Understanding the Gospel
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
We have discovered, basically, three major facts:
Wherever Paul traveled and proclaimed this wonderful message of salvation, his steps were dogged by a group of Jewish believers. They did believe in Christ, but they believed that Paul was preaching an incomplete gospel. They believed that salvation is not by grace alone but that salvation is by grace plus being circumcised, plus keeping the law, plus doing good. Since more than half of the church in Rome was made up of Jews, Paul knew that this would be a problem, so he spends all of Romans 4 defending the doctrine of justification by faith or defending the gospel of grace alone against the threefold arguments of the Judaizers — circumcision, good works, and keeping of the law.
Later we will cover two chapters, Romans 4 and 6, because they have a common unity. One is dealing with legalism and one is dealing with antinomianism, which are two counterfeits of the devil. Let us turn to Romans 5:1-11, where Paul discusses the effects, the fruits, the outcome, of justification by faith. The doctrine of justification by faith is not just a theory. It does something for us. It does three things for us: one is immediate, one is ongoing, and the last one is the ultimate fruit of justification by faith.
We find, in Romans 5, the three blessings of justification by faith:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
That is the immediate fruit of justification by faith. “Having been justified by faith” is in what we call an aorist tense. The gospel involves three things:
The moment we believe, the moment we step in by faith under the umbrella of justification by faith — which is an act which takes place once — immediately, we have peace with God. “We have peace with God” is in the present continuous tense.
When I first joined the church I was told that justification by faith is only the forgiveness of past sins. I don’t know where we got that from. Definitely not from the Bible. There isn’t a single text that teaches that. So when I was baptized in Nairobi, Kenya, I made three promises: no more cinema, no more smoking, and no more alcohol. Three days after I was baptized, I was coming home from my work as an architect. I had lots of money, lots of friends before, but I had lost all my friends. I was very lonely and there on the bulletin of the Capital Theater, which is one of the big cinemas of Nairobi, was displayed one of the great actors of Hollywood, Rock Hudson. Of course, in those days, we had not heard about AIDS.
I wanted to go in, but I remembered my promise three days earlier at my baptism so I said to myself, “No, I promised God not to go in.” I puffed up my willpower and I said, “No,” but my flesh said, “You don’t have to go in; at least enjoy the photographs at the bottom of the bulletin.” So I enjoyed them and my hands went automatically into my pocket; out came the money; I bought the ticket and three days after my baptism I was in the theater.
Well, I enjoyed the film, but, after I enjoyed it, then I felt guilty and my first job was to get out of that theater without any of my new friends seeing me. So I lowered my height as the crowd came out. But now I had added a new sin which was not covered under the umbrella of justification by faith, because I had been told that justification was only the forgiveness of past sins. This was a brand new sin and the Bible says, “One sin and you’re finished.” So now my knees were trembling and I went to my room. On my knees I said, “God, please forgive me. I did not mean what I did,” even though the flesh all the time knew what it did. And I said, “I will not do it again.”
Well, I kept struggling and struggling. I was young and foolish in those days; my wife says now I’m old and foolish but I thank God He uses the foolish things of this world to proclaim the truth. Six months later, I fulfilled a dream I’d had and that was to ride my motorcycle from Nairobi to London. It took me two months. Just before I left, the MV Leader for the Union gave me a magazine called The Youth Instructor. In it was an article about Newbold College and he said to me, “If you ever make it to England (he thought I would never make it), please go to Newbold College. I think God wants you in the ministry.”
I fought against it and finally decided that maybe joining the Ministry would give me victory over sin. So I went to Newbold College for four solid years. Every year we had three weeks of prayer. I made promises; I made resolutions, and sometimes the promises lasted one week and sometimes two weeks and, if I was lucky, three weeks. But all my promises were like ropes of sand and the moment I fell, the peace went with it. Was that only my experience or are you facing the same thing?
I had no success over sin at Newbold College. I graduated with a B.A. in Theology and I decided to come to America to Andrews University. But I forgot coming to Andrews was also coming to “the land of milk and money,” and I discovered the temptations here magnified all the more. It got worse. I discovered root beer floats, which I never heard of before, and all kinds of material things. Then I decided maybe the mission field would solve the problem.
I went to Uganda as a missionary. Five years in Uganda and I was absolutely drained. I felt like a hypocrite telling my members to be good while I was struggling within myself. I nearly gave up the ministry but God stepped in. God is faithful and His faithfulness is not based on our performance. It is based on His unconditional love.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
In God’s own way, He opened my eyes to the gospel through two books. One is Romans, the other one is Galatians, and it is my prayer that you will study both books. They are difficult books but study them; wrestle with them.
Paul is not saying that justification is the forgiveness of past sins. When we step under the umbrella of justification by faith, God no longer looks at us as we are but as we are in His Son Jesus Christ. There we stand perfect; we stand complete; we stand whole in spite of the fact that our Christian life is an up and down struggle.
So the first blessing that we receive through justification by faith is peace with God. Now notice Paul is not saying that justification by faith brings you peace with your neighbor or your pastor or your spouse. There may still be fighting. It is not a horizontal peace that justification by faith brings. It brings peace with God, which is a vertical peace. If we have peace with God, it doesn’t matter how others treat us.
Let me put it in the context of the book of Romans. Paul tells us:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness....
That applies to all of us. We are born under the wrath of God.
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
Then Paul says
But for those who are self-seeking [which is the human trend] and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress [no peace] for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile....
There is no exemption. The human race is living under the wrath of God.
But Christ came to bring peace for us. Jesus said:
1 John 5:12:
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
What does it mean to have peace with God?
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus....
There is no condemnation, not because we are good but because in Christ Jesus the law was fully established. Jesus said, in John 5:24, that the moment you believe the gospel you have already passed from death to life, which means from condemnation to justification.
Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
Having peace with God means you can now come boldly to the throne of God with full confidence.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place [which simply means the very presence of God] by the blood of Jesus [not by your performance but by the blood of Jesus], by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
This is part of the wonderful privilege.
I was raised a very strong Roman Catholic. My uncle is a Jesuit priest; my aunt is a mother superior in a convent. I was an altar boy. When I joined the church at 25, I saw little difference between us and Roman Catholics. Let me give you an example. It is a mortal sin for a Roman Catholic not to attend mass on Sunday. A mortal sin means, if you die without confession, you go to hell. One Sunday, I was going to church; it was a very hot day and I met my friend and he said, “Do you feel like going to church?” I said, “No.” So we both went swimming.
I had a very strict mother, so, before going home, I went to another friend who had been to the mass. I asked him who offered the mass, who sang, what hymns were sung. I got all the details. I had committed a mortal sin so what was one more lie? I went home and my Mother said, “Have you been to church?” I said, “Yes.” “I didn’t see you,” she said. I said, “Well, it was a hot day and so I stayed at the back.” “Who offered the mass?” she asked. “Father O’Neil,” I answered. “What songs were sung?” I gave her the details; she was satisfied. Now, I had two sins.
The only difference between the Catholics and our church is that the we can go straightway on our knees for confession. So I had to wait for Friday. This was Sunday and every day of that week I made sure there were no cars coming at high speed. I was coming home on Wednesday with my brother. Wednesday was a market day and there was an Arab with all his trinkets on the floor, selling them in the market. He had a chrome-plated key ring and a chain that hooked onto his belt. I coveted it; it was nice and glossy and I said to my brother, “I’m going to confession on Friday. One more sin. You keep him busy.” Then I put out my hand, pulled the chain and put it in my pocket.
Well, Friday came and there were two priests taking confession. Priests give you penance and the penance has to do with the heart of the priest — nothing to do with theology. If he is a kind priest, he gives you a short penance; if he is a strict priest, he gives you a long penance. It was very interesting that the old people always went to the strict priest because they enjoyed long penance. The more you did the more you had grace.
The young fellows had a long line waiting for the kind priest so I was on the young side because I had some terrible sins. I confessed my sins to the priest and he said, “You surely were a bad boy this week.” “Yes, father.” “Are you sorry?” he asked. “Sure I’m sorry. I want to go to heaven.” So he gave me the penance: three rosaries (which is the beads). I went there and rattled my rosary at 90 miles per hour and I came back. He said, “You’ve finished already?” I said, “Yes, I pray fast.” It doesn’t matter how fast you pray as long as you say your prayers. Then he lifted up his hand and he said the blessing and I left there with peace in my heart and a key ring in my pocket.
That is not salvation. That is not the gospel. That is a subtle form of legalism. There are too many church members who are legalists at heart. We tell ourselves that we have come out of that and we haven’t if we are still believing that kind of theology. It isn’t Pauline theology. So we have peace with God. If we do not have peace with God, we will not be able to stand the crisis that is coming.
We had lightning at our college in Uganda one day. It hit the transformer of our college and burned the fuse. We had no lights and all the fridges were out of power. The trouble was that we had no telephone. We had to go personally to the power station to get a new fuse. Between the power station — fifteen miles away — and our college was Idi Amin’s camp where his worst soldiers were camped. Nobody wanted to go; they were all afraid to die.
So I volunteered and I said I would take the dean of boys who spoke the language of Uganda. You see, a Christian is free from the fear of death. The gospel frees us from that. I drove; it was a hot day and the windows were down and as we were approaching the camp, I heard the click of a rifle. Those soldiers had automatic guns. If they pulled the trigger, I don’t know how many bullets would come out per second. There was no way I could escape so I braked and stopped.
Three drunken soldiers came up to me. They were ready to shoot us. Of course, the dean of boys was scared as anything and he began to plead with these soldiers in the mother tongue of Uganda. But none of the soldiers spoke the language. They came from an area of Idi Amin’s camp which spoke Swahili and not the language of Uganda. One of the soldiers got so mad he pulled out his rifle and was about to shoot the dean of boys. I said, “God, you’d better take over.”
Immediately, God took over. I grabbed the rifle and I acted as a commander. I said, “Stand at attention!” and he stood at attention. Now I didn’t plan this. This is not situation ethics. This is God taking over. I said, “Don’t you know who I am?” He said, “Sorry,” and all three stood up and I said, “Salute me,” and they saluted me. I said, “Why weren’t you on duty here?” and they apologized. I said, “Look, I am going to the power station and when I come back, if you are not here, you’re finished!”
They promised me they would be there. So I went to the power station and got the fuse. The poor dean of boys didn’t know what to say. His mouth was dropped open. When God is in control He takes over. When I passed them coming back they were there. They had a hard time standing at attention because they were half drunk. They saluted me and I saluted back and I took off. Nobody can touch you if God says, “No.” If a Christian has to die, all that happens to him is that he goes to sleep. I don’t know about you but I enjoy sleeping, especially after a hard day’s work. Yes, we have peace with God.
I spent some time on the first one because too many members have no peace with God. May I make it very clear: it is impossible — and I repeat, it is impossible — to experience genuine sanctification if you have no peace with God because sanctification is not only doing right things. Sanctification is doing right things with the right motive. If there is any self or if you are living the Christian life either out of fear of punishment or desire for reward, such religion is worth nothing. It is not Christianity.
God does not begin with giving us victory over sin. The first thing He does is give us peace with God. As long as we have no peace with God, we are fooling ourselves that we are God’s commandment-keeping people. Commandment-keeping people in the New Testament are not people who are mechanically obeying some rules. Every text in the New Testament that talks about commandment-keeping people is set in the context of love. Love is the fulfillment of the law and it is the kind of love that has no fear. Perfect love must cast out fear.
[Our Lord Jesus Christ] through whom we have gained access [available to us] by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
That is the second blessing of justification by faith. Paul is saying that, when you come under the umbrella of justification by faith, not only do you have peace with God through Jesus Christ but through Him you also have access to God’s grace.
The word grace is used in two ways in the New Testament. The primary meaning is God’s loving disposition for sinners through which He redeemed us in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:7 is a good example of the primary meaning of grace.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace....
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith [grace is made effective through faith] — and this is not from yourselves, it [“it” in the Greek grammar refers to grace] is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.
Remember the primary meaning of grace is God’s loving disposition towards us in which He redeemed us in Christ.
But there is a second meaning of grace and it is in the second meaning that Paul uses the word grace here. We are standing under the umbrella of the grace of God in the sense that the grace of God is available to us. The second meaning of grace is the power, the strength of God available to the Christian so that we may live the life that God wants Christians to live. I want to give you some examples of this because, remember, when God calls you to do something, He does not expect you to depend on your natural resources. He gives you the grace to do what He has called you to do. I am talking from experience. I am by nature an introvert. When I first stood up behind the pulpit my knees shook; I lost everything I was going to say. It is by the grace of God I can stand here and look at the whites of your eyes and not be frightened.
Paul makes a statement:
1 Corinthians 15:9-10:
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But [there’s a but] by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me [that is, His grace made available to me] was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them [“All of them” here in context refers to the other apostles. Paul corrects any misunderstanding that he sounds like a braggart.] — yet [he says not to give him the credit] not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
So here the word grace is used in the sense of God’s power, God’s strength, God’s ability to make us do what we are called to do.
There are many examples in the New Testament especially from Paul. You will find them in Ephesians and other passages but there is a very clear one in 2 Corinthians 12:7. In this verse, Paul reveals a problem in his life. He does not spell out the problem. Some feel it was his eyes; some feel that he had defective speech. Whatever the problem was, it was his opinion that it was hindering his ministry.
2 Corinthians 12:7:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Notice the thorn did not come from God; it came from Satan, but it was allowed by God to keep him humble. God said that, because He was revealing so much He needed to keep him humble. Every time pride poked up its ugly head, he would be buffeted.
2 Corinthians 12:8:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
He said to God, “Please God, remove this thorn. I will be a better worker for You. I will be able to accomplish more for You.” Listen to God’s reply.
2 Corinthians 12:9a:
But he [that is, God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power [the phrase “my power” is synonymous with the word grace] is made perfect in weakness.”
God doesn’t depend on your natural resources. In fact, “the weaker you are the more I will shine through you.” That is God! “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
Now Paul responds to that answer to prayer.
2 Corinthians 12:9b-10:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The power of Christ, My strength, My grace, are all synonymous terms. So Christians not only have peace with God but are standing under the grace of God. We are standing in the position where the grace of God is available to us. So don’t say, “I don’t have the ability to give Bible Studies or to witness.” Nobody is asking you for your ability. When God calls you to do something, He does not call you to do something in your strength but in His strength. Keep that in mind. When we all realize that, the work will be finished. The world will be lightened with His glory.
After three years with Christ, the disciples were still not fit to fulfill the commission He gave them. Yet fifty days later, they were beginning to turn the world upside down. So we are standing in grace. Ephesians 3:7 and 1 Timothy 1:14 say the same thing.
I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.
1 Timothy 1:14:
The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
There are many texts that bring out clearly that grace is also the power of God.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
Because we are under the umbrella of grace and because the grace of God is accessible to us, we “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Sin is a terrible thing. Sin has not only deprived us of heaven and of life but sin has robbed us of the glory of God. We know that from Romans:
...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God....
The wonderful thing about the gospel is that it not only redeems us from death, gives us a ticket to heaven, gives us peace with God but it restores the glory of God in us.
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom [freedom from the flesh]. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory [not our glory, but the glory of the Lord], are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Remember that we have a hope.
When Paul talks about the glory of God in Romans 5:2 [just above], he is talking not only about the glorification when this corruption puts on incorruption. He’s talking of the glory of God in the sense that we will be able to reflect the love of God. If we look at the context, that is what he is discussing. Let’s go step by step. Verses 3 and 4,
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
These “sufferings” are all the pressures and things of life that God will use to refine us.
In Hebrews 12, Paul says that whom God loves He chastises. Then he goes on to explain that our human fathers will chastise us to correct us, to discipline us. They do it out of anger or to vent out their anger but God does it for our good. If we yield to that, we will experience the righteousness of Christ in us, not as a requirement for salvation but so that the world may see the love of God in us.
And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined — and everyone undergoes discipline — then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
When we accept Christ, the only change that takes place in us is in our minds. The Greek word is metanoieo, which in English is called “repentance.” The mind which was anti-God now turns towards God in conversion, but our nature, which the Bible calls the flesh, does not change at all. Our flesh, our nature, is no different than it was before our conversion. That nature will not change until the second coming of Christ. So, when you become a Christian, you have a mind that may delight in the law of God, that may want to do good, that may want to serve God but you have a flesh that says, “No, I want sin.”
This is the struggle of the Christian life. This is why, when we come to Romans 7:24, Paul will say with groaning:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Romans 8:23:“We groan waiting for the redemption of the body,” which will take place at the second coming of Christ. Now here is the problem. When God gives you victory over sin, He does it in contradiction to the desires of the flesh, so your flesh will always suffer when God gives you victory.
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
Listen to what Peter, that great apostle of Christ, says:
1 Peter 4:1a:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.
In Hebrews 2:18, we are told, that He suffered being tempted:
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
And, in Hebrews 5:8-9, we are told that He was made perfect through suffering.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him....
Peter tells us where He suffered. “Since Christ suffered for us in his body, arm yourselves with the same attitude.” So remember victory over the flesh always includes suffering, which is part of the suffering (thlipsis is the Greek word) that saves.
But we know that this is only for a season so we patiently endure it until the coming of Christ. The suffering produces patience and the patience produces the character.
[...We know that suffering produces perseverance;] perseverance, character; and character, hope.
The hope is defined in verse 5.
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.
Now I will come back to this. We need to understand what Paul means when he says the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. He spends Romans 5:6-10 explaining and defining this love of God. This is where most Christians have gone wrong. We have only one word in our English language for love. So when we read in our Bible about the love of God and about the love being poured into our hearts, we project human ideas of love onto God.
The moment we do that, we pervert God’s character, because not only is God’s love and our love different, but the love of God contradicts human love. Paul will bring that out in the context of the gospel because, remember that the ground of our salvation is God’s love. Let me show it to you as we read Romans 5:6-10. Keep note of four words that Paul will use in terms of our redemption and notice that Paul explains the love of God not by comparing it but by contrasting it with human love.
Romans 5:6, 8, 9, and 10 is God’s love. Romans 5:7 is human love and you will discover that they are opposites.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless [when we were helpless or incapable of saving ourselves], Christ died for the ungodly.
He did not die for good people; He did not die for people who were trying to be good; He died for the ungodly, which is another word for wicked people.
Now in contrast, he describes human love.
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.
Now there was a story that was quite common in Paul’s day. It was part of Greek mythology known by most of the people and it is believed that Paul had this in mind. The story is about a man by the name of Admitis. He had been falsely accused and sentenced to death and, once a sentence was passed in Paul’s day, it could not be revoked, but an appeal could be made. His girlfriend Alcestis knew that he was not guilty and that he was a good man. So she went to the judge and said, “I know you can’t change the sentence. The law will not allow it, but I want to die in his place.” Roman law allowed that. The Greeks took this story and said, “This is the epitome of love. Alcestis is willing to die for a good person.”
Paul takes this story and says, “That may be true. There are human beings who have laid down their lives for their loved ones or for their country but even this is very rare.”
In Romans 5:8 he shows complete contrast, because the word “but” means “in complete contrast.”
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
He did not wait for us to be good or try to be good. He didn’t say, “Since you are trying to be good, I will save you.” While we were still sinners; when we were helpless, ungodly, wicked sinners, He saved us.
In Romans 5:10, he adds one more.
For if, while we were God’s enemies...
In the context, he means enemies of God. We were actually God’s enemies; we rebelled against Him; we crucified Him.
For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled [notice, it doesn’t say He just made a provision; we were actually reconciled] to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
Because we are no longer under the wrath of God, we have peace with God under the umbrella of justification by faith.
Human love projected onto God will pervert the gospel. There are three differences between God’s love and human love.
When you step into a classroom, there are some children you take an automatic liking to and there are some children you take an automatic dislike to. They have done nothing wrong; it is something about their looks or their mannerisms that rubs you the wrong way. That’s why when I corrected the papers I would always put a ruler over the name because I didn’t trust myself. There were times when I gave a good grade to a student and then I removed the ruler to see who it was. If it was one of the students that I had a natural dislike for, I would say to myself, “This fellow doesn’t deserve it.” But I would not change the grade; he had earned it.
Human love depends on outward beauty, on goodness. God’s love is the very opposite: it is unconditional, which means it is spontaneous, it is uncaused. God can love our enemies; God can love those that hate Him because His love is unconditional. We read Ephesians 2 before but we read it in the context of our sinful problem. Now we will look at the same passage in the context of God’s love and our redemption. In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul paints a dark, dismal, hopeless picture of mankind:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
But verses 4 and 5 say:
But [in spite of the fact that we are sinners] because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.
In Titus 3:3, Paul explains our sinfulness:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
Then, in verses 4 and 5, he says,
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit....
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
We all know John 3:16: “God so loved the world.” He loved the world that rebelled against Him.
We have only one word in English for love. The Greeks had four words. The word the disciples chose is an obscure word, at least in the noun form, and that word is agape. There is no English word equivalent to the Greek word agape. That’s our problem. And because there is no equivalent word in our English language, we use the word “love” in the New Testament and we project human love onto God. If you project human love onto God, which the Jews did, you will pervert the gospel.
Let me give you two examples. In Matthew 19:16 onwards, a young man came to Jesus and he said, “What good thing must I do to have eternal life?”
Matthew 19:16:In other words, salvation is conditional. I must do something good before I can have salvation. If you project human love onto God, the gospel becomes conditional.
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Another example is in John 9:13 onwards.
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind.
A man was brought to Jesus who was blind from birth. All that Jesus had to do was say to him, “See,” and he would have seen. But Jesus was a radical. He bends down, takes mud, spits on that mud, makes a paste and rubs some onto the eyes of the blind man. He went through all this rigmarole because it was a very important day. It was the Sabbath.
The Pharisees began to argue with themselves saying, “This man cannot be from God because he is breaking the Sabbath.” They were judging God by conditional performance. If he kept the Sabbath, God would answer his prayer. I have a little brochure for young people and children, produced by the Church Ministry Department. I am thankful that they are at last willing to produce such a brochure. I have it in my briefcase — a brochure produced by Church Ministries.
Two writers listed a whole set of quotations from our previous books that had devastated our young people such as: “Johnny, if you are not good, Jesus will not take you to heaven.” “Billy, if you want to go to heaven, you must love your neighbor, your brothers and sisters, just as you love yourself. When God sees this love, then He will come and take you to heaven.” No wonder our young people are leaving the church with no hope and no peace.
We must be honest with ourselves. We have led our young people to believe in the idea that salvation is conditional. Value Genesis proved it. Eighty-two percent of the approximately 2,000 youth who were questioned said, “Our ultimate salvation is based on our conduct.” They learn that from three areas — school, home, and church.
Somehow we must turn our young people around and say, “God’s love is unconditional. While we were helpless; while we were enemies; while we were ungodly and sinners, He reconciled us to Him by the death of His Son.”
In Jeremiah 31:3, talking to the rebellious Jews, God said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
In 1 Corinthians 13:8, it says, “Love (agape) never fails.”
1 Corinthians 13:8a:
Love never fails.
Romans 8:35-39 says that nobody can ever separate you from the love of God which was revealed in Christ.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When I first came to this country, my church members said to me, “You must be educated about the American way of life.” I said, “All right, what are you going to do to me?” There were two things.
They took me to watch a game and I did not know that there are supporters on each side. I was with my church members who all belonged to the same group of supporters. I was sorry because they were only encouraging one side so when the other side scored a basket, I praised them and everybody gave me a dirty look. I said to my members, “What’s wrong? That was a good score.” “You’re in the wrong camp,” they said. Even religiously I have yet to see a young pastor who wants to step down to a small church but, when you get old, you want a small church because you’re tired.
In every circumstance, we want to climb up and up and up. God’s love is self-emptying. In Philippians 2:6-8, we have what we call the kinosis.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Christ was equal with God but He did not cling to that equality. Nobody who reaches the top ever wants to step down. I thank the Lord in this country we have a law that no President can serve for more than two terms. Can you imagine what would happen? Reagan passed retirement age when he reached his second term but the law would not allow him a third term.
Go to countries where they don’t have this law. One leader died at the age of 94. He was senile. Another was deposed at the age of 93. He was also senile. They should have stepped down long before. All the British people are waiting for the queen to step down but the son is now already getting to be an old man. We don’t want to step down but Jesus who was equal with God and did not count it robbery to be equal with God, emptied Himself. He became a slave.
He went down and down and was obedient to the cross which means nothing to us today. But in Christ’s day, it was the most shameful, disgraceful, and painful death that man had ever invented.
2 Corinthians 8:9:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Paul says that He was rich but He became poor that we who are poor may become rich. This is God’s agape.
This love is the ground of our salvation and the devil knew that. He knew that, as long as Christians understood the love of God, fear would be cast out and they would rejoice in the gospel. The very first thing he attacked in the Christian church was the concept of God’s unconditional, changeless, self-emptying love. It was later in the Christian church that he attacked the Sabbath and the state of the dead.
The first time he attacked agape was after the disciples died. The leadership of the church fell into the hands of the Greeks. Remember, the New Testament was written in Greek and the Greek fathers said, “These New Testament writers were Jews except for Luke. They do not know our language.” The highest form of love the Greeks knew was what Plato called eros and that word does not appear even once in the New Testament.
Marcian, who died about 160 A.D., actually tried to substitute the word agape with the word eros, but the other fathers said, “No, you are tinkering with the book of God,” and the battle began. But Origen, 100 years later, actually changed the sublime words of John in 1 John 4:8 where John says, “God is agape” to “God is eros” and the battle intensified.
1 John 4:8:
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
It went on and on until we come to the fourth century and Augustine, the great brilliant scholar of the Roman Catholic church. Augustine realized that he could not substitute agape with eros and so he took the concept of the word eros which means “man seeking after God” which is the foundation of every pagan religion. It meant you have to seek after God. Agape is the opposite — God comes down and saves us where we are, so they are two opposite concepts of love.
Augustine took these two opposite concepts of love and, by using Greek logic, synthesized them, and produced a third kind of love which he called caritas, from which we have our English word “charity,” which is found in the King James Version. Caritas was a mixture of God’s love and human love. The Roman Catholic church accepted this and it became the dominant understanding of God’s love and Christian love in the Dark Ages. Luther tried to break the synthesis but failed. I believe that God has raised up a people to break that synthesis.
But we are still in the trap, because the caritas gospel is a mixture of God’s love and human love which produces a gospel of “I plus Christ.” A very commonly used phrase is, “I must do my best and Christ will make up the difference.” Show me where this is taught in the Bible. This is the Augustinian gospel which we have borrowed and we must throw away. The gospel of Jesus Christ is that while we were helpless, while we were still sinners, ungodly, and enemies of God, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.
The unconditional, self-emptying, changeless love of God made this possible. It is my prayer that you will be rooted and grounded in this love. When you accept the gospel, the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in you. With Him He brings this unconditional love and it is shed abroad horizontally to your neighbors. As Jesus said:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
“By this love shall all men know that you are My disciples,” when you reflect the agape love of Jesus Christ. But first we must realize that it was that agape love that saved us unconditionally and then, out of gratitude and heart appreciation, we will say, “God, please let the world see that love through me.”