Christ came to disarm rebellious sinners, but not to weaken them
IIn any polarized situation, the predominant human tendency is to draw a line with oneself and one’s allies on the right side and the opposing side on the wrong side, with very little effort on either side to understand the other. As these positions harden, it becomes nearly impossible to gain the insight needed for a breakthrough.
For the past few years, I have kept a file that I call âThe Line Runs Throughâ. This title is from VÃ¡clav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic and one of those who resisted the Communists and was put in prison for his activities. When he came to power after the “Velvet Revolution,” Havel was openly indulgent towards his former enemies and other collaborators. Some blamed him for it, but he maintained his position. In the Central European regimes of the 1970s and 1980s, Havel said: âThe line [between good and evil] did not pass clearly between “them” and “us”, but through each person. “
The line between good and evil runs through every person. These words are echoed in Paul’s letter to the Romans: âI do not understand my own actions. Because I don’t do what I want, but I do what I hate. â¦ I can want what’s right, but I can’t do it. Because I don’t do the good that I want, but the bad that I don’t want is what I do. But if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but the sin that dwells in me. So I find it a law that when I want to do good, evil is at hand â(7: 15-21, RSV throughout). Is there anyone who doesn’t recognize him?
Human beings are in the grip of more powerful impulses than our desire to do good. Our Lord wants us to know the power of these forces. In the words of Jesus in the gospels, in the writings of Paul, we are repeatedly told in various ways that the powers before us are tireless, malicious, and extremely intelligent. These powers seek nothing less than our destruction. But we are not helpless. The apostle advises us:
Put on all the armor of God, so that you can resist the devil’s tricks. For we do not fight against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the world of this present darkness, against the spiritual armies of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6: 11-12)
The forces we face are overwhelming and the suffering they cause is untold. The Christian must not be mistaken. Jesus wants us to know in advance that the Christian life will be a long struggle against evil, sin and death, especially evil, sin and death that threaten our own being.
It is important that we use the word âweâ when confessing our sins during corporate worship. Human solidarity in bondage to the power of sin is one of the most important concepts for Christians to grasp. At the same time, however, speaking words of confession in community in the church does not always lead us to own its truth deep within our being.
We must all also say (in the words of Thomas Cranmer’s General Confession): “I have strayed and strayed from the ways of God like a lost sheep. I have too followed the devices and desires of mine heart. “It is not that easy for us. We all participate, to one degree or another, in this psychological phenomenon known as denial. Denial, or avoidance, is a way to keep the awareness of sin at bay. We think we can make sin go away by pretending it’s not there; we’re like the little girl who says, âMy eyes are closed so no one can see me.
The line between good and evil runs through every person. The truly tragic person is the one who causes harm and never repents of it, never admits it, even internally. That person is prevented from receiving the gospel promise that God’s grace is retroactive. If not, the promise he made to us would be empty. The power of God is able to fix everything that has happened in the past. Paul rarely uses the word forgiveness. His strongest word is justification. Justification means that we sinners will not only be forgiven, but also justified, which means that we will be made right by the power of God, and all those who have suffered because of our sins will have perfect reparation.
How can this be?
The sacrifice of Jesus our Lord is this: he entered the day of judgment all alone, separated from the Father, taking upon himself the sentence of condemnation, carrying him away from us. It is the gospel. This is the good news of the Christian faith. Neutrality is no longer possible. Satan slashes and burns, but he retreats. His hour will come. There is no more room for self-deception, apologies, denial or evasion, because, as CS Lewis puts it Pure christianity, âFallen man is not just an imperfect creature in need of improvement; it is a rebel who must lay down his arms. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who disarms us.
But listen: we are not disarmed to be powerless. There is “power in the blood of the Lamb.” It is the power of the Word of God that has spoken, and it was so. It is the power that conquered Satan in the wilderness. It is the power that lifted the paralyzed man to his feet. It is the power that spoke through the voice of the Son of God when he said, âPeace! Stay calm ! And the wind and the waves obeyed their Creator. It is the power that sustains every Christian in the struggles of this life.
This power is capable of doing things that we can only dream of. For it is the power of the God in whom Abraham believed, the God whose power “gives life to the dead and calls into existence those things which are not” (Rom. 4:17). The God who judged Abraham to be righteous is the God who justifies sinners. For the righteousness imputed to Abraham was not for himalone but for ours too. God’s promise to sinners today is that âwe who believe on him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead will be countedâ (Rom. 4:24).
Extract of Means of Grace: A Year of Weekly Devotions by Fleming Rutledge, edited by Laura Bardolph Hubers Â© 2021 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.). Reproduced with the permission of the publisher.