‘Hallelujah! What a Savior!’

By Emmett Rushing

Pastor Rushing greets San Dimas Senior.

The theme of this well-loved hymn pulses through many Christian brains at this time of year. Here was our Assistant Pastor’s take on April 16.

Good morning, brethren.

At this time of year there are two truths from our Lord’s death and resurrection that are worth remembering. The first is that God hates sin. The second is that the cross shows us how much God loved us.

I well remember how quiet my two friends and I were when we walked out of a movie version of “The Passion” a few years back. We don’t often dwell on the beating Jesus suffered for us and perhaps we shouldn’t overly much, but that movie made many Christians think of how we deserved the death Jesus accepted on our behalf. The death of Jesus came because God loves us with a passionate love that exceeds God’s hatred of sin. Our keynote Scripture sort of spells that out for us:

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should ;live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, NKJ).

‘Starting Before Sin’

Building on the insights and perspectives of 20th century theologian Karl Barth, a Scottish minister and decorated World War Two chaplain named Thomas Torrance (1913-2007), almost single-handedly championed a revival of the third and fourth century theology of the Trinity.

Torrance placed great stress on the nature of the relationships inside the Godhead as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This he felt needed readdressing as a key to God’s purposes and intentions towards us his creation. The Godhead is a communion of love, Torrance taught, and it is that all-embracing and encircling divine love that leads to God creating us in the first place and then adopting us as his children in Christ (Kingdom and Church, page 81).

Adoption is one of St. Paul’s themes and it means that God was motivated to act on our behalf out of this superabundant Fatherly interest and involvement (Ephesians 1:5).

There is also Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father.’” Ephesians 1:4-7 confirms that the Father has sent forth the Spirit of adoption to reconcile us to Himself as his children through the work of the Son. To effect this purpose God Himself takes up residence inside us through the Holy Spirit.

Trinitarian thinker Gary Deddo argues that this approach avoids “false starts” in the approach to salvation. Sin and the Law are vitally important issues, Deddo explains, but this dynamic should never divert us from the original intentions of the Triune God to reconcile us to Himself in a loving Father-Son relationship.

So how does this affect our view of salvation?

The Trinitarian approach is often criticized for downplaying the role of the Cross in Christian salvation but, in fact, say Trinitarian theologians, the refocus on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit avoids the traps of legalism and “performance religion,” which is the bane of even Christian groups that fail to keep before them the threefold working of God.

For example, much popular preaching today urges listeners to work themselves into a state of repentance rather than accepting the repentance that flows from the kindness of God, one of many gifts that flows from the fulfillment of his adoptive purposes (Romans 2:4; Ephesians 4:8-3).

At Jesus’ baptism, all three agents of the Godhead were at work (Matthew 3:13-17). They now reside in us (John 14:23) effecting a salvation that begins and ends in God’s love for us and not in human efforts to work up our own acceptance through “performance-based” religion. The initiative lies with God, not with us, and this key Reformation insight is the proper starting place for justification and sanctification. This reemphasis is finding acceptance within many Christian circles today.

That passage we’ve been looking at a lot in our church lately. It shows us the ultimate power behind Jesus’ willing sacrifice on our behalf was the overwhelming power of God’s love. This is what Good Friday is all about. We all died in Jesus’ death but we were all raised in his resurrection and that is what gives us hope, that’s what we proclaim to the senior’s church at Rancho San Dimas care home every Sunday. We take strength form something that was true before any of us were born – the death of Christ. God did not wait for us to become good or he’d be waiting a long, long time. But as Romans 5:6 says, it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us.

The Deep, Deep Love

Secondly, the cross shows us just how much God loves us – what he did to free us from the entanglements of sin. Titus 2:11-13 shows us that there is a better Teacher than experience and that is the Grace that God gives us for our salvation. Let’s read it:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

In my job I’m a manager and purchaser for a chemical company and I come across many sales people who come into the shop selling steel or whatever. Sometimes they share their life problems. One woman came in recently and we got to talking. She had just left her husband along with her young daughter and was filing for divorce. As we conversed I couldn’t help but use one of my favorite lines – “If you have any doubts about God and his opinion of you, always go back to the text, God is love.” That’s what the Good Friday-Easter season is all about. The Gospel was sent to save us not condemn us.

Here’s the basics, as Paul taught them, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3,
“Now brothers I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared unto Peter and then to the twelve.”

Resurrection Hope

There it is – our resurrection hope. The believer’s resurrection is tied to the Lord’s being raised by the power of the Spirit. “Because I live you shall live also,” Jesus said. Everything depended on God’s resurrection of Christ. Now that we are saved from the penalty of death and sin we have new life in Christ.

That resurrection hope is hard to keep quiet about for that same power that raised Jesus is available for us to help live our lives. I told the lady filing for divorce that and it seemed to help her. The next time we met she said she’s forgiven her husband and is back with him and attending a healthy Christian church. The Bible has a phrase for this as well – it’s called new life in Christ.

Do you know that the apostle Paul mentions the phrase “in Christ” or “in the Lord” 164 times? That just about makes it his central theme. This being “in Christ” is a judicial act – the debt of past sins is cleared away. It is also a highly spiritual action because it shows us we now are under no condemnation from God (Romans 8:1). It also affects our future hope for it reveals that we too shall eventually be in the likeness of his resurrection. In fact we are already as good as there. This starts the process of sanctification – the process by which the Holy Spirit makes known God’s work in our lives.

Sanctification means that Christians slowly become more like their Lord. Because Christ lives inside us we share in the glory Christ now has which he received from the Father. So the whole story is one of grace from beginning to end – grace unmerited, undeserved pardon. This salvation is ours; we only have to accept it. There is no way in a hundred million lifetimes we could qualify for such a holy and righteous work in us. Let us rejoice that we as Christians are now part of the wonderful story that is narrated in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, a story we focus on more than ever at this Easter season.

Thank God for his resurrection hope. Christ died for us. Christ lived for us. Christ is coming for us. Hallelujah, what a Savior!