Jesus Christ the Fiery Serpent

Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.

Posted on August 15, 2012

CHAPTER 1

GOD'S MAGNIFICENT SALVATION PLAN

   As we begin our study concerning the nature of salvation, we must begin by understanding who man is. We see that the Bible teaches that man was created to worship and serve God, that men of their own volition have rebelled against God and will never wish to come to Him. Therefore, because it is God's desire to have a people for Himself, God sovereignly chose the individuals whom He planned to save.

Going back to the very beginning in Eden, we see that man was created in the image of God. To be created in the image of God included the fact that he loved righteousness and truth just like God. Moreover, Adam could choose whether to obey God or not. He was free to obey God voluntarily because this desire was inherent in him as part of the image of God. Thus he stood before God as a responsible creature accountable for his actions. Therefore, he was also warned that he must bear the consequences of disobedience "for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). The results of his disobedience are well known. Mankind was sentenced to death, physical death as well as spiritual death, which meant eternal separation from God in a place called Hell. There he would eternally endure the wrath of God for his disobedience. The impact of that initial sin was so terrible that man's very nature was corrupted and disobedience to God became normative for his life. Like an adulterer senselessly and stupidly returns repeatedly to the harlot, so man continues to disobey God.

It was so far reaching that the whole human race, which issued from Adam and of whom Adam was head, remains in this awful corruption. Thus Romans 5:12 declares, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin: and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned..." In I John 3:8we read, "He that committeth sin is of the devil." In Colossians 1:13 God declares that when He saves us it is that "He hath delivered us from the power of darkness." In the parable of the wheat and the tares Jesus informs us that "the tares are the children of the wicked one." This enslavement to sin is described by the language of Romans 6:16, where God warns, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey." We see therefore that man in his very nature continues in constant rebellion against God. Because he lives in this enmity toward God, the awful curse of God's wrath continues to rest on him. He became a slave of dominion of sin and spiritual darkness which ruled over by Satan, who vanquished man in Eden.

IS MAN RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS SIN? But now a question of great importance must be faced. Did this corruption of man's nature and this enslavement to Satan, which together produce an ever mounting condemnation for man, minimize or reduce in any way God's demand upon him to be without sin? Had he in any sense become so helpless in his sin that God could no longer hold him accountable? This is a key question, for in its answer one will be able to resolve the apparent paradox of God's gracious offer of salvation to all men and God's elective decrees whereby only God's elect will be saved.

The answer to the question of man's continued accountability to God after the fall is found in analyzing the reason for his hopeless condition of slavery to sin and Satan. His frightful condition did not result from a whim or caprice of fate. It did not result from irrational anger by God as God lashed out at man for his disobedience. Rather it was altogether the result of man's own action. God had created him good, with every conceivable blessing; and because he was created in the image of God he was fully responsible for the consequences of his disobedience. Thus, the fact that his very nature became corrupted and that he became a slave of Satan did not diminish in any way his accountability to God for his sins.

Even to the present day, because he is still man created in the image of God, however shattered that image may be, he continues to be answerable to God for his actions. Therefore one is not surprised to read that at the judgment man must render account to God for all his works. Matthew 12:36 states, "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." Romans 2:5,6 declares, "...after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God: Who will render to every man according to his deeds..." Thus God is emphasizing that an answer must be tendered. Romans 14:10-12 makes it clear that "we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ...for...every knee shall bow...and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." II Corinthians 5:10 cites that "...we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." Moreover we read in Revelation 20 that at the judgment throne Christ will have on record all the deeds of those who stand there. And they must answer to God concerning these deeds. Revelation 20:12 declares: And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. That God looks upon man as being fully answerable for his sins is repeatedly taught in the Bible. Consider, for example, the words of Jesus in Luke 13:34: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her own brood under her wings, and ye would not! (Cf. Matthew 23:29-34, 21:23-41) Christ is speaking in these passages to people as responsible humans created in the image of God. He is not demeaning them by suggesting that in any way they are no longer accountable. His declaration is that they are fully answerable for their rejection of God's overtures of grace. Actually it is more than an offer. It is a command from God to the human race that they are to repent of their sins and turn to Christ for salvation (John 6:29, Acts 17:30, I John 3:18-24). Thus the Bible gives ample evidence that mankind is fully answerable to God for his actions. Even though the entire human race is altogether in rebellion against God, each and every human stands accountable to God. GOD DECLARES HIMSELF TO MAN In this sad context, God comes with His gracious offer of salvation. First of all, He gives plentiful evidence to man that God exists. By placing man in a creation that is so filled with incomprehensible impossibilities and delightful wonders, man cannot escape the knowledge that only an infinite being could bring this to pass. The stars, the newborn baby, the fragrant rose, all testify to the power of God (Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:18-23). Moreover, because he was created in the image of God, there is a witness within man. Intuitively he knows that murder and adultery and stealing are sins because to some degree God's law is written on his heart (Romans 2:14,15). Intuitively he knows that there is a judgment coming when he must account for his sins (Romans 1:32). Furthermore, God shows him that He is a merciful and loving God as He provides man with so many undeserved blessings such as health, the benevolent sunshine, and fruitful seasons. (Cf. Acts 14:17, Romans 2:4.) But man's response to these evidences of the existence of God, to the knowledge that he is a sinner who must some day be judged for his sin, to the kindness of God as He surrounds man with His blessings, is one of even greater rebellion against God. But because man himself is the sinner, man himself must bear the full consequences of his actions. Finally, God comes with His supreme offer of love. God has fully outlined this in that marvelous written declaration of God's will, the Bible. He covenants with man that if he will only throw himself on God's mercies, if he will only repent of his sins and entrust his will to Christ as Lord, if he will only trust in Christ as Savior for God's forgiveness for his sins, God will make him His child, God will give him eternal life, God will free him from slavery to Satan and make him a citizen of God's kingdom. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." To do this for man, to make this offer possible, requires an enormous sacrifice by God. It requires complete satisfaction of the price demanded by God's decree, "the wages of sin is death," for all who will accept this gracious offer of salvation. This price was paid by God Himself, as He came as the God-man, to bear the wrath of God on behalf of those who would trust in God's offer of salvation. If ten men out of the whole human race would believe in Christ as their sin-bearer, Christ's suffering must be equivalent to the punishment deserved by these ten men. If a million people would trust in God's offer of reconciliation, Christ's suffering must be equal to an eternity in Hell for a million men. However many turn to God's offer of love, Christ would obediently endure God's wrath on their behalf. For only then can God's holy justice be completely satisfied (Romans 3:24-26, Romans 5:8-9, Romans 5:21). NO MAN WILL ACCEPT GOD'S OFFER OF SALVATION But man in his perverseness, in the corruption of sin which has enveloped his whole being, will not accept this wonderful offer. He will not be obedient to God's command to repent of his sins and believe in Christ. His natural enmity towards God, his unconscious allegiance to Satan, his pleasure in his sin, all work together to encourage him to ignore, to spurn, to ridicule this offer. It is indeed a well-meant offer by God. There are no strings attached. It is given to man, who originally was created in the image of God to think God's thoughts after Him, to love God, to worship God, and to fellowship eternally with Him. The fact that man in his willful disobedience has become totally corrupted and has become a slave of Satan does not diminish or in any sense invalidate the gracious and marvelous intention of God's salvation offer. Man is still accountable to God. The fact that not even one man would be obedient to this offer does not make it any less a gracious offer of love. Even so, the offer of God's love, the Gospel, with its command to mankind to believe on Christ, is sent forth into all the world. But no man of his own volition will respond to it. Rather, in his lusting after sin he will do all that he can to silence and reject it. The deadness of man is so succinctly outlined in Romans 3:10-20 and Ephesians 2:1-3. "There is none that seeketh after God," we read in Romans 3:11. Man is as spiritually dead as Lazarus was physically dead after his body had decayed in the tomb for 4 days. No wonder the Bible declares in John 6:44, "No one can come to Me except the Father draw him." No man is able to come because he is spiritually dead. GOD WILL SAVE A PEOPLE FOR HIMSELF But God is not thwarted in His desire to have a redeemed people. If man left to his own volition will not respond to His gracious, well-meant offer and command of salvation, God will reach down into the mire and misery of human sin and save a people, whether they want to be saved or not (John 6:37). He will take for Himself as many as He wants, and precisely those whom He wants, so that He will be the Redeemer. He will build His church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail. Read, for example, the beautiful description of God's salvation plan in Ezekiel 34:11-16. Therefore, in sovereign righteousness and justice God chooses, even before He creates the world, those whom He will save (Ephesians 1:4). They are not to be saved because they are in any way, to any degree whatsoever, more holy or more worthy of salvation than those who remain unsaved. Rather it is totally God's sovereign grace that He saves one and leaves another under His wrath (Romans 9:11-13). For those whom He does save He must provide payment of the penalty required by God's perfect justice. And so Jesus became sin. He took upon Himself the sins of all whom God planned in His elective decrees to save. Based on God's declaration of John 3:16 that "whosoever believeth on Him should not perish," we might declare that Christ was prepared to pay for the sins of anyone in the whole wide world throughout time who might turn in faith to God and accept this offer of forgiveness. This is perhaps one truth inherent in the Biblical statement that Christ died for the sins of the whole world. In all the world Christ was the only possible sin-bearer. He would pay the price for anyone who believed. This principle is surely suggested by the promise of I John 1:9, which proclaims, "...if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." As a matter of fact, He did die only for those who were elected of God. For only they will obey God's command to believe in Christ. And this includes both the believer of the Old Testament as well as all those who will believe right up until the end of time. This truth is surely evident in the declaration of the angel to Joseph, "Thou shalt call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins." The phrase "His people" cannot refer to the whole human race. If it did, double jeopardy would occur, inasmuch as the Bible clearly teaches that the unsaved must pay for all their sins (Revelation 20:12-15). Christ died for those who believe, but not one of these believed of his own volition. Only because God inclined their wills and opened their eyes did they respond to the Gospel. This gracious intervention of God occurred only in the lives of God's elect. These God irresistibly drew unto Himself (John 6:37,44). These were given to Christ by the Father (John 6:37,39,John 17:9,20), who were born not of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13). Therefore, while in principle the atonement is available for each and every individual in the whole world, in actuality it covers only the sins of the elect. For only they will believe in Him. The dead Lazarus responded to the command of Jesus to come forth from the from the tomb because with the command Christ qualified him to come forth by giving him ears to hear, life to respond, and the will to obey (John 11:43,44). So likewise God qualifies those who are spiritually dead so that they will respond to the Gospel call. Sorrowfully, the Bible declares that the rest of mankind remains under the wrath of God. When Christ went to the cross to pay for sin, He was ready to pay for anyone of mankind who would trust Christ as his Savior. But no penalty was paid by Jesus for those who would not respond obediently to God's salvation command. Therefore, they must stand before God's judgment throne on their own behalf when God judges the nations at the end of time. God declares, "The wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness" (Romans 1:18), and "There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil" (Romans 2:9). Furthermore, in Romans 2:5 God ominously decrees: But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. In Revelation 20:12,13 we read: And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. Had their sins been paid for, they would never have to stand for judgment and answer to God for each and every sin they had ever committed. God's wrath could never come upon them. Such condemnation, after Christ had already paid for their sins, would be double jeopardy. It would be a violation of God's perfect justice. ANYONE CAN BE SAVED Who then can be saved? Anyone can who surrenders his life by faith to Christ as Savior and Lord. There is not one who ever honestly sought for Jesus who will be cast out. There will be no one at the judgment throne of God on the last day who will be able to argue with God that he had earnestly sought for salvation. While he may have sought salvation, it could not have been the salvation of the Bible. Rather it would have been a salvation of his own design. No one will stand before the judgment throne who had been following the Biblical prescription of a broken and a contrite heart, which is the beginning of true salvation. Wonderfully, anyone can know he is one of God's elect by repenting of his sins and hanging his whole life on Jesus. God warns man to make his calling and election sure. By turning to Christ without reservation, in child-like trust, he is proving he is one of God's elect. After he has turned in obedience to Him and knows that he, too, has become born from above he will discover from God's matchless Word that his salvation was all of grace (Ephesians 2:4-10). It was altogether the work of God. If God had left him to himself, he would never have turned to Him. That the Father decided to save some and let the rest go to Hell for their sins is God's business (Romans 9:14-23, Ephesians 1:4,5). He is the sovereign Creator and Redeemer, who is glorified by the salvation of those who believe (Ephesians 1:6). He is also praised by the wrath of man (Psalm 76:10). The real wonder is not that He failed to save every last person in the world. The real wonder is that He saved even one out of the human race. The fact that He saved a vast company of believers from every nation and tribe and people is gracious love and condescending grace that no man will ever understand. This wonderful salvation is possible only because... My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith Jehovah...(Isaiah 55:8) A SUMMARY OF WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED We have discovered that God indeed comes with a gracious offer of salvation to mankind, a gracious offer whereby He declares that He will save anyone at all who will come to the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed it is more than an offer. It is a command to believe on Jesus as Savior. Our salvation of course can be accomplished only through our Savior because there must be someone to pay for our sins. Jesus as our substitute did provide Himself as that payment. Because of His sacrifice of Himself, God comes with the gracious offer of salvation to this world. We learned that because man is desperately wicked, because he is dead in his sins, he does not want to accept this offer of salvation; he does not want to be obedient to the command to believe in Christ as his Savior. He refuses to surrender his will to God. In the hardness of his heart he wants to go his own way. "There is none that seeketh after God," the Bible sorrowfully declares. We saw that even though man is dead in his sins he remains accountable to God. Regardless of his spiritual blindness, regardless of the fact that he is a slave of sin and Satan, he still has the responsibility to face God at the judgment throne and answer for all his sins. Then we saw that God, in His mercy, in His sovereign will, declared, "But I will build My church." It is God's purpose to have a people for Himself even if no one of his own desire will believe in Christ as his Savior. We saw that even before the foundation of the earth God named those whom He would save; and these He drew to Himself, opening their spiritual eyes that they might respond to the Gospel offer, so they did indeed become saved. Then we examined the question, "Well then, can anyone be saved?" And the answer was, "Yes, indeed, anyone can be saved who will respond to the Gospel." But we learned that the only people who will respond in submission to God's Word, the Bible, who will obediently follow God's program for salvation, will be those whom God has drawn to Himself. There will be nobody facing Hell at the judgment throne who will be able to argue, "I wanted to be saved on God's terms but I am not saved because obviously I was not one of God's elect." Anyone facing judgment and Hell is there because he did not want God's salvation program. He may have wanted salvation on his own terms, but he did not want God's salvation, and therefore he still has to answer to all his sins. GOD'S ELECTIVE PROGRAM As we go on in our study of salvation, particularly as it relates to predestination and God's elective program, let's look at these questions again on a little more formal basis, following the outline that the church has followed, under the acronym TULIP: T = Total depravity U = Unconditional election L = Limited atonement I = Irresistible grace P = Perseverance of the saints Certainly the acrostic principles behind the acronym TULIP sound intriguing; but unless they are altogether Bibical, they shall not stand. In that view, we focus altogether on scriptural foundations.