I was sitting at the back of the class so as not to take up a seat of the truly “scholarly” ones. These were the eager beavers who were looking for their next academic challenge, and had found it in this prestigious, and oh-so challenging seminary.
I don’t remember the topic that particular day, but it must have been another deep and mystical doctrine, a complex and eternal theological concept, sure to spur the imagination of any true “Charles Ryrie wannabe.”
As the professor was scraping the Milky Way with his lofty rhetoric, one bookish, but clean cut young student with a three piece suit on, raised his hand and inquired,
Fascinating thoughts professor, but how did Calvin’s belief in limited atonement affect the other reformers’ doctrine of supralapsarianism?
Everyone acted like they knew exactly what the student was asking, nodding their head with approval at the profound question just asked by their fellow deep thinker.
I wasn’t near as impressive with my “hand me down” blazer and tie, corduroy pants and chukka boots. Nevertheless, I too was entitled to ask a question, wasn’t I? So, after listening intently, taking copious notes, and scratching my head, I asked, “Prof, how would you go about explaining this to a new Christian you were trying to establish in his faith?”
You could have heard a pin drop.
The only sound was the simultaneous turning of every head in the class, looking back to see what kind of simpleton would ask such a petty and inappropriate question. I was a little nervous, now being the center of attention, but I was able to keep my eyes focused on the prof, trying hard to convince everyone that my question deserved an answer.
So went my seminary career. As you might guess, I was the proverbial fish out of water.
The prof of my Senior Theology class got it right, though. He passed out a single sheet with 20+ theological terms (long and multi-syllabic words designed to intimidate any laymen) and gave us one hour to write out a definition and explanation of each term as if we were explaining it to a five year old.
Now, if you can explain “propitiation” so that a five year-old can understand it … why don’t you?
There were three words on that list that stood out to me as absolutely critical. These three aspects of our salvation are mysterious, yet powerful, phenomena that move us from hell to heaven and from death to life. I know you are much more theologically advanced than the average five year old, but for old time’s sake, indulge me as I attempt to dramatize these three key Biblical concepts as simply as possible:
Mysterious Word #1
Eric grew up in church, robotically attending all the church services and youth meetings his parents had required him to. But, when he graduated from high school, he loaded up his car and headed out west, as far from his parents’ religion and rules as he could get. He immersed himself in the party life of the university he enrolled in, totally rebelling against the will of his parents — and God’s.
“Why do you always have to talk about Jesus and the Bible?” he shouted out to his college room mate, whom he was sure was strategically placed there by his over controlling parents. “I don’t try to push my beliefs on you, why are you cramming yours down my throat?” he added to his now quieted, but unwavering room mate who, by the way, was “randomly” assigned to him.
What Eric didn’t realize is that God so completely loved him that He would continue to bring a witness into Eric’s life until the young man turned from his sin, and placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
Early one morning, as Eric’s girlfriend was slipping out the back door, and he was coming out of a hangover from the previous night’s beerfest, he happened to turn on the TV. Somehow the religious channel popped up and staring back at him was the same verse of Scripture that hung on his mother’s mirror back home:
He made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin, in order that we might become the righteousness of God, in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Eric thought he was in a dream because he began picturing himself on the ground, being tied to a cross, and crying out with pain. “Why am I here? Why am I here?”
Through his tears he peered up from the cross, where a man stood there, looking directly into Eric’s eyes, saying, “Because you deserve to be here. You have sinned against God and the penalty is death.”
As the executioner raised his hammer to pierce Eric’s body with his huge nails, the man once again spoke, this time stopping the soldier and whispering, “Take me instead.”
The burly Roman soldier laughed and said, “Fine with me … fool!” He then turned to Eric, untied him and spouted, “Looks like your lucky day, kid. Run for it!”
At that moment Eric came to his senses, in a total panic and with sweat pouring off his brow, he fell to his knees by his bed, realizing the man in his dream was Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God. He couldn’t run anymore … Eric was the one that deserved to be on that cross, but the perfect God-man inserted Himself as the substitute.
The greatest exchange in all of history took place. That day, sinless Jesus became sin — for Eric. That day, sinful Eric became righteous — in Christ. Instantaneously, when Eric put his faith and trust in Christ he was made holy in the sight of God.
Now, Eric will forever be a child of God, saved from the penalty of sin. It’s a mysterious word called justification.
Mysterious Word #2
Amber, a track star at her college, became a Christian one night in her dorm room; no angels, no trumpets, not even any goose bumps. She was simply reading from her New Testament where Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death and into life” (John 5:24).
She did believe. And, as a result, she accepted Jesus’ promise that she had already passed out of death … and into life. It was a done deal.
God had immediately bestowed salvation upon her, and she was certainly looking forward to the heavenly home Jesus promised. But, she thought, what happens between now and then? What is she supposed to do with her life? How is she to develop this new relationship with God?
She decided the place to start was prayer. “Lord” she began, “I can’t grow of my own strength. I need yours. I ask you to fill me with the Holy Spirit so that I can live a life that is honoring to You.”
Amber had heard testimonies from others how, once they became a Christian, life was an easy, painless bed of roses. But not so for Amber. In fact, it was a daily struggle. Some mornings she woke and felt like God wasn’t even in her life. She constantly battled some of the old sins that beset her prior to her conversion. The more she read the Word, the more she understood that she had an enemy, Satan, who didn’t just want to distract her, but destroy her.
She knew that God wanted her to be more and more like Christ each day, but it seemed like it was always three steps forward and two steps back. At the end of her rope, Amber had no choice but to utterly throw herself at God’s feet. “You and You alone can give me victory, Lord. I can see this is going to be a lifelong crusade of trusting You and Your power to conquer the trials and temptations that confront me at every turn.”
She bowed her head and repeated out loud, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Finally standing up, Amber lifted her face toward heaven, understanding for the first time that the Christian life was a marathon, not a sprint. She was in it for the long haul, forever determined to keep growing in faith, hope, and love.
She was trusting God to give her victory over the power of sin. It’s a mysterious word called sanctification.
Mysterious Word #3
When Darin died and stood before God, the Lord asked him a very hard question: “Darin, why should I let you into My heaven?” Frantically, Darin began flipping through his past, thinking of all the times he had gone to church, put money in the offering plate, read his Bible, and even gone on missions trips.
He then recalled one of his memory verses which stated, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Realizing there was absolutely nothing he could do to save himself, he quickly abandoned his listing of good works and blurted out to the Lord, “You shouldn’t let me in!”
“What?” God asked.
“That’s right, Lord”, Darin replied, “You shouldn’t let me in. I want to come in, but I have sinned and am imperfect and I would just mess up your sinless and perfect heaven.”
At that moment, Darin called to mind one more verse, “In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7).
Instantly, Darin spoke up, “But … Lord.”
“Yes, my son.” God responded.
Pointing over to the Lord Jesus Christ seated on His throne, Darin called out, “Father, your only Son, Jesus, promised that if I would believe in Him and His death on the cross, that His blood would pay for and cover of my sins. I get to come in to be with You forever, not because of my good works, but only because of the perfect blood of Christ completely covering me.”
The Father stood up with justified pride. He waved Darin over and gave him a hug. “Come in my child. I don’t see any sin or imperfection in you. You are holy and blameless in My sight. All I see is the gracious, merciful blood of Jesus that has washed you clean. Now, let Me just give you a taste of the delights of living with Me for all eternity.”
For sure, Darin will forever be with the Lord, saved from the very presence of sin. It’s a mysterious word called glorification.
Three mysterious words to get you from death to life: justification, sanctification, and glorification. The mystery, though, is all wrapped up in the gospel.
Have you experienced it?
“To whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
The mystery. Is it in you?
Copyright 2003 Steve Shadrach. All rights reserved.