Updated: Apr 20, 2022
By Richard Allen – April 18, 2022
As we’ve just finished the Good Friday and Easter weekend, it seems fitting to reflect on both and consider what they should mean for those of us who have faith in Jesus Christ. There is definitely a Paradox going on between the Cross on which Jesus suffered on Good Friday, and the Resurrection Crown that He received by rising from the dead, on Easter Sunday. We should also understand there is an important reason the Church has historically celebrated both! Scripture makes it clear that all that we have and hope to be – is “In Christ Alone!” This is not just some repetitive phrase that we mindlessly repeat, but an eternal spiritual truth that is the dividing line between heaven and hell, good and evil, life and death! Even for Jesus there had to be a Cross before the Crown! He offered Himself, dying on the cross to put away sin once and for all, so sin can no longer touch Him, or us:
“But as it is, he (Christ) has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. “ (Hebrews 9:26-28)
Many modern thinkers – who consider themselves enlightened, the question is asked: “Why would a God, who you Christians claim is love, require an innocent man to suffer and die for those who are guilty of heinous crimes? Part of their problem is they don’t understand or acknowledge the God of the Bible, or who He says He is. Conservative Bible scholars and theologians freely acknowledge that there are several attributes included in the divine character. One attribute displays God as a Righteous Judge and Law-Giver, the Holy One of Israel. Another attribute reveals God as a Loving and Merciful Father, who longs to forgive and restorebroken sinners to a right relationship with Him. These competing attributes might seem like a contradiction, but scripture declares both to be true. This is the Divine Paradox, and no verse in scripture displays it better than Numbers 14:18 -
“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Numbers 14:18)
This verse at one and the same time proclaims that God is a faithful creator who has steadfast love and forgiveness toward His creatures, desiring to forgive their iniquity and transgressions – and it also declares that He is a righteous judge, who will punish every sin that has been committed. How can both be true? The answer to this Divine Paradox is, it can only be resolved in Christ alone. He was made sin for us, forsaken by God and put to death on a cross on Good Friday, to display that God will not just wink at our sin, or forgive us by divine fiat (Romans 8:32). God the Father fully punished sin in Christ, showing that He is – and always will be a Holy and Righteous Judge! He will by no means clear the guilty as the passage in Numbers states above. Our God and Father is also slow to anger, abounding in love, willing to forgive our transgressions – all to restore us to Himself and give us eternal life. Both attributes were on full display on Easter Sunday, as God raised Jesus from the dead to forgive and justify those who have faith in Him:
“It (righteousness) will be credited to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:24-25)
This passage in Romans shows the only resolution to this Divine Paradox: Jesus was delivered up on Good Friday, and raised on Easter Sunday. This verse declares Jesus’ complete work in our salvation. That completed work not only resolved our problem of sin, death and the need to be righteous, it also resolved God’s dilemma: How could He forgive guilty sinners, and still be Holy, Righteous and Just? When we hear of a human judge who forgives a guilty criminal, we assume that he took a bribe – and we declare him to be a corrupt judge. The Apostle Paul asks, and then answers his own question, showing that Christ alone was not just the answer for our sin problem, but the resolution to God’s dilemma in forgiving and justifying us. In Romans 3:25-26, Paul says it this way:
“God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished, he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
I would be negligent if I didn’t point out that there is also another side of this Divine Paradox, the Human dilemma. As humans still in the flesh, we struggle before this Merciful God as broken sinners – even as those who have faith and are forgiven, we realize that He is still a Righteous Judge! We welcome God as a Merciful Father, finding it easy to accept His forgiveness. But our reaction to God as a Righteous Judge is to feel guilt and fear or be in denial of for our ongoing (yes you heard me right) sins! If you believe that Christians stop sinning once we have repented, believed and received Jesus as Lord and Savior, I’ve got news for you. Scripture says it’s impossible to get away from the ongoing guilt that we feel and have as BELIEVERS! We may sin less – and we hopefully are wrestling against sin so that sin is not our regular practice. But we all still struggle with sin while we are in the flesh. Paul describes the Human Side of this Paradox in several scriptures in the New Testament:
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:1-7)
And Paul further wrestles with this Human Dilemma when he says in Romans 7:18-25 -
“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”
Paul doesn’t leave us hanging, he goes on to give us the only answer available resolve our Human dilemma: Jesus Christ alone!
“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25)
Considered separately, neither Good Friday nor Easter Sunday have the power to forgive and restore us to God’s favor. If Jesus merely died for our sins, our debt might be paid, but we still have no positive standing before God. Jesus’ death satisfied God’s holy justice, allowing Him to pardon us. But when God the Father brought Jesus up from the grave, by doing so, He declared us just in His sight. Even more, because of what Jesus accomplished for us, God the Father has given us His Spirit to cleanse and sanctify us! The work of Jesus Christ in our salvation is a complete work. God not only pardons us and declares us righteous – He now progressively cleanses us to make us fit for heaven by the work of His Spirit in Sanctification! And this He accomplishes by Christ Alone through His Spirit.
Much of the New Testament is dedicated to the Gospel, that is Good News about Jesus and His “so great Salvation.” The writers of the New Testament scriptures each point us to see how all our hopes and fears are finished and resolved by the God-Man, Jesus. Our Justification, that is being pardoned and declared righteous by God is the work that God does outside of us. This is called the forensic side of salvation by which God judicially pardons us, and declares us righteous in His sight. But our salvation is more than just what God has done to pardon and give us eternal life and the right to heaven. God also works His grace inside of us, to cleanse us, and make us fit for heaven. This is the work of Sanctification, by which we are progressively set apart for God’s use, and made into the likeness of His Son. Like all of God’s work in salvation, one doesn’t happen without the other. Those whom God Justifies, He also Sanctifies – Justification and Sanctification are inseparable. Here’s what Paul says to the Church at Corinth:
“because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)
In the book of Galatians, Paul does battle with heretical beliefs that would have Christians return to ”Law-Keeping” to be declared just before God. Paul makes it clear that keeping the Law cannot justify anyone:
“Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
But Paul goes even further, making it clear that just as the Law (i.e. do this, don’t do that) could not Justify us, IT CAN NEVER SANCTIFY US. He warned them that having begun by the Spirit (i.e. Believing and being Justified by Faith in Christ) how could they now move on to be Sanctified(i.e. made clean or perfect) by Law-keeping or rules? In the New Testament Cannon (rule) only a “New Creation,” born of the Spirit can “put to death the deeds of the flesh.”
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)
It was this whole understanding of the genius of God’s salvation that brought Martin Luther, the German Reformer, to proclaim the Five Sola’s – that is the Five Alones of our salvation. Often referred to as “Luther’s Rose,” they are: We believe the truth of our salvation by Sola Scriptura, that is through the Scriptures Alone. We are saved by Sola Fide, that is by Faith Alone. And we are saved Sola Gratia, that is only through God’s Grace Alone, Sola-Christus, that is by CHRIST ALONE, All for Sola Deo Gloria, that is for God’s Glory Alone! If we remember nothing else during this season, let us remember that all we are, or have, or ever will be, is bound up in that One Solitary Life, lived by the God-Man Jesus Christ. God has justified us, is presently sanctifying us, and will ultimately glorify us, In Christ Alone!