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God, who created time, is outside of time. For Him the past, the present and the future are all the same. When He created man in His own image with an ability to make his own choices He knew that there would be the Fall. And so, He made a plan in His mind in advance to redeem the situation when it happened. 1 Peter 1:20 says that the plan for Jesus Christ to shed His blood was already in God’s mind even before He created the world. So, when Adam and Eve fell, God immediately announced His plan of salvation. He said He would accomplish it through ‘the seed of the woman’ crushing Satan’s head (Gen.3:15). Here, ‘the seed of the woman’ refers to Jesus who would come to this earth at the right time. This did not happen immediately, though, because God had to prepare man first to receive this salvation.
When people think of salvation, many only think of salvation from hell, and how they will become eligible to go to heaven. This is a significant part of the deal, of course. But that is not the main part! Many other Christians seem to understand salvation only as forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is essential, but that is only the first part of salvation. God wants to restore to man what he lost at the Fall. And then He also wants to give man much more as a bonus.
What happened at the Fall was essentially that man had become separate from God and independent in himself. Now he had only his own limited abilities with him to deal with the realities of life that presented him with many different challenges. His spirit was dead in sin, disconnected from God, and he was set to die physically too in the course of time. When death finally came, he would be away from God forever, eternally. All the sins he had committed in his life could not be erased, and he had to face God’s judgment for them which was eternal separation from God – death, and no amount of good things he had done could compensate for that.
What God had to do was to bridge the gap that now existed with man, and then to train man to live in dependence on Him and not on himself. Also just think of this. If man had eaten from the ‘tree of life’ instead of the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’, he could have become godly in his character (partaking of the divine nature – life) and lived forever in fellowship with God. This is the other thing God wants to restore for man.
Now, how can God bridge this gap? Even though God can do whatever He wants, He cannot act against His own nature or the laws of His nature. He cannot just overlook man’s sins. He has to bring about salvation in a proper manner.
It would have been unrighteous and unjust for Him to simply overlook man’s sins and his sinful nature, and to treat him as if he was all right. There are some people who think that God should just show mercy and forgive everyone. But that would be against His righteousness, justice and impartiality. His justice requires that sin should be punished.
God is also not in a position to demand that man should make amends for his sins, because nothing man can do would be sufficient to meet the divine standards of justice.
Some people expect that God should accept what they offer in terms of ‘good works’ or acts of piety or penance as sufficient for Him to forgive their sins. But that is because they do not understand how God looks at sin, how abominable it is in His sight. Also, they do not realise that the ‘sin’ of having lived independently, following their own understanding of good and evil without relating to God as God (Rom.1:21), is far greater than all the individual sins they have committed. A lack of understanding about this is one reason why people who have grown up without what they would consider as gross forms of sins find it difficult to accept that they are sinners! Another thing is that even if God were to just forgive (overlook) man’s sins without any stipulation, it would not have been sufficient to deal with man’s sinful nature. No. Sin has to be dealt with, and only God can do that.
God had to first prepare man so that he would be ready when He unveiled His master plan for man’s salvation. The problem was that man was in such a state of spiritual darkness that he did not even realise that he needed any salvation. He either felt that he was, generally speaking, a good man, or that his sins were justified by his circumstances. He did not see any need for God, or he imagined that He could be appeased with some religious rituals. So, God’s first challenge was to bring man to a place where he saw himself as a sinner in need of a Saviour, and helpless without God.
After Adam and Eve, when men began to multiply over the earth, their wickedness only became greater, and even their thoughts and intentions became evil (Gen.6:5). Now God demonstrated that this deserved judgment. He destroyed all the people on the earth with a flood, except Noah and his family whom He saved through an ark. Noah was the most righteous man on the earth at that time.
But people soon began to worship idols in the place of God (Rom.1:23). This time, instead of destroying all the people, God separated one man called Abraham from his idol worshipping family, and He developed Abraham’s descendants into a nation called Israel. He gave them His laws and commandments. He wanted them to be distinct from the nations around them who worshipped idols, and become a model to everyone around them. The standard of the Law that God gave to Israel was only of an intermediate level, much below what He really wanted from man. He wanted only a certain type of external behaviour from them because He knew that they would not, by themselves, be able to come to a heart to heart relationship with Him. And the children of Israel demonstrated through the centuries of failure and backsliding the fact that no one could keep all His commandments or reach up to His level by their own strength. On the contrary, it was clearly seen that everyone had a tendency to fall. The time was now ripe to bring in God’s salvation.
In order to bring man to the original purpose of God, two essential steps had to be completed. First of all, all the sins that man has done, that separated him from God, needed to be punished. This was a requirement of the justice of God. Till this was accomplished, there could not be any restoration of relationship between God and man. Secondly, man had to be given a new nature and power that would enable him to live faithfully along with God.
We could say in a human way that God had a dilemma at this point. He needed to punish all human beings because every one of us had sinned. The legitimate punishment for sin is eternal separation from the holy God, which is what is implied in ‘eternal death’ in hell. This means that all the people whom God had created would need to be sent away from God forever. The dilemma was the God loved every single one of the people He had created, and He did not want to lose any one of them. The solution God came out with was to take the punishment on Himself. He sent His Son Jesus into the world as a Man, who lived a sinless life, proclaimed the good news of salvation from sin, performed miracles to validate His claim of being the Son of God, and finally allowed Himself to be crucified. (God raised Him from the dead on the third day demonstrating that death had no power over Him because there was no sin in Him.)
Jesus’ death was one of substitution, the sinless Lamb of God dying for the sins of the world. Through this death, He paid the penalty for the sins of all people. Now whoever acknowledges his sins, repents from them, and accepts this sacrifice on his behalf can receive the free gift of forgiveness from God. This is an offer of grace, which is an unmerited favour from God that we can receive freely through faith in Jesus (Eph.2:8,9).
Every religion that man has thought up teaches in essence some means by which they imagined people could appease their god and find acceptance from him. But here is God putting away the requirement that man should qualify for salvation, because He knows that no one can come to Him in that way, and making an offer of grace to those who will acknowledge their need for this grace.
When we go to God and receive forgiveness from Him in this way, God causes us to be ‘born again’. This is a supernatural work in our life when God’s Spirit comes into our spirit and regenerates our spirit that was ‘dead’ till then. In this way we become a ‘child of God’, and now we have the opportunity to grow into maturity in our spirit and become like Jesus in our life and character. Also importantly, God becomes our Heavenly Father.
In the beginning of salvation, we are washed by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, and even though our sins were like crimson, God now sees our heart as whiter than snow (Isa.1:18). When we place our entire confidence in God’s grace for our salvation, God debits our sins into Jesus’ account and credits the righteousness of Jesus into our account (Rom.4:20-24). He ‘justifies’ us who used to be sinners (v.5). This is what gives us a right standing before the holy God. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem was torn from top to bottom, signifying that now the access to the Most Holy Place was now open to all men. This was a place which, under the time of the Law, had been closed to man always, and even the High Priest could enter it only once a year with the blood of the sacrifice that had been made for his own sins and those of the people. Now by God’s grace we can have access to God the Father always, through faith based on the blood of the Lamb of God that was shed for us.
Now God begins to write His laws upon our heart and mind so that we will have a hatred for sin and a desire to be pleasing to Him (Jer.31:33;Ezek.36:25-27). A ‘new man’ begins to be formed in us, and this becomes stronger and stronger as the Holy Spirit helps us to resist the promptings of our ‘old man’, our sinful nature. God takes away our bondage to sin because of which we felt compelled to give in to sinful desires, and gives us a freedom to choose to be obedient to Him (Rom.6:14;8:12). God does not forcefully transform us into the image of His Son, and neither does this transformation take place automatically once we are born again. He respects our free will with which He has created us. How much we become like Jesus depends on how much we yield to the Holy Spirit and submit to His leading when we are tempted to sin. This is a crucial aspect of our practical life as a Christian. We shall look at this in greater detail in a later chapter.
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