God Does Nothing By Halves
Why are we not as we should be? Here is the answer. Which leads to the next question: How can we be what we should be, or can we? The answer is a thankful Yes. There is the way back, as there was the way out. It is rooted in the nature of God. The history of the universe is the love activity of God. Love exists to meet need.
Love is a remarkable word. It is the only word to which debt is linked as a pleasure and privilege. Debts and creditors are usually to be avoided. But love has no other existence than to meet need, and every need has a claim; “Owe no man anything, but owe love one to another.” “I am debtor to Greeks, Barbarians, wise, unwise.”
Wherever there is need, love has a debt to pay, and need is the creditor. Love has to pay. That is why we can love our enemies, because a hurter is in greater need than the hurt. That is why in our rebellion and enmity against God, it is not His hurt that concerns Him, but ours. We are the needy ones, and love exists to meet need. Therefore, we boldly say God had to save. It was not a question of condescension or kindly action, it was a debt of love. God had to save, for love has to save: and we, when saved, have to be saviors.
What did that entail for Him? Something which could be put in quite simple terms. The gospel, the plan of salvation, redemption, whatever name we use, is nothing but God regaining His stolen property. God could not create anything higher than the human race, because God could not create higher than Himself and we are created in His image. We shall receive improved bodies one day, but not improved spirits, for they are in His similitude.
Therefore, the summit of His creation, the human race with all its limitless potentialities, has been stolen, and under stolen management has all its productivity geared to self-seeking instead of self-giving. The gospel is the restoration of humanity to its right ownership, and that is why, when restored, we can, as it were, forget the gospel and get on with living.
Two problems had to be solved in regaining His property. The first was the removal of the consequences of broken law. We use the word law to define the way a thing works, and we say that is the law of its being. It works this way. Conform to it and you will receive the benefits. Defy and disregard it, and you will suffer the consequences. There is a law of gravity. Keep your cup in your hand and you will continue to use it. Defy the law and drop it, and goodbye to your cup.
So with the one law of the universe, the way by which it works, which is God in His self-giving love. Everything which is not the self-giving of God through us humans, but is self-loving self, is broken law. So our total human living, until we are back in union with God, is broken law. The Scriptures leave us in no doubt of the consequences, with such statements as “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord”: “weeping and gnashing of teeth”: “tribulation and anguish, indignation and wrath”: “where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.”
Plainly then, there can be no restoration of stolen goods to God for the manifestation of His self-giving love until first these consequences coming to all humanity are removed. The way they are removed is the lifeline threaded through the whole Bible, and, of course, it is what we should expect—love in action, and love means being other people, taking other people’s place. And that is exactly what God did when He took flesh in Jesus and became man and “bore our sins in his own body on the tree,” “being made a curse for us,” and “suffered for sins, the just for the unjust,” and a hundred other such Bible statements. Remove the revelation of the substitutionary sacrifice of “the lamb of God for the sin of the world,” and you remove the inner core of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation.
If we ask, How did this make the necessary atonement? Our simple answer is the statements of the Bible that this was God’s own revealed way of redemption, and requires of us “the absurdity of faith,” which by-passes reason as merely man’s finite analytical faculty, but finds its response in man’s centre, in his heart, when he has become honest enough to acknowledge his despair. And yet to reason also what can be more appealing in its perfection—a God who might judge and punish, but instead takes the punishment upon Himself? I have often said, “If you can show me a more wonderful God than that, I will follow Him.” I am still waiting!
What did this substitutionary sacrifice do for us? Something more than forgiveness, though that is also included. Forgiveness can still leave behind it the realization that the wrong was committed. But after the sacrifice on Calvary was completed with the cry, “It is finished,” if Jesus had remained in the tomb, there would have been nothing to assure us that it was complete; it was the resurrection that proclaimed that all was settled. And what was settled? “He was raised again for our justification,” wrote Paul, because justification, taking us beyond forgiveness, means that the atonement was so complete that we who believe are in God’s sight (and our own) as if we had never committed the damnable offenses. They cease to exist in fact or memory, and we are before God and in our own sight as those who had never sinned and are as perfect as He is perfect.
That is a full solution of that first problem. We are like those, as in Bunyan’s allegory, who could not get through the gate because of the load on their backs. Our load gone at the cross, we can now enter and proceed on the way. Justification is the gate. The way itself is what matters, and the way is the One Person living His way of life in all naturalness by the persons. Justification is the gateway into unification.
That takes us to the second problem to be solved and the completion of the solution. It was the apostle Paul who specifically clarified the depths of this to us, which he stated in his Galatian letter to be a special revelation. Something more far-reaching is implicit in the fact that when Jesus Christ died and rose again, it was the human race which died and rose again.
The human problem goes deeper than our need of forgiveness, reconciliation to God and deliverance from the consequence of my sin. I am a wrong kind of person and need to be made a right kind. I have an inner core of self-centredness from which I cannot escape. It has been mine from my birth. The Bible traces it to its roots when it says that, instead of being in spontaneous union with the self-giving spirit of God and under His motivation, I have been born in another union; it is a perverted relationship, to that false god of self-centred- ness, in the illusion of independence, and I spontaneously function under his motivation, without even knowing it.
The Bible speaks of “the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience,” “he that is in the world…the spirit of error,” “in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not,” “ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.”
The Other Half
Even if I am forgiven and reconciled, what good would that be if the motivating center of my life remains self-seeking and self-loving? Paul, therefore, and John likewise bring to light a deeper consequence of the fact that when it was Jesus dying and rising, it was humanity dying and rising. If Jesus was humanity on the cross, then, Paul says, He was there as the human race inwardly united to this wrong spirit. Paul spoke of that as Christ being “made sin for us”; and sin is the character of the god of self-love even as righteousness is the character of the God of self-giving; sin is the indwelling spirit of sin which produces the sins, just as holiness is the indwelling Spirit of holiness who produces the deeds of holiness.
Then he says that when Christ (as humanity) died, he “died unto sin.” Death is always a separation between body and spirit, so this meant a separation for humanity (represented in Christ) from that false spirit. He lay in the tomb a dead body, and it was the human race there “buried with him.” A body only receives life by the entrance of a spirit; so when Christ was raised from the dead, He was “quickened by the Spirit,” the self-giving Spirit of God. And we thus rose also, with God’s Spirit inwardly joined to us in place of that former false spirit.
Here at last we are presented with the complete means by which the God of love regains His stolen property. All the meaning of the Christian gospel, all the searchings of all the philosophies and religions of all ages find their answer here. How can man be what he should be? From which would naturally follow the question: How can the world be what it should be? The only answer is: If man could be a person of perfect love, and live the life of perfect love.
But how can he be? How can he escape from the chains of his own self-seeking, which means that he may at best be kind and decent and helpful to the point of preserving his own security; and he may make sacrifices for those he approves of—but not beyond that. He cannot. He cannot in self-centred independent self transcend himself and live vicariously for others; he cannot, as it were, be other people, no matter what happens to him, and he certainly cannot do that for his enemy. That would be a contradiction in terms. Therefore, no philosophy or religion which summons man to self-improvement can give the answer. It cannot reach far enough; and the world can never be set right if I attach any conditions of maintaining my own rights or self-preservation to my self-giving. Somewhere on that route I come to a “so far and no further,” and the stream of my love is dammed and the world’s problems are not solved.
The only answer is this one: that I recognize that self-centred independence is a perversion, a breakaway from the union with the self-giving God for which I was created, and that, therefore, in that condition I can never reach beyond my own self-interest; but I also recognize that God, and He only, the Trinity-in-unity, is love unlimited; and that God through Christ has made a way by which He reunites himself permanently to me. Then in this spontaneous unity, I begin to be this same self-giving love—unlimited: and I am no longer just myself, but I have found the real I in me to be He, and I His means of self expression.
I now need to ask, How can I make this a practical reality? Supposing I have accepted this Bible revelation of God as a fact, and the revealed facts are these: God in Himself is nothing but love: we humans are created in His image so that the true ground of our being is the God who is love: but, in the misuse of our freedom, we have turned our backs on our true being in Him, and have been caught up in the illusion of independence and self-loving selves: God has regained us for Himself by becoming one of us as Jesus the Christ: Jesus, as God in the flesh and representing the human race who have their being in Him, by the predetermined plan of God, accepted a death at our hands.
This death, in our stead, has removed the inevitability of our “death” (everlasting separation from the God of our being), has cleansed away the guilt of our sin-life (continual breakings of the law of love), and has delivered us from “the wrath to come” (the unavoidable effect of our rebellion against the love-law of the universe). Raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, the resurrection was the evidence that all that had to be done in our stead has been done; therefore, we can regard ourselves in God’s sight as those who are without sin, justified, righteous in Christ’s righteousness.
But also this death, as being we who died on that cross, has cut us off from the spirit of self-centredness, that false god which had immersed humanity in his great delusion, for death is separation of a body from its spirit: and this resurrection, it being we who were buried with Him and raised with Him, was the Spirit of self-giving, the Spirit of love, the God who is that Spirit joining Himself to us, removing the hindrance (the false possessor) to our discovering Him as the God of our being.