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Bought Out and Set Free

 

“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14

 

“Once a man sees himself in the light of the cross, he sees the horror of that self-centered view in its every aspect.”  -DM Lloyd-Jones

 

“God’s chief end is to glorify himself with a view to bringing man to enjoy him forever”

-J. Edwards

 

How often when asked to witness our faith to others do we begin with “this is what God did for me.”  What a sad statement it is, when our view of salvation is centered on ourselves.  I am not the object of redemptive history; God is.  What a skewed view we have in the church.

Part of the power of the cross, when brought to bear on the lives of God’s people, is to break this idea that there is anything about the process of salvation that we deserve.  We are but wretches before God, our righteousness, as Paul put it, is nothing more than a filthy rag (and we won’t discuss that imagery).  We are nothing more than desperate beggars brought into the house before the storm.  Yet, somehow, once we are in the house, we begin to think ourselves the master of the place.  We see the meal that is brought to us as something that is deserved and we see the comforts within as our rightful place to recline.

When I was in High School, I worked for a wealthy couple tending their property.  They had sixty acres of land and it was my job to keep it up and to do whatever odd jobs they had for me.  Each year at Christmas, the St. Clair family had a huge and wonderful party for all of their friends.  They often had as many as 70 people in their home for these parties.  One year, they hired me to help direct traffic with people coming and going.  Maryland winters are often quite cold, and I stood outside the festive home, all bundled up, directing people where to park. 

After the party was well underway and the guests had all arrived, Mr. St. Clair came outside and invited me into their home to enjoy the festivities.  Once inside, he introduced me as if he were introducing an honored guest and instructed me to eat my fill from the buffet table. 

I did eat and was welcomed warmly by the guests, but at the same time, I had an overwhelming feeling of being out of place.  Here I was, a high school student from a modest family, dressed in jeans and a sweat shirt, with mussed up hair from being under a stocking cap all night, mingling with some of the most wealthy people of the region who were dressed to the nines.  I enjoyed myself on that evening immensely, but never once did I begin to feel that I deserved to be a part of these festivities.  My presence was solely due to the grace of the host. 

Our attitude toward our salvation ought to be the same as mine was at that party.  How we don’t deserve to be present in the master’s house, but God has brought us in out of the cold, introduced us as an honored guest, and sat us at his table as his child.  And why does he do this?  Because of the work of his son on the cross.  Oh, how we ought to cherish that cross!  We are the recipients of God’s wonderful grace.  It is something that we must never take for granted!

The New Man

 

“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14

 

Oh how often we take this casually.  We are made new in Christ, but so often we daydream back toward the sinful days of our past and forget the wretchedness of our life apart from Christ.  I was reading the biography of John Paton recently.  Paton was a missionary to the cannibals of the New Hebrides islands (and a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, I might add).  One of the things that he described in his journals was the insatiable craving for human flesh that these cannibals had.  The small island where he served housed no less than 10 warring tribes.  These tribes would roast the bodies of the enemy warriors they had killed in battle.  Their lust for flesh was so strong, though, that when fresh bodies were scarce and they had no enemies to eat, they would dig up the corpses of recently buried people to feast on their remains.  Depravity begets depravity.

Yet, I would argue that we are not all that different.  We might not be in the habit of digging up dead bodies to eat, but drug addicts often sink to that same level of desperation to get their next high.  Gambling addicts mortgage their homes and steal from their businesses to feed their craving.  Sex addicts will risk ruining their marriages and the lives of their children for one more night of illicit ecstasy.  Work-aholics will miss every important events in the life of their family for the opportunity to make another dollar even when the things that money can buy can never match the value of a presence in the life of a child.  Depravity begets depravity.

But we, by virtue of the work of Christ on the cross, are made new.  We are no longer bound by the downward cycle of sin.  Yes, we will still sin, but there is forgiveness in Christ and there is strength through his Holy Spirit so we can resist temptation.  Light has been shined in the darkness of our sinful lives and for the first time we can begin to see the path that we are on, albeit dimly.  Let us not look back, then, at the way our lives used to be.  The Christian has no use for the depravity of his old man for depravity begets depravity.  We are called to be Holy as God is Holy.  The contrast could not be more drastic.

Signposts

 

“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14

 

“Today, missed some fine opportunity of speaking a word for Christ.  The Lord saw that I would have spoken as much for my honor as for his, and therefore, he shut my mouth.  I see that a man cannot be a faithful, fervent minister until he preaches just for Christ’s sake, until he gives up trying to attract people to himself, and seeks to attract them to Christ.  Lord, give me this.”  -R.M. McCheyne

 

Spurgeon once likened the Bible to a road map of England.  He pointed out on the map that every road, even if through a circuitous route, led into London.  So too, he argued, did every verse, lead to Christ.  And no matter how good your skill as an orator, no matter how well you have mastered the ancient languages, and no matter how apt your sermon illustrations are, if you do not point people to Christ, your preaching has wasted everyone’s time.  We must ask ourselves of our preaching what Dr. Lloyd-Jones asked of our living, “Is God the chief end and object of your life?”

This is the model that I have tried to adopt within my own preaching.  If I am to preach, I must become a beacon that points clearly to Christ and the cross.  Exegesis and structure and illustrations and everything else that goes into writing a sermon is terribly important, but just like that road map, it does not matter how detailed and in-depth my directions are, if they lead the listener to any place but to Christ, then all my time and preparation are wasted and I might as well have said nothing.

In turn, this is the model that is set before us in living.  We must constantly be asking ourselves if what we are doing is pointing people to Christ.  Peter reminds us in his first letter that it is by our humble and submissive faithfulness to our Lord and Savior that people will be drawn to Christ.  Too often we treat winning souls as a conquest.  We hold revivals thinking that the Spirit of God somehow follows our lead when it comes to changing the hearts of man.  This model could not be further from the truth.  It is true that the Holy Spirit has moved at times to bring revival to a community through the preaching of one of his servants, yet for us to walk in with the expectation that we will be the next Whitefield or Wesley is sheer vanity.  If you want to see true revival in our land, then it will come most reliably through Christians living faithful and humble lives in the sight of an unbelieving world.  Our lives should be as street signs pointing to Christ, saying, “don’t look at me, but look at my Lord; I am merely a pointer so that He might be glorified.”

Is this how we approach the day?  Is this how we approach witnessing?  I suggest that it usually isn’t.  So often, like Robert Murray McCheyne, we miss the opportunity to faithfully witness because our directions revolve around ourselves and do not point clearly to Christ and him crucified.  Let us be deliberate in our lifestyle with Christ as the goal of every direction we give.

Walls

 

“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14

 

“The wall in Berlin, you see, is not the first wall that has been built in this world to separate people from one another.  The World has always had its iron curtains.  We change the terminology but the fact has always been there: the middle wall of partition, Jews on one side, Gentiles on the other side, and between them, a bitter hatred and animosity, which we can scarcely even imagine.”  -D.M. Lloyd-Jones

 

What I find to be interesting about walls is that we are so careless about how and where we put them up.  Walls do not have to be bad things.  A good, stout wall can provide a defense against the attacks of enemy armies.  It can bring comfort to all who are within it when the guardsmen are alert on the ramparts.  I have endeavored to make my home that kind of place.  My desire is that the sin and foolishness of the world not be able to encroach upon those who live within the walls of my home.  This carries over to how I treat my wife and son and it carries over to the expectations that I place on them.  Our home, I intend, is to be a place of building up, not a place of tearing down.

Likewise, our churches should reflect the same thing.  Like shepherds, pastors must protect and build up the flock that God has given them.  The church needs to be a refuge from the infighting and the frantic pace of the world.  The walls that we build around the church are not to keep people out, rather they are to keep the seeds of the serpent that inundate our culture out.  In a very real way, the church within should look very different than the world without.

Yet, sin muddles things up, doesn’t it?  Sin causes us to build walls inside of our homes and within our church.  No longer are the walls a sign of defense, but they become a thing of separation.  We have a long tradition of building these kinds of walls, built with stones of pride and ignorance.  The first of these human walls was built as far back as Eden, when Adam and Eve chose to break covenant with God and eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  While we don’t talk about it much, the thing that I think is amazing is that neither Adam nor Eve was repentant when confronted by God; they just played the blame-game.  In that act, a wall was created between creation and God that could never be breached from our side.

But what a gracious God we serve.  God paid the price of his only son on the cross, breaching the wall from the other side.  Like prisoners of war that have been broken from our dark and filthy cells and brought out into the light, we who have been saved from our sin are indebted beyond comprehension to our Savior!  We put up a wall that we could never hope to break down, but Christ shattered it! 

To those who would accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, believing in their heart and confessing with their lips, God has given them eternal life.  And he builds another wall around them, and what a wall it is!  For this wall is one that does not separate one from God, but is a wall that joins them together in covenant permanently, for God will permit none of his chosen to slip from his hand (John 10:29).   

We must take the time to survey the walls that we have constructed in our lives.  We must look for cracks in those meant to defend against the attacks of the evil one and we must seek to tear down the ones that separate us from our families, our neighbors, and others around us.  Christ has torn down the wall between us and God, let us tear down the walls between us and man that we might take the gospel to every corner of the world and apply it to every corner of our life.

Commandos of the Cross

 

“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14

 

“The power of the devil, the power of evil, is so great that every human being ever born into the world has been defeated by it.”  -D.M. Lloyd-Jones

 

I am sure that you have rented or watched movies before that were recommended to you by a friend, but once you watched them, you sat aghast, wondering why ever this friend would have suggested such a film.  A few years ago, my wife and I rented one of “these” kinds of films.  I don’t recall the title but the movie was basically a modern rendition of the Faust story, where a Lawyer makes a pact with the devil to get to the top of his profession.  Sadly, as is the way with most contemporary films, the Devil was portrayed in a good light and the lawyer’s decision was shown as a noble one.  There was one redeeming line within this movie.  The main character and the Devil were discussing “means” and the Devil made this comment.  “The best thing that I ever did was to convince mankind that I do not exist.”  How true this statement is.

In The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, Lewis develops much of the same idea.  Wormwood is constantly urged by his Uncle Screwtape to manipulate things from the background.  I know that as I read that book, I was convicted of many sins that I had never even thought were within my life.  In his book, Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis describes fallen earth as a darkened place.  The people in Malecandra (Mars) cannot peer into the affairs of men.  Oh how we can say with the Apostle Paul that we see through a glass darkly in this world.  Even the humanist, Mark Twain, understood this idea that our eyes are clouded to the truth when he misquoted Paul by saying, “we see through a glass eye darkly.”  Of course, one sees nothing through a glass eye at all!

We are born into a mess of sin in our lives.  There is nothing we can do about it.  It is all around us and it is within us.  It does not take very long before you realize, as a parent, that your little baby is quite sinful.  In fact, I would argue that anyone who denies the doctrine of Original Sin could never have had children.  We are born spiritually dead on arrival.  Not only can we not get away from it on our own, but we cannot understand why we ought to get away from it on our own.  Pelagius argued that if you ought to do something you are capable of doing it.  Yet, sin blinds us even from understanding what we ought do.  One of the themes of the Epistle of James is being a hearer and a doer of the word.  You cannot be a doer if you have not heard, but you cannot even really hear without a movement of the Holy Spirit in your life enabling you to hear it and internalize it.  Without the work of the Holy Spirit you can no more expect someone to act upon the preached Word of God than you can expect the stones of the Church’s foundation to act upon it.

And here is the triumph of the Cross!  Satan may ”own” us at birth, but we, the elect, are more like prisoners of war that God will send, in his time, the special forces to rescue through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We often do not think of ourselves as soldiers or that we are at war;  this is Satan convincing us that he is not at work.  But the teachers and preachers of the Word of God are in a sense the Special Operations team of the church.  We are fully equipped through the power of the Holy Spirit, but we are operating deep in enemy territory to seek and save those captive souls for the Lord Jesus Christ.  If that is the case, we, like the Special Forces, need to be about rigorous training throughout life.  Our weapons are the sword of scripture and the rifle of prayer. 

But the victory is not ours to claim.  We are simply instruments, servants, working in our master’s household and for his glory.  Christ was the ultimate Special Force, for it is he that faced the very wrath of God for the sins of his people.  When we meditate on that it ought to make us rejoice and weep at the same time.  It ought to make us rejoice for that battle has been won and we, who are believers in and on the Lord Jesus Christ have been saved.  And it ought to make us weep, for it is because of our sin that the Lord Jesus had to suffer so.  We ought to reflect on this always.

Do Not Love the World

 

“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14

 

The cross of Christ is not a simple stop on the road of life, but it is the very road to life.  Jesus did not stop at telling the Christian simply to take up their cross, but he commanded that they follow.  Too many people think that the “taking up” is the most important thing.  They might struggle to lift the burden, but once it is squarely upon their shoulders, they say, “enough of that,” and promptly drop the burden on the dirt.  This is not the way that Christ has set before us.  Yes, we must heft the cross that the Lord calls us to bear, but we must carry that cross, following Jesus.  It will not be a pleasant load, for sure.  There will be times when the splinters and the knots of the wood will dig deeply into your exposed back.  You will be made to carry it across rough fields, potholes, dense brush, and the like.  But even in the most difficult, painful, and unpleasant times, it will be a sweet load to bear, for it is the load of your savior.

Before I became a Christian, I gloried in the world.  In fact, I went out of my way to draw attention to myself.  I would do wilder and wilder stunts and gimmicks as if to say “look at me!”  Some of these things were quite silly and foolish, but many were downright shameful.  Not only was there no good within me, but I paraded and gloried in that which was detestable.  The problem that arose when I became a believer was not one of grieving over my past wicked ways, but of putting those ways behind me, and not looking back.

This is the way of all believers.  It is not good enough to simply confess that you have sinned and then go on living like a pagan; repentance means to turn around.  Sadly, in my own life, there have been many when I have stumbled under the weight of trial and temptation.  My heart has followed the example of Lot’s wife, looking back and longing for what I cannot have. 

A pastor friend of mine once argued that the reason that Christians hold onto their sins so long is that human nature makes us hold on to things until they are too painful to grasp.  We are like children reaching for the stove.  At first we might receive a simple, “no” or a hand slap.  But as we persist in trying to reach for the stove, the discipline becomes much more severe.  This is not because our parents take joy in disciplining us, but it is because they want to prevent us from being burned severely.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit’s fire of sanctification may seem too much to bear, but the sting of spiritual discipline will mature us where the fire of sin will consume.

So often, we find we are greatly tempted to look back fondly at the life God has saved us from.  When that happens, let us remember well that the life God saved us from may seem sweet to the memory, but was only filled with bitterness once it passed the tongue.  Let us be a people who live for their Lord; who keep eyes focused on the finish-line of heaven; and who never look back at our forsaken sins.

 

Shouts and Whispers

“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14

 

 

“I know of nothing so wonderful in the whole world today [than the cross].  That is why I do not preach topical sermons, I have something to tell you that is worth listening to!”

-D.M. Lloyd-Jones

 

I am going to gripe just a bit to get it out of my system—accept my apologies in advance.  The question that I have is this.  How many preachers can claim, with Dr. Lloyd-Jones, that they have something to say that is worth listening to?  And if they do, why are so many of them being silent about it?  When there is a report of an incoming tornado, the radios buzz with noise.  When a major event happens in our community, not only is the grapevine buzzing, but it is announced in the streets with excitement.  But what greater thing is there to announce or to hear than the news of the cross? 

Why is this?  Do we as Christians not have an urgent message to proclaim?  Do we consider ministry something that is only done by trained professionals?  Does the message of the cross of Christ weary us?  Is it too inconvenient to take the time to share the Gospel with someone you have met?  If this is the case, I say shame on you.  We ought to leap with joy at the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ!  

I do not mean to disparage my brothers in ministry or in the church.  I love them and I love you dearly.  And there are many who are going out of their way to serve God both locally and elsewhere.  It is not these that I gripe about, but it is those who wish to see the fruit of God’s blessing without being willing to plant in the spring.  Yes, this is one of my soap-boxes.  My wife tries to hide them from me, but I usually find them without difficulty.  Some may think that I am a bit off my rocker, wanting the Gospel preached to every person in the city which I live and in the world which God has set me in.  But, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the life-blood of the church.  Without it, she dies. My prayer is that each of us would take the standard of the cross and raise it high in our lives.  May it be seen from Jackson to Matherville, from Mississippi to Maryland, and from America to every corner of the earth!  Yet, as far as it may reach, it needs to start with our own lives as Christians.  We have a message to tell, and it is a wonderful one.  The question that we must ask ourselves is whether or not we believe it is wonderful enough to step out and share.

The Cross: Lifeline or Lodestone

“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14

“The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is either an offence to us or else it is a thing above everything else in which we glory… These are the only two positions—offence, or glory.”  D.M. Lloyd-Jones

 

Sadly, the cross in our society has become more of an ornament than it is a symbol of our Lord’s passion and our redemption.  People have taken that old rugged cross, sanded out all of the burs and splinters, added some decorative beveling to the corners, stained it, and coated it with eight careful coats of polyurethane.  The resultant cross is something beautiful to behold with the eye but has lost all traces of the savior who had hung there.  The resultant cross is something that can be casually dangled from the neck for good luck but does little to remind us just what our salvation cost.

While many Christians do not wear a cross for this reason, which is ultimately idolatry, I prefer to wear, a cross.   Yet, when I wear a cross around my neck, I see it as a brand of ownership, always reminding me to whom I belong.  According to Levitical Law, when a slave is freed, if he chooses to remain a slave in the service of his master, his master is to take him into a doorpost and drive an awl through his ear (presumably to add a stud or ring) as a sign of that permanent ownership (Deuteronomy 15).  While I do not suggest that all Christians to enlist their pastors to start driving awls through their ears, the principle is the same.  I see the cross as a sign of ownership.  My slavery to Christ cannot and will not be rescinded.

The bottom line is, though, that there is no middle ground when it comes to your understanding of the cross.  You either glory in it–as it is and for what it is–or you hate it and all that it stands for.  When you hate it, you are prone to cover it up and smooth it over, making it more acceptable to your sensibilities.  The problem is that God is not concerned about our sensibilities.  We must conform our lives to the image of God, not attempt to conform God to our image.

Before I came to seminary, I served as an interim pastor of two small Methodist churches in the country.  One of those churches, in their sanctuary, had what I considered to be the most elegant cross that I have ever seen.  It was made from rough-cut fence-post lumber and lashed together.  The cross was rough, full of splinters, the beams were not symmetrical or completely straight, and it looked as if it had weathered a thousand storms.  To me, it was a thing of beauty.  Why?  Because it was a constant reminder of the cost my savior paid for my soul.  The cross will be either our lifeline or our lodestone in this sea of the world; there is no “neutral buoyancy” anywhere within it.

The Wondrous Cross

“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14

 

 “The Cross is the strength of the minister.  I, for one, would not be without it for the world.  I should feel like a soldier without weapons, like an artist without his pencil, like a pilot without his compass, like a laborer without his tools.  Let others, if they will, preach the law and morality.  Let others hold forth the terrors of hell and the joys of heaven.  Let others drench their congregations with teachings about the sacraments and the church.  Give me the cross of Christ.  This is the only lever which has ever turned the world upside down hitherto and made men forsake their sins.  And if this will not do it, nothing will.  A man may begin preaching with a perfect knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; but he will do little or no good among his hearers unless he knows something of the cross.  Never was there a minister who did much for the conversion of souls who did not dwell much on Christ crucified.  Luther, Rutherford, Whitefield, M’Cheyne were all most eminent preachers of the cross.  This is the preaching that the Holy Ghost delights to bless.  He loves to honor those who honor the cross.”  -J.C. Ryle

 

After preaching at the homeless shelter regularly for about three or four months I began to become frustrated.  I was constantly facing the same kind of issues and failures in the lives of the men.  I felt as if we had dealt with this or that issue in a previous sermon and now we should be able to move on.  To be fair, there is a lot of turnover at the shelter, so we dealt with many new people all of the time, but the real problem was not in the men, the real problem was with me.  My pride was telling me many things, but ultimately my pride was telling me that my preaching was about what I was interested in and not about what these men needed.  When pride finds its way into preaching, the cross is the first thing that gets left out.

If the cross is not at the center of my life and my message, it means that I have forgotten how truly wonderful a gift and message the cross is.  As Paul, we ought to revel in the cross.  We are not to minimize it, spiritualize it, turn it into a decoration, or to apologize for it.  The cross is our hope!  As ugly and wretched as that cross was, it is the center for the most magnificent and wondrous gift that could ever be given, and was given for me.  Without the cross, it is only judgment and condemnation that lies in my path.

As I struggled with this idea and with my pride, I ran into a quote from Charles Spurgeon.  Spurgeon described the Bible as a roadmap of the area around London.  He challenged someone to show him a road that did not lead, even if the path were circuitous, into the heart of London.  The man could find none.  “The Bible, too,” Spurgeon said, “is like that map.  Every verse in scripture either points to or is a direct result of the work of Jesus Christ.  And if in your preaching you do not point clearly toward Christ, directing your congregation to follow the map, then you have wasted everyone’s time.”  Christ is not only to be at the heart of our preaching, he is what motivates preaching, drives our preaching home in the hearts of our congregation, and he is the very reason that our congregation is drawn to worship in the first place.

And for the cross of Christ to be the center of a preacher’s message, the cross must be the center of his life.  And while this message is essential for the preacher to learn, it is also a message that is essential for the life of every Christian.  The cross is our only source of hope; it is the bridge through which sinful man can be brought into relationship with a holy God; it is the roadmap through which eternal life may be found; and it is the standard for the church today—a church in the wilderness, looking to it to be spared death.  The cross of Christ means salvation and if it is not the center of the life of the Christian, then whatever is will likely lead him astray.

We sing of the “Wondrous Cross” of Christ in worship, but do we take the time to ponder the wonder of the cross and what happened on that day, nearly 2000 years ago.  Do we simply see the cross at a point in history or do we glory in it as the apostle did?  My fear is that we don’t.  As we ponder the cross of Christ, let us remember that God did not have to do what he did for us, yet he chose to send his son to die on the cross that those who would call on the name of Jesus would be saved from eternal damnation.  We do not deserve what he did on that frightful day, but let us proclaim God’s glory that he did.

 

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

                                    -Isaac Watts