The First Deception

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

I had a tough time picking a title for this post. Although I am presenting an account of the first deception in the Bible, there is also an amazing correlation between the punishment God administered for that deception—which is also the first sin—and the torture and torment suffered by Christ on the cross. A lot of deception occurs in Genesis. The Latin root for the word “deception” is decipere, which means to “ensnare.” Accordingly, this indicates man’s tendency to be caught up or carried away.

Deception can be found from Genesis to Revelation. Abraham deceived when he stated that Sarah was his sister. Isaac also stated that his wife was a sibling. Joseph’s brothers informed their father that Joseph had been killed by wild beasts when, in fact, they had thrown him into a pit and left him. Delilah deceived Samson. Herod deceived his men when he asked them to locate the baby Jesus so he might go worship him when he intended to kill him. Paul noted in Romans 3:13 that a man’s tongue practices deceit. The prophet Jeremiah said the heart is “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV). Second Timothy 3:13 tells us that evildoers and imposters go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

How It All Started

Satan beset our first parents, Adam and Eve, drawing them into sin. The temptation proved fatal for them and for the unregenerate man. The tempter was Satan, in the form of a serpent, who slithered in and accosted Eve while she walking near the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil alone. This was intentional, as temptation is difficult to resist when we’re faced with it unaccompanied. Satan’s plan was to drive a wedge between our first parents and God. Satan tempted Eve, that by her he might draw Adam into disobedience. Simply, it is the devil’s practice to send temptation through people we do not suspect and that have the most influence over us.

We know Satan is a liar and a murderer and a scoffer from the beginning (John 8:43-45). He likes to teach men first to doubt, and then to deny. This leaves us rather vulnerable to practice sin. He promises advantages from our disobedience while downplaying the punishment. In fact, he tempts us to seek elevation to a new office or authority—to be like gods. He tempted Adam and Eve with the same desire so he might ruin them as he’d been ruined. Satan ruined himself by seeking to be like God; therefore, he sought to infect our first parents with the desire to know as God knows. He continues today to bring as many of us he can along with him in his eventual doom into the pit of Hell. Simply put, misery loves company.

The Steps of Transgression

Let’s look at the steps of transgression when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. You should note this was a trending down toward the pit, not up toward heaven and eternal fellowship with God.

  1. Eve first saw. Much of our sin comes in through the eyes. We need to avoid focusing on or gazing at that which we are in danger of lusting after (see Matthew 5:28).
  2. Eve then took. It is one thing to look, but once we reach out and take that which we’ve lusted after we have reached a decision that is quite difficult to undo. Satan can tempt us, but he has no power to force us to sin, whether believer or unbeliever.
  3. Eve did eat. When she looked, perhaps she did not intend to take; or when she took, not to eat, but it ended with that. It is wise to stop the first motions of sin and to turn away before it’s too late and we end up in full-blown disobedience.
  4. Eve gave it also to her husband. Those that have done wrong are often willing to draw others in with them to do the same. This is quite prevalent in active addiction where relapse often breeds company.
  5. Adam did eat. In neglecting the Tree of Life, of which he was allowed to eat, he ate from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam chose contempt for God, disobeying God and attempting to have that which God did not see fit to provide for him. Adam chose being like God rather than enjoying fellowship with God. He would have what he wanted when he wanted it rather than wait on God.

Adam’s sin was disobedience. Romans 5:19 says, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (NIV). Interestingly, Adam had no sin nature within him in the Garden, but he had a free will. Falling to temptation, he withdrew from posterity and paradise into sin and ruin. It was too late when Adam and Eve realized the error of disobeying God. They saw the happiness and joy from which they fell, and the misery they would now experience. They realized that a loving God had provided them with everything they needed through grace and favor. That was all gone now. The contrast must have been overwhelming!

God’s Reaction to the Disobedience of Adam and Eve

In Genesis 3:8-10, we learn that Adam and Eve attempted to hide from God. This is the first incident of loss of fellowship with the Father due to unholiness. God cried out, “Where are you?” (verse 8). I truly believe this was not a question of location. God knew where they were. He is, after all, omniscient. Instead, I believe He meant for Adam and Eve to examine that they were now in a bad place, hiding and afraid to approach God as He was walking in the Garden in the cool of the day. Is this not the first examination of one’s “position” in God as a result of practicing sin?

Where were they? In the midst of broken fellowship with God. Indeed, they were now in bondage to Satan and on the road to certain ruin. They would have wandered endlessly without end, cut of from the sunlight of the Spirit, lost forever, had the good Shepherd not sought them. God always leaves the flock to look for the lost sheep. Bethel Music has produced an amazing song titled Reckless Love. The chorus includes the following lines:

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights til I’m found, leaves the 99

The message of Genesis 3:8-10 is that as sinners we must consider where we are versus where God intends us to be, and to realize that no matter what we do we will not be content until we return to God. However, like Adam, we have reason to fear God when we’ve been disobedient. This is true for two basic reasons: (i) we are ashamed for our offense; and (ii) we are fearful of the punishment or correction. Fortunately, as believers we are saints, covered in the righteousness of Christ. Adam and Eve lacked such a covering when they fell from grace and were expelled from the Garden.

Although God did not leave Adam and Eve without a “covering,” when He made clothing He made it warm and strong—in other words, adequate—but he did not clothe them in long flowing robes of scarlet. Instead, he made coats of animal skin. This clothing was coarse and very plain. It is fascinating to recognize the foreshadowing of such a “covering” for our unrighteousness. When God killed an animal to fabricate clothing for Adam and Eve, blood was spilled. There is, therefore, no covering for sin without the shedding of blood. Let’s look at the clothing Adam and Eve attempted to make for themselves. They concocted a “garment” from fig leaves, but it was too narrow to hide their nakedness. This is like the “rags” of our own righteousness. Isaiah 64:6 tells us, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (NIV). God made an adequate covering for Adam and Eve that serves as a precursor to our putting on the righteousness of Christ!

So God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden. He said they could “no longer occupy” the space they were in. This is because they were now unclean, mired by the sin of disobedience. Unrighteous at best. Doomed to toil and suffer and die at worst. God knew they’d be unwilling to leave this garden paradise, so He had to chase them out and placed cherubim as guards to the entrance. Why? Because Adam and Eve were no longer eligible to eat from the Tree of Life. That’s pretty heavy. Oh, but it gets heavier. God essentially banned all of mankind from entering the Garden of Eden. Man had fallen from grace. But here’s what this amazing grace looks like. Adam and Eve were not killed for their disobedience. Instead, they were sentenced to live under harsh conditions, to a place of toil, not to a place of torment.

A Ripple Effect

Unfortunately, the place where the Tree of Life was situated was now closed to all mankind. Adam and Eve had been shut out from the privileges of their state of innocence, yet they were not left in a place of despair with no way out. God had planned (since before the foundation of the universe) for a method of achieving salvation. It would, of course, involve the shedding of blood at Calvary. In the meantime, our first parents fell under a covenant of works. The original covenant had been broken by sin. The curse for disobedience was in full force. Man is without hope if he is judged by the Adamic Covenant, for we simply cannot obey the Law to the letter. God showed this to Adam and Eve not to discourage them or drive them into despair, but to quicken them to look for life and happiness and peace through the Promised Seed, by whom a new and everlasting covenant—an unconditional covenant wherein salvation need not be earned through works—would open the door to a better way into the holy presence of God.

We can learn from this first incident of deception and disobedience what dishonor and trouble sin will bring into our lives. It brings mischief wherever it goes, destroying our joy and comfort. Eventually, especially with habitual sin, we will feel shame and regret. This can cause us to end up forgetting our role and begin to experience contempt for God, as if God tempts man. James 1:13 says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (NIV). Verse 14 reminds us that we are tempted when we’re dragged away from God and enticed by our own evil desires.

Not surprisingly,  when we commit deception we are more concerned with getting caught by our fellow man, and care to restore our “reputation” in this life rather than desiring to be forgiven and pardoned by God. We forget to fear the Lord. Much of our striving to cover our sins and offenses is in vain and typically frivolous. This is akin to Adam and Eve attempting to cover their nakedness (indeed, the fallout of their disobedience was shame) with fig leaves. Similarly, we all try to cover up our misdeeds and transgressions as Adam and Eve did in the Garden. Before they sinned, they would have welcomed God’s presence and would not have felt embarrassed to be naked before Him. No doubt, having fallen, they became terrified and ashamed. This is not what the serpent promised. He said they’d be like God, knowing what He knows.

Correlation Between the Wages of Sin in Genesis and the Crucifixion

We know that God passed sentence on Adam and Eve. What we tend to forget—and what today’s New Atheists don’t understand—is that when the First Adam sinned he passed on his fallen sin nature to all future generations. This may or may not sound fair to you, but God’s righteous judgment is just. For example, our willful disobedience and deceitfulness deserves the punishment that Christ accepted on our behalf at Calvary.

The devil’s instruments of deception and temptation are cunning at the very least, and are deserving of the punishment God has planned for him. Under the cover of the serpent (in the Garden), Satan is sentenced to be degraded and accursed of God; detested and abhorred of all mankind. He is to be destroyed and ruined at last by our Great Redeemer, signified by the breaking of his head. War is declared between the Seed of the woman (Jesus Christ) and the seed of the serpent. God gives a foreshadow of the promise of a Savior who will suffer in our stead. What is most amazing is that no sooner had man fallen than the timely remedy was provided and revealed. Ephesians 1:4 says, “He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ” (MSG).

Jesus, by His death and suffering, answered the sentence passed on our First Parents. Did travailing pains come with sin? We read of the travail of Christ’s soul (Isaiah 53:11) and the excruciating pain He endured on the cross. Did subjection come in with sin? Christ was made subject to the Law (Galatians 4:4). Did the curse come in with sin? Christ was made a curse for us. Galatians 3:13 tells us, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree)” (NKJV). Did thorns come in with sin? Christ was crowned with thorns for us. Did sweat come in with sin? He sweat blood for us to the point that He exuded great drops of blood. Did sorrow come in with sin? He was a man of sorrows; His soul was, in His agony, exceeding sorrowful. Did death come in with sin? He became obedient unto death.

Reconciliation

We are told in 1 Peter 1:19-21, “…but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot… He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (NKJV) [emphasis mine]. In the beginning was the Word, through whom God created the world and everything in it. We’re told that without Him nothing was made that has been made: (see John 1:1-3). Colossians 1:16 tells us, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (NIV). Jesus is the path by which fallen Creation could be reconciled with God.

The apostle Paul teaches about reconciliation, and describes examples that include siblings, litigants, lost sheep, the prodigal to his father, and man to God. Indeed, reconciliation is exemplified in Jesus’ attitude toward sinners—the truth in Athanasius’s belief that incarnation is reconciliation. He butted heads with Arius, the father of Arianism. This heretical view held that Jesus was begotten by God at a specific point in time, distinct from and not an equal of God. Arius said, “There was a time when the Son was not.” Accordingly, this blasphemy teaches that the Holy Spirit and Jesus did not always exist.

Reconciliation is certainly the central theme in Christianity. It means that God made Christ to be sin for us. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (NIV). We are in desperate need for this reconciliation as we have been alienated from God through sin. It is when our estrangement leads us to hit our knees in prayer that we begin to build a bridge back to God. This not only includes reconciliation to God, it also involves reconciliation of man to one another and to life itself. I believe this is the very foundation of restoration.

The New Testament teaches that we are reconciled through “the death of the son,” “through the cross,” “by the shed blood of Jesus Christ,” and “through Christ made to be sin” as our substitute. He was the very propitiation for our sins. It is fascinating to note that in Romans 3:25 the Greek word for propitiation is hilasterion, which refers specifically to the lid on the Ark of the Covenant. The phrase means that Christ took upon Himself the punishment we should have. This is the great work that took place on Calvary so that we might regain fellowship with God. It is important to note that there was truly no other way back to God. This was and is our only hope.

Christianity declares that God reconciled mankind to Himself through Christ. Paul wants us to realize that this action is an established fact. Romans 5:11 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation” (RSV). Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language states the following: “Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life” (vv. 9-10).

Indeed, this amounts to coming full-circle. Adam and Eve sinned and were in need of a “covering” for their sin because of shame and guilt. They tried to hide from God, perhaps hoping He wouldn’t “find” them. Their greatest fear was his wrath. I don’t believe they anticipated that such an “innocent” act of curiosity would lead to being cut off by God and expelled from the Garden of Eden. However, I am not sure whether being armed with such knowledge would have made a difference. They were enticed by the beguiling of the serpent, through his deception and trickery, to disobey God, saying, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:3-4, NKJV). This sounded good to Eve. After all, would it not be prudent to have an eye for the difference between what is good and what is evil? Where’s the harm in that?

The consequences of that self-delusion and abject disobedience set the stage for the entire Creation to go off track. Nothing is as God intended it to be. Thanks to God we have been given the means to patch things up with the Father and be reunited with Him in fellowship. Indeed, we now have the means to participate with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the redemption and restoration of all of God’s glorious Creation.

References

Cory Asbury, Caleb Culver, Ran Jackson. (2017). Reckless Love [recorded by Bethel Music]. On Reckless Love [CD recording]. Los Angeles, CA: Bethel Music.

Peterson, E. (2009). The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CA: NavPress.

Why Do Christians Still Sin?

If we really knew God, our behavior would change radically and instantly.

Many Christians are living under half a Gospel. Christ died for our sins. When we pray to receive Him, believing in our heart that He is the Messiah, we die with Him, and are buried with Him. If we leave it there, where is our resurrection? If we do not repent from continual, deliberate sin, do we not act as if His death and resurrection was a worthless gesture? Think of it this way. If you came across a dead man lying along a road and you had the power to save him, what would you do? Give him life? If that is all you did, then he would merely die again one day. You would have to cure the disease that caused him to die in the first place.

The True Definition of a Christian

Regardless of how overused the word Christian has become, the biblical definition of a Christian is one who is a follower of Christ; a disciple of Jesus (see Acts 11:26). A Christian is not merely someone who has ascribed to a particular set of religious beliefs or practices, joined a church, said a penitent prayer, or participated in certain sacraments or rituals. A Christian is a person who has responded to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and has put his or her whole faith in the finished work of the cross of Christ for salvation. Christians have repented of their sin and have made Jesus Lord of their lives. Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (NIV).

We Can’t Deny We Still Sin

The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23a, NIV). Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins. Is the whole Gospel simply curing the disease that caused us to die? Not at all. Finish reading the verse: “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23b). When we forget the entire Gospel, we remain fleshly. We are forgiven yet not redeemed. Sounds strange, right? Almost counter-intuitive. Surely, we’ve been ransomed from the wages of sin by the death of Christ. However, full redemption provides a number of benefits we need in order to live righteously. Redemption provides us with eternal life; forgiveness of sins; a right relationship with God; guidance from the Holy Spirit; adoption into God’s Holy family. When we’re redeemed, we become different people. We are truly alive in Christ. We are now free to choose to live in the Spirit and not in the flesh.

The First Epistle of John was written to Christians. We’re told in 1:8-10, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us” (NIV). God tells us not to deny that we sin, saying if we do, we’re actually calling Him a liar. Verse 9 indicates what we’re to do when—not if—we sin. He promises to forgive us and cleanse us of the unrighteousness associated with our sin.

1 John 3:9 says, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God” (NIV) [Italics mine]. These types of seeming contradictions confuse new Christians and drive agnostics and atheists crazy. This, however, is not a contradiction. John’s idea of committing sin on a permanent, habitual basis is further explained in 3 John 1:11: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God” (NIV).

In 1 John 3:6-9, the apostle is examining the question of whether a person “born of God” can commit sin. In verse 6, he writes, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” In verse 9, he emphatically shares, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin.” John seems to say it is not possible for those who are really  born again to continue to sin. If that were true, there would not be many genuine Christians. This is not what John means. Remember, every believer still possesses a fallen, sin nature, as well as the indwelling Holy Spirit. This reminds me of the old Cherokee saying that we all possess two wolves inside us. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, and ego. The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, truth, compassion, and faith. Which wolf will win the fight? The one you feed.

The correct translation of 1 John 3:8 should be, “The one who practices sin.”

What Does It Mean to “Practice Sin?”

Hebrews 10:26-27 says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (NIV). The Greek word for committing sin (poieo) means to be seen sinning, or to display a sinful behavior. Certainly, this will present a poor witness, making the Christian appear hypocritical. I’ve been there, my friends. Far too many times. I’ve often said, “If I don’t start behaving better in public—stop raging at stupid tailgaters, for example—I’m going to take the Jesus First plate off the front of my car.” The Greek word for practicing sin (prasso) means to perform repeatedly or habitually, and hints of deeds, acts, or using arts. Notice the plurality and repetition here.

In Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, we read the following regarding Hebrews 10:26-31:

The sin here mentioned is a total and final falling away, when men, with a full and fixed will and resolution, despise and reject Christ, the only Saviour; despise and resist the Spirit, the only Sanctifier; and despise and renounce the gospel, the only way of salvation, and the words of eternal life… all this does not in the least mean than any souls who sorrow for sin will be shut out from mercy, or that any will be refused the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice, who are willing to accept these blessings. Him that cometh unto Christ, he will in no wise cast out” (pp. 1212-1213).

The Nature of the Problem

The Bible teaches we are dead in our “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) and “were by nature children of wrath” (2:3) [Emphasis added]. In other words, we were born physically alive but spiritually dead. We had no access to God’s presence in our lives, nor knowledge of His ways. We simply lived our lives devoid of God, unless and until someone introduced us to the Gospel. Paul plainly explained, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want” (NIV).

The flesh can be described as existence apart from God—a life dominated by sin or a drive opposed to God. Obviously, the flesh considers itself self-reliant rather than God-dependent; it is self-centered rather than Christ-centered. Mankind, accordingly, is sinful by nature and spiritually dead. But, at the moment of salvation, God transfers us from the domain of sin and darkness to the Kingdom of His beloved Son (see Colossians 1:13). Additionally, sin’s dominion through the flesh has been broken. As believers, we are no longer in the flesh—we are in Christ. We have to believe that our new identity is in the life of Christ and commit ourselves accordingly.

If you are a new creation in Christ, have you ever wondered why you still think and feel at times the same way you did before? Because everything you learned before you knew Christ is still programmed into your memory. Unfortunately, there is no mental delete button. Surely, this is why Paul says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2, NIV) [Emphasis mine]. We have to renew how we think, not delete our old way of thinking.

Concluding Remarks

God’s work of atonement changes us from sinners to saints. No doubt this is a hard concept to comprehend as a new Christian. The radical change—aptly called regeneration—is effected at the moment of salvation. The ongoing change in the believer’s daily walk continues throughout life. The progressive work of sanctification, however, is only fully effective when the radical, inner transformation by regeneration is recognized, accepted, and appropriated by faith.

New believers are dominated by the flesh and deceived by the devil. It takes time and practice to renew the mind and overcome the patterns of the flesh. We have to believe we have a new nature. Our “new self” is oriented toward God. Being a child of God and being free in Christ is positional truth and the birthright of every believer. However, because of a lack of repentance and ignorance of the truth, many believers are not living like liberated children of God. Our freedom from sin’s domination hinges on knowledge of the truth.

Hmm. In other words, the truth will set us free. Where have I heard that before?

 

 

 

I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas.

Jesus Crucifixion.jpg

THE ROMANS WERE INFAMOUS for how they cruelly lined their roadways with crucifixions as a warning to those who would dare go against the State. Crucifixion is a notoriously slow death designed to torture the condemned for up to three agonizing days. Criminals punished in this manner typically died of asphyxiation, no longer able to push up and lift their chests for one more breath. The pain of crucifixion was so great that it gave its name to extreme agony—excruciating. The etymology of the word is from two Latin words ex and cruciatus, meaning “out of the cross.” Transliteration of ex cruciatus is “the pain one experiences when crucified.”

A Convicted and Condemned Murderer

His name was Barabbas. A murderer, convicted previously of sedition and robbery. He knew he was guilty. No question. Today, we’d say he had reached the “three strikes and you’re out” stage. He was slumped against the wall in a filthy, dank cell, watched closely by a massive Roman guard. His mind was fixated on how excruciatingly painful his crucifixion would be. He had witnessed a number of such horrendous deaths at the hands of the Roman authorities. Certainly, the next time the guards came for him he would be brought before his executioner.

He had led an insurrection that resulted in a number of people being murdered. He was known to support himself and his cause through robbery. He had broken the law and deserved to die. If he were to be executed, no one would have questioned it. In fact, no one stood in his defense. He should have been on the cross. As such, Barabbas represents every person who has violated God’s holy law. We all stand guilty as charged. The Bible has declared, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Of course, the wages of sin is death. Like Barabbas, we deserve God’s sentence of death.

“Whom Shall I Set Free? Jesus or Barabbas?”

The release of a Jewish prisoner—a tradition known as paschal pardon—was customary before the feast of Passover. The Roman governor granted clemency to one prisoner as an act of good will toward those he governed. Mark notes, “Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested” (Mark 15:6, NIV). The choice Pilate set before the crowd that day could not have been more clear-cut: a high-profile killer and rabble-rouser who was unquestionably guilty, or a teacher and miracle worker who was demonstrably innocent. The crowd chose Barabbas to be released. Interestingly, Pilate had a sense that Jesus was an innocent man. He was rather surprised at the crowd’s choice. He asked the crowd three times to choose sensibly, but with loud shouts they chose the death of Jesus, yelling, “Crucify him, crucify him.”

banner-give-us-barabbas

Barabbas is mentioned in all four Gospels. Certainly, it came as a shock that his life would intersect with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus went before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who had already declared Him innocent of anything worthy of death (see Luke 23:15). Pilate was aware that the Sanhedrin was essentially railroading Jesus. It was out of self-interest that the chief priests handed Jesus over to him. In fact, it was these very religious leaders that incited the crowd to demand for the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus (see Mark 15:11). Pilate was most likely unaware of the prophesy unfolding before him.

Three times in the short span of eight versus, Pilate points to the innocence of Jesus. Pilate noted that not even Herod found any fault in Jesus. Regardless, when Pilate said, “Nothing deserving of death has been done by this man,” they all cried out, “Away with him! Crucify him!” Interestingly, Barabbas was guilty of insurrection and murder. He was among the “rebels” in prison who had committed murder in the insurrection. Murder and rebellion. The Jewish leaders charged Jesus with rebellion when they claimed he was misleading the people. Luke 23:5 says, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here” (NIV).

It Should Have Been Me up on the Cross!

We all feel a certain disdain for Judas who betrayed Christ, Peter who denied Him, the chief priests who despised Him, Herod who mocked Him, the people who called for His crucifixion, Pilate who appeased the mob and washed his hands, and Barabbas who was guilty but was set free. But wait! Aren’t we all, to some degree, guilty of betraying, denying, mocking, doubting, and walking away from Christ?

As we’ve seen through Luke’s emphasis on the innocence of Jesus and the guilt of Barabbas, Luke is leading us (as sinners) in his careful telling of the story, encouraging us to identify with Barabbas. As Jesus’ condemnation leads to the release of a multitude of spiritual captives from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, so also his death sentence leads to the release of the physically captive Barabbas. This is a foretaste of the grace that will be unleashed at the cross. As Pilate releases Barabbas the guilty, and delivers over to death Jesus the innocent, we are given a picture of our own release effected by the cross through faith. In Barabbas we have a glimpse of our guilt deserving death, and a preview of the arresting grace of Jesus and his embrace of the cross through which we are set free. As Jesus is delivered to death, and Barabbas is released to new life, we have the first substitution of the cross. The innocent Jesus is condemned as a sinner, while the guilty sinner is released as if innocent.

I am Barabbas

Luke wants us to identify with both Jesus and Barabbas. When we identify with Jesus we are able to see that through faith His death is our death, and His resurrection is our resurrection. When we align ourselves with Barabbas we see that we, too, are sinners—criminals who have broken God’s law, guilty as charged, deserving of death for our rebel lives of sin against the Creator. Jesus, through the grace of giving Himself for us at the cross, takes our place and we are released.

As we come to understand the depths of our sin, we see with Luke, “I am Barabbas.” I am the one so clearly guilty and deserving of condemnation, but I’ve been set free because of the willing substitution of the Messiah in my place.

 

 

 

Christ Suffered and Died: To Cancel the Legal Demands of the Law Against Us

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying to cancel the legal demands of the law against us.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses… God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.         (Col. 2:13)

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WHAT A FOLLY IT is to think that our good deeds may one day outweigh our bad deeds. It is folly for two reasons. First, it is not true. Even our good deeds are defective, because we don’t honor God in the way we do them. Do we do our good deeds in joyful dependence on God with a view to making known His supreme worth? Do we fulfill the overarching command to serve people “by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11)?

What then shall we say in response to God’s word? “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). I think we shall say nothing. “Whatever the law says it speaks… so that every mouth may be stopped” (Romans 3:19). We will say nothing. It is folly to think that our good deeds will outweigh our bad deeds before God. Without Christ-exalting faith, our deeds will signify nothing but rebellion.

The second reason it is folly to hope in good deeds is that this is not the way God saves. If we are saved from the consequences of our bad deeds, it will not be because they weighed less than our good deeds. It will be because the “record of [our] debt” in heaven has been nailed to the cross of Christ. God has a totally different way of saving sinners than by weighing their deeds. There is no hope in our deeds. There is only hope in the suffering and death of Christ.

There is no salvation by balancing the records. There is only salvation by canceling records. The record of our bad deeds (including our defective good deeds), along with the just penalties that each deserves, must be blotted out—not balanced. This is what Christ suffered and died to accomplish.

The cancellation happened when the record of our deeds was “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:13). How was this damning record nailed to the cross? Parchment was not nailed to the cross. Christ was. So Christ became my damning record of bad (and good) deeds. He endured my damnation. He put my salvation on a totally different footing. He is my only hope. And faith in Him is my only way to God.

Christ Suffered and Died: To Absorb the Wrath of God

FOR THE NEXT SEVEN days I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying to absorb the wrath of God that should rightly have been poured out upon all of mankind.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Gal. 3:13).

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IF GOD WERE NOT JUST, there would be no demand for His Son to suffer and die. And if God were not loving, there would be no willingness for His Son to suffer and die. But God is both just and loving. Therefore his love is willing to meet the demands of His justice. God’s law demanded, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). But we have all loved other things more. This is what sin is—dishonoring God by preferring other things over Him, and acting on those preferences. Therefore, the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We glorify what we enjoy most. And it isn’t God.

Since God is just, He does not sweep our sins and offenses under the rug of the universe. He feels a holy wrath against them. They deserve to be punished, and He has made this clear: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). There is a holy curse hanging over all sin. Not to punish would be unjust. The demeaning of God would be endorsed. A lie would reign at the core of reality. Therefore, God says, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26).

But the love of God does not rest with the curse that hangs over all sinful humanity. He is not content to show wrath, no matter how holy it is. Therefore God sends His own Son to absorb His wrath and bear the curse for all who trust Him. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). This is the meaning of the word propitiation in the text quoted above (Romans 3:25). It refers to the removal of God’s wrath by providing a substitute. The substitute is provided by God Himself. The substitute, Jesus Christ, does not just cancel the wrath; He absorbs it and diverts it from us to Himself. God’s wrath is just, and it was spent, not withdrawn.

Let us not trifle with God or trivialize His love. We will never stand in awe of being loved by God until we reckon with the seriousness of our sin and the justice of His wrath against us. But when, by grace, we waken to our unworthiness, then we may look at the suffering and death of Christ and say, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the [wrath-absorbing] propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Join me tomorrow for “Christ Suffered and Died: To Cancel the Legal Demands of the Law Against Us.

 

Righteous in His Sight

Our great initial need before God is to be justified. To have God declare us not guilty, and pronounce us righteous in His sight. At first glance this appears to be an impossible situation for man. God, our Judge, is holy by His nature. Because of sin, man is unholy by nature. “But we are all like an unclean thing, and our righteousness is like filthy rags” (See Isaiah 64:6). The consequences of such ungodliness are inevitably universal and appropriately severe. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23 and 6:23a). The appropriate sentence for all of humanity, in light of their sins against a pure, holy, and eternal God, is death—everlasting separation from God.

The Law of God offers no help, and provides no hope of remedying this dire situation. People are not justified by the works of the Law. Trying your best to measure up to God’s standards never produces a verdict of not guilty. In all of history, Jesus was the only one who could stand up to the scrutiny of God’s Law and receive a declaration of being righteous. Jesus was in all ways tempted as we are, yet without sin (See Hebrews 4:15). No other person could ever perform sufficiently under the Law to achieve a declaration of righteousness. No one is justified by the Law in the sight of God.

Clothed-in-the-Righteousness-of-ChristWe are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Vows and pledges of personal improvement offer no hope. Asking others for advice on how to strive more earnestly provides no answer. Only faith supplies the necessary remedy. Man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Trusting in our own best efforts leaves us guilty before God. Trusting in Christ’s perfect work on the cross makes us justified before God. God’s Word tells us, “Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off, having been brought near by the blood of Christ” (See Ephesians 2:12-13).  Verse 16 tells us that we are reconciled to God through the cross. It is a command, not a suggestion. We must remember that we are hopeless!

What Exactly is Righteousness?

Dictionaries define righteousness as behavior that is morally justifiable or right. Such behavior is characterized by accepted standards of morality, justice, virtue, or uprightness. The Bible’s standard of human righteousness is God’s own perfection in every attribute, attitude, behavior, and spoken word. Thus, God’s Law, as given in the Bible, both describe His own character and the very plumb-line by which He  measures human righteousness. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible says, “The work of religion is to no purpose, unless the heart is in it, and we must worship God in the strength and grace of the Divine Spirit.” It’s important to note that things Paul counted as gain while a Pharisee he counted for loss for Christ.

Righteousness is an attribute of moral purity belonging solely to God. It is He alone who is truly righteous. No one in the world is righteous in the eyes of the Lord except the Christian. We are counted righteous in the eyes of God when we receive Jesus by faith. Paul counted all things but rubbish so that he may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having righteousness of his own—derived from the Law—but that which is through faith in Christ (See Philippians 3:9). Our righteousness is based only on the work done by Jesus on the cross. Through propitiation, the righteousness that was Christ’s is counted to us. This is why when God looks at us, He sees us as righteous. Though we are actually worthy of damnation, we are made blameless.

As Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and all things have become new.” Without regeneration of his spirit, it is vain for any man to profess a relationship with Christ according to the flesh, while he is unchanged in heart and lifestyle; accordingly, he is dead in trespasses and sins. Let’s take a look at the blessings of the Gospel. It brings us into Christ. Through it, we become a new creation; old things are passed away. The Gospel allows us to put on a new life, which is literally opposite the old life. With the new believer, all things are of God. The true Christian does not permit anything in his life which is ungodly. The cross allows us to be reconciled to God. We become the righteousness of Christ in the eyes of the Father.

Self-Righteousness and Legalism

We are accepted as righteous by God because of what Jesus has done. He was made sin, while we are made righteous. On the cross, Jesus was treated as if He were a sinner, though He was perfectly holy and pure, and we are treated as if we were righteous, though we are defiled and depraved. Put another way, we are treated as though we had entirely fulfilled the Law and had never been exposed to its penalty. Self-righteousness is defined as “confidence in one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.” Basically, self-righteousness—which is related to legalism—is the misconception that we can somehow generate within ourselves a holiness that will be acceptable to God. As it is written, there is no one who is righteous on their own merits (See Romans 3:10).

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Jesus had harsh words for the puffed-up self-righteousness of the Jewish leadership. He said, “Everything they do is done for people to see… they love the place of honor at banquets, and the most important seats in they synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi by others… [but] those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:5-7; 23:12, NIV). Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Whoa to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27, NIV). This scenario plays out many times between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes.

The Apostle Paul on Self-Righteousness

Paul’s treatment of self-righteousness is no less harsh than that of Jesus. Let’s look at what he had to say in the Book of Romans. “For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith'” (Romans 1:17). Paul notes in Romans 10:3, “Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

He addressed this same issue with the Galatians. They were convinced that they had to do certain things to be acceptable to God, including circumcision. Paul astutely called their belief “another gospel,” calling those who advocated it “accursed” (See Galatians 1:8-9). Paul said if righteousness could come from the mere actions of man, then Jesus died “for no purpose” (See Galatians 2:21). He concluded that the Galatians were foolish in their attempt to be perfected by the flesh.

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Concluding Remarks

It is in our sin nature to attempt to behave ourselves into God’s grace. While under the lash of active addiction, I did whatever I could to appear righteous. Admittedly, I was trying to convince friends, family, and employers that I was finally doing things the right way. I was a modern-day Pharisee, bent on presenting a public self-righteousness while privately drinking and drugging. I went to church every Sunday, taught Bible study at two local county prisons, prayed publicly at mealtimes, and attended 12-step meetings. I was driven by pride, fear, and delusions of self-sufficiency.

Most of us are always trying to do something to merit our salvation. The costly freedom of grace, bought for us by the blood of Jesus with no contribution from us, is difficult for our prideful hearts to understand or appreciate. It is far easier to compare ourselves with one another than it is to recognize that we cannot measure up to the standards of a holy God. However, in Christ we can know true righteousness. Through Him, we can know the forgiveness of sin that comes to us through grace and not through works. Because He stood in our place, we benefit from His sinless life and His sin-bearing death on the cross. We are told in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV). Through His sacrifice, we can bring our sin to the cross instead of trying to be good enough to earn appear sacred and holy before God. Only through the cross can we see the grace that covers all our sin and defeat the constant tendency toward self-righteousness in our hearts.