Before we come to the Lord’s table tonight, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on the power of the cross that we have just sung about, the power of the cross that has saved us from eternal death and hell, separation from God, and think about the abiding power of the cross for us as believers.
I realize that on a night like this, on a weekend like this, Good Friday and then Easter Sunday to come, that there are people visiting Grace Church who may not be Christians, may, maybe go to other churches in the area, and we’re so, we just want to thank you for coming and, and spending the evening with us here at Grace Church.
But I realize that there are people here tonight who may not be Christians, and I hope that in our time of reflection and meditation on the cross and the Gospel that you will hear a clear presentation of the Gospel and, who knows, maybe tonight will be the night that you find salvation in Jesus Christ and forgiveness of your sins.
But our time tonight, as I think about the cross, as I want to lead us in some reflection, this is less of a, a formal exposition of a particular passage of Scripture, and it’s more like a, a meditation on a vitally important theme of the Gospel. And I hope for you, believers, that this is something that will increase your sense of freedom in the Gospel, a sense of joy in the Gospel as you think about your Christian life lived post-cross, post-you coming to Christ, post-conversion.
I want to start this evening by reading a text that our time of reflection will kind of unpack the themes in this text, and it’s Romans 8, verses 1-4. So if you would turn there in your Bibles to Romans chapter 8, we’ll begin reading verses 1-4. Paul says in this glorious affirmation, confirmation, deep conviction about the Gospel, he says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.”
Just to summarize that for our purposes tonight, anyway, God, we could say, hates sin. God hates sin. I hope that’s clear enough from the texts we’ve read this evening, from this text, from the songs we’ve been singing. God hates sin. He no longer condemns his believing children because of the cross of Jesus Christ. But God does condemn their sin, noted here, as sin in the flesh. And what he wants for us, for each one of us, what he has designed the cross to accomplish for us, is freedom from sin, life and liberty and joy in the spirit that is lived in freedom from sin.
And so that’s where we’re going to meditate on tonight; this is what we’re going to reflect on for our time tonight as we come before the Lord’s table. And I’m going to structure our thoughts around a little outline. So here’s a first point if you’re taking notes, but just to keep our thoughts clear, I like to put it into a little bit of an outline form.
Number one, the cross punishes our sinful condition. The cross punishes our sinful condition. We’ve been hearing the scriptures read to us tonight out of Matthew 26, 27. We can see very clearly in the narrative text of the Gospel that in the cross we are witnessing the very public humiliation, the public execution of the only perfectly righteous man.
Why did he have to die? Isaiah 53:5 answers that question for us. It says that “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” That’s why that perfect, innocent, spotless Lamb of God had to die, because “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
So this cruel, merciless killing of the perfect, only innocent man, the Son of Man, God’s beloved Son, that’s exactly what God thinks about our sin. That’s what he thinks about our sinful condition. In Christ and in the cross of Christ in particular, God condemned sin. We understand that, as fallen sinners, if we were standing alone at the bar of divine justice, we are justly condemned, aren’t we? Justly condemned for our sin because each one of us has transgressed the perfect, holy law of God. Paul says in Romans 3:10 that “there is none righteous, not even one. There is no one who seeks after God.” That is a problem, isn’t it? Because as Roman 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” You commit sin, you’ve done a work, and for that work you get a paycheck. What’s the paycheck? Death.
We live our lives, born into this world, really into the consequences of one man’s sin, don’t we? We are born into the guilt of original sin, which is the transgression of Adam eating fruit from a forbidden tree, born into this condition, just as God promised in the very beginning, Genesis 2:17: “In the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” That’s exactly what happened. Paul outlines in Romans 5:12, “Sin came into the world through one man, death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sin.”
That is our daily reality, isn’t it? That’s the world that we live in, is one that is saturated with sin. We sin because we’re sinners. We’re not “making mistakes.” That’s not just a “oops.” It’s a moral transgression against God and his law. We’re born into this world as sinners. We’re born into a state of condemnation because we all share in Adam’s original sin, the guilt of his sin. David says in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
“We are born into the guilt of original sin, which is the transgression of Adam eating fruit from a forbidden tree, born into this condition, just as God promised in the very beginning.”Travis Allen
We are born into this world as sinners. We grow up sinning because we’re sinners. Sin is easy for us. It is natural to us because we’re children of our father Adam. Genesis 5:3 says
all of us being fathered in his own likeness, we’re born after his image and born in his sin. It is easy for us to sin. It is natural for a child to sin. Ask any parent, “Did you have to teach your children to sin?” No, they do it naturally. They do it easily, by instinct.
One passage makes this reality abundantly clear, and it’s Ephesians 2:1-3. In fact, I’d like you to turn there so you can see this for yourself. Ephesians chapter 2, Ephesians chapter 2:1-3. Paul starts there in verse 1, Ephesians 2:1, and he puts his finger on the true problem of the human race. “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” That’s the issue. “Dead in trespasses and sins.” Every single one of us belong to this fallen human race. Spiritually speaking, we are a race of stillborn children, born dead.
I often hear people say, “Human beings are essentially good. I mean, deep down inside, human beings are basically good people.” You hear all this by the pundits on the news media, especially after some horrific shooting, some mass shooting, some terrible murder, some tragedy like that, and people are always wringing their hands saying, “I know that human beings are basically good, so what drove this individual to do such a horrific crime?”
They’re going to find out some psychology in the matter, some cultural issue, some suppression of what they really are, and they’re just breaking out of, because, of course, they’re good deep down inside. So what would drive a, a truly good person to do such horrendous things? Well, it’s because they’re in pain, it’s because they’re sad. It’s because their mom didn’t rock them enough, or society didn’t affirm them enough, or they didn’t get the stage they wanted, whatever it is.
No, the truth is, the Bible says we are all born in sin. We are all inherently evil, not inherently good. Every single one of us belong to a fallen race. Experience alone is sufficient enough to prove this worn-out lie, this liberal lie about the innate goodness of mankind. If we are innately good, then why all the wars? Why the high crime rates? Why the high murder rates?
Listen, the Bible, when it speaks, it talks about reality. It talks about a reality that we all know, we all live with all the time: that we are sinful. We are the walking dead. We’re a race of beings slain at conception, being injected with the poison of sin. And born into sin, we emerge from the womb as the walking dead, like spiritual zombies, walking around thoughtlessly, mindlessly following our native instinct to commit all manner of sins.
It is instinctive. It is most natural for us, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:2, to “follow after the course of this world, to follow after the prince of the power of the air.” Let me explain who that is. That is the devil. We are born with him at our head. We are born with him as our leader, and we grow up liking that. The devil, he is “the satanic spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
“We know,” says the Apostle John, 1 John 5:19, that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” He’s using imagery. The whole world lies there. It’s lying in the lap of, as if he is the parent of the fallen world. Pretty disturbing, isn’t it? Pretty disturbing to think, if we really reckon what the Bible says about us, that the father of us all as we’re born into this world is none other than the Prince of Darkness, the devil himself. Satan is the father of all who do not believe because he is the original unbeliever. So anybody who follows in the pattern of unbelief is his child. Satan’s job is really, really simple with regard to his own.
Parenting is hard, right? Parenting’s difficult. We have to teach our children away from the things that they instinctively, easily like to do, which is to sin, which is to defy authority, to do what they want, to be self-centered, to be prideful, all the rest. That’s what we have to do as parents, is to work against that.
You know what Satan’s job is as a parent to his fallen children? All he has to do to keep his subject under power is feed them what they already want. He’s like the ultimate bad parent, and all his bad children follow him. He’s like a drug pusher who just basically keeps giving deadly crack to crack heads. He keeps injecting heroin into the veins of drug addicts who always crave another fix, and he holds on to them that way.
So Paul describes in verse 3 that “We, along with all the sons and daughters of disobedience, among them, we all also once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind.”
Paul gets even more explicit about the futility and degradation of this condition. If you’ll turn a couple pages over to Ephesians 4:18-19, take a look there. He says “to live.” Here’s what he means by “living in the passions of our flesh.” Here’s what he means by “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.” It’s not a pretty picture. It is a life of utter futility; spiritual, psychological bondage.
In your mind’s eye as you read this, picture a dirty, degraded crack addict living on the street in a alley. “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to their hardness of heart. They’ve become callous, and they’ve given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”
That is the human race, fallen in sin. And the devil keeps on feeding the world of fallen, unbelieving sinners exactly what they crave. And they become, they become more and more callous, hardened, stubborn, fixed in their sin, and they are greedy for more of what enslaves them and more of what kills them. This is why Jesus calls the devil “a murderer.” That’s exactly the right term for him. He is the greatest mass murderer of all time. John 8:44: “The devil was a murderer from the beginning. Does not stand in the truth, because there’s no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
He murders with his lies. He has murdered from the beginning. He continues murdering the human race with his lies. He feeds the children of wrath the lies that they crave. Relishing in the fading image of God, which he hates, he continues to destroy it. He continues to, to degrade it. He delights to see human beings mired in sin and marred with corruption and enslaved like addicts.
Thanks be to God, though, that that is not the end of the story. It might seem to be a hopeless predicament, especially considering the complicity of fallen humanity with the devil in their own degradation and destruction. The devil loads the gun, whispers ridiculous lies to the foolish, infantile sinner. Intoxicated with his lies, the sinner is eager to grab that gun, point it at his own head, and he hastens to pull the trigger.
That is a picture of our desperate condition as fallen sinners. And again, this is why the cross of Jesus Christ, and only the cross of Jesus Christ, can address and confront our sinful condition. The cross both satisfies the wrath of God, and it also illustrates the wrath of God because it shows the world what God thinks about sin. God sees the sin clearly. He sees our condition very clearly. The sin of the human race offends him daily, hourly, moment by moment, continually.
The sin of believers offends him as well, but the cross satisfies his wrath against sin. The most horrific punishment ever distributed to any one human being is poured out on Christ on the cross. He endured the greatest wrath, and it shows, that cross shows what God thinks about sin.
We sung this earlier in our service, the cross confronts the sin head on, and it says this, we, we sang this together: “Ye who think of sin but lightly.” And that line is to warn us not to think of sin lightly, but “ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great.” Isn’t that true of us? We tend to minimize our sin, not to see it for what it is, not to see it from God’s perspective. “Will ye who think of sin but lightly, ye who do not suppose the evil great, here in the cross may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load. ’Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, the Son of Man, the Son of God.”
Sin is horrible. And if God would take his beloved Son and place him on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago to experience that public humiliation and a public execution in such a degrading display of human cruelty, pour that out on his Son and his own wrath for every single sin of all who would ever believe, and pour out his wrath on his Son, that demonstrates how our condition in sin is so severe, so dreadful, so far gone, so fully beyond any human remedy, the only sacrifice that counts is the sacrifice of God’s perfect Son. That is how sin is atoned for, covered for, satisfy, satisfying his wrath. Our situation would be utterly hopeless but for God, but for his mercy.
So let’s come to a second point, for this evening, number two, the cross purchases our full salvation. The cross not only punishes our sinful condition, it purchases our full salvation. Whenever we do take the time mentally in prayer to mark the sacrifice appointed, when we do stop to see who it is who bears the awful load for us, we become mindful, don’t we, of what it cost to purchase our full salvation.
We go to Isaiah 53:4-5: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed.”
In verses 7-10 of Isaiah 53, we’re sobered, we’re humbled to the floor when we realized that it was not man who did this to the Son, but it was God himself. He did this to his own beloved Son. It says, “He was oppressed, he was afflicted, and yet he opened not his mouth, like a lamb that’s led to the slaughter, like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment, he was taken away. He was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked. Although he had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth, yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.”
Why did God do this? Why would he choose to crush his Son? Look back at Ephesians chapter 2 and verse 4. As we read there, it was for the sake of his mercy. It was for the sake of his love. It was for the sake of his kindness. And get this, folks, he crushed his Son to show mercy to you. He killed his Son because of his love for you. He showed kindness to us by hurting his Son.
Look at verse 4 of chapter 2, Ephesians: “But God, being rich and mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, he made us alive together with Christ. By grace you’ve been saved. And he raised us up with him, and he seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you’ve been saved through faith. This is not your own doing. It’s the gift of God. It’s not a res, result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Beloved, he did not save us when we were lovely before him. He did not save us because our behavior was particularly attractive to him. He intervened for us, he saved us, he showed us mercy, he showed us love and kindness when we were absolutely unlovable, when our thoughts and our words and our actions called for judgment. Paul writes about this in Romans 5:6 and following, that it was when we were at our very weakest in sins; it was when we were ungodly in our disposition; it was when we were sinners by nature, by nurture, by choice; it was when we were enemies of God; when we were, listen, we were allied with the devil, we were partners with demons in rebellion against God. We hated God. We hated all that is holy.
That is the time when God interposed the blood of Christ for us, and that’s worth rejoicing over. Amen? It is the most glorious liberating message of freedom, the salvation we received from God, saved by grace through faith, rescued from the wrath of God, delivered from the penalty of sin, raised up, seated with Christ in the heavenly places. That is a glorious message of the Gospel.
And at this point, I want to say, I often find that at this point, as glorious as this message is, this is where many Christians stop thinking, when they estimate the power of the cross. This is where many Christians stop thinking about the cross’s power to save and to set free. Maybe you can consider it from this perspective. One of the songs that we love to sing together is called “The Power of the Cross.” Good song. I love this hymn. You know the chorus: “This the power of the cross, Christ became sin for us, took the blame, bore the wrath, we stand,” what, “forgiven at the cross.” That, the song says, is the power of the cross, our reason for rejoicing. Why? Because for at the cross of Christ the curtain was torn in two. The dead are raised to life, “‘Finished!’ the victory cry,” right?
For many who hear the word “finished,” they think that it signals the end. Full stop. But that word “finished,” as Jesus used it, “It is finished,” tetelestai. It’s from the verb teleo, “to complete, to fulfill,” and the idea of completion and fulfillment there in that context, it points to an underlying goal and purpose of the cross. What’s God’s goal in it all? What’s his purpose in the cross?
Listen, the way we need to think about the cross as we consider what our Lord came to accomplish is that his death signals not just an end, “It is finished,” but a brand new beginning for us. We ought to realize, and we need to think about this. Christian, you need to think about this every single day of your Christian life. We need to realize that the end of Christ’s finished work on the cross, the telos, the purpose for which it was fulfilled, is the very beginning of our life in him.
So many of the songs we sing, we sing about the power of the cross. It’s finished. The penalty is paid. We’re going to heaven. In the very next verse, it’s all about heaven. What about the rest of this life that we live on earth? What’s that to be about? The culmination of the cross-work of Christ is the commencement of true life, of real living, of walking in newness of life.
This is a time of year when many students, whether it’s at the high school, college level, graduate level, they’re facing, what, the end of their training, right? They come to the end of their high school or their college or their graduate training, and they’re looking toward graduation. What is that graduation ceremony usually called? “Commencement.” They just finished their training. It’s not the end. It’s the beginning. It points to them commencing how they will use everything that has been invested to them over the past three, four, or five years. That’s how you and I ought to think about the cross. It is finished, yes, but it is a commencement on our life now of real living, of walking in newness of life.
If you’re in Ephesians 2, go back to that text and notice how Paul ends the section that we started in verse 1. It ends in verse 10. What does he say? “For we are his workmanship.” The other word is poiema in the Greek. You know what that? “Poem.” We get the word “poem” from that word. We are God’s poem. We are God’s, think of it this, this way, some translations put this his “handiwork.” We are his work of art. Think of a painter, that last stroke of the brush, putting it down and look, looking back and saying “Ahhh.” I love it. The sculptor, the painter, the musician, composing, putting together a work of art. This is what we are to be.
What does it say? “Created in Christ Jesus for good works, which,” who, “God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Our life is to be a life of good works, of putting God’s glory and his majestic workmanship, his handiwork, on display in the way we live, the way we speak, the way we think, the priorities we set. It’s an active walking and living of our life.
That’s the power of the cross, too, isn’t it? It’s the abiding power of the cross to remind us about the end of sin and the beginning of righteousness. It is true, and praise God it is true, that we do indeed stand forgiven at the cross, but having been forgiven, we’re not meant to stand still at the cross. For every Christian the cross marks an end and also a new beginning. The cross marks an end and also marks a glorious new beginning for every true believer.
It’s where we started, isn’t it? Romans chapter 8:3-4: “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemns sin in the flesh.” Gone sin, banished out of this person’s life “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”
Let me give you several thoughts to reflect upon. Think about how the cross signals the end, but also how it promises and empowers a new beginning. Actually got, I think, seven of these. I could come up with a lot more, but we only have a limited amount of time, so seven of these.
First, the cross means the end of our alienation and the beginning of our adoption. The end of our alienation, the beginning of our adoption. You’re in Ephesians 2, so let’s continue reading in verse 12, or just, we’ll look at verse 11. “Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, made in the flesh by hands, remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
How near? Just flip back a page and look at chapter 1 verse 4. This beautiful language of reconciliation and being brought near, it has a filial sense, a family sense. Ephesians 1, let’s start in verse 3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who’s blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for,” what, “adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace with which he has blessed us in the beloved.”
Paul says the same thing in Galatians, chapter 4:6 and 7: “God sent forth his Son to redeem us, that we might receive adoption as sons.” And Paul says, “Because you’re sons, God sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father.’ You’re no longer a slave, but a son. And if you’re a son, you’re an heir through God.” I mean, it is one level of grace for a holy God to forgive and then reconcile to himself those who were nothing but ungodly sinful enemies of God. But to adopt us into his family, to give us his name, to give us the full rights and privileges as sons and daughters of the king? We deserve the exact opposite. So to treat us on par with his own beloved Son, his perfect Son, Jesus Christ, that is magnanimous grace. The cross marks the end of our alienation, the beginning of our adoption as sons.
Number two: This cross means the end of death and the beginning of life; end of death, beginning of eternal life. Remember in the wilderness, Numbers, the book of Numbers, Israel is in the wilderness once again, suffering the consequences of sin because it’s been complaining, grumbling against God, against Moses. And Israel is there, writhing in pain, bitten by venomous snakes. It was such a fitting picture of judgment for the sin of their bitter complaint that they were suffering the pain of bitter bites of serpents and bitter poison, all of it coming from a heart of unbelief. Bitterness flows from a heart of unbelief. They’d received the death sentence, a deadly injection. Life is fading away, ebbing away, and that is when God stepped in and provided a remedy.
When death is at the door, God provided life. What did he do? He told Moses, “Make a bronze serpent. Lift that serpent high up on a pole,” Numbers 21:9. “Anyone who believes and looks upon that bronze servant,” the very image of their judgment, that serpent, “in looking at that, he would live.”
So also for us. John 3:14: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Why? Because “God so loved the world,” “he loved the world in this way,” “that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you,” John 5:24, “whoever hears my word, believes in him who sent me, he has eternal life. He doesn’t come into judgment. He’s passed from death to life.”
That’s the power of the cross: the end of death. And if it’s the end of death, you know what it’s the end of also in our life? Sin. Why? Because sin brings death. So it’s the end of death, the end of sin for us, the beginning of life, which is righteousness.
Third thing, the cross means the end of our enslavement and the beginning of our freedom; the end of enslavement, the beginning of freedom. The design of God, and the incarnation of the Son of God, his death on the cross, was this, Hebrews 2:14: “Through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” He wants us set free. This is the ultimate abolitionist movement, is in God.
It’s the reality that, that informs Paul’s magnificent treatise on the freedom from sin. Go back to Romans chapter 6, if you will. Romans chapter 6, starting in verse 6. Make sure this text is firmly in your mind every time you come to the Lord’s Table. Romans 6:6: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so we would no longer be enslaved to sin, for the one who has died has been set free from sin.
“Now if we’ve died with Christ, we believe we’ll also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, he’ll never die again. Death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
God points us to Christ. He points us to the victory of Christ and the cross. Death no longer has dominion over Christ because he conquered death. That means sin has no dominion over Christ, either, no ability whatsoever to exert any influence on him at all. Because of Christ’s victory in him by the abiding power of the cross, listen, death and sin no longer have dominion over us, either. No more penalty of sin, but the power of sin is broken. We no longer have to live in it. That is good news.
Our duty, what’s our duty knowing that? To retake the lost ground. Look at verse 12, Romans 6: “Therefore, let not sin reign in your mortal body to make you obey its passions. Don’t present the members of your body as, to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who’ve been brought from death to life, your members, members of your body to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you. You’re not slaves anymore. You’re not under law. You’re under grace.”
Paul told the Galatians, Galatians 5:1, “It’s for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore; don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Peter said the same thing in 1 Peter 2:16: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” Doing that is like to put the yoke of slavery back on yourself, to go ahead and shackle yourself again, to get back in your cage, act like a slave. Peter says, “No! Live as people who are free, live as servants of God,” he says.
A fourth point, here: The cross means the end of our sinning and the beginning of our righteousness. The end of sinning, beloved, the beginning of righteousness. This is the essence of true freedom, really. The real liberty is the end of sin. It’s to no longer sin. Turn over to, if you will, to 1 John chapter 3. Just take a look, quick look at this passage as well. 1 John 3 and verse 4: “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard a lot of professing Christians who keep on sinning. They’re fine with it. They say, “I’m not under your law, legalist, Pharisee. I’m under grace.” And they continue in their sin. What does John say? “Anybody who keeps on sinning has neither seen him nor known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, just as he’s righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
“No one who’s born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he can’t keep on sinning because he’s been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil. Whoever does not practice righteousness, is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
“The cross means the end of our enslavement and the beginning of our freedom; the end of enslavement, the beginning of freedom.”Travis Allen
Instead of the folly of sin, Jesus pointed to a future lived in the wisdom of righteousness, Matthew 13:43, “As the righteous will shine like the Son in the kingdom of their Father.” In speaking that way, Jesus is alluding back to Daniel 12:3, speaks of the resurrected saints as those who are wise, those who shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever shining in the galaxy.”
So it’s written in Proverbs 4:18, “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until the noonday.” That’s our future, beloved. That’s what we are. That’s what the cross means. That’s what this Communion table reminds us of every time we come.
So the cross means, first, the end of our alienation, the beginning of our adoption. Second, it means the end of death and the beginning of life. Third, it means the end of our enslavement, the beginning of our freedom. Fourth thing, it means the end of sinning and the beginning of righteousness.
Fifth, all that means the cross is the end of our shame, the beginning of our glory; the end of shame, the beginning of glory. This is Ephesians 5:25-27, where Paul casts the cross of Christ into the beautiful imagery of marriage. Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for her. Why? “So he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she might be holy without blemish.” Beloved, it’s the end of our shame, the end of that which shames us, which is sin. It’s the beginning of our glory. It’s the beginning of our beauty. What we are has not yet come to be.
So the end of alienation, death, enslavement and sinning; and the beginning of adoption, life, freedom, righteousness and glorious beauty. And all that brings us to a sixth point: The cross means the end of darkness, the beginning of light, life- giving light, fruit-bearing light. This is pictured when Christ is on the cross and what we read earlier, Matthew 27:45: “From the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour, and then at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, ‘Eli, eli, lema sabachthani!’ and that means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
Some unbelieving, apostate souls say Jesus is denying his Father on the cross. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He said that phrase to point everyone to the twenty-second psalm, first line in that psalm, which is, “‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” so that they can see in that psalm the prophetic interpretation they witnessed there at the cross. “Then he cried out on the cross with a loud voice, yielded up his spirit.”
He pierced the darkness by his death on the cross. Matthew 27:51 says, “Behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” from heaven to earth, ripping that veil, the light of God from the holy of holy, shining forth from God to man, no longer veiled, open to all.
By the cross, “the Father has qualified us,” Colossians 1:12, “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He’s delivered us from the domain of darkness, transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,” which is a kingdom of life, a kingdom of light, because we’ve been adopted into his family, saved from death to life, set free from slavery to the freedom of God’s people though “we were at one time were in darkness,” Ephesians 5:8. Now we’re light in the Lord, producing the fruit of life in all that is good and right and true.
And all that brings us to one more. Seventh: the cross means the end of sorrow in futility and the beginning of joy in fruitfulness. The end of futility: That’s where sin and darkness and unrighteousness takes us, is to futility. Think about a hamster running on a wheel. I always wonder, “Why is it running on that wheel? It’s not getting anywhere.” And then I remember. It’s got a very small brain. That’s a sinner, a sinner with a very small, sin-polluted brain that runs in futility all his life, all her life.
The cross is the end of sorrow and futility; it’s the beginning of joy and fruitfulness. Back to Romans 6 and verse 20, Paul says, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you’re now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you’ve been set free from sin and become slaves to God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God, the free gift of God, is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
We read earlier from Ephesians 4:18-19 about the futile, futility of our former life in unbelief, darkness, and sorrow. But then in Christ, because of the cross, because of his cross, because of his atoning work, it says in Ephesians, let me get there myself. In chapter 4:20-24, it says that futility, that darkness, that darkened understanding, that alienation from the life of God, that hardness of heart, that callousness, sensuality, greed, impurity, “that is not the way you learned Christ. That’s not the way you learned Christ, assuming you’ve heard about him or were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
The evidence of true salvation is the fruitfulness of the new self, the emerging outward manifestation in every Christian of true righteousness and holiness. The fruit, Paul says in Roman 6:22, it “leads to sanctification, its end, eternal life.” Listen, holiness is the evidence of eternal life. Holiness is the evidence of eternal life working in you. If there is no holiness, my friend, there is no life.
Let me give you one more point for this evening. Since the cross confronts our sinful condition, since it graphically illustrates God’s hatred of sin, since the cross purchases our full salvation, what we’re saved from and what we’re saved to, would it make any sense at all that the cross fails to sanctify us? I submit that it would not.
Let’s consider, point three, how the cross produces our total sanctification; how the cross produces, number three, our total sanctification. In every Christian, every single Christian, there is a deep hatred of indwelling sin. Every Christian hates sin. Maybe we don’t see sin as we should, but every Christian, once they see sin, they hate it.
There’s a passion and desire to realize holiness in the life as a present and abiding reality, and any professing Christian who makes no effort to mortify his sin, no, makes no effort at exposing sin, seeing it, identifying it, getting rid of it, any Christian who makes no effort to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness, I’d say it’s reasonable to question whether that person is a Christian at all.
But every true Christian, he knows his own sin. He knows his lusts, he knows his selfish ambition, his pride, his greed, his jealousy, envy, bitter complaining, lack of gratitude. Whatever it is, every true Christian wants that sin gone, wants that sin dead, wants it fully mortified.
There are some I know who seem blithely unaware of indwelling sin, who seem unaffected or unconcerned with the continuance of sin in their lives, and perhaps they’ve deceived themselves into thinking silly thoughts, like, “Because my sin isn’t of this nature or that nature, I’m better off than others. I’m not like that guy. I’m not like that lady there. I mean, look how she talks, how she gossips. I don’t do that.”
Those who compare themselves with other people and excuse themselves and pay no attention to the sin in their heart, those are the most immature and self-deceived of all. Let no one regard them. True Christians cultivate a sensitive conscience toward God. True Christians try to hunt down every sin that they can find in their hearts and kill it, giving sin no quarter, showing sin no mercy, making no excuses. They desire to please God. They’re eager to look for sin in their lives, find it, mortify it, work the good work of repentance to their eternal joy and God’s glory.
There’s a lot we can say on this point, but since time is limited, let me limit the comments to the usefulness of the cross to mortify sin and grow in holiness. Let me just give you two directions, here, one for mortification; that is, mortification’s a big word, means kill sin, kill it, mortify it. One direction for mortifying sin and one direction for sanctification, for growing in holiness. So it’s a negative direction and a positive direction; one for putting off sin, another for putting on righteousness.
First direction for mortifying your sin, for putting off sin: Look to the cross to reflect on God’s view of your sin. Meditate on his wrath over your sin, which he punished in the cross and took away the penalty for you. But if there is indwelling sin in your life, believe me, beloved, he hates it. Still, his attitude toward your sin, even if it continues now, post-your conversion, he still hates it. Get on his side about it. Help your conscience be informed about it. Reflect on God’s view of your sin.
Don’t make the same mistake Israel did, which Jeremiah confronted in Jeremiah 6:14, also Jeremiah 8:11. “They have healed the wound of my people slightly,” or lightly, “saying ‘Peace, peace, when there is no peace.’” Don’t do that to yourself. People who do that would avoid the discomfort of thinking about their guilt. They would run too quickly to make fig leaves to hide their shame, and in so doing, they fail to benefit from the blood atonement of the cross. It’s the only way to remove guilt and shame.
You need to think deeply enough about your sin, beloved, so that you can load your conscience with the guilt of your sin. Load it up. Start by informing your conscience of the law of God, so that when you do sin, you drag that evil thing before the bar of divine law, examine it in the sterile light of divine righteousness, and teach your soul to hate it just as God does.
John Owen writes this, he says, “Bring the holy Law of God into thy conscience. Lay thy corruption to it. Pray that thou mayst be affected with it. Consider the holiness, spirituality, fiery severity, inwardness, absoluteness of the law, and see how thou can’t stand before it. Be much, I say, in affecting thy conscience with the terror of the Lord and the law. How righteous it is that every one of thy transgressions should receive a recompense of reward.”
After you look to the law, see what your sins deserve, to inform your conscience about the guilt and penalty of your sins, then look to the cross. Only then look to the cross to see what your sins actually caused, to see what Christ actually suffered. Think, beloved, what God could have done to you but did not, how he stayed his hand against you and your sins and turned his hand against his beloved Son.
Again Owen writes this, he says, “Consider what action God might have taken against thee, to have made thee a shame and a reproach in this world, and an object of wrath forever; how thou hast dealt treacherously and falsely with him, flattered him with thy lips, but broken all promises and engagements, and that, by the means of that sin thou art now in pursuit of; and yet he has spared thee from time to time although thou seemest boldly to have put it to the trial how long could he hold out. And wilt thou yet sin against him? Wilt thou yet weary him, and make him to serve thee with thy corruptions?” Let’s use Paul’s language: “May it never be!” Think what God could have done to you, beloved, but didn’t.
And then consider Christ and his Gospel, his cross. Owen again says this: “Look on him whom thou has pierced with thy sin, and be in bitterness. Say to thy soul, ‘What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on? Is this the return I make to the Father for his love, to the Son for his blood, to the Holy Ghost for his grace? Do I thus requite the Lord? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, that the blessed Spirit have chosen to dwell in, and can I keep myself out of the dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold my, up my head with any boldness before him? Do I account communion with him of so little value, that for this vile lust’s sake I have scarce left him any room in my heart? How shall I escape if I neglect so great a salvation?’
“In the meantime, what shall I say to the Lord? Love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy, consolation: I have despised them all, esteemed them as a thing of naught that I might harbor a lust in my heart. If I obtained a view of God’s fatherly countenance, that I might behold his face, and provoke him to his face, was my soul washed that room might be made for new defilements? Shall I endeavor to disappoint the end of death, of the death of Christ? Shall I daily grieve that Spirit whereby I am sealed to the day of redemption?”
I’ll stop there. But that’s John Owen. So it goes with him, speaking to us from a distant Puritan land, calling out to us who live in a very self-indulgent time, telling us to make no provision for the flesh so that we may mortify every sin, every lust. Owen again advises us, he says, “Entertain thy conscience daily with this entreaty. See if it can stand before this aggravation of its guilt. If this make thy conscience not sink in some measure and melt, I fear their, thy case is dangerous.”
True, if your conscience is hardened against you, loading your conscience with guilt from the Word of God about what God thinks about your sin, about what it cost Christ and the cross, your situation is grave, my friend. He says, “While the conscience hath any means to alleviate the guilt of sin, the soul will never vigorously attempt its mortification.” That is true. You want to be after your sin? You want to go after it with extreme prejudice? You must understand your sin the way God does.
So that’s one direction for mortifying sin: load the conscience with the knowledge of the law of God. Your sin’s a violation of the law of God. Christ’s suffering for your sin: Load your conscience with it and face the truth about your sin.
Here’s a second direction, and this is for sanctification. Here’s a positive direction so that you grow in holiness, so that you put on righteousness. Look to the cross and reflect on Christ’s full atonement, which purchased your full pardon, and just reflect on what that means. What does that mean? This is the abiding power of the cross to encourage you toward sanctification, so that you do not grow weary in doing good. Don’t skip, of course, the vital step of informing your conscience, because if you do, you’ll commit the same error, saying, “Peace, peace,” to your soul when there is no peace. That mistake is going to cause you to miss out on the true grace that God gives to a humble and contrite soul.
Once you do load your conscience, now look to your sanctification. Reflect on Christ’s mercy toward you. Think about what his mercy in the cross of him voluntarily taking your sins upon himself and dying, that full wrath of God. Think about that, what that means. Think about his intention to deliver you from your sins. Consider his faithfulness in everything that God sent him to do. See how the total sufficiency of his atonement on the cross answers the justice that God demands in his law, how it satisfied the just wrath for your sins.
Consider, as we said, how the cross purchases our full salvation. If you’ve settled your mind on the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement, his cross, if you know the cross can set you free from sin, grow you in sanctification, then inform your mind, assure your heart that it is his desire to free you from your sin, to sanctify you.
I say this to people all the time in the counseling office, people struggling with sin, people feeling like repenting of any particular sin and pursuing righteousness. It’s like being asked to climb Mount Everest with no arms and no legs. They think, “Okay, I can pull myself along with my teeth, get up that mountain,” and I say, “Nope, you don’t have any teeth, either.”
You need to understand: God wants your sanctification more than you do, and even in times when you don’t feel it, when you don’t sense the need to mortify sin and grow in holiness, God knows his own, and he will bring you to holiness. It is his desire to free you from sin. That’s why the cross. So expect it. And from that expectation of faith, expect help from Christ to overcome your sin and grow in holiness.
Let me give you two reasons to expect, expect his help and sanctification because he calls you to abide in him. He wants to be there with you. He wants and intends to join us in our fruit-bearing, in our growing holiness. He wants to be the efficient cause of our fruit-bearing.
We’ve read this in John 15:4,7, and 8. “Abide in me, I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. If you abide in me, why, my words abide in you. Ask whatever you wish, it’ll be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” That’s what he wants. Your abiding. Expect his help in your sanctification because he wants you to abide in him. He will abide in you. He will have you to abide in him.
Secondly, expect his help in your sanctification because God has made Christ your High Priest. Hebrews 2:17: “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he’s able to help those who are being tempted.”
When you hear “he’s able,” think “he desires to. He wants to. He delights in helping me.” His high-priestly service is the great reward for his obedience in service to God. So we come to him, encouraged to do so in Hebrews 4:15: “We don’t have a high priest who’s unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, and yet without sin. And so let us then, with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Listen, Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came for you. He came to make you holy. He came to bear your sins in his body, on the cross, that you might enjoy the life of God in him. And what he set out to do, he most certainly will accomplish. So expect that, beloved. Pray for that. Work for that. Take heart because he will certainly do what he set out to do. His cross punishes our sinful condition. It purchases our full salvation. And his cross produces our total sanctification.
Let’s take a moment before we come before the Lord’s table and pray. And I want you to be thinking about these things that we’ve talked about tonight. I realize there’s a lot there. So there’s plenty for you to draw from in your reflection and meditation and prayer as we come to consider the meaning of the Lord’s table.
Our Father, we thank you for your great plan of redemption. We thank you for the perfect work of Christ on the cross. We thank you, Lord Jesus, for your willingness to take up the Father’s command, that you would bear the sins of your people, that we might be reconciled to God. And we do pray tonight as we partake of these elements, the bread and the cup, we pray that you would minister to us in this time, through this table, that our participation in the table would be a participation in the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We pray that you, by your Holy Spirit, would stir us up, that we would mortify all sin and pursue holiness in the fear of God, that we might experience joy and glory, the truth and light, the peace and purity, that we would be your sanctified, blood-washed people, zealous for good works. We love you, and we thank you for this time we have together tonight and ask that you would bless it and use it for our sanctification. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.