2 Corinthians 5:14&15 “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
This is one of the most important statements in all of the Bible. Certainly nothing in the New Testament can compare with it for explaining the motivation for true Christian living, and the consequent beauty of character. For example, it explains how Elisabeth Elliot could take her little girl Valerie to live in the jungles of Ecuador and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the very men who had murdered her husband, Valerie’s father. Where does such nobility of life come from? Why this utter difference from the revenge mentality of the world? How can such an extraordinary change take place, as it does, in many men and women? One sees it in the life of Saul of Tarsus, once a bigot, a torturer, a violent and merciless man, but then transformed into a humble servant of men? Why has this been repeated millions of times for almost two thousand years? Why has every real believer everywhere in the whole world stopped living for himself but rather lives for Jesus Christ? This passage reveals the secret.
1. THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF THE APOSTLE PAUL
Paul has been writing of the judgment seat of Christ and of his zeal in persuading men and women to get ready to meet God. Nothing is allowed to deflect him by a hair’s breadth from that message, and in the remainder of this chapter he proceeds to sum up succinctly and completely his message. The teachings found within this section are the very touchstone and the heart of the Christian faith. The sentences are crisp, and there is even a certain detachment (so B.B.Warfield points out) about them. Notice how Paul introduces this theme. He doesn’t jump in and say something like ‘it’s all because of the death of Jesus,’ but rather, he says, “we are convinced” about certain things. “We have come to a certain judgment about something,” he is saying. These convictions had not been recently acquired by the apostle, rather they were something he had embraced for many years. They have kept him going; they have been the focus of his choices and activities for about three decades. They have been the energy of his life and behaviour. They have been the single constraining influence for his whole life, and this is how he begins: “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” Of course, such words as these must have been on the apostle’s lips often, and written down in this letter only after numerous repetitions in his teaching and in many conversations with Jews and Gentiles alike. These phrases – which you can see are amplified in the succeeding verses to the very end of this chapter – are the very heart of Paul’s Gospel. They are like the “faithful sayings” of the Pastoral Epistles, mighty truths, simply stated, well-weighed and compacted, the very core of the gospel, a divine message which the apostle had not received from men but from the Son of God himself.
The reason for Paul living as he did, or Elisabeth Elliot acting as she did, all had its origin in the love of Christ. You will never understand a true Christian unless you see him joined to the Saviour. Listening to some men you would think that a phrase like ‘the love of Christ’ would be amongst the most common and predictable phrases in the Bible. The world and the church talk as if the love of the Lord Jesus were the most obvious thing of all. But to the New Testament the love of God the Son is breath-taking. Its experience gives people goose-pimples. That the Lord is just and holy and righteous has a certain predictability about it. There can be no cosmic malice in the heavens. But that the Holy One of Israel loves us individual men and women passionately and tenderly and personally is amazing. It makes us sing, “I wonder how he could love me, a sinner condemned, unclean.” In fact, this phrase, ‘the love of Christ’ is uncommon, found in just two other places in the entire Bible – “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Roms. 8:35), and “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephs. 3:18).
So there are these two extraordinary realities, first, the love of Christ. There is a living person whose name is Jesus of Nazareth, who is now in the midst of the throne of God and he deeply loves favoured men and woman. Then there is another phenomenon, and that is the amazing life of the apostle Paul. John Newton in his sermon on this text has a striking description of his life: “Paul devoted himself to the service of his Lord and Saviour, and of the cause which he had opposed. His ardour was astonishing and exemplary. Unwearied by labour, undismayed by danger, unaffected by hardship and suffering, but supported and cheered by the presence of him whom he served, he preached the gospel in season and out of season. publicly and from house to house, in Judea, in Asia, in Greece, in Italy, and many other parts of the Roman empire. For this zeal in seeking to promote the good of others, of strangers, of enemies, at the expense of all that was dear to himself as a man, he found, as he expected, in almost every place which he visited, open oppositions, and secret conspiracies against his life: he was scourged by the Jews, beaten with rods by the Romans, and confined in prisons and chains. He was likewise the marked object of general contempt: the wise men of the times despised him as a babbler; he was regarded by many as the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things; many said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, it is not fit that he should live.’ (John Newton, “The Constraining Love of Christ,” Works, Volume 6, p.497). Yet none of this prevented him persuading men and women to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne in his sermon on this text asks aloud what could be the explanation of this man? Wouldn’t we long to hear from Paul’s own lips the secret of his strength? We’d say with a twinkle in our eye, “Whatever he’s taking I’ll have some of that!” “What draws him on through all discouragements; indifferent alike to the world’s laughter, and the fear of men…; careless alike of the sneer of the sceptical Athenian, or the frown of the luxurious Corinthian, or the rage of the narrow-minded Jew?” (Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “From the Preacher’s Heart”, “The Love of Christ” p.45).
One reason Paul kept on preaching the gospel was that he feared God. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (v.11, AV). This is a Christological motive. It relates to Jesus’ office as Judge. The fear of the Lord is not a cringing terror, but the most profound awesome respect for the Creator of the universe. There are many things we are afraid of doing because we shall stand before his judgment seat. Dr Machen in his sermon on this text, points out, “The motive of fear is used in many places in the Bible. It is used in the Old Testament. It is used in the New Testament. It is used with particular insistence in the teaching of Jesus. I think it is one of the strangest of modern aberrations when men say it is a degrading and sub-Christian thing to tell man to stand in fear of God. Many passages in the Bible might be summarized by the words: ‘The fear of God constrains us'” (J.Gresham Machen, “God Transcendent,” Banner of Truth, originally 1949, p.130).
2. THE CHRISTIAN IS CONSTRAINED TO BEHAVE AS HE DOES BY THE LOVE OF CHRIST
In our text, however, there is another reason given for Paul living the way he does. It is love. “Christ’s love compels us,” he says. His fear of Christ is quite reconcilable to Christ’s love, because that is no sentimental thing. Rather it relates to Jesus’ role as Saviour. The love of the Redeemer who is also the Judge is profound and life-changing. What does Paul mean by the love of Christ? We might think that it refers to our love for him. It is we who fear him, so do we not also love him? The fear prevents us doing certain things and the love constrains us to do other things. We think of all that he has done for us and are moved to love him and our actions flow from that. All that is true. We love Christ too much to take his name in vain, to neglect his day, his people, his book, his Spirit. The love for the Lord Jesus that is found even in the heart of the youngest Christian restrains and constrains him to live in a certain way.
That, however, is not Paul’s meaning here. When he refers to the love of Christ he is speaking of his love for us, not our love from him. It is unmistakably that in the famous words of Galatians 2:20, “He loved me and gave himself for me.” You think of what you once were before Christ’s power laid hold of you. Mustn’t you say, “I was a man in whose heart was enmity against God. I sinned against him deliberately and defiantly, and by sinning against him I was exposed to his wrath and curse for ever. There was no way out. I had to drink that curse by suffering the torments of eternity”? Wasn’t that your condition? Little did you know that Someone loved you then. You had no idea that you had been given to Jesus Christ by God the Father – before the foundation of the earth – to save and keep. Because he loved you Jesus came into the world, born of the virgin Mary. He lived the righteous life you failed to live, but he did it in your place, and on the cross he made an atonement for your sins, paying the price of your redemption. Because he loved you he gave himself for you, tasting death for you, and on the third day rising from the dead to be your Shepherd King. Now ascended to the right hand of God with all authority in heaven and earth he lives for you – still because he loves you. Then in his mercy, through all the plans of his providence, at some time in your life, he saved you by sending the regenerating Holy Ghost into your life and giving you a new birth. It was his love alone that made him do it. It was nothing in you that constrained him. Today he is keeping you, again, because he loves you. He is working all things for your good, he is providing all your needs so richly, because he loves you. He is making all grace always abound to you, because he loves you.
Let me give you an example of the Lord working in someone’s life. Last autumn I was preaching at the annual meetings of the Covent Garden Project, there in the heart of London. The meeting was held in the beautiful Swiss Reformed church which was borrowed for the occasion, and at the door to greet us was Mike Mellor and his wife Gwen. They have been working, planting a church there in the city, over the past decade (though since I spoke there he has gone to another work judging that the church is strong enough to call another pastor to build up the work he began). He gave a report during the meeting, speaking so engagingly about his activities, the open-air meetings, literature distribution, knocking on doors and ringing bells, following up contacts and keeping going in the heart of a vital dynamic city. What constrains Mike Mellor to keep working for Jesus Christ like this? It was not that he was raised in a Christian home. He had been a musician, a journalist, a drunk, selfish and reckless, eventually banned for drunken driving. He says, “People said, ‘Change!’ The problem was, ‘How?’ and ‘to what?'” The main problem was the lifestyle – he loved being drunk and being with other drunks. He tells us how he changed. These are his words:
“God was at work and I had no idea. A young man came to work on the newspaper, and his desk was slotted in right next to mine. There couldn’t have been a greater contrast. This bright, cheerful, young man next to a dishevelled blurry-eyed ‘thing.’ This lad was one of these ‘Christians’, went to church, read the Bible. From time to time, I would hear him discuss the topic with various people, and on one occasion, when engaged in conversation with an atheist, I turned to them both and said, ‘Why don’t you both belt up? You’ll never know there is no God, and you’ll never know there is a God.’ And that really was my philosophy. You can never know, what’s the point in even thinking about these things?
“However, things worsened, and eventually came to a head. One day, (a life-changing day, never to be forgotten) this young chap and myself were alone, just chatting. It was a rare, drink-free day and I found myself asking about his faith. Then he asked, ‘You believe in God don’t you?’ ‘Well … suppose so,’ I replied, but thought, ‘but how on earth can you know?’ Then he asked, ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ?’ Again, I replied, ‘Well, I suppose so,’ but my mind reasoned, ‘What’s the possible relevance of this?’ Finally, he challenged me, ‘Why don’t you ask God to forgive your sins, and ask Christ to enter your life and take control?’
“To be honest, I didn’t have a clue what he meant, but there was something stirring deep within. I left the room and entered a cubicle in a lavatory, got on my knees and prayed – something very eloquent like ‘Help, God!’ I think. It was enough, however, to transform my life. I left the toilet. It was time to go home. I got into the car, but as I drove, broke down in tears of joy. I knew that God was real. I knew that Christ had died for my sins and had forgiven me. I knew that if I crashed the car and died now, I would go to heaven. I reached home, and shouted to my wife (who was in the kitchen) ‘Gwen, I’ve become a Christian!’ She put her head in her hands and sighed, ‘Oh no! Whatever is he up to now?’!” (cp. www.grace.org.uk/mission/ets for the whole story).
Who was protecting Mike Mellor from killing himself or others when he was drunk behind the wheel of a car? It was the Lord Jesus, though he needn’t have. The exercise of mercy to sinners is an option with Sovereign Christ. Who brought that Christian to his office so that ‘his desk slotted in right next to Mike’s? It was the Saviour that planned and accomplished it. Who brought them together that never-to-be-forgotten day to talk seriously about his need of forgiveness from God? It was the loving Jesus. Who constrained him to go to that lavatory and kneel in that cubicle and pray? Christ did it. Who flooded his heart with assurance that God was real, that Christ had died for his sins and had given him forgiveness, and that if he were to die he would go to heaven? It was the loving Lord of glory. Who gave him the longing to tell Gwen as soon as he got home? The same loving Saviour in control of his life who later was to bring Gwen three months later to know him too. This same Jesus called him to serve him, and gave him the courage and energy to preach outside a pub regularly in the heart of London and to speak to people, serving them, praying for them until they were saved. It was Christ’s love for Mike Mellor that made him a Christian, and that makes him serve the Word and the Lord of the Word today. He says, “From that wonderful day, it is my deepest desire that all who walk this earth should know him.” What creates that longing in his heart? It is Christ’s love nurturing and maturing his new child. When people initially said to Gwen that her husband had got religious mania she simply told them, “Well, he’s changed for the better. He’s loving and reliable; he comes home for meals, plays with kids – and does amazing things like standing unaided and talking sense!” What does that? It is Jesus’ love for us.
We trace everything back to that fountainhead. Everything good and perfect, and everything satisfying and life-enriching has come to us as a personal gift from a Saviour who loves us. All that we need in this life he has richly given to us to enjoy, but most of all he has given us himself, a reconciled God, a pardon for all our sins, and eternal life. Fifty years ago in Belfast in a church in Killyleagh Street, Crossgar, a ‘Rescue Mission’ was run every Saturday night. In those days the pubs closed at 10 p.m., and so they held their meeting at 10.30 p.m. About three hundred men came there each Saturday night. The church made them tea, and gave them something to eat, and got them sobered up as best they could. Many of them had lived through the work of the Spirit of God in the early 1920s under the extensive ministry of W.P.Nicholson but they had not obeyed the gospel. Many had attended Sabbath School in their childhood years and by such means there were Gospel truths buried in their drink-besotted minds. There was one hymn these hardened Harland and Wolf shipyard workers loved to sing every week, and this was it:
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but he is strong.
Jesus loves me, He who died heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin, let his little child come in.
Jesus loves me, loves me still, when I’m very weak and ill;
From His shining throne on high, watches with me where I lie.
Jesus loves me, He will stay close beside me all the way;
If I love him, when I die He will take me home on high.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible tells me so.
As the gospel was preached to them a great number of those men came to faith in Christ and were delivered from that self-destructive life. The difference took place when they appropriated for themselves by faith the love of Jesus Christ. Some of them did not live too long because they had abused their bodies through drink and hard living, but there were those who proved by entrusting themselves to that love it has a divine power to change the vilest offender. That love comes in all its particularity upon men and women delivering them from despair. “Don’t harm yourself!” Paul cried to the Philippian jailor. “If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ he will save even you!”
What does that love do? It ‘compels’ us to act in a certain way, that, at any rate, being the translation of the NIV. Other translations are impels us, or urges us on, or overwhelms us, or lays hold of us. It is certainly a love understood as getting to grips with us and dominating us. It is not a mere sentiment. It is used in the New Testament of those in the grip of a disease. Peter’s mother-in-law was held in the power of a fever. The Gadarenes were gripped with great fear when they saw what Christ had done to the demoniac. When Stephen told of seeing Jesus standing at the right hand of God, the Sanhedrin held their hands over their ears. The love of Christ held Paul fast. “O love that will not let me go!” Paul finds he cannot turn back, and he cannot turn aside either to the left or the right, and he cannot lag behind because the hands of the Saviour grip him tight and propel him on and on and on. “His love harasses me all the time. Am I being idle? Am I sitting in a chair doing nothing? I actually find rest in abounding in the work of the Lord.” There was such a master passion in Paul’s ministry because Jesus was ever with him encouraging him to keep going, keep speaking, keep caring, keep forgiving. Never give up! Never give up! The gold was not at the end of the rainbow, as something ever pursued but never reached. The gold was Christ. With the wealth of those riches he could spend and be spent all his life, never worrying that the Lord would not provide or that the King of Heaven might go bankrupt. “I am a rich man,” he could say, even in his rags and from his prison cell.
So the love of Jesus Christ compelled Paul to go on. One remembers the former CIM missionary, the late Alan Stibbes, talking of this verse and referring to the Yangtze river, the longest river in Asia, whose origin is in Tibet. It has carved out the Three Gorges, one of the wonders of the world. The Qutang Gorge is famous for its magnificent precipices and the river is constrained by these mighty cliffs to surge and race on between them to the sea. So whenever Paul thought of meandering and wandering here and there into Bypath Meadow the love of Christ gripped him again constraining to go on.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Take my heart, oh, take and seal it.
Seal it from Thy courts above.
You see the idea of a powerful impetus directing and forcing one’s energies into serving God. You might have been caught up in a great rush of people, perhaps when you were a boy, coming out of a football stadium and carried along by the crowd, your feet not touching the ground. So Christ’s love has us in its grip and we are taken along, loving our neighbours as ourselves, turning the other cheek, bearing the burdens of others, supporting the weak, fervent in spirit, teaching the Sunday School, labouring for six days, caring for your loved ones, giving a reason for your hope and sustained in all this by the personal love for you of your best friend Jesus Christ.
3. THE LOVE OF CHRIST WAS MOST CLEARLY SEEN IN HIS DEATH.
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all” (v.14). The world would expect a person to have shown his love by living for us. If you had been an admirer of the late President John F. Kennedy (which I was not) you would not say that he loved us so much he bared his skull to an assassin’s bullet. But the New Testament uses this language repeatedly for the murder of Jesus, that he displayed his love for us most supremely in actually choosing to die on the cross. A loving death is saved from being an oxymoron by the word ‘for’: “one died for all.” It is a costly love, when a man lays down his life for his friends. For example, nine months ago a 56 year-old grandmother named Veronica Portis from Kirkby in Merseyside saw her granddaughter Lisa Williams aged 20 months, walking out into the traffic, and she ran out of her house after her and pushed her out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, and she was herself hit by a Ford Escort and killed. She loved the child so much, risking her very life, that little Lisa might be spared. What did she care for her own flesh and bones? She had lived for more than half a century while this bairn was 20 months old. How could she rush out into the path of an oncoming car? Was that insanity? Not at all! It is the power of love. She could not help it, something was pulling her – the love for her grandchild; her compassion was urging her on. When Christ came into the world it was to seek and to save those who were lost. He knew that there was no other way that he might deliver them from eternal death than by dying himself. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and this was his service – to give his life a ransom for many.
He saw me ruined by the fall,
Yet loved me, notwithstanding all;
He saved me from my lost estate –
His lovingkindness, O, how great.
The overpowering love of Christ for us, manifested when he gave his life for us on Golgotha, touches us very deeply. I deserved death. I could not pay the price of my sin, but he who was sinless and holy did pay every penny and cleared my debt. He did it only because he loved me.
Was it the nails, O Saviour,
That bound Thee to the tree?
Nay, ’twas Thine everlasting love,
Thy love for me, for me.
Isaac Watts realised that as a consequence of this, “My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” More than that, he wrote, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Anything else to give Christ in gratitude for what he has given us would be an offering far too small. Isaac Watts was a man under the compulsion of love. The death of Jesus on Paul’s behalf the apostle always treasured, and it was this that spurred him on throughout his Christian service. He never forgot he was no longer his own man. Jehovah Jesus had been consumed by the magnificent rectitude of a sin-hating God in his place. That fact was ever present with him. How different we are, we are able to forget Gethsemane, and we can forget Christ’s agony, can’t we? An awareness of such poor frailty is one reason the Lord Jesus instituted the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. “Do this in remembrance of me.” In other words, “Do this so that you won’t forget the fact that the Prince of life died that we might live.”
“One died for all,” says Paul. What does this word ‘for’ mean? Linguistically it could mean for the sake of, for the benefit of others. It could also mean instead of, in the place of others. So consider another verse where this preposition is found. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gals. 3:13). There we meet the same word ‘for.’ In that context Christ clearly endures God’s curse instead of us. There was absolutely no other reason for him to endure the whole of wrath divine. He lovingly bore the curse of the broken law instead of us. So this must be the ‘for’ of substitution.
The world’s great problem is the sin of man. The great answer is the Substitute of God. Sin is when I substitute what I want to do in the place of the will of God: I seize the forbidden fruit. Salvation is when God in his grace substitutes in my place the Saviour who always did the will of God. Do you understand? The Lord Jesus Christ is not someone apart from God whom God punishes in our place. It is God the Son who is the subst itute who lovingly takes our blame and shame in our place. God takes the judgment of God. John Bunyan, in Pilgrim’s Progress, portrays the Christian as bearing a great burden which is not removed until he visits the cross, and then and there away it goes! Burdens are lifted at Calvary. The great debt we owe for our sins has been cancelled. Jesus paid it all. We owe everything to him. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.
What peace, to face the judgment seat of this Christ without any fear whatsoever. The burden of guilt is all gone, even for the very worst of men. A missionary pilot tells a story that has a bearing on this. He picked up a local man who had never flown before to take him to a hospital. The man brought a large bag in which was all that he would need in hospital. The man strapped himself into the seat beside the pilot and set the bag on the floor at his feet. When they took off and just skimmed over the top of the trees at the end of the runway the man grabbed the bag and put it on his lap. “Oh, you don’t have to do that,” the pilot said. “Oh yes I must,” the native replied. “It’s so heavy, and I don’t want the plane to carry the weight, so I will just carry it on my lap.”
The man didn’t realise that carrying his own burden made no difference in the load the plane had to carry. If he had realised it, he could have been free of his burden and enjoyed the ride while the plane carried his bag for him. Paul didn’t make that mistake. He knew that the Son of God had died for him, that he had taken all the weight of his guilt and punishment. There was therefore now no condemnation for Paul because Christ had freely borne that condemnation in his place. What extraordinary love to have done all that for someone like Paul who hated him. The burden had gone totally, so though every day he sinned frequently, he yet could work and travel and preach without an increasing enormous weight of shame and regret pushing down upon him all the time. He could tell people of the vast forgiveness in Christ not because he was perfect but because Christ’s work was. Paul never took advantage of the mercy to defiantly sin with a high hand. The death of Jesus would not let him. What thanks and praise he gave to the Lord Jesus.
4. WHAT CHARACTERISES THE ‘ALL’ FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED.
Paul is obsessed with the fact that Christ died for ‘all.’ He repeats it three time: “One died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all” (vv. 14&15). Wouldn’t you expect this from the apostle to the Gentiles? Shouldn’t we find in his letter to Corinth, in Greece, an emphasis on a universalistic Gospel? Didn’t his whole life hinge upon taking the gospel out and out, from Jerusalem and away to Asia Minor, and to Greece, and Rome, with plans even for Spain. Was there any spot on earth where he expected to find the news of the cross of Christ irrelevant or ineffectual? Would you think that if he stepped ashore in Africa he would have no message of the Lamb of God to preach to them? Had Christ not taken away the sin of the world? He died for all. We find the word so strikingly in the opening verse of this hymn of Cecil Alexander’s:
There is a green hill far away outside a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all.
What is Paul showing us? His utter opposition to all the narrow nationalism and particularism of the Jews. He deplored any hint of the exclusiveness of the old covenant people. Henceforth God is absolutely indiscriminate in his mercy when he deals with sinners of the human race. God is not the God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. Christ’s blood made atonement not for the Jews only but for the Gentile world too. An Asian or even a native American who trusted in the name of Christ could run into the presence of God and know the smiling welcome of the Lord he addressed as ‘Abba, Father!’. He didn’t possess a second class status if he were not a Jew. Christ has died for all. “The world for Christ!” Paul could cry. Not one nation, not one class, not one race or condition of men, but the world and nothing less than the world for Christ!
Now specifically who are these people – this ‘all’ – for whom the one died? We are told four things about them:
i] The ‘all’ for whom Christ died have themselves died: “one died for all, and therefore all died.” What remarkable words! We might have expected to have read something like this. “one died for all and so all did not die.” Or, “one died for all and so all lived.” That is normally the reason why people give their lives, that others might live. But Paul does not say that. He does not even say, “One died for all, nevertheless all died.” It is this: Christ died for all, therefore all died. If he died as a substitute then all for whom he died also died in him. Listen to Dr Machen’s simple but profound explanation:
“We may imagine a dialogue between the law of God and a sinful man.
‘Man,’ says the law of God, ‘have you obeyed my commands?’
‘No,’ says the sinner, ‘I have transgressed them in thought, word, and deed.’
‘Well then, sinner,’ says the law, ‘have you paid the penalty which I have pronounced upon those who have disobeyed? Have you died in the sense that I meant when I said, “the soul that sinneth it shall die”?’
‘Yes,’ says the sinner, ‘I have died. That penalty that you pronounced upon my sin has been paid.’
‘What do you mean,’ says the law, ‘by saying that you have died? You do not look as though you have died. You look as though you are very much alive.’
‘Yes,’ says the sinner, ‘I have died. I died there on the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem; for Jesus died there as my representative and my substitute. I died there so far as the penalty of the law was concerned.’
‘You say Christ is your representative and substitute?’ says the law. ‘Then I have indeed no further claim of penalty against you. The curse which I pronounced against your sin has indeed been fulfilled. My threatenings are very terrible, but I have nothing to say against those for whom Christ died.’ That my friends, is what Paul means by the tremendous ‘therefore,’ when he says: ‘One died for all, therefore all died.’ On that ‘therefore’ hangs all our hope for time and for eternity”
(J. Gresham Machen, “God Transcendent,” 1949, p.134).
Those for whom Christ died are all dead. It is a fundamental to Paul’s practical application of his Christian teaching. The Christian believer is a person who has died. At a particular point in the past, in a particular place on this planet outside the walls of Jerusalem this definitive, once-for-all, irreversible event took place – the old unregenerate unbelieving Saul of Tarsus died. God past the sentence of death on him and executed him in Jesus Christ. He no longer exists. He is dead. Go looking for him anywhere in the world. Search Tarsus with candles and you will not find him. Walk through the corridors of the courts of the Pharisees, and it will all be in vain. Saul of Tarsus is dead and gone. His place knows him no more. The Christian has no right to deem himself the man he was. That disobedient sinful rebel has ceased to be. The carnal mind that was enmity against God, that has ceased to be. The human being who was totally incapable of receiving the things of the Spirit of God is no more. The man dead in sins, the carnal man, is dead and buried. That is our past. Our regeneration and our union with Jesus Christ represent a decisive break with what we used to be. All of us have passed away and we are no more. When tempted to think, speak and act like that man we say, “How can I, the dead man, act like that?”
There are times when a Christian can feel suicidal, not merely older men, but young believers with their whole futures before them, can feel life is no longer worth living, that they are complete failures. How the evil one can attack us at such times, and we can think that no Christian has ever felt as we do. Yet such a spirit of melancholy is common to man. Elijah felt it, lying down in despair, “he prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors'” (I Kings 19:4). Or again we are told of Jonah that “he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live'” (Jonah 4:8). One great answer to such discouragement is to say to yourself, “But I have already died … almost 2000 years ago on Golgotha’s cross, when the Lord Christ died. The person I used to be, who had no peace, no forgiveness, carrying about a weight of unbelief and despair, that person was put to death by God in Jesus then, once and for all. I am now a new person who shall never die.” What is the next truth Paul tells us here?
ii] The ‘all’ for whom Christ died live. They are not simply dead, but they are also risen. They died in Christ, and so in Christ they rose. It has been as impossible for them to remain dead as the Prince of life himself. They have not only heard of him. They not only believe things about him. They not only believe in him, but they live with him. They live in union with him. How many people live in this way? All who died in him. Every single one of them without exception. Every man who was joined to Christ in his death is also joined to Christ in his resurrection. It is not enough for us that we have the negatives of Christian conversion, the practices we have given up, the unbelief we now shun, the places we no longer frequent, the views we no longer hold. Such rejection is, of course, absolutely vital, and indispensable to any Christian integrity. There is no believer but has died, and there is no believer who has not also made a radical breach with the person he used to be. Yet the negatives are not enough. Those persons not only died, those people from whom Christ died also live in newness of life. They live with Christ. They have illimitable access to an indwelling Saviour. Through his presence they can do all things that God in his providence asks of them. They can love their neighbours as themselves. They can forgive seventy times seven. They can bear any burden. Wise men kept following the star through many difficulties, far from home, until it brought them to the Son of God. We too can keep following the Sun of righteousness wherever he leads us, and never stray, because we live in him. What unthinkable blessings lie before us! “Your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
To dream the impossible dream,
to fight the unbeatable foe,
to bear the unbearable sorrow,
to run where the brave dare not go.
To right the unrightable wrong,
to love pure and chaste from afar,
to try when your arms are too weary,
to reach the unreachable star.
This is my quest, to follow that star –
no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.
To fight for the right without question or pause,
to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.
And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest
that my heart will be peaceful and calm when I’m put to my rest.
And the world will be better for this,
that one man, scorned and covered with scars,
still strove with his last ounce of courage.
To reach the unreachable star.”
I flood that song with all the New Testament promises of our being more than conquerors, and that we can do all things in the Christ who strengthens us. Our God will do for us exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, because we died and now we live in him. So the Carey’s watchword is ours, to attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God.
iii] The ‘all’ for whom Christ died should no longer live for themselves. Every one stands under Christian obligation. Every ordinary believer: not those who have had second blessings or what have you, but every ordinary believer has ceased to live for himself. This is the nature of resurrected life. It is a transfigured life. We are no longer living for ourselves. Is it like this with you – if you claim Christ died for you? What is the difference in point of your behaviour as a result of the death and resurrection of Christ? Is our life, in the broadest sense, risen and transformed? Is there elevatedness, majesty, purity and power? And if there is transformation, is it transformation of these dimensions; a transformation comparable to that effected in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Is there anything in our lives, not in point of feelings, not in point of gift, but in point of conduct and in point of Christian love, which would tell the watching world that our lives have been touched by the power that made the world and which raised Christ from the dead, so that we are no longer living for ourselves? Are our lives different to what our unregenerate lives used to be? Are our lives different to the lives of those who still constitute the mass of the unregenerate world? And is the transformation such as to argue that in us now there is working the Almightiness of the Lord God?
As I face the temptation to live just for myself does the way I respond declare that I have faced that temptation and overcome it by the resurrection power of Christ? As I am tempted to pass by on the other side, or show impatience with the weak, or think only of what is in something for me, do I ask the Spirit of holiness who raised Christ from the dead to help me to do his will, and to do it effectively so that the world knows we are not doing this by our own strength but by the power of him who raised Christ from the dead?
It is one of the great and urgent questions for our day: what is the life, what is the bearing of the Christian Church? Are we the light of the world? Are we the salt of the earth? Are we indeed shining in the midst of a crooked and a perverse nation? And do our lives bear testimony, not only to the sincerity of our theological convictions, but to the reality and the nearness and the relevance of the power that we proclaim? Our own lives – have we died? Do we live in newness of life? Do we no longer live for ourselves? Are we self-denying? Are we servants? Do we reach for the towel and basin of water and do we kneel down at the feet of others? Are our lives like that, according to this measure of our union with the Son of God in his death and resurrection? Paul says, “With Christ I am different. His love compels me to live in a certain way. I am different because I am joined to him. Saul of Tarsus died in him and only the new man Paul lives day by day. I am united to Christ, engrafted into him, and a member of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. In me is his presence. In me there is his Spirit. In me there is the power of a risen Saviour.” That is not the privilege of an elite. It is not the blessing of the eminent believer, but there is no person for whom Christ has died, there is no man or woman born again, but in that person you will inevitably find one who has this peculiar position. He stands in this peculiar place, and he is there almost physically, standing in union with a risen and a living Lord. That is why he no longer lives for himself. He pours contempt on all his pride because Jesus died for him and rose again and in Christ he too died and rose.
iv] The ‘all’ for whom Christ died live for him who died for them and rose again. Who are the redeemed of the Lord? They are the people who live and stand and move for Christ. Paul is saying, “I am going to tell you how a man should love whose sins are forgiven and whose transgressions are covered. He lives for Christ, to serve his cause, and build his church, and magnify his name, and spread his kingdom, and vindicate his truth, and serve his people.” Here are people in organic and living union with the crucified and risen Saviour. They are living lives than can only be explained in terms of this – that the Lord of glory, risen from the dead, is reigning by grace in their lives and has given to them an utterly new direction. Are we living lives that cannot be explained in any kind of behaviouristic terms, but only in terms of our being joined to the Son of God?
Your priorities are not anything that this world can provide. What is our purpose in life – the prizes, the prestige, and the treasures that this world can offer? Are we living for economic security, pleasure, prosperity, or the education of our children? No. Then what is it that we are seeking first? What is the priority? “Not these,” says Paul, “not the treasures of this life, but Christ himself.”
As pants the hart for cooling streams when heated in the chase,
So longs my soul O God for Thee and Thy refreshing grace.
Christ I have – the One who gave his life for me. Christ I have, the one who rose from the dead for me. Christ I have – the one who ever lives to make intercession for me. But I want the same Christ more. I want him all. I am pressing on for the prize, the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. What is there at the right hand on high? Spiritual blessing in heavenly places. And is that now my ambition? Not temporal, tangible, present blessings, but is my great concentration on the spiritual blessings which are in heavenly places? Can I really say it? We have the whole thing reduced to glorious simplicity for us in the beatitudes, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matt. 5:6). You see the state of mind of these people? They are hungering and thirsting, they are parched, they are famished and absolutely starving. They are quite desperate. They are in a state of destitution and they know that there is something they need for their survival, something they must have at all costs. And what is it? They are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Is that what I am living for? Not the possession of gifts, not the experience of blessedness, but I am absolutely desperate for the righteousness of conformity to the image of the Son of God. Because I died, and I was given new life, and I am no longer living for myself, and I am determined to live henceforth for him. I’ve made up my mind. Paul says, “This one thing I do.” He says, “For to me to live is Christ.” There is this absolutely dominant longing in the Christian soul that he lives for the one who died and rose again for him and his salvation.
6th May 2001 GEOFF THOMAS