Only Christ & The Gospel Can Save

If the Bible is God’s authoritative word, as Jesus professes (e.g. Matt. 4:4; John 10:35), we must seriously consider all of its own claims regarding salvation.

Specifically, the Bible teaches, that, “all have sinned,” (Romans 3:23), and, “there is no one righteous,” (Romans 3:10).

Compared to God and His standard of righteousness: “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, we all deserve God’s, “wrath” (Romans 1:18) and the sentence of, “death” (Romans 6:23).

However, there is 1 way out of this horrific dilemma: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:8-9).

Thus, anyone meeting God who has not received Christ’s free gift of salvation through repentance and faith in Him will have to bear the penalty that we all deserve (but that Christ graciously took on our behalf). They will die condemned and judged in their sins, receiving the just penalty that Christ would have taken on their behalf; but they rejected that offer. I take no pleasure in writing this, but pray my words may point people to Christ alone.

Objection: If this is true, isn’t God unkind and unloving?

This common objection should be seriously considered as well. Here I want to address it from 4 angles:

Angle 1: Can God Compromise Who He Is?

What if it is not a matter of choice, but of necessity, that God must punish and reject all sin from His presence?

Consider that there are things impossible for God to do. For instance, “it is impossible for God to lie,” (Heb. 6:18). And, “with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning,” (James 1:17 – meaning, He can’t change who He is).

Likewise, it says that it is impossible for light to dwell with darkness or holiness to dwell with sin (see 2 Corinthians 7).

If this is true, then it’s not a matter of God being cruel or unkind to reject and punish sin. Instead, He would cease to be God if He TOLERATED sin. It’s like us not being able to tolerate any drop of poison. It is built in to what it means to be human, and has nothing to do with us being kind or hurtful toward the poison.

Angle 2: Was God Cruel Toward Jesus?

Further, if people could be saved without Jesus having to die for their sins, wouldn’t that be cruel that God the Father forced Him to endure such a tortuous death when it was unnecessary?

Consider Matthew 26:39-44 and Luke 22:42-44, for instance, where Jesus is in agony about being crucified. He begs God the Father that, “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me,” (Matt. 26:39).

Surely if His death and payment for sins was unnecessary for salvation, then God the Father is exceedingly cruel to make Jesus go through all that excruciating agony for nothing, isn’t He?

Angle 3: Does God Know Things About Fairness and Kindness We Don’t?

Likewise, if the Bible says clearly that God must punish sin, and that Jesus taking that punishment is the only way for sinners to be forgiven, wouldn’t it be arrogant of us to assume we have a better grasp of “fairness” and “kindness” than God Himself who is the source of fairness and kindness?

To illustrate, my kids have thought many times that things we were doing were quite “unfair.” And sometimes, though we know what we were doing was very fair, their little minds can’t comprehend the fuller picture we see, and so it’s almost impossible for us to convey the fairness of our actions to them.

How much more would there be a gap between us and God?

Thus, is it likely that our limited perspective may give us a warped and skewed view on what is truly fair and kind? If so, shouldn’t we trust God’s words and thoughts (as found in the Scriptures) over ours?

Angle 4: Has Mercy Been Shown?

Finally, if, indeed, all are unworthy to be in God’s presence, and all sin/sinners must fairly be punished for our sins, then would you agree that it is actually a MERCY that God willingly took on an “iddy-biddy” human body (like ours), lived a common life, and died a shameful, merciless, excruciating death He was never obliged to?

He would have been totally just to have all people take on the punishment themselves. But instead, He took the punishment in our place.

In light of this, wouldn’t it be cruel for us not to tell the world about this amazing offer–that ALL OUR SINS AND PUNISHMENT have been paid for in Christ?

And would it likewise be offensive toward Jesus/God for us to reject this VERY COSTLY payment made in our stead?

Love’s Longing: Song of Songs 6:4-8:14

And now we’ve reached the final installment of reflecting on Song of Songs.

To recap, we’ve seen thus far:

  1. Awakening Love: Song of Songs 1
  2. Love’s Benefits: Song of Songs 2
  3. Love Renewed: Song of Songs 3-4
  4. Love Refined: Song of Songs 5:1 – 6:3

In this final episode we will see how the bride has been transformed throughout these 8 chapters. She has paradoxically been satisfied in new ways while longing for more than she had before. Those who know Jesus will recognize that feeling: being filled with Christ yet always longing for more.

  • The King/Lover gives his fullest description of her beauty: “your feet … thighs … navel … belly … breasts … neck … eyes … nose … head … locks … stature … breasts … breath … mouth …” (7:1-9a). Earlier he could rightly speak of her beauty in Him. Now he can add more as she is becoming more beautiful and maturing more through the process (just as God says that those who are perfect in Him are YET being perfected SIMULTANEOUSLY: Heb. 10:14). This description begins with her feet. Before (in chap. 2) she was unwilling to go toward Him. But a change happened in ch. 5 where she did arise from her bed and walked toward him. Yet he was (temporarily) absent. She kept walking and would not be satisfied until she found Him. Then, upon finding Him, He begins by seeing her feet as beautiful — which also ties to our heart to seek and save the lost with Him (as will be seen later): “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom. 10:15 cf. Is. 52:7).
  • In response, she wants to satisfy His longings and desires: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” (7:10). Notice the progression: “My lover is mine and I am his” (2:16) –> “I am my lover’s and my lover is mine” (6:3) –> “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” (7:10). She increasingly is thinking less of self and more of Him, and how to satisfy Him.
  • Now, she is the one telling Him to “Come,” with her (7:11). Specifically, she wants to go with Him to look for new life. In the wake of new life, “There I will give you my love,” (7:12). She recognizes that this new life is the only thing that satisfies Him. She wants to find it in herself and in others, and wherever they find it together, she wants to offer it to Him: “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15) “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (Rom. 6:13).
  • In 8:1-3 she is looking for new ways to more fully express her love for Him. For instance, if they were brother and sister they could have openly kissed (though obviously not in a passionate way) without anyone thinking twice about it. She senses the confines of the state they are currently in. Like the bride of Christ who is betrothed to Him, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,” (1 Pet. 1:8). In other words, we love what we know of Him. We were given the down-payment of His Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13). Yet we still groan to be more completely with Him (see 2 Cor. 5:1-9).
  • In 8:5 we have the 2nd mention of one coming from the wilderness. The first time was Solomon on his wedding day (see 3:6). There we only saw Him coming in full power, with a place of rest prepared for His beloved who would sit and yet travel with power with Him (see 3:9-10). Now we have the bride herself joining Solomon as one coming out of the wilderness (just as God’s people, Israel, were also taken by Him out of the wilderness; Exodus – Deut). But notice that she is “leaning on her beloved” (8:5). This is the ultimate maturity. Not greater independence from God, but greater DEPENDENCE on God. We are the “weaker vessel” (1 Pet. 3:7) who must rely on our Husband, Christ to bring us out of the wilderness of sin, Satan, and darkness.
  • 8:6 recounts her earlier beginnings with Him (compare 2:3).
  • She now has seen the power of Christ’s love toward her, that it is more trustworthy and powerful than any force against her (8:6-7, compared with Rom. 8:38-39).
  • As a more mature bride, she is able to counsel others who are also developing in their love (8:8-9).
  • It is good to be a wall toward all other lovers, instead of a door (8:8-10). In such a way we keep our spiritual, “marriage bed…undefiled,” (Heb. 13:4).
  • She recognizes that ALL of her fruit belongs to Solomon: “you, O Solomon, may have the thousand [pieces of silver],” (8:12a). The worth of the entire vineyard is “a thousand pieces of silver” (v. 11), and she sees that it all belongs to Him.
  • She also sees that there is value in others helping to steward and guard our fruit to be kept for Christ alone, and not given to false lovers (think of overseers, or people discipling others): “the keepers of the fruit two hundred,” (8:12b). These are like the ones guarding their little sister (8:8). The bride recognizes the value they play in helping give the full increase to Christ (typified by Solomon). What’s interesting is that when someone takes what doesn’t belong to them, they are supposed to return the full value of it, and, “add a fifth to it,” (Lev. 6:5). In like manner, it seems, the bride is recognizing that her/our vineyard never belonged to us. We trespassed in using it on our own, for our own purposes (compare Song of Songs 1:6). So she, under conviction of this sin, sees that the full value should be given to Him who owns the vineyard, and then adds a fifth to it, for those helping Solomon get the full fruit He is due (compare Lev. 6 – “trespass offering”).
  • Finally, He prods her to say one more thing to Him (8:13), and the last words she speaks to Him are the sweetest yet: “Make haste, my beloved,” (8:14). These match, precisely, the last words of the Bride (in cooperation with God’s Spirit) at the end of the Bible: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.'” (Rev. 22:17).

Thus, she ends her journey as a matured bride: (A) recognizing the value of those tending to the next generation of brides (8:8 cf. 8:12b), (B) Speaking wisdom to the next generation of brides (8:10), (C) seeing that her Lover/King/Christ deserves the full increase of his fruit in us (8:12), and (D) being fully in love with Him, left longing for more (8:14).

May it be Lord Christ – “Make haste, our beloved…Come.” (Song of Songs 8:14; Rev. 22:17).

Love Refined: Song of Songs 5:1 – 6:3

So far we’ve covered:

Now we come to a point where the King leads his beloved into a time of darkness, trials, and separation–with the result of refining and maturing her love for Him in the end:

  • The fruit produced by the bride satisfies the King, and others (in that order; 5:1). Just as the greatest commands are to (1) love the Lord, and (2) love others (in that order–in fact, we are to love God with “all” our heart, so only when we give “all” to Him are we granted abundance of love/fruit to share with others).
  • She excitedly follows her Lover into the “night,” where he had (temporarily), “left” her on her own (5:2-6)
  • The watchmen who are posted to help her, and previously did so (3:3-4), turn against her (5:7). And her friends who formerly encouraged her in Him (1:4b) now question his worthiness (5:9). Like the woman anointing Jesus before his burial amidst scorn from his apostles (Mark 14:1-9), or Job worshiping God when his wife and friends discourage him, or Paul following Him when, “everyone deserted me,” (2 Tim. 4:16), or Jesus Himself obediently dying on the Cross when, “all the disciples deserted Him and fled,” (Matt. 26:56)…there comes a time when Jesus will call us into new levels of obedience that will be discouraged by those around us–even persecuted by those who have helped us previously and we have respected. He is looking to see if we love Him alone. If we trust Him alone. He leads us into these times of darkness to refine our love for Him.
  • This questioning and hurt caused her to consider afresh Jesus/the King directly. Specifically, she had a new appreciation and revelation of His beauty and worthiness: “My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. His head…his hair…his eyes…his cheeks…his lips…his arms…his body…his legs…his appearance…his mouth…” (5:10-16a). Everything about Him is beautiful, precious, and worthy. Even when He Himself leads you into a cold, dark night where you are beaten and all around you question the value of your lover…He is more than worthy. The key is to re-focus your gaze on Him. Just as the book of Revelation begins with a vision of Christ, and each church sees glimpses of this picture before they are told how to walk in His ways, so all Christian progress (and endurance) comes from a fixation and revelation of Christ. You will not be able to reject the wine of this world without a revelation of the one whose, “love is more delightful than wine,” (1:2). Similarly, you will not endure to the end by sheer will power. It comes through a fixation on Him and his worthiness. From that point obedience follows. Thus…
  • At the end of her revelation of His beauty, she calls Him, “my lover…my friend,” (5:16). Note that Jesus says his friends: “do what I command,” and have special revelation of Him and his purposes (John 15:14-15). To see Him as friend means we see Him as one to be obeyed while also having intimate knowledge of Him that a servant does not. In the case of the beloved, her intimate knowledge and revelation of His worthiness leads her into such a friendship.
  • Then, remarkably, after enduring this cold and harsh night, once she gains new revelation of His beauty and worth, she ALSO supernaturally knows where to find Him. Specifically, she now recognizes that He can be found looking for the fruit from us that is rightfully His: “My lover has gone down to HIS garden.” (6:1-2).
  • Finally, notice how her view of their relationship has shifted and matured. When the love was more self-focused, she firstly saw her Lover as hers to be possessed: “My lover is mine and I am his” (2:16). But NOW…after the dark night of wandering…after being beaten…after being questioned…after her Lover is de-valued by her friends…THEN she saw his worthiness and beauty anew…THEN she knew where to find Him…and THEN, she rightfully saw that she had it all backwards. NOW she says: “I am my lover’s and my lover is mine” (6:3). We firstly are here to satisfy Him. Then, afterward, when we take such a view, He will also satisfy us in ways that will make our self-centered concept of love seem silly and small (compare Luke 17:8 and 1 Cor. 7:4 where a similar truth is shown).

There is even yet more maturing to happen in the final chapters. Stay posted, and by God’s mercy I pray that everyone reading these posts will experience at least a measure of such love themselves from our Lover, “Jesus Christ,” who, “is the same yesterday and today and forever,” (Heb. 13:8).

Brian