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The Worth of Christ's Death

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Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Question: “How does the death of Jesus Christ pay the penalties for all the sins of all of God’s people?”

     Answer: God told Adam and Eve that they would die if they broke His laws. The rest of Scripture continually emphasizes the fact that death is the necessary consequence of our choice to sin against God. “Behold, all souls are mine…the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4).  “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23).  “Death” in Scripture sometimes means the end of physical life, but ultimately it means the eternal suffering of body and soul in hell, separated eternally from God’s favor. And since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” everyone deserves to die eternally.

     If eternal physical and spiritual death seems a severe penalty for the sins that we’ve committed it’s only because, as sinners, we are blind to the gravity and hideousness of our sin. To reject God’s authority and pursue our own glory instead of His is to commit “cosmic treason.” The seriousness of an offense rises exponentially with the importance and dignity of the one who is offended. If you spit in my face, I may rebuke you, but that would be the extent of your punishment. If you spit in the face of a policeman, you may end up in jail for a little while. If you spit in the face of the President of the United States or the Queen of England, you will definitely spend a long time in prison. Imagine what the sufficient penalty would be for our far more serious offenses against the infinitely holy God of the universe!

     God has, in His grace, provided only one way for sinful human beings to avoid the penalty of physical and spiritual death that their sins deserve – He provides an adequate substitute who would qualify to die in the place of the guilty sinner. The Lord pointed to this salvation-by-the-death-of-a-substitute when He required the Israelites to present bloody sacrifices of blemish-free animals in order to know and worship Him. He makes it clear in Leviticus 17:11 that “atonement” (reconciling God and sinner by satisfying God’s wrath against sin) requires the death of a God-appointed substitute – “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” As it is written in Hebrews 9:22, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

     However, the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were clearly not sufficient to accomplish atonement between God and sinners. As the writer of Hebrews points out, “…in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Men and women are made in God’s image and are therefore of far greater value than the other creatures that God has made.

     Only the sacrifice of a perfect, sinless man could possibly serve as an adequate sacrifice for the life of a guilty sinner. And this is what God the Father provided when He sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross in our place as our substitute. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God…For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12-14).

     How do we get this “salvation-by-the-death-of-Christ-our-Substitute?” Jesus made this abundantly clear in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Believe in Him as your crucified and risen Lord and put all your hope in Him.

      This begs one more question: how is Christ’s one life offered-up on the cross sufficient to pay for the sins committed by millions of those who place their faith in Him? Look at it this way: If I were to give you a quarter, you could go to the grocery store and get one piece of (small) candy in return. But what if I gave you a 1933 Gold Double Eagle coin, one of which was sold at an auction several years ago for $7,590,000? How many pieces of candy could you buy with one of those?

     Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, so His perfect human and divine life is infinitely more valuable than your life and therefore sufficient to pay for the sins of all of God’s people in every age. Add to this picture that your life was so corrupted and stained by sin that it was worthless, like a filthy rag in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). But the beauty of God’s grace is that, as Paul says, “…while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8).       

Movement Churches

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     I once had the privilege of taking a course on the history and development of the African American church at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Because I had never studied this subject, the tidal wave of new information and insights that I have gained was overwhelming. Carl Ellis, the African American professor who taught the course, is a wellspring of knowledge, wisdom, and first-hand experience, and it was a privilege to sit at his feet and learn.

     One day during class he made an off-handed comment that fascinated me. He said, “The great Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s has become the Civil Rights Industry of today.” He didn’t explain the comment, but in context I understood him to mean that what started as a powerful movement for change, filled with passion and vision, has now become a self-perpetuating monolith that exists primarily to continue its existence.

     I’m in no position to judge the validity of Mr. Ellis’s declaration, but I do know from observation and first-hand experience that this mutation in movements among people is a common occurrence. Rev. Harry Reeder, one of my mentors, always says that there are only three kinds of churches: “monument churches”, “maintenance churches”, and “movement churches”.

     “Monument churches” are those that are living on “the glory days”. They are constantly looking backward for their sense of identity, talking about the great pastors who once led the church and the impressive accomplishments of earlier generations. Even the church building will become somewhat of a museum, with portraits, nameplates, and testimonials adorning the walls to remind the members that this church at one time had really made a difference. People are afraid to talk about the present or the future of the church, which seems to pale in comparison.

     “Maintenance churches” live very much in the present. At one time there was a lot of enthusiasm, sacrifice, and forward-thinking in the church, but at some point, the church imperceptibly reached the dreaded “plateau." The church had grown enough and accomplished enough that people could relax a bit. Everybody got comfortable with the status quo. The word “change” slowly became a taboo word. A successful year of ministry is now defined as bringing in as many new members as you lost, meeting the budget, and avoiding significant problems. Instead of planning new ministries, the leadership spends its time putting out the fires of conflict among restless members and repressing their own feelings of burnout.

     On the other hand, a “movement church” is a church that is going somewhere. There is a clear vision of a better future in the minds and hearts of the people, and they believe that they’re going to get there. This vision attracts dynamic leaders to the movement; these leaders in turn generate effective ministries. When people witness effective ministry, they are eager to invest their time and resources into the church. The result is growth and impact on the surrounding communities.

     The vast majority of American churches fall into one of the first two categories, monument or maintenance. It is an observable characteristic of any human organization, Christian or secular, that it tends to go through a lifecycle, where it bursts forth at the beginning as a vibrant movement, then eventually relaxes into maintenance mode, and then declines into monument status. Unless the organization is revitalized, it dies.

     Of course, it isn’t enough to say that all churches should be movement churches. You can have churches with vision, enthusiasm, leadership, and growth that are headed in the wrong direction, outside of God’s will. The vision must be God-given, based upon the authority of His Word. The enthusiasm must be based in prayer and a humble reliance upon the joy and power of the Holy Spirit. The leadership must be Godly, Biblical, and in tune with the Holy Spirit. The growth must be the work of God’s grace and to God’s glory.

     That is why we need to pray for revival among the churches of our land. When the Holy Spirit visits a church, the result is that it becomes a “movement of God church”. Its vision is God-given, and the direction is determined by obedience and submission. The people are willing to sacrifice their time, treasures, and talents for the sake of the cause, because the joy of participating in the Lord’s work and seeing Him glorified far outweighs the temporal pleasures of this world.

     Churches rarely recognize when they’ve become comfortable and settled into the maintenance mode.  We must be continually praying that the Lord will renew our vision and joy in ministry that we might continue as a movement of His Spirit. As the old saying goes, “We’ve got places to go, people to see, things to do!"  

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

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