judgment

On more occasions than I can count I have uttered the sentence, “Jesus died for our sins.” That Jesus died for our sins is the crux of the gospel. The glory of that sentence, “Jesus died for our sins” is even more meaningful than we often imagine. Jesus’ death atoned for our sins.

The atonement is a theological term meaning the satisfaction of divine justice in Jesus’ act of obedience on the cross.

Theological liberalism is embarrassed by the concept of divine wrath against sin and has avoided a theologically robust definition of the atonement. As Christians, we must grasp the truth of the atonement to better understand the glory of our salvation.

The Bible teaches the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. Don’t be intimidated by these terms. Penal means that we are sinful, and that our sins deserve punishment. Substitutionary means that Jesus took our place when he atoned for our sins by taking the punishment we deserve.

In his excellent book, The Cross of Christ, John Stott underscored the importance of this doctrine.

All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and humanity. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge that we are, namely “hell-deserving sinners,” then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished we never saw it before.

Stott, Cross, 111

The biblical doctrine of the atonement reminds us of three staggering truths that are deeper than we will ever fully grasp this side of eternity.

  1. God is more holy than we imagine.
  2. We are more sinful than we think.
  3. Jesus loves us more deeply than we deserve.

The atonement emphasizes God’s wrath against sin. The Bible is full of divine judgment against sin. From Adam and Eve being kicked out of the Garden, to the flood, to the plagues on Egypt, to the 40 years of wilderness wanderings, to the judgments and exiles upon Israel, to the cross, and through to the judgments described in the book of Revelation, the Bible is a book that declares judgment. Why does God judge so often? Well, God is supremely holy. He is more holy than we can imagine, and his standard for humanity is absolute perfection and holiness.

The other reason the Bible describes God’s judgments so often is that we are sinful. We are more sinful than we’d like to admit. Our motivations, desires, and longings are sinful. Our actions and dreams and words and ways are sinful. We are sinful.

Our sin deserves judgment. Thus, the cross and the penal substitutionary atonement. Jesus took our place, received in his body the punishment for our sins, and satisfied God’s wrath against sin (penal substitutionary atonement). Jesus’ death on the cross shouts loudly the staggering love of God for sinners.

At the cross in holy love God through Christ paid the full penalty of our disobedience himself. He bore the judgment we deserve in order to bring us the forgiveness we do not deserve. On the cross divine mercy and justice were equally expressed and eternally reconciled. God’s holy love was ‘satisfied.

Stott, Cross, 91.

What do we do with this glorious theological truth?

  • Meditate on the holiness of God.
  • Thank God for sending Jesus to take your place.
  • Worship God for the depth of his love.
  • Love God because he so loved you.
  • Follow Christ with your life because this is the only appropriate response to the atonement.

Photo by Luis Vidal on Unsplash

Last week my family and I were able to get away to the beach for holiday. Early in the week, Hurricane Isaias made landfall just north of where we were staying. Everything was ok where we were staying, though I know other coastal areas experienced quite a bit of damage. Upon returning to our home in Wilkesboro, we experienced an earthquake on Sunday morning. The epicenter of the quake was in Sparta, just a few miles from where we live. And of course 2020 brought us the global pandemic that is Covid-19.

Questions arise: “Are we experiencing the judgment of God? Are we living in the last days? What might take place next? How should we respond?”

Let me offer some answers that I hope are biblical, theological, and practical.

Question: Are we experiencing the judgment of God? Answer: Yes. For millennia God has judged wickedness and depravity through supernatural, natural, and geopolitical means. God sent supernatural plagues on Egypt as judgment for their enslavement of his people. God sent a storm and a great fish after Jonah when the prophet ran from God’s command to preach in Nineveh. And God used kings and armies all throughout biblical history to bring judgment upon his people and even the wicked nations around his people as a means of judgment. I believe we are experiencing the judgment of God for our wickedness. But we need to remember something about God’s judgments. They are mean to be restorative and redemptive before they are meant to be permanent. The reason God sent the prophets to Israel and Judah in the OT to warn them of coming judgment was to encourage his people to repent. Our experiences of 2020 may or may not be direct judgments of God on specific people for specific things. But most certainly they represent the general judgment of God on a world full of wickedness and rebellion. The bigger question we should ask ourselves is this: “Does God have our attention?”

Question: Are we living in the last days? Answer: Yes. Jesus taught in Matthew 24 that false messiahs, earthquakes, famines, wars, tribulation, and persecution are signs of the last days. We are seeing many of these things take place around us. There is a caveat. The first disciples experienced some of these things during their days on earth as well. Every generation since the ascension of Christ has believed that Christ might return during their lifetime. Many theologians over the 2000 year history of Christianity have identified different individuals as the Antichrist (from medieval popes to Adolf Hitler). The last days are the days of the church. Does this mean Jesus will return soon? In our generation? He certainly could. We should be ready. But he might not. There might be hundreds of years before he returns. Yet we must remember we are living in the last days. God’s judgments and chastisements are meant to turn our eyes to him. They are meant to shake us from our apathy and motivate us to preach the gospel and live the love of Christ to a hurting and sinful world.

Question: What might take place next? Answer: It would be foolish to speculate on details, but we can expect more judgments, trials, difficulties, tribulations, and persecutions. Many Christians over the ages have experienced persecution for their faith. For the most part, Christians in America have been spared persecution. That might be changing. With gubernatorial overreaches that have banned churches from meeting as well as the cancel culture, Christianity is being marginalized. We now live in a culture that celebrates depravity and idolizes immorality. All this is taking place in a nation whose foundations were built on the Judeo-Christian worldview. Our national rejection of God will most certainly spurn further judgments. Writing on this subject more than forty years ago, Francis Schaeffer articulated the judgment of God:

“Unlike Zeus whom men imagined hurling down great thunderbolts, God has turned away in judgment as our generation turned away from him, and he is allowing cause and effect to take its course in history.”

Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City.

Question: How should we respond? Answer: Repent, Pray, Preach the Gospel. It is fascinating sometimes how enamored we as God’s people are with the end times, tribulation, and judgment of God. Yet what should convict us deeply is the fact that the majority of God’s judgments and chastisements in the Bible are aimed not at the depraved nations, but at his rebellious people. Church, judgment begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Our circumstances should drive us to self-examination, confession, and repentance. We must reject any idols we discover and turn to Christ fully and completely. We must also pray. Our hope is not found in politics, financial security, or scientific advancements that provide a vaccine for Covid-19. Our hope can only be found in the sovereign and living Lord. We connect with God through prayer. If we are not doing so already, we must pray for revival, awakening, and the salvation of sinners. Finally, we must be unashamed to preach and share the gospel. If nothing else, natural disasters, diseases, wars, and conflicts remind us how fragile and temporary life on this earth is. The only hope for people around us (family, neighbors, co-workers, friends, the nations) is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Church, it is time to wake up and preach the good news.

Photo by Srikanta H. U on Unsplash.