LCN Article
Two Points About Christ's Sacrifice

March / April 2012

Dexter B. Wakefield

Back in 1969, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath wrote an autobiography titled, I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow... ‘Cause I Get Better-Looking Every Day. Apparently, “Broadway Joe” liked what he saw in the mirror each morning. Do you?

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:23–25).

As we prepare for the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, we look into the “mirror” of God’s word to examine ourselves in a spirit of true repentance. As a reminder of that process, we also deleaven our homes.

God intends this to be a constructive process of deep personal evaluation and change. So, when we look with spiritual eyes at the state of our righteousness, what do we see? No doubt, there will be “spots” and “blemishes.” Such recognition should give us strong motivation for personal change.

Measuring Up?

Some of God’s people endure constant trials and struggle with multiple temptations. Even baptized Christians may occasionally slip and fall back into old ways, then climb back out and fight discouragement. Sometimes, they may feel that they are not “measuring up.” Do you ever feel that way? It is a common problem faced by those in God’s Church, especially in this season of self-examination.

Or perhaps you know, intellectually, that you have repented and are forgiven for your sins, but your knowledge is not accompanied by a deep feeling that you were forgiven. When you see yourself in God’s mirror, you may see the need for personal change so clearly that you are not fully confident in believing you are actually forgiven for your past sins.

Others, despite baptism, doubt that they truly can change in the future. Although they may feel great motivation to change, they struggle with the fear that they may not be able to change. This can produce feelings of discouragement.

Brethren, God is aware of this problem. We need to put out sin, but we need to put out discouragement as well. “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Hebrews 12:1–3).

Points To Remember

For baptized Christians, two vital points should be helpful in preventing and dispelling discouragement:

  • Having repented of our past sins, we are forgiven of them, and are free of guilt.
  • Through the Holy Spirit within us, we can change for the future.

Scripture reminds us that we were baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). As people who have been cleansed of the guilt of our past sins, “we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). A baptized Christian is—and will continue to be—a new person, one who continues to change and grow. If we examine ourselves spiritually without keeping these two points in mind, we can become discouraged. If we sometimes feel that we are not “measuring up,” these points should be a source of great encouragement.

Christ’s Sacrifice Matters

The sacrifice Jesus Christ made for you is a weighty matter. Nearly every one of us will say, “I know that”—but does that knowledge translate into a deep feeling about how His sacrifice affects our lives personally?

Think for a moment about Jesus’ identity. He is the Word by whom all things were created. He was the Husband of Israel, and now is the betrothed Husband of the Church. He was born of a virgin, was made flesh, lived as a man and triumphed over Satan. He was reviled, beaten, crucified and killed. He was buried, resurrected after three days and three nights, appeared to many and then ascended to heaven. He sits on the throne with our Father, where He acts as our High Priest and Intercessor. He promises to return to the earth as our King and Elder Brother, to rule the world with a government whose increase will never end.

Each of these aspects of the Savior’s identity means something important. Each is a weighty matter. But do these aspects of Christ’s life, death, identity and mission seem weighty to each of us as individuals? They should!

Mercy Matters

Everything Christ did, He did for a reason. Notice, then, what He taught about mercy. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23).

Do we tithe faithfully, as we should, but forget about God’s mercy? If so, how can we be merciful to others?

Consider what Scripture tells us about God’s mercy. For one thing, it endures. Psalm 136 mentions the endurance of God’s mercy 43 times!

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
Oh, give thanks to the God of gods!
For His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:1–2).

Scripture also tells us that God’s mercy is abundant—He has lots of it. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

We also learn that God’s mercy is tender. “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful [compassionate], and of tender mercy” (James 5:11).

Grace Matters

The Apostle Paul wrote about “the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). The gospel of the grace of God is good news indeed. It is not a separate, second gospel. Rather, it is an integral part of Christ’s message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Grace is essential for our salvation, and the gospel of the Kingdom of God is inclusive of it. “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:1–3).

Paul tells us that by the works of the law no man will be justified in God’s sight, because by the law is only the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). But it is by the law that we know what sin is. We do not have the privilege of deciding for ourselves what is good and evil (Genesis 3:3). Nevertheless, mankind has been trying to do exactly that, ever since Adam and Eve.

We cannot repent of sin and break God’s commandments at the same time, and the Bible plainly states that we are to come to Christ in true repentance (Acts 2:37–38). Remorse looks to the past, but repentance looks to the future. True repentance means that we have resolved as to what we will do. It changes our future. For instance, if you have been taking God’s name in vain all your life, and you repent of doing so, your repentance changes what you will say in the future.

Still, all the repentance in the world cannot save us from what we did in the past, and from the guilt of our past sins. We are profaned by the guilt of what we already did, and our future obedience to God’s commandments cannot change the guilt and the death sentence we have already earned. What, then, can change that guilty past? Nothing less than the grace of God—His unmerited pardon. Through His grace, through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God—our Passover, Jesus Christ—the guilt of our past sins is removed.

After we are cleansed of past guilt, God expects us to live repentant lives, overcoming sin. Christ living in us makes that possible. Without repentance, if we break God’s commandments willfully, there remains no more sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 10:26), and we will die profaned by our guilt, having earned the wages of sin—death—instead of being resurrected to immortality in the Family of God.

So, we can understand the importance of leading a repentant life. As we go on with our lives, as we repent and ask God for forgiveness, He is faithful to forgive us. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The self-examination that we do each Passover season—putting the spiritual leaven out of our lives—is part of that process.

Can you see the importance of God’s grace in your life? “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men” (Titus 3:5–8).

Because God’s grace cannot be earned, our faith is counted for our righteousness. “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:1–5).

God knows our hearts. He knows the depth of our belief in Him, and He assists us in our obedience. Our lives of continuing repentance and obedience are evidence of this. Christ’s sacrifice allows us to be reconciled to the Father. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17–19).

Sometimes, when God’s people are struggling with their trials, they may feel discouraged and even unworthy. But by considering what Christ’s sacrifice means to us—mercy, grace, unmerited pardon, justification before God, and reconciliation with our Father—we can overcome discouragement and come to feel more deeply thankful than ever for our Savior.

Where do feelings of discouragement ultimately come from? It is Satan who tempts us with feelings of discouragement. He wants to attack our faith, so when we feel spiritual discouragement we should quickly recognize it as Satan’s temptation. Satan is a loser, and he is the most discouraged being in the universe! So, if you are fighting feelings of guilt and discouragement, particularly as you prepare for the Passover, take time to meditate and pray about your faith, belief, and acceptance of what our Lord did for you. And, just as we are forgiven, we must forgive others (Matthew 6:12).

We Can Change

As noted above, God’s Holy Spirit has the power to change us. When we accept Christ’s sacrifice, His blood washes away the guilt of our past sins—those we have already committed. But God continuously forgives us, as we repent of new sins we commit (Matthew 18:21–22). Just as we are told to forgive others, God will forgive us if we repent and ask for that forgiveness. This is one of the great lessons of our annual observance of the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.

Forgiveness of our past sins is vital. But people in God’s Church sometimes forget that not only does God forgive our sins, He gives us through the Holy Spirit the means to stop sinning in the future! Those who become discouraged may sometimes forget, or not deeply believe, that God’s Holy Spirit really has the power to change them—to convert them and change their very way of thinking, feeling and acting! If we deeply understand and believe this, we can be greatly encouraged!

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11). No doubt, some members of God’s Church in Corinth had very “lively” past lives, but God justified them and changed them.

All around us, we can see a common miracle in God’s Church. People are changed. You can change, too. You have accepted Christ’s sacrifice, so your past sins are covered. But you must also believe that the Spirit of Christ in you has the power to change you. You need to be confident that there is genuine hope for your future. You need to accept that God has given you access to a tremendous power—one that He uses to rule, guide and sustain the universe. Do you believe that a power that can sustain the universe can also enable you to overcome your personal problems? Of course it can!

We all know from personal experience that “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Yet Paul offers us some encouragement: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors — not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit... bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us… Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit... makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered… For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:9–18, 26, 38–39).

Jesus Christ has the power to make you stand through your trials. “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).

It is God’s Spirit that works in us. “Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:6–7, RSV).

The trial of our faith is precious. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6­–7).

God is actively developing in us the character He wants us to have for all eternity. Our trials are temporary, but holy, righteous character is forever. Our change is high on His list of priorities. Consider: “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:17–18).

With each passing year—as we continue to look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s word—we should, more and more, see a change as we take on more and more of the character of our Elder Brother. At the resurrection, if we endure to the end, we will be filled with His character and He will share His glory with us. So, it is vital that we believe that we can—and will—change, and that God will complete what He has set out to do in each of us. “If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes. You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands” (Job 14:14–15).

As you examine yourself for the Passover, whenever you are tempted to feel discouragement at not “measuring up,” remember these two vital points: you have been forgiven, and you can change. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is a weighty and important matter, and a big part of that weight is His mercy and grace. And the Holy Spirit that He has given you has the power to change you, to build in you the holy and righteous character of your Savior, Jesus Christ. Keeping these points in mind, we can go forward in confidence.