Friday, April 10, 2009

Why the Cross?

This is a companion-piece with today's Pyro post

Anselm wrote his famous Cur Deus Homo, "Why Did God Become Man" — or perhaps "Why the God-Man" — grappling with the reason for the incarnation of Christ. Talking with two Mormons yesterday has made me think that a new book might be called for: "Why the God-Man's Cross?"

They two handsome, shiny, fit young men caught me by surprise (and inconveniently) yesterday afternoon, full of friendliness and the Book of Mormon. For well over thirty years, I have taken every ring at the door as a God-given opportunity. As I told my boys later, here God has brought someone to your door wanting to talk about religion. How dare we say "No?"

Now, to my shame, I can't say I'm eager, and I can't say I've never punted. I've done it again and again, and never seen fruit. I've approached it from a half-dozen, a dozen different angles. Listening to Walter Martin and reading testimonies in the seventies, I had the impression: no Christian ever talks to these people, ever tells them the Gospel. They're yearning to hear it. Tell them, and they'll leap at it.

Well, that's half-right. Apparently I was the first to talk to just about every cultist who comes to my door, if their reaction is any indication. Yet they walk away, uninterested, unmoved, just as enslaved as they came. I've had Jehovah's Witnesses in a complete corner, unable to deny the deity of Christ Biblically — yet they do.

The problem clearly is not merely intellectual, nor lack of information.

But that isn't my job. Conversion is God's work; He has entrusted to us the work of bearing testimony, which provides His means (Romans 10:17). Don Whitney points to Romans 1;16, and says that preaching the Gospel is like handing out lightning rods in a thunderstorm: you don't know who the lightning will strike, but you know what it strikes.

So I talked to these young men, and bore witness to Christ and His salvation. And they wanted to talk about their book and their church.

But it struck me yet again. I asked the Evangelism Explosion question ("If you were to die and stand before God, and He asked you why He should let you into His Heaven, what would you say?"). They answer was "Because I repented and believed in Jesus... and lived a good life, was baptized, was taught the truth, treated people well, obeyed His commandments." Which led us to a reading of Romans 4:1-6, and a repetition of and dwelling on verse 6.

So here's my Good Friday question: Why the Cross? Why such an ugly death? Why a death at all?

If I can contribute to my salvation, if I have something I can give; if all I need is some assistance, but I really finish the job — why did God have to become a man and die so horridly?

This is the nightmare dilemma of all cults: Mormonism, Roman Catholicism, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses. Their works negate the Cross. Any law-works negate the Cross.

Paul tells the Galatians, "If righteousness were through the law" — the God-given law of Moses, therefore any law — "then Christ died for no purpose" (Galatians 2:21).

And then in the next verse, he cries out in exasperation, "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified" (Galatians 3:1). You see, to his mind, the death of Christ eloquently, finally, and thunderously DAMNED any system of works-righteousness. He could not conceive how they could miss that lesson. If we contribute to our salvation by what we do, then the Cross is an absurd, gratuitous mockery.

The Cross that saves us, damns us. The Cross that damns us, saves us.

The Cross says you are lost and helpless. The Cross says you and I can do nothing — nothing! at any point!to commend ourselves to God. The Cross says we are lost and helpless, and only the most extreme means can bring us hope and life and forgiveness.

If you have not, I urge you, I plead with you: repent of your good works and your bad. Put your trust and hope in nothing, and no one, other than Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

(For more, see here.)


CR said...

DJP: But that isn't my job. Conversion is God's work;

This is very true. Conversion is the Lord's work. The only thing we are responsible for is articulating the gospel, clearly.

John said...

Seems like others are having similar experiences...

DJP said...

That is kind of eery; I hadn't read him, he clearly hadn't read me, but they are very parallel.

Same experience, different cults.

CR said...

The Mormons' answer to your EE question is not that dissimilar to how the Jews of Old (or new) would have answered that question.

Their "believing" is just one of the many acts of merit which they earned salvation. The Jews believed this and the errantly believed that of Abraham.

LeeC said...

It's all Him, and none of me Praise God!

He is worthy of all glory, and i am only worthy of condemnation on my own. How could I dare steal one ounce of what is rightfully his (Glory) by claiming some merit of my own?

And yet even in my admission of this I am a proud, proud man filled with the subtle deception of self sufficiency even as I intellectually deny it.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I had our first opportunity to share the gospel with two very nice young Mormon ladies who came to our home a couple of weeks ago. We soon found out how tough it is, because they claimed to agree with everything we said and shared from the Scriptures. In hindsight, there are so many things I wish I had said, but I'm grateful that we were focused enough to stress the fact that only faith in His work (that of Jesus on the cross) can take away our sins, and that any gospel that adds our own works is a false gospel.


Right true.
Praising God for His mercy....

Dave .... said...

That's exactly the appeal in Heb. 6:1ff --

(1)Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (2)and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (3)And this we will do if God permits.

Repentance and faith. Not only did Abraham NOT kill Isaac, he did kill the ram that God provided. The promise of God is that He will do the atoning. Bloody grace.

Toil and sweat and pain are the curse of sin, not the solution to it. "God made them coverings of skin." That's the first whisper of atonement.

What a great day to meditate on His grace. Thanks for another good post, Dan.

Dave ....

CR said...

I would recommend listening to Martin Lloyd-Jones messages on the New and Living Way (Part 1 and Part 2)

Stefan Ewing said...

Dan, you put it very well:

"repent of your good works and your bad."

It's something we need to remember as believers, as LeeC already alluded to. We're still capable of sinning in the flesh; and we're still capable of trying to do good works in the flesh as well (rather than in the Spirit).


The insidious thing about the Mormon answer to the question, "what must I do to be saved?" is that on its surface, it's identical to any works-based version of false Christianity (and indeed, they call themselves "Christians"!)—including, I suspect, the unarticulated belief of many professed evangelical Christians as well.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Well said, Dan, well said. "... repent of your good works and your bad".

The song came into my mind,

"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness"

And, from a person who often thinks in pictures, I thank you for this one:

preaching the Gospel is like handing out lightning rods in a thunderstorm: you don't know who the lightning will strike, but you know what it strikes.

A blessed Easter to you,


Aaron said...

Sorry I don't have anything more constructive to add. Good post, Dan. Thank You.

Michelle said...

Thank you for this excellent reminder of the sufficiency of the completed work of Christ upon the Cross. Praise God that we contribute nothing by our good works or take anything away with our bad.

Two Mormons knocking on DJP's door, of all people. They so knocked on the wrong door, or the right one, depending on the perspective! I had a chuckle at that. I do pray that the Holy Spirit would work in their lives through what you shared.

ChosenClay said...

Dan, I spotted the neatly dressed young men, before they knocked on your door and thought to myself, "This should interesting". There is a spiritual blindness that all cultists exhibit that makes me want to just shake them and scream, "WAKE UP!". But alas, they are deaf and blind, spiritually dead and unable to believe the truth because they have believed a lie. I pity them. P.s. Rest assured, your kitchen remodel will be completed soon.

Wes Walker said...

Not directly on-topic, but related...

I recently heard about another sloppy mis-representation of Grace v. Works (intentionally or unintentionally moving toward license) and one of the central ideas was a weird linking of fig tree Jesus cursed to fig leaves in Eden.

I looked it up, and this idea seems to 'gone viral'.

Anyone else heard about this? Is it the next big fad or something?

Susan said...

Dan: "If you have not, I urge you, I plead with you: repent of your good works and your bad. Put your trust and hope in nothing, and no one, other than Jesus Christ, and Him crucified."