Dead to Sin

Romans 6:1-4

Seeing sin in our lives is discouraging, especially when it’s a pattern—it can seem like a broken record that repeats over and over. We berate ourselves, “I can’t believe I did it again!” But Romans 5 tells us of an abundance of overflowing grace. We were born corrupted in Adam, and death reigns over us because we all sin. But while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died to save us from the wrath of God. Christ’s righteousness is the free gift of grace for all who repent and believe. In Adam we are bound to our sin, headed for death. But in Christ we receive Jesus’ righteousness, “leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:21).

This righteousness is a free gift of grace, and Paul emphasizes over and over again the abundance of that grace. Romans 5 describes grace with words like “much more” and “abounded” and “for many.” The law came and “increased the trespass” as men willingly rebelled against God. But “grace abounded all the more” and grace reigns through the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 5:20-21)!

So Paul begins chapter 6 asking: Should we continue to sin so that grace will abound even more? Since salvation is by grace and not by any work of our own, does it matter how we live?

I grew up thinking it did not. I thought I had asked Jesus into my heart so I was saved, meaning I had my ticket to heaven—my fire insurance was paid. We’re saved by grace, so now I had God on my side and could use him in a pinch. What’s sin got to do with it? I didn’t have any obligation to God. He was up there in heaven for me—a sort of cosmic Santa Claus.

What joy I was missing out on! What danger I was in! Paul’s answer to the person who thinks this way is a firm “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” When I “asked Jesus into my heart,” it was as a friend. There was no repentance involved. But Jesus is a friend to sinners. He’s a friend to people who know they have no other hope. And he is more than a friend. He is God and king over all. He is Lord. When we repent of our sin and put our trust in him, we are united to him. That is what 5:12-21 is all about, being transferred from humanity in Adam to humanity in Christ. When that happens, we die to sin. So how, then, can we continue living in it?

I continued in my sin. I let it have free reign in my life. My sinful desires motivated me. I was alive to them. I belonged to the family of Adam and did not walk in newness of life. My “fire insurance” wouldn’t have put out one flame. I needed to repent and trust in Christ alone.

Romans 6:1-4 speaks to those who are continuing to be alive to their sin. We must examine our hearts to see if we are in Christ. He died and was raised. If we are united to him, we died with him and have been raised to walk no longer in sin but in newness of life. If you are like I used to be—presuming upon grace, relying on your fire insurance, living life not worried about your sin—be warned by Romans 6.

But, if you are a dear sister who is discouraged about a pattern of sin in your life, feeling like it’s out of control, take hope from Romans 6:1-4 this week. These verses give us the foundation for fighting that sin. They tell us the war is over even while the battle rages on.  

To fight our patterns of sin, we must first realize who we are as Christians. Physical baptism is a picture of spiritual death and resurrection. I was dead in my transgressions and sins but was made alive in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:1-5). When I was baptized into Christ, I died with him. In that Christ-Keri death, my sins were paid for in full and sin’s power over me was broken. My desire to rebel against God and place myself on the throne of my life died with Christ and was buried. A new power lives in me, giving me new desires to live like Christ. (Not just a power, but the person of the Holy Spirit!) Just as the glory of the Father raised Christ from the dead, his glory enables me to “walk in newness of life.” That means that instead of being powered by my sin, I am powered by God. Far from grace leading to more sin, grace is the gift of a new life no longer characterized by sin.

Christians still do sin. If we say we do not, we deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8). But we do not continue to live in sin. We “walk in newness of life.” Sin used to characterize us: “I’m an anxious person.” “I am angry!” “I can’t stop (fill in the blank).” New life now characterizes us. This realization is the foundation from which we fight our sin. Before we were in Christ, we were alive to sin. We had to succumb to it because everything in us was for it. But now, we are alive to God in Christ. We come to our fight against sin with the nuclear power of the glory of God. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead works within us to achieve victory.

Take hope, dear struggling sister! Just as Christ was raised from the dead, we walk in newness of life.

Bible study questions on Romans 6:1-4 are here. New questions will be posted weekly.

Order Keri’s book The Good Portion: Scripture. See her Delighting in the Word Bible Studies.

Summer in Romans 6

Part 1 – Romans 6:1-4

Fighting Sin During a Pandemic

What was the book that caused St. Augustine to repent of his sins and become the theologian of the early church? What was the book that opened the eyes of Martin Luther and lit the Reformation ablaze? What was the book that motivated William Carey to cross the seas and become the father of modern missions? And what is the book that countless Christians go to for comfort in difficult times?

It’s the book of Romans. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is known as the most theologically comprehensive book in the Bible. It covers General Revelation, God’s Sovereignty, Election, Justification, Substitutionary Atonement, Salvation, the Work of the Holy Spirit, Sanctification, Ecclesiology, Christian Ethics, and some Eschatology.

But Paul didn’t intend for Romans to be a systematic theology. Actually, Paul’s letter to the Romans was a pastorally-oriented missionary letter. Paul’s desire was for the Roman church to be a gospel-centered engine for missionary outreach. (See Romans 15:14 and 16:26.) Paul wanted to spur on the church at Rome to be unified in their theology, fighting sin and contending for the gospel.

During this pandemic, the ordinary means of grace of meeting together, hearing live preaching and enjoying fellowship are not available for many of us. But God has given us his word, and this time of struggling is perfect for examining our hearts. So join me, as you’re trapped inside your home, in studying through Romans 6, a chapter all about the freedom that grace brings.

I encourage you to choose a particular sin that you struggle with and pray each day for the Lord to use what you learn in your study of Romans 6 to battle that sin.

There are three types of questions in this inductive Bible study. Observation questions are in plain type. Answer these questions directly from the text. Interpretation questions are in italics. These questions require deeper thought and analysis with the goal of understanding the meaning of the text to its original hearers. They are based on your observations of the text. Application questions are in bold. They are personal to you. Application questions will apply the meaning of the text to your heart and life today.   

Begin by praying for insight into the Scriptures and for the Lord to help you fight sin.  

Read Romans 5:18 – 6:14.

Romans 6:1-4

1. In Romans 5, Paul has emphasized the abundance of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. What question does he ask about that grace at the beginning of chapter 6?

2. Why does he ask this specific question? What argument is he anticipating?

3. What is Paul’s clear answer to this question?

4. What question does he add?

5. Rephrase the second question into a declarative statement:

6. What were all who were baptized into Christ Jesus also baptized into?

7. According to verse 4, what happened in baptism?

8. What was the purpose of being baptized into Christ’s death?

9. Is Paul referring to physical or spiritual baptism in these verses?

10. How does the physical act of being baptized present a picture of us dying with Christ and being raised with him to new life?

11. Why would being baptized into Christ’s death mean that we’ve died to sin? What would you point to in the previous chapter, Romans 5:12-19, to explain your answer?

12. What does it mean to “walk in newness of life” and how is Christ being raised from the dead related to our walking in this newness of life?

13. How was Christ raised from the dead?

14. What does it mean the Christ was raised “by the glory of the Father”? And how does that phrase apply to our newness of life? See John 11:38-44 and 2 Corinthians 13:4.

15. How do verses 1-4 serve as a warning for women who call themselves Christians but are comfortably continuing in sin?

16. What particular sin are you praying about this week; and, if you are a Christian, how does knowing that you have died to sin in Christ’s death and walk in newness of life by the glory of the Father affect how you deal with sin in your life?

*Look for a devotional this Wednesday on Romans 6:1-4. Questions will be posted weekly on Mondays.

Pandemic Sin

Have you been irritable stuck in your home during this pandemic? Are you fearful about the future? Have you been reaching for food or drink to calm your anxiety? Fantasy or pornography to alleviate your loneliness?

Have you been making the most of your time at home, or are you drifting from God in complacency? Things are starting to open up. How is your heart?

In Dubai, we were under strict lockdown. One of us could leave the house every three days for groceries but only after obtaining a government issued permit. We couldn’t even legally walk around the block. Our flights to the U.S. were canceled. Our future plans were up in the air. We were waiting—in a holding pattern—with a son graduating from high school, a daughter graduating from college and another daughter with canceled summer plans.

We were finally able to get on a plane to move our son to America (after growing up in Dubai from the age of three). We made it through some precarious travel and things seemed to be going well. But then my son got a sore throat—doctors suspected COVID-19, so we got him tested. Now, we’re waiting again, quarantined. And often in our family of five, we’re rubbing each other the wrong way. We’re waiting, facing a lot of uncertainty like everyone else, and I can’t help but see patterns of sin.

I’m not surprised by the sin. It’s been my adversary for 54 years. I could euphemistically call it irritableness, but at root it’s anger that comes out in an unkind, sharp tone of voice toward my husband and kids and leaves them bruised. It happens when I don’t get my way—when I wake up tired to dirty dishes left around the house, when I’m interrupted while trying to get something done, when I’m disrespected or disobeyed. Anxiety makes it worse. These circumstances are like a petri dish where my ugly sin shows. Comfort, control, respect: these are the idols I worship.

In the goodness of God, I’ve been studying Romans. Chapter 6 is all about being transferred from bondage to sin to bondservant of God, obedience from the heart. So I’ve chosen a particular sin to work on while studying Romans 6—this sin that I regularly struggle with and that is particularly rearing its ugly head during lockdown.

What are your besetting sins? What are the patterns of sin in your life that feel like a broken record playing again and again over your days, months and years? The Bible teaches us that we all struggle with sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8, 10) so join me here over the next five Mondays in a Bible study of Romans 6 and use this summer and God’s word to fight that particular sin.

I’ll be posting an inductive Bible study each Monday with a related devotional the following Wednesday, beginning July 6th and continuing through the first week of August.

‘Of the Incomparable Treasure of the Holy Scriptures’

A dear friend, Mary Katherine, recited this anonymous poem to me by heart. Initially it appeared as a Scottish poem, and then began in 1578 to be included in the preliminary material of most Geneva Bibles.

Here is the spring where waters flow,
To quench our heart of sin;
Here is the tree where truth doth grow
To lead our lives therein;

Here is the judge that stints the strife
When men’s devises fail:
Here is the bread that feeds the life
That death cannot assail.

The tidings of salvation dear
Comes to our ears from hence;
The fortress of our faith is here;
And shield of our defense.

Then be not like the swine that hath
A pearl at his desire,
And takes more pleasure of the trough
And wallowing in the mire.

Read not this book in any case
But with a single eye:
Read not, but first desire GOD’s grace,
To understand thereby.

Pray still in faith with this respect
To bear good fruit therein;
That knowledge may bring this effect,
To mortify thy sin.

Then happy thou in all thy life,
Whatso to thee befalls;
Yea, double happy shalt thou be
When GOD by death thee calls.

Join us here at The Good Portion Books Blog for an inductive Bible study focused on mortifying our sin with knowledge that comes from Romans 6. We’ll introduce the study next Tuesday and begin the first week of July. A set of questions to think through the passage will be posted on Mondays followed by a devotional later in the week.

While We Were Yet Unworthy…

The third article on God’s display of his character at the cross from The Good Portion: Christ.

A disproportionate amount of my time sheltering in place was spent watching videos of people I don’t know hanging out of their apartment windows and clapping. This nightly occurrence all over the world had an emotional grip on me, in part because of our innate desire to honor and celebrate those who are worthy of our praise. Even in our increasingly divided and polarized political world, we find common ground offering a meager gift to those who risk their own well-being in order to serve their fellow man. At a minimum, we should all be able to agree that doctors and nurses treating critically ill patients at risk to their own health deserve nothing less than a hearty round of applause.

In this season we deem medical professionals worthy of our admiration. The praise we give them, as paltry as it seems, honors their sacrifice. What happens, though, when someone receives a gift they don’t deserve? When honor is given to someone who isn’t deemed worthy? The focus of our attention shifts. We take our gaze off of the receiver and look back to the giver. Our shifted-gaze back to the originator of the gift – the gift of salvation – is the subject of the third article in this series. At the cross, God displayed his love for mankind, as seen especially in the unworthiness of the recipients of the gift of the cross.

The story of Hosea and Gomer provides a captivating example of one’s unworthiness in comparison to the gift offered. Hosea was one of God’s highly-esteemed prophets. Gomer was akin to the town prostitute. And yet God commanded Hosea to take Gomer as his bride. Hosea obeyed God, but instead of answering his kindness with faithfulness, Gomer wandered. Again, Hosea called her away from the arms of another lover and back to fidelity with himself. She was undeserving of his love, and yet he was faithful to give it. What do we make of a man like Hosea? Is he an anomaly in Scripture? Or is he one of many examples that show this pattern of undeserved love, a gracious gift given to an unworthy recipient?

The cowardly liar Abraham didn’t deserve the blessings God bestowed on him. The cheating Jacob didn’t deserve to be the father of Israel. Joseph’s wicked brothers didn’t deserve his forgiveness and provision. The murderer Moses didn’t deserve to have such a highly esteemed position before God. The grumbling people of Israel who preferred to return to slavery didn’t deserve the manna God provided every day. I could continue. Page after page of Scripture shows one disproportionate relationship after another, a generous gift offered to an unseemly recipient.

Of all those pictures of undeserved gifts, none illustrates the point more clearly than the cross where Jesus died for those who were unworthy. He did not die for the lovely. He did not come for those who had earned His affection. He came to rescue the vilest of sinners. He came to pursue in love those who were in an attempted coup against Him. He is the handsome prince who desires to husband the ugly whore. At the cross we see God’s love for His people magnified because He died for those who did not deserve it.

While We Were Yet Sinners

Scripture defines our praise for God in light of our unworthiness to receive such a sacrificial gift. Paul wrote in Romans, ‘One will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die’ (Rom. 5:7). We were neither righteous nor good when God enacted His rescue plan for sinners. When God sent Jesus into the world to die on our behalf, we were in outright rebellion against God. ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8). Do you see how God says He demonstrates His love for us? It is our unworthiness to receive the gift of Christ’s death that makes tht love magnificent.

Isn’t one of the deepest desires in all of our lives to be fully known and still fully loved? God is keenly aware of who we are in our sin, and yet He offers to us His sacrificial, bottomless, unconditional love. He willingly lays down his life for his people, aware of our rebellion, our filth, and our unworthiness of his sacrificial gift. As our maker, He knows us intimately. He knows things about us we have not yet discovered for ourselves. And yet His love for us has no time limit and no end. Nothing can cause His love to weaken or fray or ever fall away. ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?’ (Rom. 8:35). Paul asks the question and then answers it, ‘I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 8:38-39). Because of the cross of Christ, we can see clearly God’s vast and endless love for His people.

Weep No More

The aged apostle John, exiled to the island of Patmos, had a prophetic vision in which the scroll representing God’s purposes in history was sealed, and there was no one worthy to open it. “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” cried a mighty angel, the question echoing in despair as no one – not even the great ones – in that throne room scene was found worthy. “No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly.” But one of the elders stopped John’s lament with these words: “Weep no more; behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:2-5) John turned to see this conquering, victorious Lion who was the lone one deemed worthy to open the scroll, but instead he saw “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.” And the creatures and the elders bowed before Jesus singing this new song:

            ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
            for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
            from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Rev. 5:9)

The world honors those who are found worthy of earthly praise. Those who get the most votes. Or conquer with power. Or achieve great things by their intellect and hard work. But heaven praises as worthy the one who was slain, who brought life through his death and lavished an eternally rich salvation on the unworthy.

Read Jenny’s previous articles on God’s display of his character at the cross here and here. These articles are excerpts from Jenny’s new book, The Good Portion: Christ.

Next week, look for the beginning of a series of Bible studies and devotionals on Romans 6. Submit your email to subscribe to make sure not to miss anything.

Glorious Justice at the Cross

The second article on God’s display of his character at the cross from The Good Portion: Christ.

How do you react when you go through trials you don’t deserve? What do you do when you witness the unfair treatment of another? In the current climate, what are you thinking about justice?

We often associate Jesus with mercy. A common theme in the Gospels is that he showed mercy to societies’ outcast. Tax collectors, those in poverty, and even lepers benefited from his compassion. We don’t have to linger long in the text to see examples of this aspect of Jesus’ character. But what does Jesus have to do with justice?

Scripture tells us Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and is the clearest revelation we have of the full character of God. Observing Jesus’ life, his death, and all that was accomplished in both pulls back the curtain so we can see clearly who God is and what he is like. In the last post, we considered that Jesus’ death on the cross revealed God’s holiness. But it revealed even more about God.

We know that because God is holy, he demands punishment for sin. Scripture refers to his demand for moral perfection as His righteousness and justice. These English words are how we generally translate the concept that God does not answer to any other authority for a code of conduct or moral standard. He does not answer to any lesser thing because he is the very definition of righteousness. No one and no thing is more morally pure than he is.

Paul explained to the Romans that ‘[Jesus’ death] was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins’ (Rom. 3:25). In what sense had former sins been passed over prior to the cross? In the Old Testament, God showed a tremendous patience toward his sinful people. In scene after scene of the Old Testament, God did not deal with sin as it deserved. His people both corporately and individually disobeyed him, and yet God continued to spare them. At times his wrath would burn hot, and He would send a plague, famine, or neighboring army to punish the people for their wickedness, but the problem of sin was not comprehensively addressed on the scale which it warranted. Their sins were often (but not always) punished, but their Sin was not. ‘The times of ignorance God overlooked’ is how Paul explained God’s patience in addressing sin (Acts 17:30). In His mercy, God continued to allow His sinful people to live. Even the prophet Micah laments the wickedness of the people and asks the legitimate question, ‘Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression…?’ (Micah 7:18). In praise the Psalmist repeats this truth about God, ‘He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities’ (Ps. 103:10). These questions highlight God’s mercy, but how can a God who doesn’t punish sin be just?

But What about Justice?

After David’s infidelity with Bathsheba and his wickedness toward her husband Uriah the Hittite, the prophet Nathan rebuked King David, who in turn confessed his sin before the Lord. And then astonishingly Nathan responds, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die’ (2 Sam. 12:9-13). A first-time reader of this passage should gasp. David took another man’s wife and then had that man killed in battle, and the Lord just ‘put away’ his sin? Where is the justice in that for Uriah, or even Bathsheba? How can a good God not punish wickedness? One might be tempted to think God could just look away and disregard sin as irrelevant or unimportant whenever He wanted to, but that would mean He is unjust and does not treat sin as it deserves. The sinner would surely appreciate such mercy, but what about the victim? Where is the justice for the innocent?

God could not simply ‘put away’ sin and maintain His justice at the same time. He could not be a God of righteousness without comprehensively addressing the problem of sin. His patience toward sinners should not be mistaken for apathy toward sin. Back to what Paul wrote to the Romans: ‘[Jesus’ death] was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.’ Jesus’ death on the cross displayed God’s perfect righteousness and justice. The sin, like David’s, that had been passed over for centuries was finally given the knock-out blow it deserved. All the sins for all God’s children for all time were laid on Jesus when He died, and all the world could see the glory of God’s righteous character on display as His wrath poured out for this sin.

The other way in which God’s righteousness and justice are clearly seen in the cross is by observing the lengths that God went to maintain this part of His character. The Father was willing to send His only Son into the world to die a humiliating death in order to punish sin in the way His justice required. For God to be a righteous and just God, sin could not be ignored. It had to be confronted. And punished. Jesus Himself was willing to suffer and die – even taking the punishment on Himself – in order to address sin in a way that upheld the character of God.

In recounting God’s faithfulness to generations, Asaph said of God, ‘He restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath’ (Ps. 78:38). It is a myth that the God of the Old Testament is wrathful and angry, but the God of the New Testament is not. Just like it’s a myth that the God of the New Testament is loving, but the God of the Old Testament is not. In episode after episode, God shows Himself incredibly patient with, and merciful to, sinners for generations and generations. God waited to deal with sin as it deserved. At the cross, we see God’s glorious justice enacted toward sin as the God-man Jesus bore the punishment for the sins of His people.

What about Me?

Do you ever consider God’s justice when you take account of your own life? Do your trials ever seem ‘unfair?’ We can be confident that a God who goes to such great lengths to protect His justice is a God who is always acting in a just and right manner. We cannot complain that our circumstances are unfair when we look at the cross. Jesus is the only person in history who was punished when He deserved none. Would you reconsider your accusation against God as being unfair for the trial you find yourself in? Whatever the current trial you are experiencing, it has been designed by a just God to bring about your growth in righteousness–to make you more like Christ.

And yet, because we see Jesus’ death proclaiming our God who displays justice perfectly, we know we too should be people who care about what is just. We should be people who fight on behalf of those who are weak and treated unfairly. Our reputations should be that we stand up for justice when it is lacking, whether in the lives of individuals, corporations, or nations. As those in Christ, we should reflect the heart of our Savior – loving mercy and demonstrating justice.

Subscribe to this blog to receive Jenny Manley‘s next article on God’s display of his character at the cross. Read the first article here. These articles are excerpts from Jenny’s new book, The Good Portion: Christ.

Holiness Displayed

When I was a toddler and my older brother Matt was in first grade, he rode the school bus each morning to school. One particularly memorable spring morning, the bus full of children arrived at its usual stop while my mom was still urging my brother to put down Batman and hurry to the bus stop. By the time my brother reached the bus, its doors had just closed, and the other neighborhood children were already finding their seats. I’m still not sure if the bus driver did not see my brother or just wanted to teach him a lesson about timeliness, but he drove away toward the next stop while my brother was still trying unsuccessfully to pry open the doors. My mom, watching this all unfold from our front door, saw my brother’s superhero self-assurance take over, as he decided he could catch the moving bus – whose wheels were taller than he was.

My father heard the commotion from my mom and came out of his bedroom just in time to see Matt running down the middle of the street dangerously close to oncoming traffic and a moving school bus. This would be a dilemma for any loving father. But unfortunately for everyone involved, the problem was compounded because my dad was in the middle of getting dressed.

In the following split second, my dad made a decision that would become folklore in our small hometown. Without hesitation or trousers, he darted out the front door running after my brother. By the time my dad caught up with Matt, the neighbors had come out of their homes, alerted to the unfolding drama by my mom’s horrified screams and a nearly-naked grown man running down the street. Fortunately, before my brother caught up with the school bus, my dad scooped my brother into his arms and carried him safely home. The neighbors were speechless as they watched my dad, far more concerned about his son than he was about the public appearance of his underwear.

Prior to this episode, my father had said things to my brother, older sister, and me like, ‘I would do anything to protect you all.’ We heard him say this, but we had not seen the lengths to which he was actually willing to go for us. After the episode of his running down the street in his underwear, we understood our father was willing to sacrifice his own good (and pride) if it meant protecting us. That spring morning’s activities were a clear demonstration of this aspect of his character. He loved us and was willing to fiercely protect us, even at his own expense. Along with his underwear, we all saw my dad’s character on display in dramatic fashion.

For centuries, God had been revealing aspects of his character to his people that they had not yet fully seen demonstrated. But it was at the cross that God’s character was seen dramatically and clearly. All creation could see God’s holiness, righteousness and justice, as well as his grace and love displayed in powerful clarity at the cross of Christ Jesus. Today, we will look more closely at how the cross of Christ displayed the holiness of God. In the following few weeks we will consider how Jesus’ death displayed other aspects of God’s character.

Holiness Displayed

The holiness of God is perhaps his most defining characteristic, and while God ensured his people knew of his holiness in the Old Testament (Exod. 3:1-4, 17; Exod. 19:16-24; 2 Sam. 6:1-11), the cross provides a significantly clearer picture of it. God’s holiness encompasses his moral purity, although there is a second use of the word in Scripture we must keep in mind. Scripture’s use of the word holiness usually refers to being separate or intentionally set apart for God’s use. God met Moses in a burning bush and even the ground around the bush was set apart as holy. Aaron was ‘set apart’ as the first high priest to make offerings to God and pronounce blessings from God (1 Chron. 23:13). His lineage became the priestly line, separate from the rest of the tribes of Israel to keep the holy worship of God according to God’s command. The center of the tabernacle was set apart as the Most Holy Place (Lev. 16) because that is where God’s presence dwelled. No one could walk into that room nonchalantly and live.

Unholy people cannot be in fellowship with a holy God. They have not been set apart for God’s use, and they have no right to his morally pure presence. Our sin keeps us separated. The cross then is the only answer to the question of how a holy God can be reconciled to an unholy people. Through a perfectly holy mediator our sin can be paid for and we can be declared righteous. We can be set apart to be in the presence of God.

The only acceptable form of payment for treason against a holy God is a perfectly holy substitute for us. Our guilt is punished in Jesus, and he transfers to us his righteousness so that we can be made right with a holy God. Through this exchange of our sin for God’s righteousness, God upholds his holy character by punishing sin and declaring his people holy in Christ. This does not compromise God’s own holiness and righteousness. Instead, he removes our dirty sandals and gives us new metaphorical shoes so we can stand on his holy ground.

This great exchange – our sin for his righteousness – is what Paul boasts about to the Corinthians when he writes, ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor. 5:21). If you are in Christ, his righteousness now belongs to you. In theological terms, it has been imputed to you. This exchange rate is unbeatable. We trade in our sin and – in return – we get the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus. Cloaked in the righteousness of Christ, we are able to freely enter the most holy place. At the death of Jesus, the curtain in the temple separating the outer court from the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom, signifying that sin would no longer separate God’s people from Him. Those who enter through Christ enter into the very presence of God (Matt. 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45). Our perfect high priest has already made eternal atonement for us, and our sin no longer prevents us from approaching the holy God.

The Riches Found at the Cross

How foolish of us to brush past an enormous truth like this without meditating on the richness of it. At the cross, your biggest problem has been solved, and you contributed nothing to its solution. Your greatest boast has been accomplished, and your contribution? Absolutely zilch. In God’s vast wisdom, he simultaneously revealed his holy character and accomplished salvation for his people. I can think of other routes that God could have taken to clearly reveal his holiness, but they all end in eternal punishment of man. Only through the cross of Christ was God able to fully reveal himself as holy and altogether separate from sin, and yet also accomplish salvation for his people. Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! (Romans 11:33)

Subscribe to this blog to receive Jenny Manley‘s next two articles on God’s display of his character at the cross. These articles are excerpts from Jenny’s new book, The Good Portion: Christ.

Sneak Peak Interview: Natalie Brand

Read Natalie’s Sneak Peak Interview on her new book, The Good Portion: Salvation, with Melissa Kruger:

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a Christian, wife, mom, and theologian. I just love a flat white in one hand and a book in the other! 

I’m married to a fellow bibliophile, Tom, who I met at a theological college more than a decade ago. Tom serves as the ministry director for the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches, and he’s involved in pastoring pastors and supporting churches in the U.K. 

When did you first start writing? What do you enjoy about it?

I read a lot as a child, and my reading has always turned into pen-on-paper. I remember writing “novels” when I was young. They were nothing profound like the juvenile literature of Jane Austen. They were just half-finished stories. 

I always wanted to be a writer—to create something from nothing with words. It really is grace upon grace that I can now serve the Lord in this way.

Is writing ever difficult for you? How so?

Every book has its own difficulties, and each one always surprises me. How can I make this book even more accessible? How can I powerfully illustrate this God-truth? What should I include? What should I not include? Writing is just as much about what you don’t say as it is what you do say. I always struggle with that.

George Orwell once described writing a book to be “a horrible, exhausting struggle” rather like a long “bout of some painful illness.” I know what he means! It gives you such joy but is a hard slog, like pregnancy. 

It’s the mental obsession and ill-timed waves of inspiration that possess you. I think C. S. Lewis understood this when he said, “I was with book, as a woman is with child.”

Read the rest of Natalie’s interview.

The Status Change We All Need

Here’s a little taste of my book, The Good Portion: Christ, from The Gospel Coalition Blog.

As a mother of five young children, it’s not unusual for complete strangers to ask about my family. The question I hear most often at the grocery store or the playground is, “Are they all yours?” The most awkward I hear is, “Do you not believe in birth control?” But the most surprising came one spring afternoon when my children and some of their entrepreneurial friends set up a lemonade stand in front of our house. Someone stopped their car to ask me the name of our school. I took that as a compliment. They could’ve asked, “What is the name of your circus?” 

One of the sweetest questions I often hear is, “Who does he/she look like?” It’s an obvious question when we see a child. We look to see whom they resemble. Children inherit physical features from their parents, but parents also pass on things like habits and genetic medical history. We look to the older generation to see things we want to imitate or avoid as we get older. This is natural. Watching our parents gives us a foreshadowing of what life may be like down the road. 

God also raised up men in history whose lives help us better understand Jesus: human figures given to foreshadow his life and help us to understand his work more clearly. 

Read the rest of the excerpt.

Pitiful Christians in a Pandemic

As a brand-new, twenty-something Christian, spending a year doing intern youth ministry, I had just shared the gospel to a class of jaded twelve-year-olds, when a boy swamped in an over-sized school blazer approached me. By the look on his face the cogs of his mind were spinning fast. He politely asked if he could ask me a question and said, “What if you’re wrong? What if it all just isn’t true?”

I was flummoxed. As I floundered for an answer, a forgotten Christian lyric unfiled itself and jumped to the front of my brain:

And if I die with no reward/Then I know I had peace ‘cause I carried the sword.

I hastily quoted the line, trying to sound like some old sage. And although the boy nodded and walked away, I knew he was as unconvinced as I was.

The senselessness and emptiness of my words haunted me. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I found the biblical answer to the boy’s question. And it winded me like a blow to the gut! What if we have it all wrong? What if the gospel is not true? Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied’ (1 Cor. 15:19). No Christ . . . no reward . . . no peace . . . no nothing! Just pity – more pity than the most pitiable!

More pitiful than the new-born baby found wailing in the woods because it was unwanted by its mother. More pitiful than the one long imprisoned and enslaved, denied even an ounce of humanity. If we Christians die with no reward, we are more pitiful than these!

Futile

As the death toll continues to climb and we now see death in a way that for many of us was confined to history textbooks; what peace can we have if we hope in this life only? Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 couldn’t be further from the hollow optimism I had conveyed all those years ago; missing completely the true weight of gospel hope in Christ. Paul, in seeking to defend the resurrection of the dead on the Final Day, is fighting the Sadducees’ denial of resurrection on one side, and the Graeco-Roman ideals of total ‘end game’ or a wisp like half-life in Hades on the other. So, he underscores the necessity of Christ’s resurrection to the gospel and the union of Christ’s past resurrection to the future resurrection of His saints. ‘If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain’ (1 Cor. 15:14). ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’ (v.17). We Christians are those who declare in joyful song each week that Christ is our righteousness and freedom, even when we are stuck at home in isolation. Paul makes the point that if Christ were just a Nazarene, still lying dead in a grave in Palestine, then we are deceived and our faith is a sham. And ‘those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished’ (v.18). Meaning the belief and comfort that we will see our loved ones again is utterly ludicrous!

This is a real challenge to our spirituality at a time of global pandemic. Does our hope in Christ stretch beyond the grave, second-by-second, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, with such confidence that without it we are most miserable?

We are reminded that confessionally our resurrection hope in Christ is unique and unreserved. So much confidence we put upon the resurrection witness of the New Testament writers (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-8) and the witness of the Spirit to our hearts, that we are kings and queens – conquerors even – awaiting the promise of a mighty inheritance! We will not be left to maggot and decay. Our Lord Jesus, with whom we are supernaturally fused, is our power beyond the grave. His resurrection is our resurrection (vv.20-23). Do you hope in Christ like those who, out of 7 billion, would be the most to be pitied?

Sting!

I have a young daughter nicknamed ‘Bee’ who loves to pretend to be a bee. She buzzes around the house, punctuating her flying with attacks to innocent members of the family. “STING! STING! SHARP! SHARP!” she says to make the point. It always reminds me of Paul’s victory cry at the end of 1 Corinthians 15 (v.55).

Death certainly has a sting. Whether by means of a slow decline or a sudden tragedy, like a scorpion, death delivers a swift, sharp and painful shock. We have certainly experienced this in recent weeks. In an instant, someone we love is gone and we are forced to bury one we don’t want to live without. Yet in the gospel there is life in death. Never before has a grisly execution been the means of eternal life, bringing about the death of death itself! When anxiety drains you of peace during the night, remember death was defeated by the Easter work of Christ, and it will not survive its own final Ragnarok on the Day of Judgement. ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (vv.25-26).

We are not pitiful but those united to ‘the Resurrection and the Life’ (John 11:25). Christ is our comfort, hope and victory in the merciless face of death. Christ is our certain reward!

So now death ‘where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Cor. 15:54-55).

Adapted excerpt from Natalie’s new book, The Good Portion: The Doctrine of Salvation, for Every Woman.

Natalie Brand (Ph.D. Trinity St. David) is adjunct lecturer in historical and systematic theology at Union School of Theology. She is the author of The Good Portion: The Doctrine of Salvation, for Every Woman, part of The Good Portion series published by Christian Focus. Her other works are Complementarian Spirituality: Reformed Women and Union with Christ and Prone to Wander: Grace for the Lukewarm and Apathetic. She is lives with her husband and three daughters, and hopes one day to move to Bag End in the Shire.

*** Look for a Facebook Live discussion with The Good Portion authors, Natalie, Keri, Rebecca and Jenny, on the Christian Focus Publishing page Monday, May 18, 2:00 p.m. E.S.T.