Have you ever wondered how far God’s love for you goes? Is there ever a breaking point for him? If you reject him does he still chase after you?
As a Christian sometimes, I have wondered about my own salvation. How in the world is it possible that I was saved by this holy, perfect, righteous, magnificent creator? Why was I saved? Did I even deserve it?
Questions like these have caused great tension in my mind at times to the point that I began to go crazy. It was as if every time I got an answer, 20 more questions immediately popped up and caused more confusion than clarity about certain issues.
About 7-8 years ago I became a Christian and I was still learning what this term “grace” meant. My youth pastor at the time always had us repeat two definitions after services on Wednesday night. Those two definitions being for the words grace and mercy. Grace was getting what you do not deserve, and mercy was not getting what you do deserve. For Christians this is two of the greatest words ever because at the cross we see grace and mercy at the same time. Mercy in that when we deserved hell (God’s just wrath against sin), God the Father withheld the wrath from us and poured it on to his only son Jesus Christ. Meaning we did not get what we deserved, Christ got what we deserved. And grace shows up at the cross in that because of what Christ did for us on our behalf, Christ exchanged his righteousness for our sin so that we could be put in right relationship with God the Father. Meaning, Christ switched places with us at the cross. He gave us his righteousness and he took our filthiness. He performed the great exchange (2 Corinthians 5:21) and gave us not only his righteousness but also in that righteousness, a relationship with our Father that we would have never been able to earn.
So, the question then becomes: Who received Christ’ righteousness? Who did Christ switch places with? It has to be somebody and if hell exists that means it was not for everybody. Because a just judge does not punish two people for the same crime that only one committed. So, who is this great exchange happening with? We have to figure this out not on mere speculation but by literally burying ourselves in the pages of scripture where we actually see this chosen group of people constantly show up. It just becomes a matter of whether we are willing to trust God in his goodness and in his plan to see it.
Two Mirrors Reflecting God’s Goodness
After the fall, everything was broken. The mirror reflecting God’s glory has now been shattered and somehow it has to be put back together. The pieces need to be reconciled back to the frame. Where though will those pieces of glass on the floor end up. See, a part of the mirror reflected God’s goodness in one way while the other side of the glass reflected his goodness in another way. Neither side of the glass was wrong or worse than the other because they both reflected who God is. In God’s wisdom he had created this mirror that reflected two sides of his character that both glorify him as who he is.
We know God is a just judge who hates sin. He hates that his creation groans. He is understanding of the fact that his creation also broke his law. His law had punishment from the beginning if you remember the conversation in Genesis 2:15-17. It goes:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Death would be the consequence of Adam’s sin if he chose to break God’s law. No one would say that when Genesis 3 comes into play that Adam did not deserve to die. The key thing though is that Adam did not die the way we expected. Adam died after breaking the law by being spiritually dead. He was lifeless and now at enmity with God. Sin was ever present with Adam now and since sinners deserve God’s wrath so then Adam deserved God’s wrath. God’s wrath against sin is not a bad thing, it is actually a good thing despite what some people believe. Hell is not a place without God or a place where God is not glorified, Hell is the place where God is glorified in his justice, much like how the judge in a courtroom is glorified when he rightly condemns a murderer to a life sentence/death penalty. Is the judgement a little hard to grasp for a bystander? Yes, but is it deserved? Yes. Hell is the deserved place for sinners to go to get what they deserve in order that God might still be glorified in his just character. The important thing to pull out of this little section is that God is going to be glorified end of the day. The fall broke a lot but it was not as if God was scrambling to put the pieces back together. The effects of the fall on mankind, those effects being that man is now guilty before God, glorifies God by highlighting his justice. What man had intended for evil, God intended for good. He had a plan. If God did not respond to the fall the way he did but instead just overlooked it, then he would be deceitful. If God acted like everything was normal he not only would be lying to himself but also to Adam and his lineage because Adam noticed something was off after he ate the fruit. Things were not the same. So if God did not create hell as a the punishment against man for the sins they have committed then we would not understand justice and therefore God would not be just. Man would be a criminal who got away with what he did because the judge did not play his role well.
Now there was that other side though. It is not as though God has dual personalities but rather like a father who has children. He loves his children, he protects his children, but he also has to discipline his children.
Not everyone is God’s child though and so the question comes into play: who are God’s children and how do they reflect who God is?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Paul sets this epistle up by starting off in an interesting way. Ephesians from my point of view is a letter about God’s saving work from start to finish. Chapter one sets you up for the story, chapter 2 shows it’s progression in the regenerating of a believer’s heart, and the rest of the chapters explains what happens after we are born again. Chapter one though is what we are looking at right now and what you see is like an opening scene of a good movie. Paul explains the Trinity’s role in our salvation. Have you ever asked yourself what did God the Father do in our salvation? Jesus died for us, the Spirit lives in us, so what did the Father do? For me this has been one of the more comforting truths in the Christian faith that I’ve came across.
God the Father according the passage above, chose “us” (Christians) before the foundation of the world in order that we would be clean (holy and blameless) before him (God the Father: The Judge). This is a nice truth, but we then keep asking questions so how in the world did God cause this to happen? Did he look into the future and see who would choose him so that he could return the favor? By no means, God is the initiator. There was something God had between him and his chosen people before the foundation of the world that caused God to choose us (Christians). Remember those old stories in the Bible before the Gospels? There was constantly this theme of God saving his people from themselves. Those people were Israel. When the gospels come in though, Jesus talks about Israel but corrects the people of Israel of their misinterpretation of who Israel is. So, who is Israel?
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
Israel (God’s chosen people) were not the physical descendants of Abraham, they were not the physical tribe of Israelites. This is fascinating because what that means is this mystery of who Israel is gets deeper. If it’s not a physical descendent but instead the “children of the promise” we have to understand who the children of promise are because those people are that other side of the mirror. They are not reflecting God’s justice but instead something else that represents the goodness of God.
For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”
Abraham was God’s chosen man to make a covenant with. Abraham though was married to Sarai and she was not able to conceive of a child, yet God had a made a promise in Genesis that through Abraham God would establish his covenant people(Genesis 15:1-6). His chosen people. Abraham missed the point though, he got sidetracked and like the Jews in Jesus’ day believed that it was a physical descendant that was going to cause this plan to start rolling. So, Abraham had a child with Sarai’s servant girl(Genesis 16:1-4), what this did was show us our brokenness in that we miss the point. This chosen people was going to come out of a promise God made with Abraham. God was going to provide and so even though Abraham had a child with another woman physically, God still kept his promise and provided a child(physically) through Abraham and Sarai’s relationship. God provided the child, not Abraham. It was not going to be by Abraham’s work that God’s elect would be established, it would by God’s grace on Abraham.
The question comes up though all the time to me. Who made the cut? Why did God choose to save Israel (remember I am not talking about the physical descendants of Israel)?
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Paul in Romans explains why God chose his children whom he adopted into his family (remember we were enemies of God first). He chose those whom he foreknew. Foreknew though is not knowing beforehand what will take place. God is the master orchestrator. He tells the seas when to rise up and crash on land, he calls the birds to fly in a certain direction. He calls Lazarus to life and all throughout the Bible we see God’s sovereign hand over his children (Israel). He provides, he guides, and he causes.
God’s foreknowledge though of who you are is deeper than just knowing what you will do. There is this intimate bond, Christ on the cross knew who he was there for. He knew he was dying for somebody. He died for those whom the Father foreknew. When it comes to the foreknowledge of God though it is important to understand what is meant by the word. John Murray writes:
Many times in Scripture ‘know’ has a pregnant meaning which goes beyond that of mere cognition. It is used in a sense practically synonymous with ‘love,’ to set regard upon, to know with particular interest, delight, affection, and action. It means ‘whom he set regard upon’ or ‘who he knew from eternity with distinguishing affection and delight’ and is virtually equivalent to ‘whom he foreloved.’”
So what we learn here is that foreknew is a word used to convey a deep, intimate, love that spreads back into eternity. So for the Christian who was once God’s enemy, this means that God in eternity past, before the creation of the world in Genesis, God had this distinguished love for you that he then chose you out of that love to send his son as a propitiation for your sins in order that you my know him. God wanting you was not out of anything you did. There was no good or bad scale he weighed you on. If he did, everyone would break the scale because of how depraved we are yet God loved us even though we were these broken creatures in need of his wrath.
As we continue to look at Romans 9 we see this beautiful picture of a conversation happening. If you have ever wrestled with your faith, then the conversation you had with God was probably a lot like Romans 9. Every answer you get, another question comes. The beautiful answer we get from God about what he saw in us, his elect, that he wanted us so bad that he was willing to send his only son to save us is the most basic answer that we would be able to understand and yet in it is full of mystery.
10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
There was nothing in us, it was strictly out of God’s love for his children that he (the father) chose us in him (Christ) to be his adopted sons and daughters. That is a beautiful thing. It is a beautiful thing that this perfect, amazing, loving, caring, magnificent God would want anything to do with a sinner like me. He not only died for me, but he chose me before the foundation of the world to be his son. As Romans 9:15-16 says: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
I am wanted even though I am broken, messed up, depraved, weak and flawed. God knows all of that and he chose me first. As 1 John 4:19 says: “We love because he first loved us.”
The Five I Am Statements of the Gospel
This is the second post of a series of posts coming up. In all there will be five posts all connected to one another breaking down the Gospel to it’s deepest levels. Hope you enjoy and that you stick along for the journey.
By: Austin Neil Gregory