The reason the word gospel means “good news” is that us sinners can’t make our way up to God, so in Christ, He made His way all the way down to us.
I was walking down King Street yesterday and saw a book in the Christian bookstore that made me cringe. The perfectly photo shopped millionaire on the cover has successfully convinced droves of North Americans that Christian faith is a ladder that one climbs via right thinking and right behaving that puts us in God’s graces and ushers in guaranteed health, wealth and happiness. Not only is the idea that God wants all His children in perfect health and wealth a travesty of the scriptures, but the teaching completely erases Christ.
Christ alone put us in God’s good graces before and apart from us doing anything. Therefore, the symbol of our faith is a cross – not a ladder.
In fact, 42 generations before God sent Christ to save us from our sin, He demonstrated that there’s no ladder for us to climb by making a covenant promise to Abraham.
God moved before us in grace
In Genesis 15 God demonstrates to Abraham that He will save His people by asking Abraham to participate in an ancient covenant ritual. God asked Abraham to bring animals to be divided in this ancient ceremony. To us, this is barbaric, but in the ancient world, this was commonly done among kings who were making covenant treaties.
The ritual was a legally recognized “self curse” because if you didn’t keep your end of the deal – you’d be cut in half like the animals in the ceremony. Abraham would have fully expected to pass through the animal pieces because that was commonly done by both parties. However …God moved on behalf of us in grace
God caused a “deep sleep” (Genesis 15:12) to come over Abraham. Think of it. You’re only 15 chapters into the Bible and this is the second guy God caused a deep sleep to come over first Adam as God gives him his wife and now Abraham. It’s almost as if God is planning on doing something singlehandedly a second time. (Spoiler alert: He was)
The pattern in covenant theology is this: The Father’s gift, the Son’s sacrifice and the Spirit’s work to save and sustain us, is undeserved grace that comes to us.
One way street
We don’t participate in our own justification with admirable ladder climbing, adding our human contributions to God’s divine achievement to secure His blessing.
Abraham never passed through the pieces, as was the custom.
God passed through them while Abraham took a divinely inspired nap. This was a one-way covenant. The implications of this cannot be understated.
Had Abraham participated, there would have been no conceivable way for him to be faithful by God’s standard and our blood would be required by God for our sin. God is perfectly faithful — perfectly loving.
Therefore, 42 generations later on a cross, Christ’s blood was shed for our sin. As the animal’s blood was shed in the covenant ceremony with Abraham, our God shed His own blood and made good on His promise to save His children.
This is why judgment day is a good day for all those in Christ: Everything we deserve for our sin was poured out on Christ and therefore everything Christ deserves will be given to us from sheer grace. (Galatians 3:13)
God moves continually toward us in grace.
God kicked the ladder out. God was faithful to us in Christ and therefore we live by faith to His glory.
The temptation for the church throughout history has been to set the ladder back up out of guilt, and try to earn the grace that God freely gave. I’ve done that a thousand times.
No, friend. Breathe.
We don’t obey God to secure the grace of God – Christ already did that.
The cross of Christ has given us an entirely different relationship to obedience and to God’s law. We obey God free from all earning, simply because it pleases us to live to the glory of the One who saved us.
Every religion on earth sets up a ladder and says “climb.” The gospel kicks the ladder out.
United to Christ, there is only enjoying God and glorifying Him forever. Obedience for the believer under grace is from freedom, blessing and favor – not for it. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Paul Dunk is a student at Knox Theological Seminary, a church planter, a performance driver and an actor.