Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 6/14/1998
"But now in Christ Jesus, you who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ."
Distance can be a definite problem when it comes to relationships. Ma Bell says she can help you "reach out and touch someone," and the internet helps too--but it is still not the same as being there. Some kinds of distance are worse problems than others. You can be in the same room but be emotionally and spiritually miles apart. We sometimes say of a person who is difficult to get to know that he seems "distant." This kind of distance can be the hardest to overcome. Are you separated by a few hundred miles? All it takes is a car, a few gallons of gas, and a day's driving, and the problem is overcome. But with emotional, intellectual, or spiritual barriers, the distance can seem totally insurmountable. That's what Paul is talking about here, when he says that we were far off from Christ but have been made nigh by his blood.
Last week in v. 12 we saw from what we were distant: we were cut off by our sins from Community (the commonwealth of Israel), Identity (The covenants of promise) from Hope, and from Christ, being without God in the world. Today we look at the Nature of this distance: How are we separated from these things, and what would it take to overcome this separation?
Frequently we represent things as if all the estrangement between Man and God was on the side of Man--as if God did not need to be reconciled to us, only we to Him. God is love, we say; he is ready to take us back at any time if only we will repent and turn to him. Now, this representation does contain a grain of truth: God is indeed the One who takes the initiative in bridging the distance. But still it is not an adequate description of our problem. Paul does describe the Gospel in 1 Cor. 5:18-20 in terms of God reconciling us to himself, and makes the appeal that we be reconciled to God. This is very true. But he also says that the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness (Rom. 1:18). It was God who expelled us from the Garden and placed the flaming sword in the hand of the Angel at the gate of Paradise, so that we could not return. As Isaiah puts it, our sins have made a separation between us and God, so that he does not hear the prayers of the wicked. Not only has Man turned his back on God, but God, in the light of sin, must also turn his face away from Man. Are you a sinner? Then God rejects you; you are not acceptable to him; indeed, you are intolerable to him. Contemplating you in your sins, God himself in his Justice must say an eternal and final "NO!" to any idea of a relationship with you. This is part of the distance that has to be overcome for us to be saved.
This estrangement caused between Man and God by sin is all-encompassing. It involves the whole personality, mind, emotions, and will. In other words, apart from Christ God, and Man are
God is an emotional being; that is, there is that in his divine life which corresponds with or is analogous to our emotions. He loves, hates, is angry, feels pity and compassion; he can be pleased or displeased; he has desires; he gets jealous. But unlike us, God is not subject to passions. His emotional responses are always in perfect harmony with the pure rectitude of his character, and therefore they never come into conflict with his holiness, nor do they ever disturb his ultimate blessedness and peace. He never loses his composure. (This is the much misunderstood doctrine of Impassability.) Man, by contrast, is subject to violent, unpredictable, and uncontrollable passions. His emotions are neither harmonious nor controlled by his reason and character, but are in a constant state of turmoil and flux. He may be subject to wild mood swings or apathy and dryness. His feelings can become fixed on hurtful objects and purposes. God loves light; Man loves darkness. God is purposefully angry at sin, on principle; Man flies into a distracted rage at having his will crossed in petty trifles. so you see, these two are far apart, at a great distance. They are emotionally incompatible.
It is not just that God is omniscient, infinitely intelligent, and all wise, so that his thoughts are incomprehensible to us (though sometimes no doubt they are). The emphasis of Isaiah's claim that they are "above" ours is not their inscrutability but their dependability: unlike us, God keeps his covenants and follows through on his commitments. In other words, God sees truth clearly and totally and cannot lie; Man's thoughts are wicked and deceitful, and he lies to himself all the time. (And perhaps the biggest lie he tells himself is that God, being a God of love, will accept him in his sins--that there is no radical distance, no estrangement, to be overcome.) God's mind operates according to a plan (laid out in Ephesians) to bring blessing to men; Man's mind teems with schemes for his own advancement. God's thoughts are pure; Man's dwell on all kinds of wickedness. God's mind is full of wisdom; Man's is overflowing with folly. God's thoughts are profound; Man's at best (apart from Revelation or Common Grace) are merely clever. Any attempt at communication between two such minds is doomed to failure. They are not on the same wavelength at all. They are as far apart as East from West: They are intellectually incompatible.
God's eyes are too pure to behold evil; every imagination of man's heart is only evil continually. God loves light and dwells in unapproachable splendor; Man loves darkness because his deeds are evil. God is pure light without the least shadow; Man is polluted and corrupted and his very righteousness is as filthy rags. These two are incompatible indeed. They are far off from one another, at the greatest distance imaginable. For them to meet is for them to be at war.
It is no wonder then that the average human being has no interest in God, except possibly as a convenient philosophical notion. If he thinks he does, he loses it as soon as he discovers what God is really like. He flees in terror! Unless . . . unless . . . unless somehow Someone could bring the two together. And who less than God himself could be adequate for such a task?
Considering the natural enmity, opposition, and strife which exist between a holy God and fallen Man, is it not a wonder of wonders that God should still pursue us? Considering his implacable hatred of evil, why does he not just damn us and forget us? To bring us near to himself in an intimate embrace, at the price of the blood of his only begotten Son--this is love and grace beyond all comprehension. And how does he do it? By the blood of Christ. He himself became one of us so that he could die as a Substitute for our sins, working atonement. On that basis God can without compromise to his justice offer us forgiveness, adoption, and union with himself, from which flows a transformation that will eventually make us worthy of such favors. The distance we could not have bridged by any effort, God has obliterated in Christ. Accepting Christ as the substitute, the representative of all who believe in him, the Father can relate to us, not as we still are in ourselves, but as we are in Him. His righteousness stands in for ours until God can work that righteousness in us. And therefore there can be reconciliation of the total estrangement--emotional, intellectual, spiritual--that existed between us.
Do you understand then what a Christian is? Do you understand what a great privilege it is to bear the name of Christ? A Christian is a person who was just as far off as anyone else, just as incompatible with the Source of all goodness, truth, and beauty as anyone else, just as hopelessly estranged from God as the whole human race has been since the Fall--but who has been made nigh! Receiving Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord by faith, he has received in Christ by faith alone justification, forgiveness, adoption, the right to be a son of God. Receiving Jesus Christ by faith he has also received from Christ a new nature capable of communion with God because truly compatible with the nature and character of God. Receiving Christ he has also received in Christ the promise that this new nature will be increasingly dominant in his life until, when Christ returns, it will be the only nature he has.
In other words, a Christian is not someone who is trying to follow the teachings of Jesus (though of course he does); he is not someone trying to lead a moral life (though of course he should); he is not someone who is seeking God (though of course he still seeks more of Him); he is a person who has been made nigh! The death of Christ has removed every impediment, every obstacle, every barrier to intimacy with God. It has nailed it all to the Cross. And while the gift of this new relationship, this union and intimacy, will take an eternity to grow into, it is already a permanent possession. A Christian is a person who has been made nigh through faith in Jesus Christ.
There is only one question that matters this morning, and it matter supremely: Have you been made nigh? Can you honestly say, not as a matter of boasting but as a plain and simple fact that there was a day when your sins ceased to be a barrier between you and God because you had received Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord by faith, placing them beneath his blood? If not, you are still separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But even now if you receive Him you who are still far off can be made nigh by the blood of Christ.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams