Reconciled, Chap. 4, Roots of the Faith
Why did we need to be reconciled to God?
This is a huge topic, and one that Christians in general seem to be all over the map about. Not only have we become unable to identify sin among us, we cannot articulate it to the lost should they ask why Jesus had to die at all. And this general ignorance of how God defines sin and His attitude toward the lost has crippled our ability to witness, because we spend more time tearing other believers down than actually reaching out to the lost. Those who read scripture and see the volume of discourse on why Jesus came and what He accomplished are muzzled for being too negative. Here is a sample of this sort of confusion:
We didn't need forgiveness of sins, that is not why I read Christ came. His words are he is the life. We needed a new life, not forgiveness of our sins. Christ never mentions coming for our need of forgiveness of sins. He always talks about us needing a whole new life. In this new life, we still need forgiveness for sins. We still sin and will until we reach heaven. But what did he say he was? I am the Bread and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me. Why would he mention this if we simply needed forgiveness of sins? And I do believe our motive is important. I sincerely do not mean to question yours. I question mine when I have told my husband or children in the past when I was angry or upset, that they needed to get Christ in their lives. Salvation. Why? So I could have things my way. The Christian way. My motives were all messed up. And God looks on the heart doesn't he? He knew my motive and guess what, they returned to whatever they were doing and laughed at me. Yep. They should have. It was ridiculous to use Christ as a weapon or[sic] salvation, but I sure did.
I might also add that Jesus himself said I came that you might have what? Life. You can not repent until you have this new life. That is what I read the Gospel to be.
I don't think we should avoid the subject of hell. The Bible speaks about it. For me personally, I do not speak of hell at all when I present the Gospel. Why? I can't bear to think of anyone going to hell.1
Among other things, we see in this example great confusion between the "good news" itself (that Jesus came to rescue us) and the reason it is "good news". Granted, many believers have turned people from Jesus by dangling them over the fires of hell. But the other extreme is no better, because it fails to warn people that there really is a hell where people will suffer forever. The discussion of why Jesus came answers the vital questions, "So what if Jesus rose from the dead? Why should that matter? And why are you so bent on converting me?" Failing to answer, and do so accurately, is like failing to warn people that a tornado is approaching or a bridge is out. This failure is itself a grave sin of omission. Our very loathing of hell is exactly why we must speak of it, and it is no more "negative" or hateful to warn the lost about hell than it is to warn the unsuspecting about impending disaster. Silence in both cases can cost lives, and God will hold us accountable.
To answer questions about sin and judgment, it is necessary to examine the entrance of sin into the world, the aftermath of that entry, and the specific things God did to deal with it. We have to be thorough to clear up all the confusion.
In Genesis 3 we read of the serpent's temptation of Eve, her sin due to deception, and Adam's sin due to open and willful rebellion. There is much to study there, but details of how sin affected relationships between male and female are beyond the scope of this book. For that, again please refer to the book Nicolaitan in the recommended reading list in the Appendix. What I'd like to focus on here is how sin affected the whole world.
Note first of all that when God warned them not to eat fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden, the only penalty He cited was "death".2 Secondly, note that whatever sort of death this was, the Tree of Life was the antidote, and "the man" (not "them"; the Hebrew refers repeatedly only to the man in this passage) had to be driven out of the garden to keep him from eating of its fruit. Finally, note that neither Adam nor Eve was cursed directly as the serpent was, but only the ground, because that is what Adam was made from.
It seems reasonable to conclude from these facts that what God warned about eating the forbidden fruit came to pass immediately: Adam and Eve became mortal. Any mention of a change in nature or spirit is conspicuous by its absence, such that we should wonder why God would have remained silent about it through human history. What we actually see there is that along with physical mortality, the earth itself and the animals— neither of which were capable of sin against God since they were not made in His image— were subjected to mortality and decay just as people were, and this is confirmed by Paul in Rom. 8:21–22.
But even before this curse on nature was pronounced, we note in Gen.3:7 that as soon as they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve had their "eyes opened", and then they ran and hid from God. Why? They were feeling guilt for their sin, and this put up a wall of separation between themselves and God. Thus the relationship was marred, and reconciliation would be required. Not one word is said about a "fallen nature" or irresistible bent toward sin, and we must resist the temptation to insert subsequent human history into the passage.
So mankind had become mortal and the earth and animals were cursed. And if people could sin in a pristine environment without prior experience with rebellion or temptation, then it should come as no surprise that people born in mortality and a cursed earth would all sin as well. This is the explanation for the downward spiral of human history, which in only a few thousand years would reach the point where God had to destroy all but eight people.3 And if mankind had acquired an irresistible force or nature that causes everyone to sin, surely God would not have reasoned with Cain to resist it, or held him responsible for giving in to it.
When He confronted Adam, Eve, and the serpent, God promised redemption for mankind through "the seed of the woman". Redemption from what or whom? To redeem is to buy back, to regain someone or something in exchange for payment, to make restitution, to save or rescue. This is the heart and soul of the gospel message. But there must be three parties to any such redemption: the captive, the buyer, and the seller. Who is the captive? Mankind. Who is the buyer? Jesus. But who is the seller?
The only third party mentioned in Genesis is the serpent. And while no connection is made between the serpent and Satan in Genesis, other passages do make it, and add that he is "the god of this age", he is "the prince of the power of the air", he has "taken them captive to do his will", and he had the right to offer the cities of the world to Jesus during His temptation in the wilderness.4
Could the third party be sin itself? No, sin is not a sentient being or entity. Some would cite various passages to say otherwise, but we have to remember that inanimate things can be personified as a figure of speech, as is often the case throughout scripture. So could it be this corrupt world and our own mortality, where the "seller" is like a pit we fell into and we simply need to be lifted out of it? Possibly, but only partially, since we have to consider that not only rescue is made, but also payment. There is just no other candidate fitting all the criteria for the "seller" but Satan.
For reasons not explained to us, God did not immediately dispense this payment but let history play out. After the Flood, God instituted rudimentary government and then confused languages to slow the inevitable decay into global evil.5 In the course of time He then chose Abram/Abraham to begin the separation of a people to Himself for the purpose of preparing the way for the Savior. And He made unilateral promises to him, meaning it was all of God because of faith.
It is to the people of Abraham through the line of Isaac and Jacob that God gave specific national and religious laws.6 Yet these laws were not the Savior but a "custodian" or guardian to watch over the people until they had come of age, so to speak. And as Gal. 3 and 4 shows, the Law and the Promise are two separate things. So when we read that "when the time had fully come, God sent His Son… to redeem those under law", we need to remember that only Jews were ever under it, so only Jews needed to be redeemed from it. This means that there are at least two things Jesus redeemed people from: the general control of Satan over mankind, and the "curse of the law" over the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Regarding the Promise, this explains why there had to be a particular time in history for Jesus to come. And as the writer of Hebrews explained, it's like a Last Will and Testament which cannot be enacted until the death of the testator has been established.7 This highlights another critical element of sin and salvation: Since there was a Will and Testament involved, there had to be the death of the One who made it. We simply must understand this, because one of the most common objections to the gospel (coming even from within the "churches" today!) is that God is somehow bloodthirsty and cruel, demanding the death penalty for the smallest crimes. We need to counter such charges with this fact about the Promise. The price for redemption had to be death because this was the only way the Promise could be delivered.
Why was it that only God in human flesh could redeem us? Because only Jesus could represent both parties in the dispute: God and mankind.8 It really is that simple, and explains why no other Way to God is possible. This is not God being arbitrarily narrow but God being compassionate because only He could pay this price, though He was under no obligation. There truly was no other way. And in redeeming us, Jesus also canceled the legal document of debt that stood against us and displayed it publicly by nailing it where all could see; that is the sense of the Greek.
In so doing, Jesus paid every last penny of our alienation from God and our committed sins. So then the question arises, "Why are we still held accountable for sins? Why are we to be judged according to what we did in this life, if Jesus paid it all?"9
The answer is: because salvation is a gift and rewards are payments for earned wages. We could not begin to pay the price for our reconcilation to God, but we are individually responsible for our actions. Reconcilation must be voluntary, and that means God could only do His part; He could not force us to agree to it or it would not be genuine, and nothing less would be worthy of the honor of God. So when we agree to be reconciled, we are simply accepting a gift, not earning a wage, and the price for our freedom was paid to make that possible. Our actions, good or bad, are earning us spiritual wages, and that is the whole purpose of judgment for both the saved and the lost.
Think about it: what other reason could there be for judgment, since our entry into either heaven or hell is decided by faith alone? Our deeds cannot have anything to do with our eternal destination, or salvation would not be a gift at all. People will be sent one place or the other simply on the basis of whether or not their names are written in the book of life. But there are two separate judgments: the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne,10 the former being for believers and the latter for unbelievers. And as the scriptures so plainly state, it is our actions that are judged. The righteous will be rewarded (paid!) on that basis, while the unrighteous will be given a degree of punishment on that basis (or there would be no point in judging them at all; if all suffer equally in the Lake of Fire, then judgment for deeds is a waste of time).
In summary, there was much more Jesus did than most people realize. Not every scripture is for Jews and Gentiles alike, and not every sin is treated alike. Every sin does mar our relationship with God, but even we fallible humans know the difference between an accident and a deliberate, premeditated crime. Both must make restitution but only one requires additional penalty. God can do no less, being the ultimate Fair and Just Judge. And He does not disown us on the occasion of every sin, but judges on the basis of habit and attitude. We are reconciled by faith alone, which was made necessary by sin and made possible by the death and resurrection of the only God-Man, Jesus.