaced with purity, with love, with acceptance from the very God of the universe. In response to our sin, forgiveness says, “You may go.” The gospel tells us, “You are cherished; you may come.”
2. From dead works to loving service.
Again, in Hebrews 9:14, the author tells us that the blood of Christ purifies us “from dead works to serve the living God.” Religion is filled with all kinds of works, various attempts to get God to approve of us. These works are dead, because they are not love for God, but love for self. We perform for God not because we love Him but because we want something from him. If I were to take my friend out to dinner because I know he has a beach house, it’s not done out of love. I am making an investment: sixty bucks for a nice meal and I can score a week at the Outer Banks!
When you strive to do good works to gain acceptance, your works are dead. This is the difference between religion and the gospel. In religion you do good works to be accepted by God; in the gospel you do good works because you are accepted by God.
As John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, wrote in another of his hymns:
Our pleasure and our duty, though opposite before, Since we have seen His beauty, are joined apart no more. To see the Law by Christ fulfilled, to hear His pardoning voice, Transforms a Slave into a Child, and Duty into Choice.
Religious ritual cannot take away sin. The Jewish people made a tragic mistake. They took the symbols of sacrifice and started to treat them like they were the real thing, like adherence to religious ritual could actually take away sin. People do that today when they think that certain religious rituals (like taking communion, regular church attendance, tithing, or saying a ‘Hail Mary’) can take away their sin. At their very best they can merely covering sin, like spraying yourself with perfume instead of taking a bath. That may work a few times, but soon enough the stench permeates the perfume. The blood of Jesus does not cover our sin with some kind of religious cologne, it removes our sin and transforms our hearts. Apart from faith in Christ, religious rituals are dead works. Alive with faith, religious activity becomes loving service.
3. From dread of God to longing for Him.
As we see in Hebrews 9:28, the gospel replaces the sense of dread we used to have before God with a deep sense of longing. When we fear judgment, the thought of being in God’s presence is dreadful. The sacrifice of Jesus, however, assures us that judgment is gone, and in its place are God’s love and acceptance. When we realize this, God’s presence becomes something we desperately crave.
I see this with my kids. When I come home from a trip, my four children will rush out to meet me at my car. My four-year-old daughter will immediately start to give me the details of everything that happened while I was away. It doesn’t make much sense, since she’s four, but she knows I’ll listen eagerly. They know that I long to be near them, so they long to be near me. When they think I am angry, however, or in a bad mood, they stay away. Many people are like that with God. They dread being around Him because they fear displeasure or judgment.
The gospel gives us the confidence of a beloved child before God. Rather than fearing His judgment, we sense only approval and tenderness. We cry “Abba, Father,” and we begin to long for Him.
One day a young man was walking along an isolated road when he heard something like a crying sound. He couldn’t tell for sure what the sound was but it seemed to be coming from underneath a bridge. As he approached the bridge, the sound got louder and then he saw a pathetic sight. There, lying in the muddy river bed, was a puppy about two months old. It had a gash on its head and was covered with mud. Its fronts legs were swollen where they had been tightly bound with cords.
The young man was immediately moved with compassion and wanted to help the dog, but as he approached, the crying stopped and the dog snarled his lip and started to growl. But the young man did not give up. He sat down and started gently talking to the dog. It took a long time but eventually the dog stopped growling and the man was able to inch forward and eventually touch the dog and begin unwrapping the tightly bound cord. The young man carried the dog home, cared for its wounds, gave it food and water and a warm bed. Even with all this, the dog continued to snarl and growl every time the young man approached. But the young man did not give up.
Weeks went by and the man continued caring for the puppy. Then one day, as the young man approached, the dog wagged its tail. Consistent love and kindness had won and a lifelong friendship of loyalty and trust began.
Romans 2.4 asks the questions, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” God has been reaching out to you for your entire life. He desperately wants to set you free from the prison of sin, heal all your wounds, bring you into His family, and provide for your every need; however, your rejection of Him is just like the snarling dog. God is faithful and will continue to offer you an eternal relationship, but you must accept His call.
Will you continue to reject and despise His offering of grace, or will you confess and repent of your sinfulness, place your faith in Jesus’ finished work, and then become a child of God?
Source: Stories For The Heart, Multnomah, Alice Gray, 108.
Throughout Easter weekend I read several posts that greatly blessed my heart. “How the Resurrection Undoes Our Need to Be Proven Right” by Russell Moore was one of my favorites.
Dr. Moore writes:
As Jesus drowned in his own blood, the spectators yelled words quite similar to those of Satan in the wilderness: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mk. 15:32).
But Jesus didn’t jump down. He didn’t ascend to the skies. He just writhed there.
The bloated corpse of Jesus hit the ground as he was pulled off that stake, spattering warm blood and water on the faces of the crowd.
That night, the religious leaders probably read Deuteronomy 21 to their families, warning them about the curse of God on those who are “hanged on a tree.” Fathers probably told their sons, “Watch out that you don’t ever wind up like him.”
Those Roman soldiers probably went home and washed the blood of Jesus from under their fingernails and played with their children in front of the fire before dozing off. This was just one more insurrectionist they had pulled off a cross, one in a line of them dotting the roadside. And this one (what was his name? Joshua?) was just decaying meat now, no threat to the Empire at all.
The corpse of Jesus just lay there in the silence of that cave. By all appearances it had been tested and tried, and found wanting.
If you had been there to pull open his bruised eyelids, matted there together with mottled blood, you would have looked into blank holes. If you had lifted his arm, you would have felt no resistance. You would have heard only the thud as it hit the table when you let it go. You might have walked away from that morbid scene muttering to yourself, “The wages of sin is death.”
But sometime before dawn on Sunday morning, a spike-torn hand twitched. A blood-crusted eyelid opened. The breath of God came blowing down into that cave, and a new creation flashed into reality.
God was not simply delivering Jesus (and with him all of us) from death. He was also vindicating him (and with him all of us). By resurrecting Jesus from the dead, God was affirming what he had said over the Jordan waters. He was declaring Jesus “to be the Son of God in power” (Rom. 1:4).
This was done, the Bible says, by “the Spirit of holiness.” This is the same Spirit who rested on Jesus at his baptism “like a dove” (Matt. 3:16). I wonder if, as the dovish Spirit alighted on him in the water and in the tomb, Jesus might have thought of the words of the Psalm the Devil would quote in the wilderness: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:4).
With that kind of rescue, who needs to be proven right in any other way?
Note: The following post is an excerpt from Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011).
Last night I came across this quote by Francis Chan, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” Warren Wiersbe once called these accomplishments “miserable success.” I can think of several times in my life I have focused on accomplishing things that really didn’t matter when looking at the bigger picture.
I wanted to find more about Francis Chan’s quote, so after a short search I came across a wonderful video titled, “Just Stop and Think.” It talks about what really matters in life. In fact, it talks about the most important thing we can do in this life. Would you please give me fifteen minutes of your time and watch this video. It is a simple message that you won’t regret watching. If you watch it and are honest, it can help you focus on what really matters in this life. I hope you enjoy the film “Just Stop and Think” with Francis Chan.
I cannot even begin to count the number of people over the years who have asked me, “What happens to people who never get to hear the gospel before they die?” They ask because they are genuinely concerned and wonder what will happen to the eternal souls of those who are never reached with the good news of Jesus Christ.
Justin Taylor deals with this subject in his study on Romans 1.18-21 entitled “What Unbelieving Pagans Know about God and Why They Are Responsible for It.” He makes it perfectly clear that each and every person is responsible for what they do with God. His study also shows us the importance of being ready to share Jesus with everyone we come into contact with.
Mr. Taylor writes:
I am continually amazed at how much dense theology Paul is able to pack into a few lines of a letter. Consider, for example, just four verses: Romans 1:18-21.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Paul has just finished exulting in the “good news” of the gospel (Rom. 1:15-17), but he now begins to paint a contrasting backdrop of the “bad news” for those who rebel against their holy creator. Whereas “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” to all who believe (vv. 16-17), “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” against all who suppress God’s truth (v. 18). Paul piles up the terms in reference to the godless Gentiles: on the one hand, “ungodliness and unrighteousness” describes what they do, and on the other hand “by their unrighteousness” is the way in which they go about their work of suppressing truth. The reality of the redundancy is repulsive: by their unrighteousness they perform unrighteousness.
Paul immediately grounds this programmatic statement with the important insight that “what can be known about God is plain to them” (v. 19). Paul is not saying that these unbelievers, apparently without access to special revelation, know everything there is to know about God, but rather that they know everything that has been commonly or generally revealed to all. That is, they know “what can be known.” How does Paul himself know this? How can he claim with certainty what every man knows about God? Has he interviewed them all? In line with his God-centered theology, Paul grounds his own certainty about this universal knowledge in God’s act of common revelation: “God has shown it to them” (v. 19b).
Paul now proceeds to explain in verse 20 how this can be. Note four things.
First, the object of their knowledge is God’s “invisible attributes.” In particular, Paul points to God as Creator with eternality, power, and divinity (“eternal power and divine nature . . . creation of the world”).
Second, he explains the location of their knowledge of these invisible divine attributes: “in the things that have been made.” In other words, his invisible characteristics are found in his visible creation.
Third, he explains the duration of their knowledge, to the effect that this has always been the case: “ever since the creation of the world.”
Fourth, he points to the quality of their knowledge: it is “clearly perceived,” hearkening back to his comment that this knowledge is “plain to them.”
Paul adds all of this together and draws the inescapable conclusion (oun, so, therefore) for those who know God but suppress his truth: “they are without excuse.” None can plead ignorance, therefore none can excuse their moral responsibility and culpability.
Paul continues to explain what he means in verse 21. Their knowledge of God should lead to two appropriate responses, but instead we see two regrettable reversals: (1) they refused to honor God as God and (2) they refused to thank God for his wonderful gifts.
This then yields the two commensurate results: (1) they became futile in their thinking and (2) their foolish hearts were darkened.
In the remainder of this first chapter Paul unfolds the consequences for this knowledge-suppressing behavior, showing the further descent into the darkness of idolatry in light of God’s inaugurated eschatology of judgment.
Studying just these few verses gives us enormous insight into what the pagans know and why they are responsible. May it motivate us to bring the gospel to those who are both near and far.