Infinite Grace to Pardon Immeasurable Sin

See the consequences of that sin on all sides, the world is full of them.

Yet, saith Paul, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,” and he gives us this as a proof of it: “And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification” (Rom. 5:16).

The Lord Jesus came into the world, not alone to put away Adam’s sin, but all the sins which have followed upon it. The second Adam has repaired the desperate ruin of the first, and much more.

By his death upon the cross, our Divine Substitute has put away those myriads of sins, which have been committed by men since the first offence in Eden.

Think of this!

Take the whole aggregate of believers, and let each one disburden his conscience of its load of sin.
      What a mountain!
      Pile it up! Pile it up!
      It rises huge as high Olympus!

Age after age believers come and lay their enormous loads in this place. “The Lord hath made to meet on him the iniquities of us all.”
      What Alps!
      What Himalayas of sin!

If there were only mine and yours, my brother, what mountains of division would our sins make! But the great Christ, the free gift of God to us, when he bare our sins in his own body on the tree, took all those countless sins away.

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”!

Here is infinite grace to pardon immeasurable sin!

Truly the “one man’s offence” abounded horribly; but the “one man’s obedience,” the obedience of the Son of God, hath superabounded. As the arch of heaven far exceedeth in its span the whole round globe of the earth, so doth grace much more abound over human sin.

 --C. H. Spurgeon, “Grace Abounding Over Abounding Sin,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 34

Equip Yourself Against Accusation with the Gospel

The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul 
"who gave himself for our sins" 
as true and efficacious. 

We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. 
On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible 
that we must despair. 

Learn to believe that Christ was given, 
not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, 
but for mountainous sins; 
not for one or two, 
but for all; 
not for sins that can be discarded, 
but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained. 

Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, 
particularly in the last hour, 
when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. 

Say with confidence: 
"Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. 
If I had no sin I should not need Christ. 
No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. 
The truth is, I am all sin. 
My sins are not imaginary transgressions,
but sins against the first table, 
unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, 
ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, 
misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; 
and sins against the second table, 
dishonor of parents, disobedience of government, 
coveting of another's possessions, etc. 
Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, 
and similar sins 
in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, 
and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God. 
Because my transgressions are multiplied 
and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, 
therefore Christ the Son of God 
gave Himself into death 
for my sins." 

To believe this is to have eternal life. 
Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. 

If he says, "Thou shalt be damned," 
you tell him: "No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. 
In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, 
you are cutting your own throat, Satan. 
You are reminding me of God's fatherly goodness toward me, 
that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son 
that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, 
but have everlasting life. 
In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure." 
With such heavenly cunning 
we are to meet the devil's craft 
and put from us the memory of sin."

--Martin Luther, 
Commentary on Galatians

A Firm Foundation in the Weakness of Christ

The Son of God, then, who is Jesus Christ, holds out himself as the object to which our faith ought to be directed, and by means of which it will easily find that on which it can rest; for he is the true Immanuel, who answers us within, as soon as we seek him by faith. It is one of the leading articles of our faith, that our faith ought to be directed to Christ alone, that it may not wander through long windings; and that it ought to be fixed on him, that it may not waver in the midst of temptations. And this is the true proof of faith, when we never suffer ourselves to be torn away from Christ, and from the promises which have been made to us in him . . . . Proud men are ashamed of Christ's humiliation, and, therefore, they fly to God's incomprehensible Divinity. But faith will never reach heaven unless it submit to Christ, who appears to be a low and contemptible God, and will never be firm if it do not seek a foundation in the weakness of Christ.
--John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel of John, John 14:1

Does God Ordain Suffering or Oppose It?

A recent episode of The Gospel Coalition's podcast featured a discussion between John Piper, Matt Chandler, and David Platt about God's goodness in suffering. A tweet from TGC provoked some negative reactions from several high-profile Christian thinkers, including Jefferson Bethke, Brian Zahnd, and Jonathan Merritt. The main perspectives expressed in this debate seem pretty polarized at first glance: either God ordains suffering for his good purposes or God opposes suffering as an enemy invasion in the world he created. 

My guess is that most of those commenting through tweets are actually more nuanced in their theology than either of those simple propositions (both of which, I believe, are biblical) indicates. And the problem with so much of our online theological discourse is that it is hard to do good theology in short sound-bites and 140 character tweets. 

I would say that any discussion of human suffering rightly begins with a two-part recognition. 

1. First, suffering is an alien invasion into God’s good creation that results from human rebellion and sin. 
2. Second, suffering is addressed by our saving God in the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. 

This second reality asserts something remarkable: when God allowed sin to enter this world, even he was affected. It is not only humanity that has suffered as a result of sin. God himself chose to suffer both with us and for us, in order to rescue and redeem the good world he created.  As D. A. Carson thoughtfully writes:

When Christians think seriously about evil and suffering, one of the paramount reasons we are so sure that God is to be trusted is because he sent his Son to suffer cruelly on our behalf. Jesus Christ, the Son who is to be worshiped as God, God’s own agent in creation (John 1:2-3), suffered an excruciatingly odious and ignominious death. The God on whom we rely knows what suffering is all about, not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience. [1] 

The ultimate answer to human suffering, then, is in the suffering of God himself through the cross. The letter of Hebrews says that Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). God, the eternal one, the source of all life, suffered the taste of death; his plan for bringing many sons to glory was only accomplished by making “the founder of [our] salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10; cf. 5:10). This means Jesus is a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses, since “in every respect [he] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15; cf. 2:18). Jesus knows our pain. 

Our God, revealed in Jesus Christ, is unique among the religions of the world. He alone has entered into the reality of our suffering. “Jesus of the Scars,” a poem written by Edward Shillito in the wake of World War I, beautifully captures this:

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone....[2]

The writers of Scripture felt the reality of suffering keenly and addressed it often. One of the most profound passages addressing suffering is found in Romans 8. Paul’s words offer an insight that should radically transform our perspective on suffering. Here is one of the keys to understanding how and why God works out his purposes in our lives. In this passage we see that God uses suffering—all suffering, without exception—to accomplish his ultimate purpose and our everlasting good. God uses suffering to conform us to the image of Christ.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom. 8:28-29).

Notice that Paul doesn’t say suffering itself is good. He says all things (including suffering) work together for the good of Christians. The context of this passage makes it especially clear that Paul has suffering in mind, for he refers to “the sufferings of this present time” (v. 18), the created world’s “bondage to decay” (v. 21), our “groaning” for the future redemption of the body (v. 23), and the reality of suffering and persecution for the name of Christ (v. 17, 35-36).

So suffering is not good, but God uses it for good. I find the distinctions made by C. S. Lewis wise and helpful:

Suffering is not good in itself . . . In the fallen and partially redeemed universe we may distinguish between (1) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for His redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute.[3] 

The good promised in Romans 8:28-29 is a “complex good” in which the dark threads of evil and suffering, culminating in the cross, are woven together by God to accomplish his ultimate purpose. He aims to produce a new race of human beings, restored in his divine image, who will live in a new world.

So does God ordain suffering or oppose suffering? Is suffering our enemy or God's gift? The answer is complex. In and of itself, suffering is not good. But God exploits suffering for good, and this is part of his sovereign plan.  

This post is a lightly edited excerpt from chapter 11 of my book Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change


1. D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2nd Edition, 2006) 159.
2. Edward Shillito, “Jesus of the Scars,” quoted in Carson, 170.
3. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1940, 1996, 2001) 110-111.

Christ Defeated the Monsters (A Meditation from Luther)

The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain
(Duccio di Buoninsegna ca. 1308-1311,

tempera on poplar panel)

Let us see how Christ was able to gain the victory over our enemies.

The sins of the whole world,
            and future,
     fastened themselves upon Christ
     and condemned Him.
But because Christ is God
            He had an everlasting
            and unconquerable righteousness.

These two,
            the sin of the world
            and the righteousness of God,
                                    met in a death struggle.
                        Furiously the sin of the world assailed the righteousness of God.
                                    Righteousness is immortal and invincible.
                        On the other hand, sin is a mighty tyrant who subdues all men.
                                    This tyrant pounces on Christ.
                        But Christ's righteousness is unconquerable.
                                    The result is inevitable.
                                                Sin is defeated
                                                and righteousness triumphs and reigns forever.

In the same manner was death defeated.
            Death is emperor of the world.
                        He strikes down
                                    all men.
                        He has an idea to destroy all life.
            But Christ has immortal life,
                        and life immortal gained the victory over death.
                        Through Christ death has lost her sting.
                        Christ is the Death of death.

The curse of God waged a similar battle with the eternal mercy of God in Christ.
            The curse meant to condemn God's mercy.
                        But it could not do it because the mercy of God is everlasting.
                        The curse had to give way.
            If the mercy of God in Christ had lost out,
                        God Himself would have lost out,
                        which, of course, is impossible.

                        the power of God,
                        grace and life,
                                    and destroyeth these monsters,
                                                                        and the curse,
                                    without war or weapons,
                                    in his own body
                                    and in himself.

'Christ," says Paul, "spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." (Col. 2:15.)
            They cannot harm those who hide in Christ.
                        the wrath of God,
                        the devil
                                    are mortified in Christ.

Where Christ is near the powers of evil must keep their distance.

--from Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians 3:13, a composite from the Watson and Graebner translations, line breaks and formatting are my own. 

Walking in the Way of Jesus

A few summers ago, my three oldest kids and I discovered a great hiking trail just a few miles from where we live. It’s a trail through the woods that winds in and out of several parks just on the east side of the St. Joseph River, complete with a river shelter and several picnic areas and playgrounds just off the trail. The kids were enthralled, and our little hike led into a natural conversation about walking the right path or way in life.

The word walk is one of the main biblical metaphors for living the Christian life. Sometimes I think its significance is lost on us today. In the ancient world, walking was the ordinary person’s primary mode of transportation. The best way to get from here to there was to walk. They didn’t have trains, planes, and automobiles—even the bicycle wasn’t invented until the nineteenth century! Horses, at least in ancient Israel, were scarce and primarily used in battle. So most journeys were taken on foot by walking. We see this especially in the life of Jesus. As someone once noted, Jesus is the most persistent pedestrian in the Bible!

So the idea of walking in a way was the perfect picture for an ancient person to understand the moral and spiritual life. We find the metaphor early in Genesis where God walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8), picturing God’s active presence with humanity in their original created state. That fellowship was interrupted, of course, by the Fall. But as the redemption story unfolds, God once again walks with his people. “I will walk among you and be your God,” God says to Israel (Leviticus 26:12).

He not only walks with us, but we walk with him. Both Enoch and Noah are commended for walking with God (Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9), and the Lord said to Abraham, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1). The New Testament has many instances of this imagery as well. John and Paul describe Christian behavior in terms of walking in light rather than darkness, walking as Jesus walked, walking in wisdom, walking in newness of life, walking in good works, walking in the Spirit, and so on.

But to walk, one must have a way, a road, or a path. The Scriptures are full of this imagery, and it is especially obvious in Old Testament poetry, wisdom literature, and the prophetic books. The first psalm contrasts the ways of the righteous and wicked, commending the man who “walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1). The first verse of Psalm 119 echoes that commendation, declaring the blessedness of “those whose way is blameless who walk in the law of the Lord,” while Proverbs 4:18 says that “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” Later, Jesus taught about discipleship and salvation by contrasting the hard way that leads to life with the easy way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13–14), and Luke describes the early Christians as followers of “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).

This brief survey of walk and way imagery in Scripture (and there are dozens and dozens of other texts—I encourage you to search them out!) suggests several insights about Christian living:

(1) First of all, it involves effort, movement, and action. Walking requires motion, and so does following Jesus. The Christian life is not a passive or static state. Ours is an active spirituality.

(2) But it also involves choices. You must choose a road, a path, a way in which to walk. The Scriptures variously describe this path as a way of life, light, love, truth, righteousness, etc. But what is clear is that there is a way that leads to salvation and a way that doesn’t.

The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s classic allegory about the journey of faith, vividly captures this reality. I love this book and think it is worth repeated readings. Spurgeon reportedly read it over a hundred times! I haven’t read it a hundred times, but I do keep coming back to it. I recently realized that Bunyan not only describes the Christian’s journey through life with all its attending obstacles, detours, and dangers, but also provides a startling array of characters to illustrate defective faith. It’s a study in apostasy every bit as much as it is a portrayal of the perseverance of the saints. When we meet Obstinate, Pliable, Ignorance, Hypocrisy, Worldly Wiseman, Talkative, Formalist, Legality, and all the rest, we’re not just encountering transparent examples of unbelievers and apostates. We’re also seeing in detail the kinds of spiritual problems that get people off track. The one thing all of these characters have in common is that they didn’t continue walking in the way to the Celestial City.

(3) Therefore, we must keep walking in the right way. Whenever we realize we’ve gotten off the path, we must by God’s grace find the way back on. Bunyan’s Christian does this again and again, and he makes it all the way home only with dogged persistence. So must you and I. The most fatal thing is to stop walking.

(4) Finally, both Scripture and Bunyan remind us that walking often involves companionship. We must walk with the Lord (Genesis 5:22; Revelation 3:4), but we must also walk with others who follow him: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Christian met numerous cases of dubious character and doubtful faith, but he also had companions like Faithful and Hopeful who helped him in the journey.

Like Christian, we also need good spiritual companions, which reminds me to ask—have you found a good church yet? Don’t underestimate the importance of true Christian fellowship for your life. It will make a huge difference in your spiritual progress.

This post is a lightly edited excerpt from my book Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life.