“What the Cross Says About Me”
December 14, 2008
I am not a sinner. Is that most arrogant thing you’ve ever heard? It would be if it were not…true! I am not a sinner! Would you hold that thought for a bit later?
We have just looked at some of the amazing gifts that God provides for His children via His amazing grace. In :5, he refers to the love of God being “poured into our hearts”. We can view the next few verses as illustrations of the amazing love of God that has been showered on us. The centerpiece is :8, where we understand the purest and most undiluted picture of the incredible love of God is seen in the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is the center, the fulcrum on which the love of God pivots. Nothing demonstrates God’s incredible love for us more than the cross. Any church that makes little of the cross of Christ is not worthy to be called a “Christian” church, whether that church talks about Jesus or calls itself by the name “Christian” or not. The cross is the identifying mark for the Christian; “…far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). And just as it is through the cross of Christ that God sees me, so it is through the cross of Christ that I must see myself as well. Have you ever put on someone else’s glasses? My wife puts on glasses to read; I take my glasses off to do the same thing! Looking at the world through the wrong lens will give us a distorted version of reality. This is true in a literal sense, of course; it is also true of our worldview as well. Having a correct and Biblical understanding of our identity in Christ is so critical to living free, to living life as God planned. And so today we look at what the cross says about me! READ SCRIPTURE/PRAY
What are some of the ways you are identified?
For the Christ-follower, our primary identification revolves around the cross of Christ.
The Cross Tells Me
I. Who I Was Before Jesus
Let’s remember: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (II Cor. 5:17); this speaks of a new kind of person who has never existed previously. The “before and after” with the Christian is stark; there is a difference that is clear theologically and ought to be clear practically. We’ve dealt with these points before, but because Paul judges them worth of repeating, we’ll repeat them; repetition is theological glue!
“Weak” probably doesn’t do the Greek word justice here; it’s more like “powerless” or better “helpless”; it speaks of a total inability to fix our own condition. When we get to the love of God in a few minutes, and to what we are and have in Christ, I’ll talk more about this, but one key thing that is true is that the love of God is beyond our comprehension. It’s incredible, and if it doesn’t feel incredible, then you ought to camp out here for a moment. I can do nothing…zero…zilch…to fix my condition. I can’t love God back, but He loves me. Too many folks think of love as a 50/50 affair; they try to meet halfway in the middle. “Darlin’, if you want me to be closer to you, get closer to me; darlin’, if you want me to love, love only you, then love only me.” That’s Seals and Crofts’ version of love, but it’s not God’s, and it’s a “love” that is destined to fail.
Do you think that God loves you that way? Do you have the picture that He loves you as long as you’re a good little boy or girl, but that He’ll quickly withdraw His love if you don’t measure up? That’s not what the Bible says…it says that when we were helpless—we couldn’t do anything to love Him back—Christ died for us, the ungodly. That’s our next point.
Lacking in reverence and holy awe for God, I was in rebellion against that which is holy and godlike. Shirley MacLaine can run on the beach and scream “I am God”, but it doesn’t make her God; it makes her a crazy lady screaming on the beach. I don’t need to develop “God-consciousness” or search for the “God within”; I’m ungodlike. The image of God, stamped upon us by God, has been defaced, like some wall filled with graffiti obscures what it’s supposed to look like. That image is not destroyed, but it is messed up; that’s what sin does to us. “Image of God” to “ungodly”; that’s what has happened to us all.
And so instead of seeking the God Who really exists, we all erect gods of our own desire and design. No man naturally seeks the God Who is, unless that God draws that man to Himself and grants Him grace and understanding. A key growth point in our lives is when we stop seeking the god we want and begin to seek the God Who is. Do we want a god who will conform himself to our demands, our tastes, our wants, our wishes, a god that we fashion in our own image and to our liking, or do we want to seek the God Who really exists? If the answer is the latter, it’s because that God has brought you to that point.
C. A Sinner
We’ve fallen short of God’s standard; everything about us is warped by our sin. “Know Thyself” is the counsel that we get, but I can’t “know myself” as I really am because my sin warps my self-perception to at least some degree. I don’t like to think of myself as I really am; I rebel against that knowledge. But I am a sinner…no, check that, in the light of the cross, I was a sinner; that used to be my identity. More later…
D. An Enemy
Romans 8:7 says that the sinful mind is hostile to God. I don’t naturally want the authority of God over my life; I don’t like being told what to do, particularly if it cramps my style or makes me uncomfortable. Knowingly or unknowingly, I was the enemy of God.
All of these things are true of me before Christ, and when I look at the cross, I see that the reason that Christ died, in part, was because all of these things are true of me (and more). The cross says that my sin is terrible, that I am unworthy of forgiveness…but that’s not all the cross says, nor is it the major focus of our time this morning.
II. Who I Am Because of Jesus
I began by saying, “I am not a sinner.” I was a sinner; I am not any longer. Come again? You saying you don’t sin, Harvey? Nope, not at all; I sin still, fall short, fail God in many ways. What gives? As a child of God, the Bible never identifies me by my sin. I know, people say, “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace”, and they mean well, and sound humble, but I am identified not by my sin, but by my Savior. I am who I am in the light of Who Christ is. My sin isn’t the badge I wear to identify myself; my Savior is.
The key point that Paul is trying to get his Roman readers—and us—to understand is that we have assurance of our salvation in Christ. He does not intend for people who place faith in Christ to go through life wondering if in the end they will be saved. Notice what the Scripture says about who I am because of Jesus; first,
A. Jesus’ Teaching
We could mention many examples. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asks us to consider the birds, and how God cares for them, reasoning that if God has a loving concern for the smallest of His creations, sparrows and the like, how much more does He care for us? Of how much more value are we? Why? Because the fact of our sin doesn’t take away the fact that we are created in the image of God. Why are the current raging debates about man’s origins so absolutely critical? Because the “imago Dei”, that God-image, would not be present if a.) there were no God, and b.) man evolved upward out of some primordial goulash with monkeys and maggots as his ancestral cousins.
What does it mean that we are “in God’s image”? I won’t attempt an exhaustive list here, but we
• Are rational
• Have a sense of moral obligation
• Have a conscience
• Have the ability to act and make choices
• Have a need for community, evidencing the Trinity
• Can appreciate beauty and make distinctions
• Have a sense of mortality/long for immortality
• Have an innate need to worship, and a sense that there must be some kind of God
And the point is that Jesus is clear in His teaching that we are of significant value to God. That, by the way, isn’t to praise us; we often hear folks talk about God’s love for us as though He just couldn’t help it; we’re just so stinkin’ lovable! No…God loves me; praise God, not me!
B. Jesus’ Attitude
Jesus didn’t believe that anyone was insignificant. An adulterous woman; a demon-possessed man; a blind beggar; a hated centurion; overlooked children; lepers—He didn’t see any of these as worthless! His attitude toward the least and the lost was one of compassion, seen over and over again in Scripture. But today’s text emphasizes
C. Jesus’ Work on Calvary
Paul lifts up the cross as the ultimate proof of God’s love. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”, Jesus said. If the degree of love is measured by the costliness of the gift and the worthiness of the recipient, then the cross is clearly the ultimate expression of love, for “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Though not worthless, we are clearly unworthy of such love; Christ gave His everything for those who deserved nothing. Want to know what God thinks of you? Look at the cross.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that :6 is one of the greatest verses in the Bible, adding, “I do not hesitate to assert that there is no greater statement of the Love of God than in that verse.” Though you or I might be willing to die for a person we value, for our family and close friends, it’d be unlikely that we’d be willing to die for Osama bin Laden. But Jesus died for those who were by nature His enemies (:8). This demonstrates the depth and quality of God’s love for us.
And something else about the love of God is in view here: it’s on the basis of God’s love for us, not our love for Him, that we are saved. My love for God teeters and totters sometimes; it’s a precarious thing. It’s inconsistent and imperfect. But God’s love for me is steady, pure, perfect. There’s not a single thing I can do to get God to love me any more than He does, and there’s nothing I can do to get Him to love me any less. Isn’t it a great thing that our salvation is entirely a matter of God’s grace? Isn’t it a great thing that I’m not justified because of my love for God, or only for as long as my love for Him measures up?
III. Who I Will Be in Jesus
“Much more” appears twice; in :11, we see, “more than that.” Paul is employing logic and reasoning in this passage; he’s building an argument, not only in the entire book of Romans, but also here in this passage. Let’s not just skip right on past that; the point is that it is critical that as followers of Christ, we grow in our ability to logically present and defend the gospel. And the argument he’s building goes like this: God has already done the “tough stuff” of declaring me “justified”, and of reconciling me to Himself in Christ; we can certainly trust Him to complete the task!
A. 2 Past-Tense Truths
This is a point we’d be tempted to skip over if we aren’t careful, but it bears being said: Paul is talking about things that are already accomplished, things that have taken place in the past for the follower of Christ. You are not “in the process of” these things; these represent established fact in the lives of followers of Christ. There are processes taking place in our lives, but justification and reconciliation are not two of them. These represent two different ways of describing what takes place when we become followers of Christ.
As we’ve said several times earlier, to be justified is to be declared innocent by God. God sees us as though we had never sinned. We are absolved not only from all punishment for our sin, but from any basis upon which we ought to be punished. The basis for this, Paul says, is the blood of Christ. We can say that we are justified by God’s grace; we are justified through our faith; Christ was raised from the dead that we might be justified; all of those things are true, but here Paul brings another facet of our justification to the fore: we are justified by the blood of Christ.
Reconciliation involves bringing back into relationship and fellowship those who had been estranged from each other, in this case, God and us. It involves the removal of hostility between us. You were an enemy in God’s sight, and yet despite that fact, through the death of Christ His Son, you were brought back into relationship with your Creator. The death of Christ, the cross upon which He died and through which we can see ourselves aright, demonstrates both the love and the justice of God operating at the same time. Because He judged your sin on the cross, once and for all, He now sees you as His reconciled child.
We spoke earlier of assurance; after God thoroughly broke down all the barriers that separated you from Him, after He declared you to be utterly without fault, after He accepted you into His own family, despite your sin; how likely is it that that God is going to turn His back on you at some point, take away what He has given, go back on His Word, renounce His declaration that you are justified? Want to talk about assurance? Let’s talk about the character of the God Who has reconciled you, even when you were His enemy, and how He will keep His promise!
B. 2 Future-Tense Truths
1. Saved from God’s Wrath
What’s the proper answer to the question, “are you saved?” Ready? “Yes” and “no”. That’s the Biblical answer. Yes, I have been saved by the power of God from guilt of sin and the accompanying judgment of God on that sin; no, I will one day be saved from the wrath of God. Paul uses the word in both senses, but more often in this latter. And this is the sense in which he’s using it here: I will, on the basis of being justified in this life, on the basis of having the slate wiped entirely clean by virtue of the grace of God, be spared the wrath of God in the life to come.
This implies the reality of God’s judgment. God judges us as well as judging others; He judges us in arriving at the determination that because of Christ, we are innocent in His sight. He judges those without Christ on the basis of their unbelief in Christ; these will experience, to one degree or another, God’s wrath.
2. Saved by His Life
After reminding us that we’ve been reconciled by the death of His only begotten Son, Paul finishes this passage by saying that it is by the life of Christ that we’ll be saved. The resurrection of Christ is our guarantee that eternal life and salvation await us in the end. We serve a living Savior; if Jesus is alive and in glory, then we have the sure hope of our own ultimate salvation.
C. 1 Present-Tense Attitude: Rejoice!
What do the causes of our joy say about our lives? What are the things you get excited about? And what does that say about you?
Notice the locus of Paul’s joy: God Himself! He doesn’t mention what we gain as being the source of our joy; he refers to God Himself, and we rejoice in God through Christ. Because of Christ, of all He is and all He’s done, I have reason for abundant joy in life. It’s not what God does for us; it’s who God is that is the reason for our joy. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” We are misdirected by phony ideas of the afterlife that has us floating on clouds and strumming harps. I don’t know about you, but I think it’d take about 10 minutes in Glory for me to get tired of the harp-strumming! But that’s not the Bible’s picture at all. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit; these will be eternally a source of more joy than our feeble human minds can ever hope to imagine.
This is not a lighthearted, thoughtless joy; it is not the joy of the superficial fool who simply says, “don’t worry; be happy!” This is the joy of the person who has really stared his own depravity in the face, who has understood the ugliness of his own sin, who has come to terms with his ungodliness and been sobered by its monstrous reality. You don’t get to this joy without going through that pain; if you think you’ve come to real joy but haven’t accepted the truth about yourself before Christ, you have arrived at a phony joy in a phony God. But once you’ve seen the despicable nature of your sin, and then come to the realization that God sees you, not as you naturally are, a sinner, but as one who has been reconciled to Himself, standing before Him just as if you’d never sinned even once in your life, then you realize that that’s the kind of God Who is incredibly worthy of being the object of our excitement, our joy.
Put on the wrong set of glasses and everything is distorted, out of focus and hard to deal with. But see the world through the right lens—through the truth of the cross—and we see the world aright.
• Why are Christians tempted to doubt the unconditional nature of God’s love for them?
• How does the cross of Christ fully answer this question?