John MacArthur, the pastor from Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and radio personality of Grace To You, a syndicated Christian teaching program, offers some advice in his newest of 150 books, The Gospel According to God. He remarks that there are some people who take sin lightly — it’s kind of a trendy thing today. There are lots of churches and lots of churchgoers who are never really confronted by the wretchedness of their own hearts and the sinfulness of their own sin.
We sing very lovely and kind songs in worship and speak often of God’s immeasurable grace. We share about what we believe about God and His plans for the world; we talk about the details of whether the word, “love” is agape, phileo or storge; we smile and pat each other on the back as we tell each other, “Oh, we’re all doing fine.” This makes our times together in church very pleasant, but I wonder if we often sacrifice an important part of the Gospel message.
Our message seems to be primarily intellectual. If you understand and believe you can be all right in God’s eyes. However, try driving 70mph in a 35mph section of road and try explaining to the officer that you “believe” that the speed limit is 35!
In the past century (no, I’m not quite that old! 😉) the good news of salvation was often presented as a fire insurance policy. Get saved or go to hell; not as an invective but simply as a statement of what would happen. Most pulpit ministers never seemed to notice that Heaven and salvation are mentioned many more times in the Bible than hell or condemnation. Taken in total, the Bible really is Good News!
But missing from the current trend of American churches is a call to repentance based on how terrible our sins are in God’s eyes. I find it interesting how often the term “grace” appears associated to MacArthur’s name. Yet he proposes in his latest book that there are limits to that grace, based on our understanding of what the “good news” for us cost Him. In it he describes the literature of Isaiah 53 in detail, showing how this prophecy some 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem described the life and purpose of Jesus coming to the world, to save sinners from the penalty of their sin.
There is this dichotomy in his thesis: God’s grace sent Jesus to die for our sins (the Gospel), but it is our sins that nailed Jesus to the cross (the reason God had to give us grace!). He goes on to say we must not take sin lightly, because it was our sin that put Christ on the cross. How can we treat lightly what he suffered? To look at Jesus on the cross is to understand just what God thinks of our sin, and it is not pretty.
“He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised or crushed for our iniquities. The divine chastening, the wrath of God, was put on him for our well-being. All we, like sheep, have gone astray, but God has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6) How can that be a light thing?” MacArthur asks. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ attempted to depict the suffering of Jesus from just prior to His crucifixion all the way through to His death and resurrection. Several details were historically incorrect, but one thing was clear: Jesus suffered miserably and horribly at the hands of men for whom He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
As Protestants we usually hang empty crosses in our churches and sometimes I think we miss something the Roman Catholics understand when they have icons of Jesus still there. They see a suffering savior who went through hell to give us Heaven. Too often we gloss over the “hell” he went through and jump as fast as we can to “the joy that was set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) We do not like to spend too much time on His “enduring the cross, scorning its shame,” because that is not the point of our lives. True, He created us for Joy, not sorrow; He created us for Peace, not war; He created us for Love, not disinterest; He created us for Life, not death.
But He accomplished our re-creation by going through that hell, and sometimes He guides us through some of it so that we can identify with Him.
“Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus
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! (Philippians 2:5-8)
Otherwise, we might estimate His sacrifice, suffering and death were no big deal. After all, we think, He is God and can handle it; it must not have been that bad for Him. But Jesus was fully man as well, a mystery we cannot get our minds completely around, but a truth that the Bible teaches clearly. And when you see Him on the cross, “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isaiah 52:14), you have to wonder how He could have endured such pain and torture. Why would He go through all that if He could call 10,000 angels to set Himself free (Matthew 26:53)?
It was because of your sin. It was because of my sin. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
“If you look at the cross, you will understand the sinfulness of sin. You cannot make light of it when you see it in that fashion.” John MacArthur