The Power of the Cross: Reconciliation (Part Three)

Ephesians 2:11-18

He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit (2:17-18 NIV).

Let’s look deeper at this reconciliation. God in Christ formed a new people of God. In the past, this aspect of reconciliation was underemphasized. This severely hurt the church when it needed this truth the most in a changing world. The church had an opportunity to demonstrate that she is God’s new society, but she wandered far into the swamp of worldliness. This happened at least twice in America, especially in the 1840s-1860s and the 1940s-1960s.

On the cross Christ accomplished the final fulfillment of the law, meaning the law covenant given at Sinai, and so he abolished it and its commandments and regulations (cf. Romans 6:14; 7:6; 10:4; 2 Corinthians 3:4-16; Galatians 3:19-25; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 7:18; 8:6-13; 9:1, 10; 10:1-10). Christ satisfied all the demands of the law for his people, and so we are legally free from it. We do not and cannot achieve a righteous way of life by putting ourselves under the law.

At the same time, the Lord created a new man or a new humanity in himself out of former Jews and Gentiles, reconciling both to God in his one body through the cross. Here is an important aspect of the power of the cross: the creation of a new people of God (cf. Ephesians 3:6).

What is the outcome of this reconciliation that makes us Christ’s new people?

  • We share his peace (2:17). Christ’s peace not only means the absence of hostility, but also the presence of great spiritual blessings. We belong to God. We are adult sons and daughters of God; we are free! We have the Holy Spirit of God, who keeps us, fills us, empowers us, transforms us, assures us, and makes Christ’s presence known to us.
  • We have access to God (2:18). This means “that the relationship is restored, that friendly relationship with God whereby we are acceptable to Him and have assurance that he is well disposed towards us” (Lloyd-Jones). Here is the beauty of worship in the gospel. You and I can boldly share fellowship with the Holy, Almighty, Sovereign God, as the Holy Spirit makes real to us the presence of the risen, ascended Christ to us.
  • We together form a holy temple in the Lord in which God lives by his Spirit (2:19-22). We are “home”, God’s home. In a practical sense for you and me, eternal joy, peace, and glory begins in your gathering of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, it does for believers in Jesus. But you can only realize it by faith. We must by faith in Jesus see one another in him.

Have you ever arrived for a gathering of your physical, extended family exhausted from a long ride in a car in the driving rain? You are weary, and you get drenched on your way into the house. You want to be there, but you feel out of sorts. But you get in the house, and your family welcomes you, takes your wet jacket, leads you over to the fire to get warm, and brings you a soothing drink to refresh your spirit. And you say, “Ah, it feels so good to be home.”

This is what I want you to understand and live. Since God has reconciled us to him through the power of the cross of Christ, we’re in God’s home. Here is peace, beauty, joy, and glory begun, if you will grasp this through faith in Christ. A church is not a place you go to that has nice buildings and exciting, glitzy programs. A church is the people of Christ, whom he has reconciled to the Father by the power of his cross. You can feel at home among Christ’s new covenant people. You ought to feel at home with them! Are you reconciled to God?

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: Reconciliation (Part Two)

Ephesians 2:11-18

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility (2:14-16 NIV).

The message of the Bible is the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. Knowing how hopeless our situation was because of our sin and resultant alienation from God, out of pure love and overflowing grace and holy zeal for his glory, God had a purpose of rescue for the hopeless.

The main character in the story is Jesus Christ, who is both Son of God and Son of Man. Notice what the apostle writes by the Holy Spirit. But now in Christ Jesus… (2:13 NIV). Christ is God’s message or word. God’s message is not the future of Israel or a ten-step process for recovering from addiction or learning how to be a covenant keeper or how to have your best life now. God’s message is concentrated on Jesus Christ. When we meet as a church, we need to hear about Jesus. When we go out on our mission into the world, we need to talk about Jesus our Lord.

The main theme of the story is that Jesus Christ brings us near to God through his blood shed on the cross. The great way of access to God is established by his blood. We have peace with God (Romans 5:1); we can draw near to God with confidence (Hebrews 10:19-22).

For this reason, I think it is a serious mistake to try to create an “atmosphere of worship” in a church service. In the Lord Jesus, we have all the “atmosphere” we need. Some might say that we’re rather blunt and ruthless in not creating any such atmosphere. To dim the lights and illuminate a backdrop with an image of a cross is contrary to true spirituality (John 4). The same holds true for lighting a bunch of candles and burning incense. Nor do we need to try to manipulate people’s “spiritual juices” by endlessly repeating some praise song or favorite hymn. No, we ought to seek that people know Jesus Christ and him crucified… not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:2-5 NIV).

Our situation after the cross is that we are reconciled to God. Here is the idea of reconciliation in the Bible. God reaches out to restore to friendship those whom he formerly was against as his enemies. An event from the life of David presents the concept.  In 1 Samuel 29:4 the Philistines did not want David to be part of their army, because they feared he might be reconciled to his father-in-law Saul, who hated him. The problem in the relationship was not that David was opposed to Saul, since he honored Saul as king. But they feared that David might seek reconciliation by turning against the Philistines and so turn Saul’s hatred back to friendship.

Because Christ’s death through the shedding of his blood was the sacrifice that guaranteed the forgiveness of sins in the new covenant, and because Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath against us, God reconciles us to himself through the cross (Eph 2:16). For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:10 ESV). Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 CSB). Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him (Colossians 1:21-22 CSB). Christ secured our position before God by his blood. God is no longer alienated from us, but is at peace with us, because Christ himself is our Peace. “This is a beautiful title of Christ: the Peace between God and men” (Calvin). Today, rejoice before God because the Lord Jesus Christ is your reconciliation with God; he is your peace; it is not your performance, which varies like the wind.

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: Reconciliation (Part One)

Ephesians 2:11-18

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ (2:11-13 NIV).

We can all tell stories about people alienated from one another. Since we or friends would be the subjects, we would tell them with a sense of the pain of alienation.

However, our topic in this post is not primarily about fractured human relationships, though what we’ll think about provides the only reliable basis for rebuilding or renewing them. Our concern is with our alienation from God. As we have seen in this series on the power of the cross, our basic problem is that because of our sin or rebellion against God, he must act in holy justice against us. In this situation we need our sins forgiven and his wrath removed. God did this through the power of the cross of Christ. He died as a sacrifice that would secure forgiveness and remove wrath. But what of the practical situation of God’s alienation from us? In holy justice he was against us, but can he bring us back in peace and as his friends?

In order to grasp the importance of what the Lord accomplished, we must understand our situation before the cross. We were far away. All people have had a two-part legal problem. All people everywhere are by nature people who step over (transgress) the limits God established for human behavior and who fail to properly represent his worth or glory. This last makes us like a TV that cannot show clear pictures but only warps and blurs them. Not only that, we don’t even want to show the picture of God’s glory. We wrongly choose to show the pictures of God’s enemies in order to project ourselves. This made us practically worthless as God’s image bearers and objects of God’s wrath, because we have desired to live this way (Ephesians 2:1-3).

In his love, God called Israel out of slavery to be his nation, and he gave them many blessings and privileges (Romans 3:1-2; 9:4-5; Ephesians 2:12). He brought them into a relationship with him based on the law (or old covenant). God promised them life, if they would obey. Israel’s problem was simply that they were sinners, and the law could not deal with the problem of sin. In fact, sin took advantage of the law situation and by the commandments of the law put Israel to death (Romans 7:7-13). Israel was in a hopeless situation.

The rest of the nations (the Gentiles) did not receive the blessings that Israel had received. Instead, God had handed them over to sin (Romans 1:24, 26, 28) and let them go their own way (Acts 14:16). They had no way to become his nation or people, and the nations were in a hopeless and godless situation.

Please take a few minutes to slow down and to think about the condition humanity was in before the cross. Israel had a good law covenant from God that they could not keep. The nations were largely abandoned by God, since they willfully pursued a way of life that refused the true and living God and place in their lives. (This still holds true in our time.) How could people return to a relationship with the Holy God over all? A Mediator was necessary who could bridge the gap between God and sinful people. This is what God did in Christ at the cross. Are you reconciled to God through Jesus Christ?

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: Wrath Removed (Part Two)

Romans 3:21-26

God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus (3:25-26 CSB).

Next, we see God’s solution for both judicial situations. God the Father acted in both of them. It is important to remember the importance of God the Father in regard to the cross. We have a Trinitarian salvation. At the same time, we must have God’s perspective about the cross. It is the story of his glory. Salvation does not originate in human scheming to bribe God to obtain some kind of blessing. The Father is the author of the plan of salvation. God the Father himself provided the sacrifice of atonement or propitiation, which is at the heart of the message of the cross. We’ll talk about the meaning of “propitiation” shortly. But first we want to realize that God the Father presented Christ as a propitiation (atoning sacrifice, CSB).

Some have wrongly thought that the message of the cross is some sort of heavenly bribery, as if Jesus the Son of God died on the cross to persuade or make the Father to love us. But no, Christ died because the Father loved us (John 3:16; Romans 8:32).

The meaning of what the Father sent his one and only Son to do: God presented Christ as the propitiation for our sins.  To propitiate means to satisfy or pacify wrath, and so to turn it away from those who deserve it. There are four elements in propitiation (John Owen):

  • An offence to be taken away – our sin
  • A person offended whose wrath needs to be satisfied or pacified – God
  • An offending party who is guilty of the offense – us
  • A sacrifice or some means of making satisfaction for the offense – Christ’s death on the cross

The propitiation occurred through the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross. The significance of the blood is that Christ’s life was poured out in death. This answers the great problem of Romans 6:23. He received the wages that were due us. As we saw previously in this series, the blood emphasizes the need of a sacrifice to take away sin and establish a covenant with God. Christ’s better and final sacrifice of himself is the fulfillment of all the types and shadows of the law. He did what they were unable to do.

So then, we come to the result of the propitiation, and here we see the power of the cross. God’s justice is vindicated. He is proved to be righteous: that he might be just. Before God could forgive us, his justice and holiness had to be satisfied and honored. Therefore, God the Father presented or displayed his Son publicly as the propitiation through faith in his blood.

  • This was the deliberate action of God (Acts 2:23). The cross of Christ was not an accident; Jesus was not a martyr. God displayed his Son as the propitiation to carry out and accomplish his plan of salvation for his people.
  • The cross happened in history. On a real day on a hill called Golgotha outside Jerusalem, Jesus was crucified and died the cursed death of the cross. There were real nails, real wood, real thorns and real blood. But the worst of Christ’s suffering and agony was the real and full stroke of justice that he received, God’s infinite wrath received and satisfied by a perfect and infinite sacrifice, Christ himself. This is the power of the cross.
  • This act of justice was observed by people. God demonstrated his justice. All history can see that God honors his justice.
  • God did this to demonstrate his justice “at the present time”. Now God’s justice is vindicated; now we have forgiveness and righteousness. The believers before the cross looked forward to this time, but we look back and can say, “Praise the Lord! God’s justice is satisfied! Our bill is paid in full!”

God declares righteous those who believe in Jesus. This happens through faith in his blood. God is both just and the justifier. God sent his Son into the world to save sinners (John 3:17). However, this propitiation is only for those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22, 26). Those who do not believe in Christ are still under God’s wrath (John 3:36). Those who try to be right with God by their own good works or by observing the law are also still condemned (Romans 3:28; Galatians 1:6-9; 2:16).

Do you understand the power of the cross of Christ? We can be right with God because of what the Lord Jesus did on the cross, if we change our minds and trust in him. Too many people won’t change their minds. They’re still in love with their rebellion against God, or still trying to earn their righteousness by being spiritual or religious. But the only way of salvation is through faith in the finished work of Christ. Are you trusting in Christ alone?

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: Wrath Removed (Part One)

Romans 3:21-26

God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus (3:25-26 CSB).

I once attended a disaster preparedness meeting for churches. During the meeting, one of the speakers presented a number of possible disasters that could affect us all. What are some of these? The speaker put up a PowerPoint slide listing floods, hurricanes, food-borne diseases, chemical accidents, vector-borne diseases like the West Nile virus, pandemic influenza, bioterrorism, chemical terrorism, and agro-terrorism. Then he asked something like, “Are you worried yet?” At that moment I must confess that I felt underwhelmed. Perhaps I’ve heard too much hype about any number of possible disasters with the words “it could happen tomorrow!”

I can understand the situation that disaster preparedness presenters are in, because we who follow Jesus Christ have a very difficult time arousing interest in the subject of God’s wrath against sinners. Many times we get a “yeah, right, tell me later” response, because it seems some far out compared to the usual course of daily life. But our task, like the disaster presenters, is to tell people that they must be prepared to face God. Our text answers the question, “Why the cross?” And it shows the power of the cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The cross addresses two judicial situations.

The first is God’s wrath against sinners (Romans 1:18). When we speak about God’s wrath, we are not talking about some kind of whimsical or capricious anger or a hot-headed explosion of a self-centered tyrant. As we will see, the cross dismisses those ideas at once. Instead, the wrath of God is the settled opposition of his entire being against sin, which is rebellion against God and twistedness. God knows that his glory or worth is the most important reality in the universe. It is soul-satisfying and he wants to share it with his creatures. Our horrifying problem is that we actually imagine we can have glory, significance and pleasure forever apart from God and in opposition to his ways. God must set himself against that delusion.

That means that God will judge sinners. We should realize that sin cannot be separated from the sinners who commit sin. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong (5:5 NIV). And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment (John 3:36 NLT; cf. Psalm 7:11; 11:5; Ephesians 5:6; Jude 1:14-15; Revelation 6:16-17; 20:11-12).

Next, the apostle says the surprising words that God let sin committed prior to the cross go unpunished. The idea Paul talks about is not forgiveness of sins, which is the way that some try to translate the Greek text, but as the NIV correctly translates, leaving sins unpunished. What is Paul talking about?

“Paul’s meaning is rather that God ‘postponed’ the full penalty due sins in the Old Covenant, allowing sinners to stand before him without their having provided an adequate ‘satisfaction’ of the demands of his holy justice (cf. Hebrews 10:4)”. [Moo, Commentary on Romans] It might have seemed that God, who is righteous (Deuteronomy 32:4), did not really care about sin. How could God accept Abraham as his friend, since Abraham was a liar? How could David stand before God after committing adultery and murder? How can we, because we have sinned? We’ve rejected God as God, refused to love him, and rebelled against his word? We need a Savior!

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: The Blood of the Covenant (Part Two)

Matthew 26:27-28

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (CSB).

The power of the cross reaches many people groups. The Lord moved their thinking from the old people to the new people. Jesus had to change their thinking about the people of God. The law covenant was given to Israel, and focused on the few of the people of Israel. The high priests of the law only offered sacrifices for the house of Israel. The law set Israel apart from all other nations as the people of God. It excluded the nations (the Gentiles); in fact, the law with its commandments and regulations was a dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:11-15).

Christ came to bring the promises of the gospel to all nations. When Christ held the cup in his hand, he spoke of the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. This connects to Isaiah’s great servant song (Isaiah 52:15; 53:11-12). The new great high priest offers himself as a sacrifice, not just for Israel, but for the whole world, meaning people from every nation (1 John 2:2; cf. Revelation 5:9-10). Here is the basis for the evangelism of all peoples (Luke 24:47). We can tell all people everywhere the good news, for Christ died to save a people from all nations. Together, we can take the good news of Jesus everywhere.

The Lord moved their thinking from some of the people to all the people. In old covenant Israel, not everyone was holy or set apart to God. Holiness was a concept expressed physically, and easily lost by ritual defilement. Only Aaron’s descendants in the tribe of Levi were priests. The tabernacle system brought one near (the high priest), some relatively close (the priests), and others somewhat closer, but it kept most at a distance. But in the new covenant, everyone is set apart to God (Hebrews 10:10). We are a holy nation and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9-10). Therefore, in the Lord’s Supper all of us are told to eat of the bread and drink from the cup. When we gather to worship, we are all priests joining together to praise the Lord. Everyone is a priest and can minister for the Lord.

The power of the cross secures forgiveness of sins. Everyone has the same great problem. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23). Our problem with sin starts from our inner person, what the Bible calls the heart (Mark 7:20-23). But sin does not stay in the heart. It moves out from ideas and attitudes to words and actions (Romans 3:9-20). We are all guilty and justly condemned. What can we do?

The new covenant provides the forgiveness of our sins. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Hebrews 8:12 NIV; cf. 10:15-18). The sacrifices of the law covenant could never grant real forgiveness; they could not touch the problem of guilt (Hebrews 10:1-4). However, Christ’s better sacrifice of himself provides and guarantees forgiveness and takes away guilt (Hebrews 10:11-18). Now we can draw near to God (Hebrews 10:19-25)! Therefore, when we gather at the Lord’s Table, we remember his sacrifice, in which the blood of his better covenant secured the forgiveness of our sins! Isaac Watts wrote the following hymn.

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb
Takes all our sins away
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they

Believing we rejoice
To see the curse remove
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice
And sing his bleeding love

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and live for him (Hebrews 12:1-2)!
Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: The Blood of the Covenant (Part One)

Matthew 26:27-28

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (CSB).

I write this post during the week that is called “Holy Week”, specifically, on that day called “Good Friday”. Christians remember the two great events of the gospel or good news: Christ’s death and resurrection. For this reason, I thought we should focus our attention on the cross, thinking especially of the power of the cross.

Perhaps you attended or will attend a special service this weekend where the church gathered around the Lord’s Table. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that as the Lord orders us to remember him, he does not tell us to remember his birth, or his miracles, or his triumphal entry, but his person. At his Table, we proclaim his death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). When we come together at the Table, we preach Christ’s death on the cross three ways.

  • The bread and the fruit of the vine represent the Savior’s body and blood.
  • Our eating and drinking of the bread and the wine symbolize our union with Christ in his death.
  • Our participation in this with one another tells that we share together in what the Lord Christ accomplished on the cross.

So then, let us think on the power of the cross of Christ! To us who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). How does Christ save us by the cross? At the cross he shed the blood of the covenant; that is, the new or better covenant.

The power of the cross established a new and better covenant.

We need to understanding the covenant idea. A covenant is a solemn agreement binding two parties together. For example, marriage is a covenant that binds a man and a woman together as husband and wife. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant (Malachi 2:14 NIV).

In order to display his glory as the faithful God, the Lord God chose to make covenants. He binds himself to people as their God, and they to him as his people. It is like a marriage covenant, but between two vastly unequal partners. This also shows God’s glory as humble and loving.

God made a covenant with Israel at Sinai, and the center of that covenant was the Ten Commandments, written on tablets of stone. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone (Deuteronomy 4:13). The covenant was kept in a gold box, called the Ark of the Covenant, and it was put into effect by the blood of the covenant (Exodus 24:3-8; cf. Hebrews 9:18-22). But that covenant was built upon the obedience of the people (Exodus 19:3-6; Deuteronomy 6:25; 7:12; 8:19-20; etc.) The problem of that covenant was the sinfulness of the people. The law covenant could not give life or obedience to the sinner (cf. Galatians 3:21-22; Hebrews 8:7-8).

Therefore, God made a new or better covenant. This covenant is Christ himself, God’s Servant Son (Isaiah 42:1, 6-7; 49:3, 8-9). The new or better covenant was put into effect at the cross by the shedding of Jesus’ blood (Hebrews 9:11-15, 23-28).

This is an extremely important teaching. It tells us how we can know the Lord and be his people. We journey through life, not alone, but with the living God. We are in Christ, and he is with us always. We live, not according to the law covenant, but in conformity with Christ. Our entire viewpoint is transformed. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7).

Grace and peace, David

A Holy Relationship

Leviticus 19:2

Speak to the entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy (CSB).

In fulfillment of his covenant promises to Abraham (read Genesis 15), the Lord God had brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to Mt. Sinai. There he formed them into a nation that was to be holy (Exodus 19:4-6) or set apart to the Lord. Everything about their way of life from that great event onward was to be marked by consecration to the Lord. They were not to live like the other nations. Peter succinctly described the way of life of the nations in 1 Peter 4:3. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry (NIV).  Pagans here is more accurately translated as the nations. A pagan way of life is simply the way of life of the people of the world. God ordered a new way of life for the people of Israel, and he defined this by particular commands. This required a revolution in their thinking and how they lived. Everyone else lived according to their sinful self and its pleasure seeking. But at Sinai God instructed them to live according to his pleasures and character. They were chosen to reflect the glory of God.

To say this was not easy is a massive understatement. It was impossible—apart from the grace of God by the Holy Spirit.

If you and I have followed the Messiah for several years or were brought up in a Christian home, it is to forget how people that are not set apart to the Lord live. When God instructed Israel to be a consecrated people, it was a radically new way of life. For this reason, the Lord needed to instruct them in detail. In Leviticus 18, the instruction was primarily about sexual relationships. In Leviticus 19, the Lord instructed them about other matters. In some kinds of systematic theology, it is popular to divide God’s law into moral, ceremonial, and civil categories. Leviticus 19 shows that it a hopeless task. All are simply the instruction of the law covenant to the people who had to live under it.

Instead of doing that, let’s observe three things that are essential for the way of life of the Lord’s people.

  • We are to be holy or set apart, because the Lord our God is holy or set apart. What is he set apart to? He has consecrated himself to his glory, the fame of his name, the righteousness of his character. By grace, we are to be like the Lord.
  • God urges us to live his way, because he is the Lord. He himself is the starting point for how we evaluate what to live. For Israel under the law covenant, this involved behavior that was basically an avoidance (“do not”) of what the nations did. Some of these matters related only to their life as a nation, producing a distinctive appearance to their persons and their worship, economy, and so forth. Every Saturday and festival day, everyone could tell the difference. But all was to be done because he is the Lord.
  • The Lord requires us to live in love. Here is the Second Greatest Command (Leviticus 19:18). An examination of each of these commands will show that they are either a demonstration of love to God, love for people, or both.

In the same way in the new covenant, our way of life starts from the reality of what God is. In Colossians 1:15-20, the apostle set for the glory of Christ. In the remainder of the letter, he applied that to how Christ’s people ought to live. Let’s think more often about how the identity of the Lord should transform our lives.

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Nineteen)

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24 ESV).

God is patient. “Far less has been written upon this than the other excellencies of the Divine character. Not a few of those who have expatiated at length upon the Divine attributes have passed over the patience of God without any comment. It is not easy to suggest a reason for this, for surely the longsuffering of God is as much one of the Divine perfections as His wisdom, power, or holiness, and as much to be admired and revered by us. True, the actual term will not be found in a concordance so frequently as the others, but the glory of this grace itself shines forth on almost every page of Scripture. Certain it is that we lose much if we do not frequently meditate upon the patience of God and earnestly pray that our hearts and ways may be more completely conformed thereto” (Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 70).

What is God’s patience, or as we could also call this attribute, his longsuffering or forbearance? Stephen Charnock answered this way. “It is a part of the Divine goodness and mercy, yet differs from both. God being the greatest goodness, hath the greatest mildness; mildness is always the companion of true goodness, and the greater the goodness, the greater the mildness. Who so holy as Christ, and who so meek? God’s slowness to anger is a branch of His mercy: ‘the Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger’ (Psalm 145:8). It differs from mercy in the formal consideration of the subject: mercy respects the creature as miserable, patience respects the creature as criminal; mercy pities him in his misery, patience bears with the sin which engendered the misery, and giving birth to more” (Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 2, pp. 478-479). With this in mind, we should understand that God’s patience involves a sort of meeting point of God’s holiness and his love. A number of times God reveals himself as slow to anger (Nahum 1:3), and often this characteristic is linked with his compassion, love and grace (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8).

God’s patience is very great; for example, the apostle speaks of the riches of his patience (Romans 2:4). As the psalmist teaches, God is patient with his people continually, as the Holy One interacts with sinful people (Psalm 78:32-39). Patience shows God’s self-control in the face of provocation that is not only high-handed in the case of the wicked, but which comes from less than totally committed people who speak of our love for him. In human relationships we know the pain that comes when one party is less than faithful. Though we cannot frustrate the God, as we would be frustrated, because God is self-satisfied; nevertheless that does not excuse our lack of faithful love and trying God’s patience (Isaiah 7:13).

The patience of God is an integral part of God’s plan. Having decided to make known to his chosen people the riches of his mercy, it was necessary for the Lord to act with patience toward those he passed by (Romans 9:22-24), in order that he could call us out from that people. Clearly, if God had judged our pagan ancestors immediately, they would not have existed to be part of the line of human reproduction leading to us. For this reason, God acted with patience in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20), and afterward, letting the nations go their own way, while still providing for them (Acts 14:16-17; 17:30). God was patient with Israel after the Exodus, enduring their conduct in the wilderness (Jeremiah 11:7; Acts 13:18), in order that Christ might eventually come from Israel (Romans 9:5). And even more directly, God’s patience is directly active in preserving our lives prior to our regeneration and conversion, in order that we might come to salvation (2 Peter 3:9, 15). God’s patience is also evident in his forbearing to punish those who lived before Christ’s sacrifice. He forgave them and justified them through what Christ would do on the cross, and so in his forbearance he left their sins unpunished until Calvary (Romans 3:25-26).

When God is patient, it is an omniscient patience. He sees our sin and abhors it, yet he wills to look on us with pity. God’s patience does not come from his weakness, but from his strength. He has the ability to judge at any time, but chooses to restrain his anger to make known his grace.

God expects us to imitate his patience by being patient and forbearing (Colossians 3:12-13) in our interaction with other people. And we are to be patient in the face of suffering (James 5:7-11). We require patience to finish the course God has marked out for us (2 Timothy 4:7). In fact, patience is a key quality of true love (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Eighteen)

For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath (Deuteronomy 4:31 NIV).

God is merciful. The living God is merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31; Daniel 9:9). But how is God’s mercy to be distinguished from God’s grace? Both are closely related, springing from God’s love and goodness, so we should not draw sharp distinctions between mercy and grace. For example, the repentant sinner is encouraged to return to God and receive a free pardon because God will have mercy. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:7 NIV), and God’s forgiveness of his old covenant people is traced to his mercy (Psalm 78:3). Perhaps we can safely say this. Grace is God’s attitude and action toward sinners as undeserving, while mercy is his attitude and action toward sinners in misery. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy (James 5:11). In the instance of Job, his suffering did not come from his sin, yet he needed God’s mercy.

“It is the great design of the Scripture to represent God as merciful. This is a loadstone [magnet] to draw sinners to him… God is represented as a king, with a rainbow about his throne (Revelation 4:3). The rainbow was an emblem of mercy. The Scripture represents God in white robes of mercy more often than with garments rolled in blood; with his golden scepter more often than his iron rod” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 93).

Here are characteristics of God’s mercy:

  • Like God’s love and grace, his mercy is sovereign and free. God extends mercy to people in misery because he chooses to do so (Exodus 33:19). God’s mercy causes him to extend mercy because he is “a gracious and merciful God” (Nehemiah 9:31).
  • God’s mercy is the source of his redeeming activity, both regarding the old covenant nation (Isaiah 63:9), and the spiritual redemption of God’s chosen ones (Romans 9:15-16). From his mercy comes our rebirth into a living hope. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
  • God delights in extending his mercy to sinners in their misery (Micah 7:18). Being rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4), he has drawn up a plan of showing mercy to all—to both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 11:30-32).
  • God’s mercy involves powerful action on God’s part. He is able to relieve the suffering (Philippians 2:27) and to give us actual help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16), as we see many times in the earthly ministry of our Lord (Matthew 17:15; Luke 17:13; 18:38-39).

“One act of mercy engages God to another. Men argue thus, I have shown you kindness already, therefore trouble me no more; but, because God has shown mercy, he is more ready still to show mercy; his mercy in election makes him justify, adopt, glorify; one act of mercy engages God to more. A parent’s love to his child makes him always giving” (Watson, p. 94).

How should we respond to God’s mercy? Since we have been born again because of his mercy, God expects us to exhibit his quality of mercy to others. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:35-36 CSB; cf. Matthew 5:7; 18:33; Jude 1:22) with an attitude corresponding to God’s delight in mercy (Romans 12:8). God wants us to develop endurance in (2 Corinthians 4:1) and explanation of (1 Timothy 1:12-16) ministry that comes from recognizing that we are recipients of mercy. We are to face the future confidently expecting mercy from God (Jude 1:21). “Go to God for mercy. ‘Have mercy upon me, O God!’ (Psalm 51:1)… Give me not only mercy to feed and clothe me, but mercy to save me; give me the cream of thy mercies; Lord! Let me have mercy and lovingkindness… Though God may refuse us when we come for mercy in our own name, yet he will not when we come in Christ’s name. Plead Christ’s satisfaction, and this is an argument that God cannot deny” (Watson, p. 98).

Grace and peace, David