© Charles A. Clough 1999
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 5: Confrontation with the King
Chapter 4: The Death of the King
Lesson 135 – Examining Unbelief: Jewish, Gentile, & Modern Unbelief
02 Dec 1999
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’ve been working through the death of Christ, and just to review, we have said that as always when we look at some specifics, the consciousness that we want to have as believers is to remember that when we look at anything, any subject, any topic, any truth, whatever it is, we have to envelop that in a biblical frame of reference. That goes for the cross of Christ. We’ll see some very bizarre things tonight about how people interpret the cross of Christ, because they do not encompass that narrow truth, that specific act, that event, that story, inside a bigger framework. You can’t understand the cross of Christ if you don’t understand the larger framework. We spent time showing how this larger frame of reference that’s so necessary to understand the cross depends upon us understanding God’s justice and all of His attributes, His holiness, or His justice or His righteousness, that cluster that theologians refer to as holiness that refers to that which is in God. It didn’t get there by some human legislation, it’s part of His character. It was there before any human being existed, it will be there for all eternity, God is immutable, He is unchangeable, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He always has been holy, He always will be holy, He can’t change.
That means that whatever happens to us as creatures, whatever happens by way of salvation or condemnation, it always hinges on our adjustment to His attributes. God never adjusts to man; man has to adjust to God. His character and His attributes form the reference point. So whatever we say, however we look at the cross, it always demonstrates holiness, because God is not going to compromise His holiness in any way, shape or fashion. Men may desire a psychological gospel; men may desire therapeutic approaches to life that ignore the holiness of God, but that doesn’t make God’s holiness, or God’s righteousness or His justice obsolete. It still remains. The stubborn fact is that no matter how men try to design a plan of salvation, they have got to, in the final analysis, either pass or flunk the test of does it or does it not conform to the justice of God. There are hundreds of religions on the face of the planet; we live in a day when everybody wants an equal voice, all opinions are the same. This is the age of pluralism, we have to give due respect to the hotten-tots and everyone else that came up with some sort of religious answer to life.
The point remains, that God’s holiness it the standard by which we judge patterns of salvation. That’s why we spent a lot of time developing the biblical idea of justice, and we’ve noticed some characteristics of that biblical idea of justice. For example, we notice that it’s restitutionary, that that’s a trait of God’s justice. He demands that the broken order be restored. He doesn’t sit and leave things in a pile of junk, they have to be restored. It’s true in eternity when He finally separates the good and evil, there will be an eternal trash heap. But there will also be an eternal city of God. So it’s not true that once something fails He just leaves it in a heap. Restitutionary justice demands that it be fixed somehow. We said that God’s justice is aligned in Scripture with the Messiah. That was our second concept, that the Messiah of the Old Testament, right from Genesis 3 was linked to God’s justice in some way. The Messiah, if He is to be the Messiah, if He is to be the one who delivers, He Himself has to deliver by the standard of God’s righteousness and His justice.
Then we covered the New Testament presentation of the cross. We said at least five things about how the New Testament presents the cross of Christ. The first thing we said is that it’s an analogous fulfillment, that’s a bad term, it’s presented as an instance of Old Testament criminal law at work. So obviously you have to know Old Testament criminal law. The whole passage in Galatians 3 assumes that we understand Deuteronomy 21, and it assumes that we are familiar with Jewish criminal law; otherwise you don’t even get the point. Nobody can come close to Galatians 3 unless they understand Hebrew criminal law. The criminal law said that a capital punishment, when a criminal was executed, his body had to remain on a post on display as an emblem of God’s justice, God’s judgment. They didn’t hide it some place, they had an execution that was public, it was almost a religious ceremony. And it was done not to be gory or gruesome; it was done in order to demonstrate that God’s holiness is not going to be compromised.
Jesus Christ on the cross fulfilled that pattern because His body was on display, and Paul said, because He was on the cross he inferred that Jesus Christ therefore [fulfilled] the Old Testament criminal law code that said, “cursed” of God. It’s a demonstration of holiness. So there’s a practical conclusion to this. How serious do we take God’s righteousness and justice? We ought to take it pretty seriously, because if we want a picture of His righteousness and justice we have to look at what He did to His own Son; that’s a picture. He is not going to compromise, and if we have any lurking ideas about God softens in the New Testament His righteousness and justice …, people have that idea, in the Old Testament God is a cruel God, in the New Testament He somehow got with the program and now He’s a loving God, He evolved a little bit. Yet in the New Testament we present one of the most horrifying examples of His justice, the cross of Christ. Nothing’s changed; it’s still the God who will not be compromised, the God of integrity.
We further said that if you look at the cross of Christ you notice that it has a unique characteristic. It’s the only instance in human history where a man, a human being, chose the moment of His own death. Jesus Christ gave up His spirit. That’s a phrase that’s never found elsewhere in the Scripture of a human person dying. It’s an absolutely unique phrase, reserved to communicate that when Jesus Christ died, He did not die because of the Romans, He did not die because of the Jews, He died because the work was finished, and there was no more reason for Him to live. So He chose the moment of His death.
A third thing we said is that the cross of Christ changes the basis of condemnation, that prior to the cross of Christ, it was at least theoretically true that people who died in unbelief died under the judgment of their sins. Since the cross of Christ provides an atonement sufficient to cover the sins, then a person who dies in unbelief this side of the cross dies because they have not believed…, because had they believed their personal sins would not have been an issue because they were borne by the Savior. So the cross of Christ is a watershed of history, it changes the basis of condemnation. Men are condemned because of failure to trust in the way of salvation.
If you want a picture in Exodus it would be like we were all Egyptian families, and we all had first-born sons, and we knew the angel of death was going to come. If there were no blood on the doors by way of salvation, our sons would die because of the angel of death. But in the point of the Exodus there was an escape. What we would have had to have done was identify ourselves by faith with the Jewish people, and have blood on the door. Since that way of escape came into existence and was offered, why do our first-born sons die? Is it because of the angel of death or is it because we have forsaken the way of salvation. It’s the same with Noah and the ark, again judgment/salvation. We’re going back to the frame of reference. Each event in the Scripture has doctrine with it, and what were the two events of judgment/salvation. One was Noah’s flood, one was the Exodus. Why were people drowned in the flood? Because they weren’t in the ark. If there hadn’t been an ark then they would have drowned because of the water. But now there was an ark, yes they drowned from the water, but because there was an ark that they forsook. So the cross of Christ removes one of the arguments for why I’m being condemned.
The fourth principle is that the cross is a strategic victory in this larger angelic conflict that goes on down through history, the forces of good and evil in the background that we can’t see. But the cross of Christ has repercussions in the unseen realm. That’s reiterated several places in the New Testament.
Finally, the New Testament presents the cross of Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the most solemn, most commemorated Old Testament ceremony, Passover. The cross fulfills Passover.
Tonight we want to deal with the problem of unbelief. We want to examine this unbelief in the cross of Christ because it’s the watershed issue in defining orthodox Christianity. Christianity is divided into a modernist liberal approach with a conservative biblical approach. The watershed of division between those two approaches isn’t necessarily eschatology, it’s soteriology, it’s the issue of what does the cross of Christ accomplish. Every cult, every modernist, every one of the far-out positions differ from the Bible in that they deny what has happened on the cross. So the cross now becomes a critical issue. Before we go further and deal with the doctrines associated with the cross we want to look at the unbelief.
On pages 29 and 55 you see parallel diagrams. We’re going to see another one tonight, but I want to take you to the previous examples of this diagram because both of these show the principle that when I envelop the cross in an alien frame of reference, so that instead of looking at it from a biblical point of view, I now look at it from an unbelieving point of view. When I surround the cross with that kind of a frame of reference, or surround any of the truths of the Lord Jesus Christ, I wind up with unbelief. On page 29 we drew a diagram of the first event in Christ’s life, which is His birth, and what was the issue there? What was the background behind this unbelief? At that point, Figure 1, page 29 says that the issue was one’s worldview of God, man and nature. In other words, if people can’t think about the Creator/creature distinction, they’re not going to believe in the virgin birth and the incarnation. How can they? What is the virgin birth and incarnation all about? It’s the Creator becoming the creature. How do you think about that if you don’t believe in the Creator/creature distinction? It all fits very logically together. Those who disbelieve in the incarnation and can’t bring themselves to believe in a virgin birth tell us something. In other words, we have to read what’s underneath the book cover. What’s under the cover here? Unbelief in the virgin birth and the incarnation is an exterior manifestation of an internal unbelief in the Creator/creature distinction. That’s the real thing that’s going on underneath the façade.
On page 55 we showed the second event in the life of Christ, which was His life as a whole demonstrated in the four Gospels. We said there the issue was people who can’t accept the New Testament record, like Time Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, before Christmas and Easter, that kind of thing, college professors, some of them teaching in Christian colleges. When they can’t believe in the New Testament record of the life of Christ, but feel burdened to reconstruct the record into that which was really the Jesus, not the one the church made up. See, the New Testament record is just looked upon as something that Christians wrote about, but not the real Jesus, he’s behind the text. They make a distinction. Why do they do this? That is an external sign of an internal unbelief. An internal unbelief in what? In a God who speaks, a God who reveals Himself, a God who publicly speaks.
By revelation what we mean is the God who spoke where? What was the great Old Testament event that shows more clearly than all the other events the God who speaks? Mount Sinai. There’s a picture in your mind that you want to have whenever the issue of revelation comes up. Why is that? Because God publicly spoke. It wasn’t a committee, Joe, John, Paul and somebody else who had internal …, they felt in their heart God was speaking. That’s private. Mount Sinai was public. You could have taken a tape recording and tape recorded it in the Hebrew language, that’s what we mean by revelation. We’re not talking about internal thoughts. We’re talking about speech that can be heard, that can be shared simultaneously heard by multiple witnesses. That’s what we mean by revelation.
People who can’t bring themselves to accept the text of the New Testament as a bona fide infallible record have deep in their heart an unbelief in a God who speaks. On page 85 we come to the same thing. Here we have the cross of Christ. What unbelief is smoked out of the woodwork by people who re-explain the cross of Christ? It’s one’s view of God’s justice. Liberals who cannot bring themselves to believe that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father but by Me” have a problem, not with the Bible (they have a problem with the Bible) but they have a problem of unbelief. Remember what Jesus said? He said “who do men say I am?” We went to Mark, started off with that verse, “who do men say that I am?” Some say you’re John the Baptist, some say this, some say that.
And who do you say I am? Jesus required a response. His presence in history condemns us in this: that it forces out into the open where we stand. That’s what John says. The men come not to the light. Why don’t they come to the light? Lest their deeds be reproved, because to come to Christ means we come to the table and we confess our unbelief, our sin, and we’re drawn to Him. But if we turn away from Christ we confirm our unbelief. The cross, when people say oh you know, Christianity is so narrow, golly, we’ve got all these other religions out there, Confucius was a good man, how can you Christians be so bigoted to think you’re the way, the truth and the life.
There are a couple of men in the congregation that work a lot with high voltage, and one might say well gee, John, you know, why do you worry about insulators when you deal with high voltage? Isn’t that narrow minded, those big thick gloves don’t look nice, why don’t you just touch it with your hands, why are you so narrow minded that you’ve got to have gloves every time you get near this thing? Because there’s high voltage there. Why do we get narrow minded about the cross? Because we have a holy God! It’s very simple, it all fits together. The problem is that people don’t see the holiness and righteousness of God.
Now we’re going to show examples of where it started among the Jews and carried on among the Gentiles. Turn to the biblical passage that deals most with the issue of unbelief, Rom. 11, because Paul was constrained in his ministry, as a Jew he was constrained to explain the fact that Israel did not, as a nation, accept the Messiah. We’ll look at what the apostle is doing with respect to unbelief. He’s got to deal with unbelief. Notice he doesn’t approach it this way; this is the way modern evangelical Christians would try to approach it. Well, you know, we just didn’t use the right technique, we’ve got a church-growth movement, we’ve got to get all the techniques in place, we’re just not with the program with our culture, we’ve got to get culturally tuned, we’ve got to take surveys of our neighborhood, find out what’s on people’s minds, and we’ve got to address that. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with taking surveys of neighbors to find what they’re doing, what’s wrong is after you do it, what do you do with that information. That’s the problem.
Paul is not saying you know, I don’t know, Peter and John and those guys, I think they screwed up, they didn’t have a positive approach to the gospel, you know if we could just change the approach then we could win Israel to Christ. Israel didn’t believe in Jesus because of a poor presentation of the gospel. But that’s not Paul’s explanation here. Notice his explanation of why people reject Christ. He says in verse 2, “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?  ‘Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have torn down Thine altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’  But what is the divine response to him? ‘I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’” In other words, what it means is that God, first of all, is not going to retract, compromise, or go back on His promise to Abraham. Remember Abraham, you shall have a seed. There’s always going to be people who believe. So it’s not true that the whole nation dropped the ball, no-no, there were a lot of Jews, a core of Jews that did believe.
The question has changed hasn’t it? Now the question moves from oh gee, they did a poor presentation of the gospel to, well, if a minority believed, why isn’t the majority believing? Some men believed, and this is God’s way, and he’s focusing on God and His sovereignty. So in verse 5 he says, “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.  What then?” Now watch it, here’s his explanation of the unbelief, “What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened.” So what’s the unbelief? It’s described as a hardening of the heart. The gospel hardens hearts as well as softens them.
Then it says in verse 8, “just as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day.’  And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block and a retribution to them.  Let their eyes be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever.’” Now he describes that under the sovereignty of God this is a greater purpose. But in the margin you should see a reference to what verse 8 is referring to. Romans 12:8 is a citation out of Isaiah. We want to turn back to Isaiah 6 where that came from and see what Isaiah was talking about.
In Isaiah 6:9-12, this is a strange commission that God gives His prophet. Just so we remember, what was the role of the Old Testament prophets? As we went into the Old Testament we said that the Old Testament period involved the discipline of the king upon the nation. The prophets were not social reformers as liberal theology would have it. They weren’t politicians. They weren’t people who inspired the masses. The prophets were spokesmen of God that acted legally like prosecuting attorneys. They came to the nation, not in their own name, they came to the nation in the name of the Torah, they came and said you have violated the commandment of the king, and now you shall be cursed, but before God cursed His nation, grace before judgment, He announced the coming judgment to the nation, and the judgments that were to come upon Israel were to come upon Israel because of their violation of the covenant. God is faithful; man isn’t. So all during this period under the kingdom divided and the kingdom decline was this chastening and repentance, chastening and repentance, and during this period of chastening and repentance is when Isaiah 6 was written. Watch what God tells Isaiah to do. Here’s this prosecuting attorney…, by the way, verses 3-4 is that famous passage where Isaiah looked up and he saw the throne of God.
God tells him in verse 9, “And He said, ‘Go, and tell this people,” and there’s sarcasm here, it doesn’t come across so much in the translation but it’s a really interesting passage when you study the original language. “… Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.  Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and repent and be healed.’  Then I said, ‘Lord, how long?’ And He answered, ‘Until cities are devastated” now there’s a ministry of the teaching of the Word of God and it’s not one that’s popular, and it’s not one that is often spoken of. But Isaiah was given a strange commission to preach to the nation in order to blind it, to preach the Word of God in order to that it be rejected, to teach the Word of God repetitively so that every time a person would hear the Word of God and go on negative volition toward the Word of God, it would harden their heart, their negative volition would get stronger, the negative volition would get stronger, and stronger, and stronger until finally when the nation got in this state, that was the time for judgment.
So Isaiah is to bring about the judgments by hardening men’s hearts through the teaching of the Word of God. How did Isaiah do this? If you do a statistical check of the preaching of Isaiah, here’s what you find if you draw a bar graph. I’ll draw two bars on this graph and it tells you the relative frequency with which he preached the First and Second Advent of the Messiah. By First and Second Advent, Isaiah didn’t divide it that way. By First Advent I mean the suffering servant and the Second Advent, the glorious reigning Messiah. That’s the ratio, in other words, for every time that Isaiah mentioned the suffering servant and connected the Messiah with sin, ten to fifteen times he preached the glorious coming of the Messiah that would bring victory to the nation Israel. Why is this skewed this way? It is to lead the people down a primrose path. They’ve gone on negative volition; they didn’t understand the preaching of Isaiah in the first place.
If they had understood the issue of sin and atonement they would have understood that it’s this that they should pay attention to, the Isaiah 53 kind of passage. But they turned against that. A people who are in unbelief aren’t convicted of sin and therefore don’t need salvation. So what you do is keep pumping them, pumping them, pumping them up with all this great expectations of victory, happiness, etc. Much like today we have a gospel of universal salvation, everybody wants to go to heaven so we’re going to talk about heaven, talk about the good things of God, never talk about anything bad, always talk about the blessings of God, always talking about this and that. Isaiah did the same thing. In the course of his ministry, that kind of ministry was designed to harden hearts. That came out in the New Testament, but before we get there, turn to Isaiah 30:8, another passage along the same line to show what Isaiah was doing.
Here is what had happened by this period after this kind of preaching. After you’ve told people everything is going to be all right, ultimately everything’s going to be all right, it’s going to be all right, why do you bother to have a prophet? So in Isaiah 30:8 God says to Isaiah, “Now go, write it on a tablet before the nation and inscribe it on a scroll, that it may serve in a time to come as a witness forever.  For this is a rebellious people, false sons, sons who refuse to listen to the instruction of Jehovah;  Who say to the seers, ‘You must not see visions,” and to the prophets, ‘You must not prophesy to us what is right, speak to us pleasant words, prophesy illusions.”
A very important passage; this is the arrogance of unbelief to the point where it is now officially reconstructing religion after the flesh. This comes into the New Testament and it almost caught the disciples. This is so imbued in the nation Israel that Messiah would put everything … everything would be fine, it’d be pleasant, none of this unpleasantness of this suffering servant thing, but everything pleasant about the reigning king. Turn to what Mary sung. We often read this at Christmas. Mary shared the typical Jewish belief of the time, except she being a regenerate believer understood more about sin and the issue of a Savior. Nevertheless, Mary’s magnificat gives you a sense of what the patriotic Jew looked for in their Messiah. They had never forgotten this picture from Isaiah, of the glorious, the reigning Messiah.
Luke 1:46, “And Mary said: My soul exalts the Lord,  and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,” so at least she understands the saving part, Mary is not unbelieving here, but what I’m pointing out here is look at the emphasis in her magnificat on the final glory of the Messiah.  “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.  For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.  And His mercy is upon generation after generation towards those who fear Him.  He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent away the rich empty-handed.  He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy,  As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.”
So as a believer she understands the plan of history centering on the Abraham contract. But this young Jewish girl, prophesying of a future, sees the Messiah doing all these things in verses 51, 52, but they’re future to Mary’s time. Though they’re in the past tense like most prophecy, it’s past tense because in her vision she sees it as having been accomplished. But in history it has yet to be accomplished. That gives you a sense of the anticipation of the Messiah.
We’re going to go chronologically so I’m going to skip from Luke to Matthew, then I’m going to go back to Luke. Go to Matthew 16. This is half way through Jesus’ ministry, and let’s see what happens. Here we are again, in the middle of a nation; I just drew a bar chart of the relative frequency of speaking of the suffering servant Messiah versus the reigning glorious Messiah. In Matthew 16:21 there’s a shift in Jesus’ career. Now because people are not coming to Him as Savior, they don’t like what they see in Jesus. He isn’t quite fulfilling number two over here, and they don’t like this, because He’s laid down the rule. What has Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount done with God’s holiness and His righteousness? It is not going to be compromised and you have to deal with that, and they didn’t want to deal with that. They wanted pleasant, soothing words; prophesy to us pleasant words, not unpleasant ones.
In Matthew 16:21, when Jesus begins to elevate the frequency so instead of Isaiah’s frequency, here’s what Jesus is going to do, He’s going to start more and more on the First Advent and He’s going to downplay the second one. He’s going to reverse the balance. So, “From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.  And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’  But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.’ ” A rather humbling response. Even Peter, as a good Jew, reacted against this shift that happened here. This was not welcome news.
Let’s go to Luke, you remember the Emmaus Road incident. We looked at three points in Christ’s life, first while He was a baby, the anticipation even of His mother toward what He would do. But then as time goes on, the First Advent and the suffering side gets emphasized more and more. Now in Luke 24:19, this is a conversation on the Emmaus Road, Jesus comes up and He asks them a question, and one of them says what planet have you been on the last five days, you haven’t heard what’s been going on? Verse 19, “And He said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to Him, ‘The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people,  and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him up to the sentence of death, and crucified Him.  But we were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened.’” And then he describes this story that they didn’t believe about the resurrection. But you see, they couldn’t help but think something’s wrong here, there’s something wrong with this picture of Jesus dying, that’s Messiah, He’s not supposed to die.
That’s the Jewish problem; Jewish unbelief centered on the glory of the reigning Messiah, this was the good thing, and it is a good thing. But the problem is how do you get there? It goes back to the diagram we’ve shown over and over of good and evil. You can’t have the separation of good and evil unless this happens. What separates good and evil? A judgment. You can’t get to the good things until you go through the judgment to get rid of the bad things. The judgment is the issue of God’s judgment, that He’s going to do to separate us, and that raises the issue of salvation. In unbelief the Jews, because of the natural inclination of the sinful fallen man, had come to emphasize the good and what they wanted was salvation without the judgment. They wanted to be an evolutionist spiritually, that we evolve into a higher plain and there’s no discontinuity, there’s no judgment in the way. They wanted salvation without judgment. There were two pictures in the Old Testament about salvation, Noah’s flood and the Exodus. Were those just salvations, or were they judgment/ salvations? They were judgment/salvations in both cases. And they were pictures of the ultimate judgment salvation. You can’t have salvation without judgment. That is unbelief, and ultimately it’s rooted in a deep denial of the being of God.
Now we’re going to move from all that Jewish unbelief over to the Gentile unbelief. On page 83 of the notes we want to look at some quotations. There are three quotes I want to look at, two on page 83, one on page 84. I’ll read them and look carefully at what is being said.
“Gentiles have claimed that an atoning death is incompatible with the love of God.” Now here comes the goo, what has happened, no so much among the Jews but among the Gentiles, the Gentile form of unbelief, sort of parallel to the Jews, seizes upon the good and pleasant things. What’s the good and pleasant news of the gospel? That God loves, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” So let’s take love and let’s minimize justice and holiness, and let’s just sit and talk about love all day long. What it is is a content-less word now, there’s no integrity behind it. Watch these quotes now. The “Gentiles have claimed that an atoning death is incompatible with the love of God. God, being a God of love, these liberals reason, does not require a bloody atonement before He forgives. Forgiveness, they insist, can be granted merely on the basis of repentance without any atonement. Thus the liberal theologian Hasting Rashdall, for example, writes: ‘That sin ought to be forgiven when there is [only] sincere repentance is a truth which, like all ultimate ethical truths, must be accepted simply because it is self-evident.’ ”
“Self-evident,” is it really? If sin can be removed merely by repentance, then it implies that no damage has been done in the real objective entity outside. Repentance doesn’t gain forgiveness of sins unless there’s a cross that is conditioned, the benefits flow upon repentance. But if there’s no cross out there to give the blessing, you can repent all day long and it doesn’t do a thing because repentance doesn’t do what according to justice. Justice, God’s justice means restitution. Where’s the restitution in repentance? Repentance doesn’t have any restitution. So repentance doesn’t save. Here we have a collision. Here’s the gospel, everybody says well there’s so many religions in the world, and how can you be so arrogant to say Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.”
Again why bother with gloves when you’re handling a 10,000-watt high-voltage line? Because the voltage is there. Why are you worried about “the way, the truth, and the life?” Because God has character, He has integrity, He has justice, that’s why. Doesn’t your God, or is He some lovey-flake? We don’t have a flake God here, we have a God of integrity, and you come to Him on His terms. In Eden there was only one gate to the garden, and there was only one way to get there. And there’s only one way to get into His kingdom, because we don’t define the gate. He does, it’s His call, not ours. He didn’t ask for a committee, He didn’t ask for a democratic vote, He didn’t even take a Gallup Poll among all of His creation to decide what would be the most pleasant way to be saved. So here we have a liberal who lets it all hang out. This is liberalism. I went and got this right out of a liberal theologians quote, and you can see the frustration in his quote. You can feel his emotions in that statement, can’t you? He’s frustrated that anybody would dare to think that you’ve got to have something besides repentance.
Let’s look at another quote. “Once it is granted that atonement is no longer required for forgiveness, the death of Christ becomes less than necessary. In fact, the only accomplishment of the death of Christ is its exemplary force to man.” It’s the death of a martyr. “The cross exerts ‘moral influence’ upon man in some way, recent liberals believe. It testifies to Christ’s love for man in pursuing His mission all the way to the grave. Jesus, according to this liberal model, demonstrates sincerity in dying for His convictions.” That may be true, He did die for His convictions, yes, but that’s not the story of Jesus. A lot of guys died for their convictions. Every martyr in history has died for his convictions. That’s to take the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man Savior, and to lower him down on the same plain with all human beings. Now here’s a beauty of a quote, look at this one. [blank spot]
… exponent of unbelief because they’re so logically consistent that they let it all hang out, it’s all there, and it’s all dirty linen lying on the table, and they’re not embarrassed by it. One of the great services that Dr. Singer at Princeton is giving us in America … he’s one of the most brilliant anti-Christians that exist, and what is he telling us? Everybody’s upset and there are demonstrations at Princeton by people in wheel chairs, all the crippled people and handicap and they’re all saying Singer is dangerous, get him off the faculty or Princeton. What is Singer saying? He’s saying I don’t see any difference between the fetus and the baby, so you kill the fetus, kill the baby. Aha, didn’t want to do that did we? Well, we opened the door, so if all Singer is doing is taking it one step further. If you’ve got a deformed kid, spina bifida or something, knock him off, he’s not a full person, kill him. He’s actually saying it’s a good thing, not that you have permission to do it, Singer’s position is you have a social duty to do it. It’s the bad thing to keep a deformed child alive because it burdens you and it burdens society. The good them to do is put them and society out of their misery, kill them. He is officially advocating infanticide.
But wait a minute, pagans have always had infanticide. In the Old Testament you took your babies to Molech, they fried them. Paganism has always done this. It’s just in American we don’t like to speak about that? Why not? If you want to play unbelief let’s play unbelief, real unbelief. Listen to Singer, that’s what he’s saying. Americans tend to be very superficial people; we like to play at things. That’s what unbelievers like, they like to play; they like to play pretending they don’t believe the gospel. I don’t believe the Word of God. How could you be so stupid and yet you turn around and have morals. Where do you get that from? You just reduced everything to personal opinion, so maybe I’d like to blow your head off with a .38, that’s my hobby, see how many people I can kill with a .38, I don’t use a .45, I use a .38, I like that pistol better, so I go shoot people, that’s my personal preference. Hey, it’s a free country. Oh, you don’t like that, why don’t you like that. Well I think … yea, but I think the other way. But I don’t think that way. So what, I think this way. Now what do we have? Pay attention to men like Singer, these are our secret allies, they let it all hang out.
Now look at this guy, look at how he deals with Acts 4:12, “There is no other name among heaven given among men whereby we may be saved.” Look what Rashdall does with it, our Mr. Liberal.
“Rashdall illustrates this belief in his paraphrase of Acts 4:12, ‘There is none other ideal given among men by which we may be saved except the moral ideal which Christ … illustrated by His … death of love ….’ ” That’s all the goo that you can imagine in a sentence, all the vocabulary, oh, he’s got a death of love … well what the heck is a death of love? What is that? It’s the martyr idea. Isn’t that inspiring? Every time you see a crucifix you think it’s a death of love. Hmmm, the guy really was sincere. That’s what liberalism does to the cross of Christ. What does unbelief do here? They have a problem with the justice of God. In other words, by exaggerating the love of God, and diminishing the justice of God they’ve deformed God into an idolatrous reconstruction and then having done that they can’t find a reason for the cross any more. Of course they can’t, not with a God like this. Why, if things are really like this, do we need a cross? Next page and I’ll show you how the evangelicals even begin to think this way, page 84. This is a Baptist conservative theologian I’m quoting, listen to this guy.
“The idea of reparation [restitution] has become questionable today since it seems associated with irrational vengeance. It is true that people today still have a largely unconscious desire to see certain kinds of criminals pay for their crimes …. But few people will consciously acknowledge that they believe in a general principle of making reparation.” Humphreys, in his book continues on in the conversation, and do you know what he does? We’ve got to rethink how the gospel is preached, because our society, our contemporaries don’t believe any longer in the idea of a restitution. Well, what’s the problem? Let’s think about the diagram. If the problem is that they’ve diminished justice, then what do we need to do to preach the gospel. We’ve got to define justice, we’ve got to go back one step and say all right, we’ll come back here and we’ll start dealing with the justice of God. We’ve got to straighten that out, 2 + 2 isn’t 5. That’s why we’re having multiplication problems over here, we haven’t got the addition right. So we abandon the multiplication temporarily and we come over and fix up the other, the foundation. Then we go and we keep on preaching the gospel.
But what does Humphreys do? What Humphreys says is that 2 + 2 = 5, and we’ll just go with it, so we’ll change the multiplication table to fit that. We made a mistake over here, so let’s make another one, let’s change the gospel. We’ll change it, now it’s backwards, it’s totally backwards. But that’s what’s happening. The point is, if we go to Romans 1 we see the mechanics of how this takes place. Turn to Romans 1:32, because this verse tells us the dynamics of what’s happening here, why the cross of Christ is not clearly understood, why people do not want to clearly understand it, and why certain forms of gospel preaching are compromising the truth of the cross of Christ.
Romans 1:32, this verse is just loaded, loaded with insight. It says, this is speaking of paganism, a pagan society, “and, although they know the ordinance of God,” who’s “they,” the subject of that verb? All men, it doesn’t say those who admit they believe in God know the ordinances of God. It’s “they,” all men … well, I don’t believe in God, how can I know the ordinance of God? You know the ordinance of God. Well I don’t believe in God. You know the ordinance of God. Well I don’t believe it. You still know the ordinance of God. How can you say that? Because you’re made in His image and you know the ordinance of God. That’s what Paul says here, no compromise, I don’t care what you say, you know the ordinance of God. “… that those who practice such things are worthy of death,” they have a sense, then, of justice, why would they believe that those who practice such things are worthy of death if they didn’t have a concept of biblical justice? So, all men in their heart of hearts have a concept of justice. You say well if they have a concept of justice, why is this happening?
Verse 32 explains. All men have a sense of biblical justice in the depths of their heart, “…that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they” same people “not only do the same,” these wicked things, “but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” I want to break that last sentence down because that’s one of those little sentences in the Bible we can read and think we’ve understood it and we don’t understand it. Diagram that sentence out a little. “They,” subject. Who’s the “they?” All men—not some men—all men. What’s the verb? “Do” those things and also what else do they do? They approve them. So “they,” the verb is “do” and the idea here is praise or go along with, we’ll just put “approve.” Which verb of those two verbs in that sentence is emphasized by the construction of the sentence? What verb has the weight in the way that sentence comes out? The second one, notice how he prefixes that second verb: “they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who do such things.”
Now after I pointed that out do you feel some discomfort with the logic of that sentence? He’s saying they not only do something that is sinful, thought word or deed, but they approve it. The first couple of times I went through this I said wait a minute, isn’t it worse to do it than to approve it? I mean, you can approve it and not do it. You can say oh let them do it, but I just don’t want to do it. But what he’s saying is the act of approving what is wicked is worse than doing it. Why is that? Because it’s more perverted. When you get to the point of approving that which is evil, what has happened to the conscience and awareness of divine justice? It’s been buried. So when you have people involved in reinventing ethics, Paul says that is the end of the pagan chain. That’s the signal. There are several signals in Romans 1; homosexuality being publicly approved is one of the signals. But when you start to have people redefining what is good and evil, that’s the end of the chain for paganism. That means the process has got to its ultimate goal. That’s the goal of unbelief under Satan’s tutelage.
Why, then do we have a perverted gospel? Look at the mechanics. Men know the justice of God; their conscience bears witness of the justice of God. How can they live as sinners? If you don’t want to be saved, and you don’t resolve the problem that way, how else are you going to resolve the problem? Knock out the conscience. If your conscience keeps convicting and bringing this truth up again, again, again, again, it makes you uneasy and drives you ultimately to the cross. But since you don’t want to come to the cross, then the next thing to do is break the red light, if you’re not going to stop at the light, break it, maybe it’ll turn green.
So that’s Romans 1, and that’s what paganism and unbelief is doing to the cross. The cross presents the issue of divine justice to a conscience that has been largely buried, and when that happens the cross has to be redefined or accepted. And it will be redefined by Humphreys, page 84, and redefined on page 83, where we found that the pagan mind dismisses the cross of Christ as far as it’s being any kind of an atonement. Readily acceptable as gee, you know God was dying for His beliefs, hey, three medals for that. So the cross is acceptable as long as it ONLY is a testimony to sincerity or something else. But what can’t be accepted is that on that cross work was done before a holy righteous God for my sin. That is the gospel, and that is what separates these goo words about Jesus and the cross and all the rest of it, and as the New Testament presents the cross. Unbelief on one side, belief on the other.
Beginning next week we’re going to deal with what really happened on the cross. Now we’ve gotten rid of all the crud, we’re going to deal with the doctrines that describe what God was doing in that period of darkness.
… it’s because I’m trying to emphasize that every aspect of the life of Christ repels as well as attracts, and the cross repels. We want to get that clear so when we get now into propitiation and we get into substitutionary blood atonement and what’s going on that it’ll be… it makes sense only if you first have a biblical view of God. The cross doesn’t make any sense in any deep way other than just a trivial another one of the 108 martyrs that died in history kind of thing.
Question asked: Clough replies: The question is how do you balance the fact that every time we talk about the gospel or preach the Word there’s a danger, a real danger of driving people away from it. I think the responsibility there is we don’t do it foolishly and people are driven away because of us, but if people are driven away because of the truth, then they’re going to be driven away, and we have to leave it in the Lord’s hands. It doesn’t mean that we stop loving them because until a person dies in unbelief there’s still hope, there’s always hope until the last breath. And God reaches out. Think of Jesus in Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, I would have gathered you like a mother hen her chicks,” one of the great passages by the way that shows motherly love is analogous to God’s love, but the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, if you look at the Gospels, in each of the four Gospels you could diagram His ministry, it goes up, it reaches a popular level and it goes down. He preaches, He’s open, He does miracles, and then He just turns it off and says okay, that’s enough, and He concentrates on edifying, teaching, and discipling the people who have come along. So we have a good model in that.
I would just say let’s pray to be sure that it’s not our foolishness and carnality that drive people away, but that if it is the Lord Himself, then the Lord will drive them away. But the fact that the person keeps coming back tells you that there’s a tug, and as long as the tug is there and they keep seeking you out, be gracious. You don’t have to be ugly; we’re not talking about being ugly and nasty. We can be gracious and truthful but we have to in the back of our minds remember that every time the gospel goes out it is dividing, because after all, when is the Church Age going to be over? When the division is over. So as history progresses the plan of God outworks and works toward its goal and we know what the goal is, it’s rather horrifying, that the human race will be eternally divided. And what is it that divides? It’s the gospel. So yes it does, and it’s very hard.
I don’t think in the ministry there is a harder thing to do than to preach or officiate at a funeral of an unbeliever. In the ministry you’re often required to do that because it’s a loved one of a person who is a believer. And you really have to skate all over the rink at an unbelieving funeral. You don’t want to sit there and nuke them, but on the other hand you certainly want to present the issue and warn people that hey, a life ended here, this person has no more chance, you’re still breathing, so you still got a chance. Somehow you have to work the gospel in and do it in such a way that it’s edifying to everybody, but not so it’s compromised, and it’s a very serious thing that’s happened, the death of an unbeliever, that it’s just … you know, we don’t even talk about it. That’s where it gets ouchy, and I’ve always felt very uncomfortable in that situation.
Question asked: Clough replies: The question was that in presenting the gospel it’s often observed that the forgiveness of God is given quickly but torn away from its root in the atoning work of Christ, and separated. The problem is you can’t separate them. I know why it happens, I’ve read books about it, Humphreys’ book is a good one. The reason it happens is because as the sense of God’s justice diminishes and gets very faint in our society as a whole, witnessing to the gospel is increasingly difficult, because the gap gets bigger and bigger and bigger. In the 19th century the saying always was, I forgot who it was that coined this expression, but they said a bartender in 1850 knew more theology than the average evangelical churchgoer in 1950. It wasn’t saying that the bartender was necessarily a believer; it was just that it was in the air. My wife was just telling me how she was reading something about Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln didn’t become a Christian until late in life, but he was imbued with a lot of Christian viewpoint earlier in his life. Where’d he get that from? Not because he consciously became a Christian, it was just in the air. The problem today is it’s not in the air any more.
Let me tell you an interesting story. My wife and I know this couple who lead very interesting lives. They always seem to be into something unusual, and they ran across this Hebrew Christian who has a ministry in Washington, D.C. and the man has been led to start this ministry to Congressmen, Senators, etc., and he struggled for many years in figuring out how do I witness to these people, and the Lord led him to emphasize the Ten Commandments and Congressmen always like to have their pictures taken, so one of his methods of getting into their offices with the gospel is to say I’ve got a plaque I want to present to Senator So-and-So, and the photographer will be there, of course this is a photo op opportunity, so they’ll drop everything to go their photograph in the paper, and he’ll present them with the Ten Commandments and say something about your leadership is inspiring, blah, blah, blah, and present them with the Ten Commandments, let those Ten Commandments work on them. He said one of the interesting responses he gets when he does this is the guy will look through it, [and say] well, you got me there, got me there, but for all the facetiousness they are reading it. And sometimes he has opportunities to follow this up.
He went on to say that one of the mind-blowing experiences he had doing this was in his office he had the Ten Commandments plaques piled up, and some Congresswoman, I don’t know if she was a Senator or a Representative, but she has a PhD from Harvard, very well known, he didn’t tell the name, very much of a leader in her party, walked into his office for something, turned around and looked at the pile of plaques and said what are those (a PhD from Harvard), he said they’re the Ten Commandments. Oh yeah, I heard about those and never seen them. Think of what that’s telling us, think of what that means. Here is a woman, middle-aged woman, who in a leading political position of our country, who daily is constructing legislation that we have to live under, has her doctorate from Harvard and has never seen the Ten Commandments.
[Someone says something] Yeah, adding to a legal system that originated in British Common Law that was grounded on the Ten Commandments. That’s where we are, and that’s why to get back to the point, it’s hard to witness clearly to the gospel. We can repeat words, and unfortunately, I believe, because there’s a big debate about Lordship salvation and easy-believism, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that are our hearts being regenerated. Do people understand what the gospel is? I believe the gospel is belief, but you have to have content to the thing and you can’t believe if you don’t understand. We can create social pressures on people to believe, all the kids believe, my girlfriend believes, my boyfriend believes, and gee I’d better believe, so we create this peer pressure kind of thing, and they say oh yeah, I accepted Jesus, they haven’t got a clue what that means, not a clue. But they’ve been conned into it by peer pressure.
I think we have to be very, very careful to give people space to reject or to believe. Don’t force people; don’t create a pressure because what you may do is create a façade, now you’ve got a bigger problem. Now you’ve got somebody who thinks they might have believed, and this doesn’t work. If we never trust the Holy Spirit to do the illuminating work, we sure have to now and to rely on Him, Lord, give me wisdom, how do we get across the basics, because the gospel is an answer to a basic question. The question is how can I be right with God? And if the person hasn’t even asked the question or is so screwed up and raised in such a perverted culture they don’t even have the framework to ask the question.
Question asked or statement made, something about giving the unbeliever shallow concepts, they’re not giving full recognition that somebody had to pay the price for that sin, it wasn’t just God being permissive: Clough replies: Yes, that’s the key, and paying the price itself doesn’t make sense if at first you don’t have the biblical God clearly in mind. You’re right, by saying God forgives you, God loves you, He does. We’re not minimizing the love of God here with the atonement, because it exalts the love of God. It means that God loved us so much that He did all that for us. So the love of God, you can’t compromise the love of God here by maximizing His holiness, because you build the holiness up, you build the justice up, you built a barrier between God and man, that’s sin, you’ve built up love because love was big enough to say we’ve got to do something about this problem. And I initiate, God says, I initiate from My side, I initiate the process of getting over this barrier. But the barrier has got to be there.
And you’re right, the forgiveness is cheap today, and it becomes cheap because there’s no standard in back of it. Forgive you for what? Remember what David said in Psalm 51? Against Whom and Whom alone did I sin? God only! So he was convicted of his sins. He’s not saying he didn’t do bad things to Bathsheba or her husband, he’s not saying that, he’s saying on the hierarchy of scale, as bad as this was to kill this man and commit adultery with his wife, far worse than all that I’ve sinned against God. Today we can’t even get the murder and adultery straight, leave alone getting the righteousness before God straight. Now so that we don’t walk out of here totally pessimistic, the encouraging thing is, think of what a society Paul faced. The New Testament society faced a society more pagan than ours, and God grew the church. And He grew it with the gospel. And if you think about the book of Acts, when the gospel is preached it caused a controversy. Remember, there were rocks thrown, people put in jail, I’m not saying look forward to that but I’m just saying that the gospel was preached so effectively that it created a response, positive or negative, but there was a response to it.
What happens today is you put your best foot forward and there’s no response either way, hey, are you alive and breathing, let’s take your vitals here. There’s just no response. So we live in a dark age … a dark age. And people use Christian words like love of God. That’s why I put those three quotes in there. But we’re not communicating; all I can say is God has to give us wisdom. Whoever we’re talking to, God, let me see where they’re coming from and engage where they’re coming from, and if this route doesn’t work let me try another route. But you can see the conversation tonight, I think, has been on the mark that we use the cross, we see the cross, we talk about the cross, and yet when you get down to the nub of things it’s a very hard thing to discuss clearly to the average American today.
I was led to the Lord in a very sloppy way. People talked to me about God loves you and this and that. Yes, He does, but my sin wasn’t really made clear, it was just by the grace of God that I trusted Him with the anemic gospel presentation I received. I’m not blaming the person who did it; I’m just saying it was anemic. The best thing I know to do sometimes is read a little church history and read what some of the great guys like George Whitfield, John Wesley, read about how they preached.
Question asked: Clough replies: You’re right, the cross of Christ compels an arrogant rejection or a humble acceptance, because you can’t accept that kind of a gift unless you are already convinced that you need it, and to be convinced that you need that kind of an atonement tells you that yes, God has opened my heart to my sin, so you’re humble. You don’t walk around saying my good works did it, you’re so far away from thinking your good works did anything, because if your good works did it, He wouldn’t have had to die.
Our time is up; next week we’ll get further into the atonement itself.