This post is not a collection of my usually organized thoughts, witticisms, and musings. It is an open cry for help. There is a language barrier with the Bible. There are so many phrases that are said in Christianity. They are familiar, so people usually nod agreeably, but I am stopping today to raise my hand to scream, “I do not understand. Please help me.”
All I ever wanted was for Christianity to make sense. And it doesn’t. If you say it does, then you don’t understand what “make sense” means.
25. make sense, to be reasonable or comprehensible: His attitude doesn’t make sense.
As part of my quest to put back the pieces of my wrecked faith, I’m reading Ray Comfort’s How To Know God Exists. For the most part, I like the book. It sticks to the facts and rarely proselytizes. In stating the facts, the book has poked sizable holes in Darwin’s theory of evolution. [That theory, by the way, has never been proven, it’s just popular. And that only gets you so far.] But in gushing ecstatically about the value and importance of the gift of Jesus’s death on the cross, my ability to process what was being said started to falter. It was as if the words were written in another language whose words I’ve never learned.
“The savior died an excruciating death on the cross, taking your punishment (the death penalty) upon Himself…”
Okay, I’m following the story so far.
“…the demands of eternal justice were satisfied the moment He cried, ‘It is finished!’”
Assuming “it is finished” refers to the words Jesus spoke before he died, what does Jesus’ death have to do with me? If I’m the one guilty, then how is anyone’s death besides mine acceptable? And also, what are “the demands of eternal justice?”
(Visualize me donning spectacles in order to look close at the fine print in attempt to understand.)
The next sentence is:
“The Bible tells us, ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having been made a curse for us.’”
Hold the phone. This part is the most confusing. I’ve heard this said over and over in every permutation, but I need somebody to stop pretending that this sentence is as clear as day.
What is “the curse of the law”? Isn’t a curse a looming omen of bad things happening? What does that omen have to do with law? And if a curse is a looming omen of bad things happening, then how can Christ become one of those? I’m only familiar with “redeeming” as something you do to coupons in order to get free stuff. So I just assumed ignorance and looked to see if maybe redeem means something I don’t know.
[ri-deem] verb (used with object)
to buy or pay off; clear by payment: to redeem a mortgage.
to buy back, as after a tax sale or a mortgage foreclosure.
to recover (something pledged or mortgaged) by payment or other satisfaction: to redeem a pawned watch.
to exchange (bonds, trading stamps, etc.) for money or goods.
to convert (paper money) into specie.
to discharge or fulfill (a pledge, promise, etc.).
to make up for; make amends for; offset (some fault, shortcoming, etc.): His bravery redeemed his youthful idleness.
to obtain the release or restoration of, as from captivity, by paying a ransom.
in Theology. to deliver from sin and its consequences by means of a sacrifice offered for the sinner.
The most applicable definition of “redeem” is the last one regarding theology. And even there, I have to point at “deliver” and ask gruffly ask, “what do dat mean?” The most applicable definition of deliver is “to set free or liberate.” So I continued reading, but I would get frustrated, stop, pray. Shake my head, then try to read again.
“We broke the Law, but God became a man to pay our penalty with His own life’s blood.”
Frustrated. “Jesus, please help me understand.” Read some more.
“Then He rose from the dead, defeating death.”
“Defeating death?” Is death a game? An opponent? A proposed law in congress? I stop and pray, “Jesus, I don’t know how to take this in.” Try again. Go back, read.
“This means that God can forgive every sin you have ever committed and commute your death sentence.”
Now I’m ready to give up. “Commute my death sentence?” I don’t understand. I’m so smart, and so lost. It’s a horrible combination. Can any of you explain in simpler terms what is meant here?
Please leave a comment or reply to the delivered e-mail to explain.
- UPDATE (12/23/2013 1:18am): My friend Brooke (of DistrictDiva.com) got the ball rolling with some excellent concise answers in a comment below, so I followed-up with more specific questions.
- UPDATE (12/23/2013 1:38am): Another friend and pastor pointed me to a recent sermon by Devon Johnson going into detail on “Atonement and Salvation.” From 12:20-14:00 in the sermon, Johnson addresses the connection between animal and human sacrifice in the Bible.
Hey Mark! I feel like your questions are in 3 parts so I’m going to try and tackle this in 3 parts. Here we go!
“The Curse of the Law”
The first part of Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death”. Because of Adam and Eve’s original sin of disobeying God in the garden of Eden, humans became mortal. The penalty for the original sin is death. But beyond a physical death, the ultimate death is the “second death”, or “spiritual death,” which is eternal separation from God in Hell (Rev. 21:8). That means the penalty for any sin, (e.g., “little Black lies,” cursing, all the way up to mass murder) is not only physical death but spiritual death. This is “the curse of the law” you’re speaking about.
This is God’s justice, that sin be repaid with the penalty of death. God, being holy and just, will not allow for the filthiness of sin to be victorious.
Thank God, there is a “BUT”! Romans 6:23 continues, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Christ is also referred to in the Bible as the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45: “So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.”). Where Adam screwed us all by sinning against God and creating the spiritual gap that exists between humans and God, Christ came to earth in human form to bridge that gap and spiritually (and one day, physically) reconnect us directly to God.
But, in order to do so, the penalty for sin must be paid. In the Old Testament, when the Hebrews committed any kind of sin, they sacrificed animals on an altar to God, because the spilling of blood (death) was necessary for the remission of sins. In the New Testament, we see Christ come to earth to become the “sacrificial lamb” for all of our sins. The weight of everyone’s sins (before His earthly coming, during His earthly life and after His ascension to Heaven) was upon His shoulders. That’s what “he was made the curse” (sin/physical AND spiritual death) means. When Christ was crucified and He said “It is finished,” (his responsibility on earth, to sacrifice His physical body) the sky turned black. God turned away because, being a just God, He cannot look upon sin. Christ became that sin and suffered that separation from God (physical and spiritual death) in our place.
Because of Adam, everyone will die physically, but because of Christ, the “second death,” the spiritual death/eternal separation from God in Hell does not have to be. That means, instead of us having to live through eternity in Hell, separated from God in total anguish, we have the option to live again because the debt we owe/owed/will owe for our sins has already been paid. That is what being “redeemed” is about. It means no matter how horrible we have been or how evil our hearts are, all of that can be washed away, “cast into the sea of forgetfulness” by God (Micah 7:9), simply by asking God to forgive our sins, believing that Christ is the Son of God and that He sacrificed Himself in our place and that now we can live free of the penalty of our sins, empowered to live a life that glorifies God and draws more people to Him.
Death is far from a game, particularly when we’re talking about the second death, which is spiritual death/eternal separation from God in Hell. In Revelations 1:8, Jesus says, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” Jesus conquered death because he was resurrected from the dead, even after He bore the past, present and future sin of the entire world on His shoulders! Because He is the Sovereign Lord, and He can. That means that even though our punishment OUGHT to be death because “the wages of sin is death,” Christ has the power to stave off our spiritual death forever. We only need to accept and believe it’s already been done. And because we no longer have to worry about the consequences of sin, we ought to live a life that strives to please Him, not out of necessity or force, but sheer love and gratitude for what He has spared us from with His awesome and devastating sacrifice. Does this help?
1. On “The Curse of the Law”
If I read you right, “the curse of the law” = “if you commit sin (aka break the law), then somethin’ has to die.” Right?
So if the “remission of sins” required “the spilling of blood,” and animal blood was sufficient to spill back in the Old Testament, then how come that was no longer acceptable in the New Testament? It’s not like PETA came through staging protests about bulls and goats being hunted to near-extinction because of religious rites to absolve sins.
What upped the ante from needing animal sacrifice to human sacrifice? Why was Jesus’ death even necessary? Was there some point at which we accumulated so much sin that animal sacrifice just wouldn’t cut it no mo’?
2. On being “redeemed”
Your explanation here seems to gibe with everything I’ve heard in church, so I’m reasonably sure it’s accurate. But, I’m having trouble connecting it to “the curse of the law.”
The book says “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law.” Based on all the definitions of redeem, is there another word or phrase I could substitute for redeemed to make it clearer? (i.e. “Christ has (nullified) the curse of the law” or “Christ has (obtained the release of) the curse of the law”?)
3. On “defeating death”
So then does “defeating death” mean that, by becoming alive again after he had died, he made death a no-longer-permanent thing? Kinda like he embarrassed death and made it less of a threat by becoming dead and then shaking it off like “Meh. That didn’t hurt.” LOL
1) It goes back to Romans 6:23: “The GIFT of God.” The Gift of God was liberation from that act of sacrifice. The old law is fulfilled (dead) and no longer applies to us. And thank God! I don’t even know how many sins I committed in the past hour, let alone day/week/month/year! It’s a gift! Just take it. 😀
2)Christ has FULFILLED the curse of the law, is probably the best way to think about it. The curse of the law still exists: Because God is just, the penalty for sin is/was/will be death. Christ didn’t come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, which He did, with His death (Matthew 5:17: “”Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”) That’s essentially a blank check written for all of our past/present/future debts. (though to be clear, Romans 6:1-5 says: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”)
3) EXACTLY!!! And I am excited about it!!
“51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”[h]
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[i]
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 corinthians 15:51-58
Okay, I had to read this twice and take a day in-between, but I think it’s clearer to me now.
(1) So Jesus came because sacrificing animals was burdensome? Kinda like… “Here. Instead of having to get up and expend effort to turn the channel, I’m gonna give you this remote control so that you can relax. Love, your heavenly father.”
I’m sure that’s not the best example, but what I understand is that this gift was given:
a) because God loves us
b) to make it easier on us
And we didn’t ASK for it, but just accept the gift!! Did I get that right? Am I at least closer? LOL
(2) The blank check metaphor works. I think I had an understanding of that before, so this seems to confirm it.
(3) Yay! I got something right!
YAY!! And most of all with #1, (and this is something I wish I had highlighted originally, that we CAN’t save ourselves; it is impossible! And that the crucifixion was a tremendous act of love. The ultimate love. But between the three of us who commented, I’d say we covered it thoroughly!
Simple as can be in my own words:
1. Creation: God created a GOOD earth and everything in it. Thus, man and woman, too, were good
2. The Fall: God said to Adam and Eve: Do NOT eat from the knowledge of good and evil! They did. Their disobedience – not a part of humanity until then – was a mutiny against God’s nature, a … , a sin. So sin entered into humanity.
3. Can God – who’s nature is holy, pure and unblemished – allow sin unpunished? No. What’s the punishment? God lays this out in Gen 2.??. In short, sin is now a permanent part of our existence. Each human us born into a spiritual culture of sin. Punishment.
4. Is that all God is? Strict and Lawful? Psalm 100 – Your steadfast love endures forever! God can’t be anything but God – good and just and Holy. But God loves His creation, especially humans. Why? Because He made us – only us – in His image. God loves us more than anything. What does he do?
A) Because of His love, He adopts a people, Abraham’s people. PAUSE – Why adopt a people? So that HE can show humans just how much HE loves us, and to give humans all He planned to give us originally. PAUSE – Why Abraham? Only because of faith! Gen ?:?? Thus faith is established as God’s ultimate prerequisite for redemption. How does HE do that? God creates a society – THE LAW- that will allow His people to overcome sin and be redeemed back to Him. Unfortunately, us humans are horrific at being Godly. We couldn’t do it (the majority of the Old Testament is the story of God’s people loving Him, messing up and rejecting Him, God punishing them (or allowing the natural consequences of sin to unfold), and God, in the extraordinary possession of eternal love that only deity can, forgiving and saving – redeeming – His people. And the cycle continues, right? Right! Until…
B) God says: Enough! (My interpretation only). His people stick. They are terrible. They can’t see more obey their awesome Creator even though He’s right in front of them (John 1)! So… what does God do? John 3:16.
4. Now, all of this explains the WHY, but the question is more of a HOW? Simple – sin is not God; it’s anything but. It’s everything but. God is life; sin is death. Sin – anything away from God – will meet death. Period. Point blank. We can see this all around us. (We can talk about this another time.) In order to pay for sin, there must be death. Look at God’s law Old Testament Law to see this over and over (so I won’t go into it here). But humans couldn’t follow God’s law worth …! So, back to 3B – John 3.16. God says something to the effect of: Look, you humans, my beloved spiritual look-alikes, REFUSE to trust (have faith) in me to reach your full potential. So – only because I LOVE YOU SO MUCH – I’m changing the game. I’ll GIVE you this death sacrifice (hence, Christmas) and all you have to do is BELIEVE aka HAVE FAITH!
Christ had to die. Each of these nouns is important. Death is the only way to pay for sin because it’s separate from God. Nothing else can do it. It HAD to be Christ because the death sacrifice MUST be pure and sinless! Think pure sheep! I’ll post more on this in a few…
Love this post, and the responses. Here’s my simple answer to “Why Crucifixion?”.. Not theologically mainstream, but it makes sense to me. I think what I present can be picked out of some of the responses above, but I’m gonna distill it down.
1) At The Fall, Adam, knowing Good from Evil and becoming a judge of all things, judged himself unworthy of God. Seeing his imperfection, he thought “How could God love me?”
2) How can you truly PROVE you love someone? Most love relationships have give and take: you could say that the giver of love is giving love in order to receive it. In our human relationships, this is often the case. Ayn Rand would say that loving someone is “enlightened self interest”.. that a person loves another because they get their own warm fuzzies from the relationship. To which I say “bull$hi+”.. just read Mother Teresa’s journal entries… she didn’t often get warm fuzzies from feeding the hungry, more often depression. But I digress. Anyway, the point is that Adam (and all humankind following) deep down thinks, at least at some point in their lives “how can God, who made everything, love me? I have nothing to offer that He doesn’t already have!!”
3) Jesus said “There is no greater love than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.” This is the truest proof of love, because the giver of love gives without thought of reciprocation, because, well, they’ve died!
4) The basic simplicity is: God’s son died to prove He loves us…enough that He was willing to die. Just to defeat the false premise “I’m not worthy”. God DECIDED you were worthy, and showed it on the cross.
So that’s it. Nothing that wasn’t already said, really, just shorter, leaving out a lot of theological and abstract stuff. Still too long, though, in this Twitter age . 😛
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In our collective attempts to be pious to some extent we all struggle with this. You are not alone!
Thanks, dear. Fortunately no one’s done any judging and instead have been quite helpful. Enough good behavior like this and I’ll really have to reevaluate some of my criticisms. lol