Serious about saving (Feb 28, 2021)
Serious about saving
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When an engineer tests a machine they’ve built, they push it until it fails. They have it undergo all kinds of stress tests under extreme loads in adverse conditions. They do this to look for specific points of failure – specific weaknesses. When they find these points of failure, or weaknesses, what do they do? Do they simply shake their heads in disappointment, document the failure, and leave it at that? No. They go to that specific point of failure and strengthen it, improve it, make it better. They actually look for failure and expect it, so that they can make the best machine, device, or structure possible. Pinpointing failures, helps make it stronger.
Sometimes, however, failures are just so catastrophic or troublesome that there’s no hope of tweaking it, no way to make it better. So, they have to scrap the whole project and start all over again. Start with something completely new. That was the case with Adam and Eve when they fell into sin. They were created perfect and pure! But once sin was introduced, that nature was permanently corrupted in a deep way. Sin isn’t just like a bag of guilt that you can easily take off. It’s not like dirt on the skin you can easily wash off. It’s a corruption of your very nature. It’s like having impurities get into the metal alloy or concrete structure you are working with. It makes them brittle, weak, and certain of failure. The only thing to do is scrap the piece and start fresh. But God had already established a loving relationship with Adam and Eve – with humanity, the crown of his creation. And since God is love, there would be no scrapping humanity. He would not destroy his creation, even though it was now inherently corrupt. Instead, God came up with a different plan.
This plan involved purifying humanity from within. Completely removing the weakness, the imperfection, the corruption of sin. And restoring his creation to its original state. So Jesus came. The Bible says, he came “at just the right time” (Rm 5:6). Not according to our timetable. Not in following any human choosing or planning, but according to God’s choosing and his timetable. He sees and knows all history like a timeline in a history book. And he pinpointed the exact right time to come.
Surprisingly, that time was “while we were still powerless” and “ungodly” (Rm 5:6). Think about what those words are saying about you and me – about the human condition. We were “powerless”. Even if we wanted to help ourselves, there was no way for us to do it. Less than that, actually. Even if we just wanted him to come and save us, we were powerless to do anything to bring that about. And yet he came for us on his own. And “ungodly,” we didn’t have any of the qualities of God. God is love. God is truth. God is patient and merciful. We, corrupted by sin, were none of those things. Yes, you might say you are patient and loving. You might say you are truthful and merciful. But are you those things 100% of the time as God is? Can you do them to the degree that God does?
Paul gives the illustration: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person – that is, a “beneficial person” – someone might possibly dare to die” (Rm 5:7). It is so rare that someone would give up their life in place of another who is “righteous” – an upstanding citizen. Even for a “good person,” a beneficial person – someone who’s life can benefit a great number of people – even then very rarely will someone dare to die! But what about for a stranger? What about for a criminal? What about for an enemy? Would you trade places with one who is fully deserving, and die in their place? “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Rm 5:10).
We don’t want to admit it. Logically it seems a bit extreme. But that’s what our sin makes us. It makes us ungodly. Even one moment of hate – of not showing love – fails to measure up to God’s pure and perfect love. Even one lie corrupts the purity of God’s truth. And I think it’s fair to assume that you and I have been unloving far more than once. I think it’s fair to assume that you and I have been untruthful far more than once. So because of the corruption of sin, we are ungodly. We are enemies of God. We are condemned. And before Christ stepped in to intervene – to bring us to faith – we are powerless and unwilling to change that.
And yet, Jesus came anyway. He came down to meet us. He didn’t expect us to rise up to meet him. We couldn’t. We wouldn’t. And he knew that. Yet, even though you and I didn’t have any kind of a relationship with him before he came, before he stepped in to save, he had a relationship with you. He created you. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He loves you so much, and despite your sinful corruption – despite your failures and weaknesses – he would not scrap you. Instead, he stepped in to save you.
So how do you save something that is inherently corrupt? You purify it from within. That’s why Christ left his throne in heaven and took on human flesh. That’s why he willingly “suffered many things.” That’s why he allowed himself to be “rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law” and allowed himself to be killed (Mk 8:31). That’s why he suffered under the full wrath of God for every sin, for every human being, for all time. If you want to know that God loves you, don’t simply look for it in the good that he gives you. Don’t measure his love by how he blesses you. Do you want to know if God loves you? How much he loves you? Then look at what he was willing to do for you. Look at the impurity and ungodliness he absorbed for you. He took your sins to the cross. He suffered hell in your place. He purified humanity by becoming human for us. All this, because he loves you, because he wants a relationship with you, because he would not scrap you despite your flaws and failures. And since we couldn’t come to him, he came to us. He came for you. See how serious God is. Jesus suffered for your salvation! “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Is 53:4-5). We are healed. We are purified. You are at peace with God.
So, if God purified us from within and removed sin – the reason for our suffering – why do we still suffer? Why does Jesus ask us to “take up our cross and follow him” (Mk 8:34)? What does Paul mean, how can we “glory in our sufferings” (Rm 5:3)?
There’s really two reasons why we still suffer, even though Jesus has already come and brought about salvation. Well, three really. The first, and the one I won’t spend too much time on, is that when humanity fell into sin, we weren’t the only ones corrupted by sin entering the world. All of creation has been affected, corrupted, by sin. God said to Eve, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe” (Gen 3:16). God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you… It will produce thorns and thistles for you” (Gen 3:17-18). Romans 8 elaborates on that saying creation was subject to bondage and decay. Simply put, this world is not what it was meant to be when God created it. It too is corrupted by sin. So we look forward to the Last Day when God will destroy this corrupted creation and create a new heavens and a new earth.
The second reason why we still suffer is that Satan constantly works to tear you away from your loving Savior – to make you doubt your status as God’s sons and daughters in which you now stand. And there’s only one way to get him to let up on the pressure. Do you know what that one way is? Don’t care about your status before God. Don’t care about your faith. Don’t worship God. Don’t follow Jesus. Don’t pray to him. Don’t carve out any time for him. Do this, and Satan will leave you alone. Because Satan works hardest on those who belong to Jesus. All the rest, he doesn’t care, he’s already got them under the same condemnation as him. But he works tirelessly, relentlessly, trying to tear away God’s children. And so you will suffer. But that’s why we can “glory in our sufferings” (Rm 5:3). We can boast in them! Because if we suffer attacks from Satan, that means we are not his! That means we belong to Jesus.
The third and final reason why we still suffer is because God is testing us. And I know we often think of tests as these cruel things given by those in authority over us simply to make us writhe and squirm with discomfort. But that’s not what a test is. That’s not at all why God tests you. God tests you to make you stronger. More accurately, so that you can see how strong you are when you rely on him. Think of the tests we talked about at the beginning. Think of the tests that engineers use to strengthen and perfect their machines, their devices, their structures. They are looking for weaknesses so that they can strengthen them. They are looking for failures so that they can perfect them. They do this, because they have not scrapped their project.
God has not scrapped you. I have failures. I have weaknesses. And these weaknesses and failures often reveal themselves when I am put under load, when I am stressed, when I am tested. And when the testing finally subsides, if I break and nothing is changed, I will fail again. I will fall into sin. I will be unloving. I will be harsh. But if I break under load and I learn to go to Jesus with my weaknesses and go to him when I fail, then he will make me stronger. God often uses suffering so that we turn to him for strength. So, “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rm 5:3-5).
So do not fear testing. Do not think that God has abandoned you. Our sufferings cause us to grow in faith and grow in hope when they cause us to turn to God for help. Because God’s Word says loud and clear how he feels about you. God is serious about you. Jesus suffered for your salvation. And although your salvation means you will suffer on earth, it also confirms your status as God’s children. In Christ, your salvation is an accomplished fact. That being true, you can view suffering as your Savior meticulously, lovingly, pinpointing weaknesses so that we can go to him to be strengthened. So that he can build you up. As you are tested this next week or month, whatever the test, ask the question, “What weaknesses is this revealing? How can God strengthen me through this?” Then go to God for that strength. This is why God says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Is 41:10).