Grace is at the heart of the Christian message. The Good News of the Gospel is, at its core, about the death of Jesus Christ as a substitute for you and me. He died in our place. He died the death that we deserved. He bore the punishment that was justly ours. For everyone who believes in Him, Christ took the wrath of God on their behalf. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.” (NIV) God’s love is different than natural human love. God loved us even when we were unlovable.
When Jesus died, He died for the ungodly, for sinners, and for His enemies. Paul pinpoints the depth of this love when he writes in Romans 5:7, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NIV) The death of Christ was effective in its purpose. And its goal was not just to purchase the possibility of salvation. It was to claim those who believe in Him. John 6:37-39 says, “All the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day.” (NIV)
The context of the Gospel message is not only about our salvation; the context of the Good News is the supremacy of Christ and the glory of God. Yes, the story is personal, but it is also cosmic. It is important for us to emphasize that not only is there a personal side to the Gospel, there is a social side. The full picture here is that Christ will be set up as the head in all things. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 1:9-10: “He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (NIV) Salvation is not merely a subjective experience, a nice feeling, or peace, or whatever it is we are seeking. That is part of it; but there is something more important, namely that the whole universe is involved. We must give the people a conception of this, of the scope and the bounds, and the greatness of the Gospel in this all-inclusive aspect.
Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) In other words, the entire universe is involved. What a wonderful thing to look forward to considering the depth of the sufferings we see in the world today. Paul tells us, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:18-22, NIV)
It’s truly amazing to see the comprehensive theme of Christ’s redemption. We all witness the terrible things that go wrong in the world. We know hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis, tornados, horrific wildfires, and other natural disasters can be very bad. We watch endless news reels of terrorist bombings, domestic violence, school shootings, murders, sexual assault, government corruption. In times of such troubles, we may wring our hands and wonder whose sin brought it about. It is easy to say, “Not me. I’m a fairly good person. It must be the gays or the liberals or the commies. Maybe the drug dealers and prostitutes.” We need a scapegoat. That’s human nature. But we don’t stop to consider that all this horror and disaster is directly related to fallenness. The Fall of man that is on the heads of all of us. Paul said all of creation has been subjected to futility, which means creation has been knocked down from where it was supposed to be to where it is now.
In Romans 8 all of creation groans; it’s in the pains of childbirth. I’ve been in the delivery room for the birth of my sons. I experienced the pains only in a secondary fashion. I’ve been in the room to see it, but I have not felt it firsthand. What I can reasonably deduce is that if the pain of childbirth is significant enough that it turns a would-be mother’s idea of, “Yeah, I love this,” into “I don’t want to feel this happening. Give me an epidural now,” it’s got to be pretty heavy.
Our world is longing for and in pain about what it’s supposed to be. The world isn’t capable of feeling pain, of course. Let’s not take a pantheistic notion of the universe being divine or having a personality. The way Paul develops the metaphor in Romans 8 follows a biblical thread where mountains sing and trees clap. Isaiah 55:12 says, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (NIV) When the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke his disciples, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (RSV) The very natural world itself is responding to the introduction of sin into the world. The world feels.
As we examine what creation is, in all its diversity and wonder, and we ponder how this creation came to be, we must remember that all the complexity and beauty in the universe is not meant to terminate on itself but to trace its origin to the Creator. We can examine the what of creation and grasp to some degree the how, but the why still remains. God created the universe. What He created was good. We should be driven to worship Him as a result of all He has provided. It’s the same when we love a meal at a restaurant. We don’t admire the food, but the creator of the food. The goodness of creation is designed not to declare itself, but to act as a signpost pointing heavenward. This is why Paul can say, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Human beings seem to be created for worship. From sports fanaticism, to obsession with celebrities, to all the other strange sorts of voyeurisms now commonplace in our culture, we prove that we were created to marvel at something beyond ourselves, desire it, like it with zeal, and love it with affection. Our musings, our appetites, and our behaviors are always oriented around something, which means we are always worshipping or attributing worth to something. If it’s not God, we are engaging in idolatry. Regardless, we cannot simply turn the worship switch in our hearts off. Any time we orient our heart around something, we are worshipping that thing. The aim of Scripture is to direct our worship to where it belongs: to the one true God of the universe. The heavens do not declare the glory of themselves. The angels do not sing of their own perpetual beauty and majesty, but rather the glory of God.
We are meant to worship, to give glory to something greater than ourselves. We should therefore interact with the earth in such a way that our hearts and minds are being stirred by its beauty, gracious to God for all He’s given. God’s chief concern is for his own glory. The main point of human life must be regard for God’s glory. That’s the purpose of of God’s creation.
Justification, propitiation, and redemption – all benefits of Christ’s death – have one sole purpose: reconciliation. Jesus’ death enables us to have a joy-filled relationship with God, which is the highest good of the cross. Paul writes, “Once you were alienated from God, and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” (NIV) It works the same way in our daily relationships with other people. When we sin, not only do we hurt the person we sinned against, we harm the relationship. It might never be the same again, especially without our seeking forgiveness. And from my experience, when we hurt the same people again and again, forgiveness is much harder to come by. Thankfully, it is not the same with our relationship with God. We enter this sinful world, and as a result, we’re alienated from God. Only forgiveness – forgiveness which was purchased at the cross – can heal the relationship so that we are able to enjoy fellowship with God.