Exploring Sacrifice Deeper
Jesus offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins in order to reconcile us to God.
That sounds like a very normal statement of faith that one might expect to hear as the confession of any typical Christian. But what does that mean? It all depends completely on one's beliefs about God and sin. It has become rather clear to me that the problems with the typical explanation of this theme from the legal approach has made such views untenable for me, for they fail to accomplish true reconciliation. This is because God is presented in ways that destroy our ability to truly trust Him.
I have come to see that sin is at its core a problem of trust, not an external problem regarding behavior. Bad behaviors are only symptoms of a lack of trust. Of course dysfunctional behavior can deepen distrust and reinforce lies of sin in our hearts. But when the problem of sin is traced all the way back to its deepest roots inside of us, it will always be discovered that the essence of sin is distrust which are rooted in faulty views of God.
The other side of this problem that is seriously misunderstood by many is that sin is not a problem inside of God. That is the key truth that must always be kept in the forefront of any discussion about how rescue from sin and reconciliation to God takes place. All changes that must occur to accomplish any reconciliation between sinners and God must all take place in the heart of the sinner. And those changes will always involve addressing the distrust (unbelief) that causes us to be afraid of Him.
Unbelief, the attitude that blocks saving faith, is produced by beliefs in the lies of Satan about how God feels about us and the essence of His character. What we believe about God – our theology – always and totally determines how much trust or how much doubt and unbelief dwells in our hearts and minds. That is why it is so vital to challenge everything we think and feel about God. Because sin – distrust in God derived from false assumptions about Him inherited from our fallen nature as well as instilled into us from our surroundings – will never lead to drawing us closer to God.
God is the only Source of life. Any move in any other direction other than directly toward God leads to death – the absence of life. It is actually very simple. Darkness is the absence of light; wickedness is the absence of righteousness; cold is the absence of heat; and death is the absence of life. There simply is no other reality possible. The difference between living in movement toward life or toward death is steered by the choices we make concerning our attitudes about God's trustworthiness. And our beliefs about how worthy God is of our trust are directly affected by what we fill our minds with about what kind of God He is. The messages about who God is that we dwell on has a profound affect on our thinking and the direction of our choices that in turn will determine our ultimate destiny.
So, back to the original statement of faith that is generally agreed upon by most of Christianity. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. I have already laid out a clarification of how to perceive sin. But what about the idea of sacrifice? That too has many subtle implications that are directly influenced by our opinions about how God feels toward sinners. If we view sin is an issue about a problem in the heart of God, an offense in God's mind that must be addressed and a need to change His mind and His feelings towards those who have offended Him by violating His commands, then common assumptions about Jesus' sacrifice might carry at least some validity.
Yet it is this very underlying assumption about God and sin that is the pernicious and extremely tenacious lie about God that has managed to permeate nearly every word, every teaching, religious phrase and concept that has anything to do with the cross or salvation. One cannot hardly say anything at all about the cross or the sacrifice of Jesus without having to explain and qualify what they really mean by their use of the words if they do not want to be misunderstood because of unspoken faulty assumptions commonly accepted by nearly every Christian group.
Yet when it starts to become clear that the sin problem is not at all an issue of God's bad feelings toward sinners, but rather are sinners bad feelings towards God, then the real truth starts to emerge as to where all the attitude adjustments must take place in order for any reconciliation to ever take place. And reconciliation is the whole goal of the plan of salvation being implemented by God on our behalf. Salvation is what the cross of Christ is all about. Salvation – the saving of man from sin – is the purpose of everything happening in heaven and on earth being orchestrated by God to salvage fallen man who was duped into believing lies about God which induced fear and distrust of God's heart.
God is not the one with the problem in our relationship to Him. God has never, is not, and never will hold onto a grudge or offense about anything sinners have done or will do. That must become clear at the core of our understanding about the gospel. The truly good news is that God is not our problem; He is not the big threat that we need to be afraid of – sin is. And while it is only part of the solution to discover this, it is probably the most important part of the good news. For the real gospel, the good news of salvation, is the realization that God is not our problem and so we don't need to waste our time and efforts attempting to change His mind about us.
To come to believe that God is in no way part of the problem of sin is to begin to move from darkness into the light of the real truth about God and about ourselves. It is vital that we first get this straight in our thinking before our hearts will ever be able to awaken with true trust in God's character. As long as we entertain lingering doubts about God's attitude towards sinners, there will remain anchors deep inside us which will continue to generate doubts and fears about our relationship with God and give the enemy handles by which he can manipulate our feelings and fears about life and death.
God's antidote to the fears about Him that so tenaciously remain in our hearts is perfect love. It is only as we come to believe in the absolute, unconditional, irrepressible love of God for us personally that we will begin to have faith/trust awakened in our hearts towards Him. Perfect love expels fear. Fear is the fuel that keeps sin – distrust of God – alive and active in our hearts and lives. As we choose to begin to believe that God can be trusted, that all of the problems with sin are totally on our side and in no way are on His side, then this kind of belief will begin to save us from sin. By beholding the truth about God we are changed into trusting the One we are finding to be completely worthy of trust.
Saving has to do with sin, not with God. Let me explain: it is not God that we need to be saved from, it is sin. The lies we have insidiously been infected with infer that God is the threat from which we need to be saved. False views of God maintain that it is God who threatens to punish all who disobey Him; that it is God who will inflict torture, suffering and (depending on which version of false theology you happen to endorse) finally death. But the Bible is clear that it is sin that inflicts death, not God. So if we are to have the proper context in which to discern the true nature of the sacrifice of Jesus, we must first have in place a proper perspective of how God feels about sin and sinners.
Once it becomes clear that God is not the problem that must be resolved in the relationship between God and sinners, it becomes easier to identify what is meant by the sacrifice of God's Son to resolve the issue of sin that separates us from the heart of God. Remember, sin is fundamentally distrust of God, not a problem of disobedient behaviors. Behavioral issues are only symptoms of a heart that has already embraced lies about the trustworthiness of God, not the original problem. Address and rectify the false beliefs and the behaviors will begin to take care of themselves.
So, if God is not the problem to be addressed and we have no need to alter His opinions or feelings about sinners, then how are we to perceive the meaning of the word sacrifice as it relates to Jesus' death?
Go back to the beginning. Sin is fundamentally distrust of God. To achieve any meaningful reconciliation between God and man, God has to win our trust in Him. When we come to fully trust the heart of God sin simply will no longer exist; for sin is lack of trust in God's heart. When trust has been restored in our hearts through compelling revelations of the real truth about God's heart towards us, chances dramatically improve that we will choose to embrace trust in the trustworthiness of God. But how can God demonstrate His trustworthiness? How can we be convinced of the falsity of Satan's accusations of God that permeate every aspect of our thinking and feeling? What are the questions that drive our doubts about God's trustworthiness? It is vital that the core questions and fears embedded deep in our psyche get flushed into the open if we are to move deeper into a saving faith based on the real truth about God's character of perfect love.
Many are starting to discover exciting and fresh revelations about the real truth of God's character. A movement is beginning to form all around the world where people are awakening to the real truth about what God is like in stark contrast to the dark, confused and schizophrenic notions about God that have marked religious teachings for centuries. But is simply getting our facts straight about what God is like and how He feels towards sinners sufficient to correct the problem of sin? Can sin be wiped out by learning all the correct beliefs that we need to embrace about the nature of sin, the nature of Christ and the perspective of heaven about all these issues?
I am starting to see that as important and helpful as it is for sinners to come to an intellectual awareness of the real truth about God, such knowledge can still fall short of accomplishing the full reconciliation that God longs for us to experience with Him. As good as it is to discover and expose the lies about God that have bound us in slavery to the fear of death all of our lives, unless these truths go much deeper and permeate and transform our own hearts so that both our mind and our heart both embraces these realities about God, we might still fall short of experiencing the fullness of salvation.
What was it about what happened at the cross that made it an effective sacrifice for our sins? Since it is becoming clear that Jesus in no way came to appease any purported wrath on the part of an offended deity, then how can we see Jesus' death as a sacrifice that resolves the problem of sin? In what way were the actions and words and demonstrations of God's character exhibited at the cross in the person of the Son of God intended to change our minds about God, where all the problem of sin resides?
It has taken me years to untangle in my thinking the many false theories that have blocked me from seeing the true purpose of the cross. But it is becoming clear enough for me now to at least see the outline of the brilliance of what the cross really stands for and is meant to convey. And what I am starting to see is stunning indeed.
The core of Satan's accusing insinuations about God's character that underly all distrust of Him – the core essence of sin as already pointed out above – is that hidden deep inside of God (or for many not hidden at all but appearing to be very much in the open) lurks a dark side of His personality, an attitude that can be activated by disobedience threatening the ability of God to keep order and allegiance in His universe. Satan has asserted that full loyalty cannot be maintained without resorting when necessary to the use of intimidation, threats or even force against the will of subjects refusing to come into line. Satan insists that the methods that he employs in his kingdom only compensate for problems in the hidden nature of God in spite of all the malfunction that Satan's kingdom has brought about.
One of the greatest arguments that Satan has used to vindicate this charge is to simply point to human nature and remind all the watching universe that humans were created in the image of God. If humans treat each other this way and have to operate their governments based on Satan's version of justice and use coercion to maintain control over others, then as reflections of God's character they are simply exposing the secret faults in the character in the One they were designed and created to reflect. Never mind that humanity is in reality reflecting the character of Satan which is a horrific perversion of the image of God. Satan insists that all of these problems are simply proof of what God has been hiding deep in His own heart behind a veneer of claims about His own goodness and righteousness.
One reason Satan may have felt safe in making these charges before the entire universe about God's faulty character was because he was confident that God would never stoop to making Himself vulnerable enough to be tested along the lines of these charges. As long as God remained aloof and seemingly untouchable in His high and mighty existence far beyond the reach of any created beings, then Satan asserted that it would be impossible to prove his theories that God was masking over secret feelings of resentment about all who rebelled against His love.
But through the incarnation of the Son of God becoming the Son of Man, God called Satan's bluff and humbled Himself repeatedly and progressively in order to make God incredibly exposed and vulnerable to anything and everything that Satan might do to prove his accusations about supposed faults hidden deep inside of God. While it was true that God seemed untouchable while living far above His creation on the throne of heaven; living as a weak, vulnerable and average human being in a sin-filled world was a whole different story. Now Satan's charges could be put to the test; his accusations could be tested in real-life experiments on God Himself who was now in a position of being able to be tempted through pain, suffering, abuse and with a mind and body weakened by 4,000 years of sin and its effects on the human race.
What was the focal issue of why Jesus came to this earth and exposed Himself to all that Satan could launch against Him. It was to force Satan to either put up or shut up as we might crassly put it. As long as Satan could accuse God of having hidden faults behind a veneer of professed righteousness, Satan could keep many intelligent beings thinking that possibly Satan's theories might have some validity. Since it appeared they could not be discounted by testing their validity since God seemed so out of reach – very much like Job felt when he wanted to bring God into court for trial about His treatment of Job – it looked like Satan could forever be able to circulate his accusations without fear of having them actually proven or disproven.
Introduce God's plan of salvation. To call Satan's bluff God took him up on the challenge and sent His Son to be the test case to give access to Satan and all who had chosen his side to do anything they could imagine to prove their theories about what God is really like. Satan has led all who have embraced his rebellion to believe that God is the one who is offended by sin; that God is the one who threatens to kill any who do not comply with His wishes; that God is the problem that must be resolved if the universe is ever to be brought back into harmony again. These are the core beliefs promoted by Satan that have kept doubts thriving both in all who have embraced his theories but also lingering to some extent in the minds of even unfallen beings who still wrestled with the compelling nature of Satan's apparently untestable notions about God.
Given this context, it can now begin to be seen more clearly why Jesus became a vulnerable human in the first place, and why He did all that He did throughout His lifetime here on earth. Far from exposing the kind of vengeful God that Satan has long asserted that He is, Jesus came to expose the reality that God is the very opposite of Satan's charges and that Jesus would prove it by allowing Satan to test every last insinuation and allegation about God on God Himself born in the flesh.
Could God in the flesh, made vulnerable enough so that there could be no doubt that His character could be fully tested and exposed as one designed as an image of the Creator, actually withstand the full force of Satan's assaults meant to elicit a response of resentment, anger, self-preservation or selfishness? These issues lay at the core of Satan's accusations about God's character, and if any of them could be proven to exist in the heart or mind of God in the form of Jesus the human, then Satan's charges could be vindicated and God would be proven to have faults and discounting His claims of righteousness.
Now it starts to become more clear how the nature of Jesus' sacrifice was along the lines of exposing Himself to all that demons and raging humans could invent, intended to arouse the slightest reaction similar to anything like the kind of god Satan had made Him out to be. Satan had long asserted that if he could only get at God in a position of vulnerability where He could be tested like other created beings, Satan could succeed in exposing God's secret fault-lines and would prove that selfishness really does lie at the core of every existing being including God. These insinuations about selfishness being at the very core of every being including God have infiltrated every religion in spite of professions to the contrary. If we carefully examine many of our teachings about God and how God relates to sinners, it can be seen that many of our doctrines and assumptions about God are still riddled with subtle ideas inferring that God is in some degree self-serving, craving attention and worship or demanding compliance to His wishes and commands or else.
To the degree that we embrace beliefs about God that include notions of God resorting to any methods of Satan to achieve His purposes, we second Satan's charges against God. Even more so, to the degree that we allow our own spirit to reflect such attitudes and dispositions while claiming to speak in defense of God, we discredit even our attempts to promote the real truth about His trustworthiness. For the way in which we live and relate to those who disagree with us and the condition of our spirit when discussing religion has a far greater impact on the underlying messages about God that are conveyed than through the accuracy of the facts that we may attempt to teach others.
This is where Jesus was tested most fiercely. It was not primarily over doctrines that Jesus was tested while living among sinners who opposed Him at every turn. Rather it was His reactions to sin and sinners that exposed constantly the actual truth about what God is like and how He views His wayward children. All throughout the life of Jesus on earth Satan used every opportunity to try to stir up in Him a spirit of resentment, to get Jesus to take offense even in the slightest way in order to prove his claims about how God feels about sinners.
These attempts to elicit any reaction like what was 'normal' for everyone else living on this planet was the whole consuming obsession of Satan. All the while Jesus offered Himself in self-sacrificing love to minister to the lives of all who had been damaged by Satan's kingdom of sin. The focal point of the tests that Jesus ever faced revolved around what Peter later identified in his epistle where he recalled in amazement how Jesus had reflected a God who was so radically opposite to the God humans had always assumed Him to be.
This is what you were chosen to do. Christ gave you an example to follow. He suffered for you. So you should do the same as he did: "He never sinned, and he never told a lie." Although he was abused, he never tried to get even. He suffered, but he did not threaten anyone. No, he let God take care of him. God is the one who judges rightly. Christ carried the burden of our sins. He was nailed to the cross, so that we would stop sinning and start living right. By his cuts and bruises you are healed. You were like sheep that went the wrong way. But now you have come back to the Shepherd and Protector of your lives. (1 Peter 2:21-25 ERV, CEV)
It can start to be seen that the sacrifice of Jesus was not just on the cross but happened every day of His life on this earth. Satan intensified his attacks through every means possible to try to get Jesus to react according to the natural human tendencies of selfishness and self-preservation. Finally Satan had to pull out all the stops in his desperate attempt to prove his point about God's character while Jesus clung to His dependence on His Father's love even when His sensations and emotions caused Him to feel that God had abandoned Him on the cross. But even when felt completely abandoned by the very one He had trusted fully all His life, Jesus refused to stop loving or forgiving those killing Him, and He never for a moment took offense at anything done to Him.
The core issue that must be settled in every mind and heart is how much God can be trusted. Can God, with infinite power ever at His fingertips, be trusted to not react with feelings of resentment when He is exploited, hurt or abused? Is it even possible to abuse or offend God enough to get Him to take offense at all? This was the high-stakes drama played out during the final hours of His life on the cross. This was the exposé that took place on Calvary 2,000 years ago. And this was the truth about God that Jesus sacrificed His own life to prove conclusively.
Sadly in the intervening years Satan has managed through religion to re-institute all the former lies about God that had been refuted at the cross by the Son of God, and probably many more lies on top of them. Satan has twisted the message revealed at the cross about a God who can be fully trusted to consistently love all at any expense to Himself, into theories about an angry, offended God that has to be appeased through the bloody sacrifice of His own Son in order to assuage His fury over our sins. Satan's diabolical lies about God are so strongly embedded into the doctrines of every religion today and permeates the thinking of nearly everyone, that it is necessary again for this world to see a living exhibition of the real truth about God's character in the lives of human beings. It is not sufficient to simply learn theories that deal with this truth; rather what is desperately needed are demonstrations of the same Spirit that permeated the life of Jesus exposing the truth about God in stark contrast to all the lying assumptions humanity has long embraced about Him.
What we need to observe and experience in our own hearts and lives is the renewed power of the Spirit revealing that unconditional love, forgiveness, compassion and everything else that Jesus revealed about the Father. We live among a deceived, terrified humanity living under suffocating lies of the enemy that keeps many from ever being able to trust God. So God is raising up a last generation of people who will be willing to offer themselves again as living sacrifices for the purpose of exhibiting the real truth about God that has for so long been obliterated under mountains of garbage talk about Him. The option we now face is whether we will be willing to go all the way and let God transform both our minds and our spirit as God makes us into living stones for His temple, or whether we will draw back in fear with reservations about how much we are willing to follow the footsteps of Jesus and take up the same kind of cross that He took.
The cross represents the willingness of Jesus to suffer any amount of abuse without complaint, resentment or offense. That is the real message that needs to be seen in the symbol of the cross. It has everything to do with declaring the goodness and God and nothing to do with continuing the lies about God's alleged vindictive wrath or desires to get revenge. When we allow our minds to be healed and rewired and renewed with fresh revelations of truth and a re-infusion of the Spirit that motivated Jesus, then we will see the great war coming to an end and Jesus coming to take home all who have His love in their hearts.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)