Failure and doubt.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
(Romans 6:6, English Standard Version Anglicised)

The phrase “brought to nothing” translates a verb and,

“…means … to make ineffective or inactive, and is used of unproductive land and unfruitful trees. They are still there. They have not been destroyed. But they are barren. When this verb is applied to the devil, to our fallen nature and to death, therefore, we know they have not been completely destroyed… it is not that they have ceased to exist, but their power has been broken…not…abolished…overthrown. (Stott p280, The Cross of Christ)

 

We are here talking about the nature of our justification, how we are made right with God through Christ dying in our place so that we might live by faith. Grace is never set aside and it is our privilege to be witnesses of the grace shown on the cross.

Sin is the antithesis of life, gives birth to violence and ends in death. The wages of sin are death. God’s judgement is that in sin we are separated from life and the sting of death is separation from God. This can only be known by faith in God’s goodness and a revelation of the depth of our sin. Death’s dark veil separates us from knowing what this means as we can only glimpse what is on the other side of death. As we encounter the knowledge of the Holy we find ourselves loved but broken by the evidence of our own sin. We hold the treasure in earthen jars or in today’s language plastic bags.

How is it we receive faith to repent and know life? How is it that in our contrition and poverty of spirit we are enabled to grow in faith?

The cross is the answer. Evil demands death. Evil is violent and merciless. Jesus engages in the battle. As a person, where he encounters evil, it is defeated through faith. He teaches non-violent opposition and self-sacrificial living. He teaches virtue that exceeds the demands of compliance- a heart washed trust in the righteousness and mercy of God. He teaches us to love our enemies and to forgive, over and over again. He calls us to be perfect as God is perfect who in sending the sun and rain to all, is good to all, whether they are good or evil.

God is the judge. God bears the pain of allowing sin to bear fruit for the sake of love. God is not indifferent to suffering but for the sake of love he allows evil to flourish.

There is a spiritual battle in the heavenly realms, a battle in the hearts of men revealed in the life of Jesus as he disarms evil in the world. We live in the realm of the prince of darkness who corrupts all things. He sows evil in all things but through love, forgiveness and healing Jesus fights back. This is an understanding we can only see by faith. Improbable, and hard to believe, but with the eyes of faith, the eyes of Elijah, it is evident that God is in the battle and in Jesus we see how.

God in his holiness is wholly other and in himself he is completely separate from evil. We understand his relationship to evil in human terms as wrath, jealousy and warfare. The cross shows us that he does not do this through violence. The battle gown of Jesus is already covered in blood, the blood of the cross, the saints are in white and Jesus’ sword is in his mouth not his hand.

God sets aside his wrath by forsaking Jesus on the cross and allowing evil to destroy itself in the fire of his love and forgiveness. In the life of Jesus and on the cross we can see how God’s wrath and judgement are propitiated- averted- and we are ransomed from the realm of the prince of darkness, freed to live in the kingdom of light. As evil rages, it is consumed on the cross.

Again, this can only be seen with the eyes of faith and appears absurd and heartless, especially in the light of the collateral damage we see in the suffering of the innocent that God’s forbearance allows.

On the cross, God in Christ allows himself to bear the fullness of the violence of evil and God withdraws in the Father, so that all sin and evil encounters absolute purity in Jesus and is extinguished in the cry of anguish of the Son. All sin and evil is poured on God in Christ through the violence of men and the enmity of the spiritual powers as God in the Father forsakes Jesus and he dies. A way of God’s judgement is revealed throughout the scriptures in him withdrawing his hand and giving humanity up to their sinful ways or the havoc of the spiritual powers humanity has trusted. Is this what we see on the cross? Before he dies, Jesus proclaims, it is finished.

God in his being bridges the huge gulf between his holiness and our sinfulness and shows us love by taking upon himself the judgement against sin. Faith tells us that that the pain in this withdrawal in the ground of God’s being, is beyond our understanding. Faith opens our eyes to the deep love God holds for humanity as God in Christ takes upon himself our sin and caries it, taking it into death. God endures the pain of separation for our sake and we are forgiven.

In victory, God in Christ, sanctifies death and evil is defeated so that we are restored in God. God in Christ takes upon himself the separation of sin in death. By faith we are crucified with Christ and our ransom is paid. True love is revealed as God in Christ takes the cup of wrath for our sake so that we might live in the victory of new life.

Jesus teaches us that true love sacrifices itself for the sake of others. True love does not count itself more worthy than others. Indeed, love is revealed in pouring ourselves out for others, even to death.

Jesus’ victory was in the path of peace, the narrow way of non-violence and love for enemies. Evil was defeated by love. In our poverty of spirit, we inherit the righteousness of God through the cross. The power of sin and death is broken, becomes barren and is fruitless, not because of our own efforts, but because of the cross. Jesus took the judgement of God on sin, in our place, once and for ever. By faith we are crucified with Christ, and death and sin are brought to nothing, so that we are empowered to live our lives in Christ.

But how weak that looks in our lives. We can claim that God is within, dwelling as Father and Son, so that we are in Christ as the Son is in the Father but it doesn’t often look like that. We proclaim we are new creations. This is so audacious and in all honesty, it looks a pitiful and a messy delusion.

Are we fools to have such confidence? Are we totally deceived? Our lives in many ways are a mess and the facts speak of moderate to severe turmoil, occasionally just poor, but rarely moderate to good. Our failures and our inglorious experience of life should rightly lead us to crumble. Why don’t we just give up and say to our doubts-the facts seem to hold, you are right, this is a fiction?

My hope is in the fact that God loves me, and his love looks like the cross. In reading the scriptures I see this has always been so; God pours himself out to dwell with humanity and its crushing sin, staying the hand of judgement.

We hold the perfect within, yet we are only marginally different to those who do not. We look as hopeless as the criminal on the cross. The irony is, we are the criminal on the cross.

Our witness of faith knows the criminal to be God. This is the truth of the grisly cross. The context and circumstances, the mess of our being, holds within itself the knowledge of the Holy. Our trust in God and our resting in him brings peace by grace and not by the effort of works. This looks like defeat, but in dying to ourselves and taking up the cross we find grace upon grace and God in us, our hope of glory.

Peace does at times look like turmoil, but the humility of God means he steps into this turmoil and he comes and lives in the ugliness. We are being transformed by this indwelling faith.

Is this how we read our lives? Is this what the life of Jesus leads us to? The removal of the mask which enables us to depend on God, to trust in him fully, by trusting in who we are, is our salvation. God humbles himself to bear the mask of our lives because of the cross.

Our lives are transformed as we find God in the ugliness, not our own righteousness. The light of God shines and we find our strength in the cross. This is the source of our repentance. We are not justified because we repent, we repent because by faith we are justified by believing in God in Christ crucified.

The mess of the criminal executed on the cross is the person of God, who dies in our place and takes away our sin. Death loses its power and God is glorified in the mess and this is by faith and faith alone. Virtue in the eyes of humanity does not justify us, it is faith. It is by faith that we live to God, freed from the power of sin. So, doubt and failure are part of this faith because in our doubt and failure we need to have the faith not to rebuild what has been torn down. We may be ridiculed, but having faith we will stand and we stand against those who would enslave us once more to works. On the cross God shows us that he, through the Spirit, transforms us and he is pleased to abide in us.

But if, in our endeavour to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

(Galatians 2:17-21, English Standard Version Anglicised)

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