Of Causes & Cures
by Fred G. Zaspel
Words of Life!
A Publication Ministry of Word of Life Baptist Church
Volume 3, Number 5, July-August 1992
One of my "pet peeves" is doctors who prescribe remedies for illnesses which then make the illness worse. The assumption of many seems to be that anyone who is sick suffers from some drug deficiency, and so the more drugs we take the healthier we will be. Who has not known someone whose condition was made worse by a doctor's prescribing of wrong medication?
It has always amused me that the woman who suffered from continual bleeding in the gospels (whom Jesus later healed) Mark describes as having "suffered many things from many doctors, and had spent all she had but was nothing bettered but rather worse" (Mark 5:26). We know the sentiment too well. (Luke, by the way, a physician himself, is much more gentle. He merely reports that she "could not be healed by any" (Luke 8:43).
Now I don't profess to know much at all about physical diseases and medicine--any criticism I may make of those in the medical profession may well be as often wrong as right. I admit that. But the premise is undeniably clear: we will not and cannot prescribe the correct remedy until we properly understand the disease! Unless we look beyond the symptoms to the cause we will not be able to adequately deal with the illness.
That principle holds true in spiritual ills as well. If we misunderstand the nature of human sinfulness we will never come up with an adequate remedy. We may make prescriptions which help to salve some of the symptoms, but we will never rightly deal with the disease.
Consequently, the Bible goes to great lengths to be perfectly clear on both scores--the malady and the remedy. It identifies with painful accuracy the condition we all are in because of sin. But it goes on to show the remedy just as clearly.
Likewise the gospel, while it is by definition "good news," meets us first with the assumption and declaration that we need it!
What, then, is the condition of man which demands a remedy?
Crimes & Penalties
The Bible describes sin as any failure to conform to the requirements of the law of God. That is, there is a system of law and justice in God's created order in which He requires of all men and women that we do and act in keeping with the demands of His righteousness. He is Holy, and as His creatures made in His image with intelligence and a sense of morality we are responsible to live in Holiness. What He has required of us must be done, and what He has forbidden must be scrupulously avoided. Anything less is criminal--it is "sin."
To commit sin, then, implies guilt. The violation of human law makes us "criminals," and the crime renders us "guilty" in the eyes of the state. But far worse, the violation of God's law makes us guilty in His eyes. Moreover, just as any crime against the state demands the payment of a penalty, so also to sin against God is to incur the penal requirements of His law. And in either case, until the law receives its satisfaction the guilty party still "owes." Just as we say a criminal "owes" a debt to society, so every sinner owes a debt to God. And just as it would be a mockery of justice to allow the criminal to go unpunished, so it would be a frustration of the righteous requirements of God's justice to allow the sinner to go free. If God is holy, then sin must be judged!
Further, God's holiness will not allow fellowship with sin. This is the meaning of Habakkuk 1:13- -"Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity." The apostle John spoke in similar terms. "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth" (1John 1:5-6). The simple point is that because God is holy He cannot fellowship with sinners; rather, He must judge them.
And the judgment is death. This was established at the outset of human history when God said to Adam about the forbidden fruit, "In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:17). The prophet Ezekiel repeated the same: "The soul that sins, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4). The apostle Paul emphasized it also: "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). In fact, Paul quoted Moses on this very point: " Cursed is every one who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them" (Galatians 3:10).
Now in human justice penalties vary in severity, for not all crimes merit the same punishment. And while it is true that in God's law also there are varying degrees of sin and that there will be varying degrees of punishment, all sin has ultimately one penalty: death. Sin is a capitol offense. It is high trea son against our Creator. It is rebellion.
Sin, then, is a very serious thing! It demands death. That death, the Bible says, entails a state of alienation from God here and now-and forever. It implies that a state of enmity exists between man and God (Colossians 1:21), for man has rebelled against Him. And it demands eternal retribution.
Moreover, this justice must be served--the character of God demands it.
Once more, there is no man who does not deserve it, for "there is none that does good, no not one. . . . For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:12, 23). All are "children of wrath even as others" (Ephesians 2:3).
But then there is another matter that complicates the situation even more. It is this: not only has man sinned, he is also enslaved to that sin! "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil" (Jeremiah 13:23). "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
Sinning & Loving It
The problem here is that unless God somehow changes him, man not only sins but wants to sin. "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).
Clearly, every man in his natural condition is in the very worst condition he could possibly be in. He has sinned and so brought on himself the judgment of God. He is incapable of remedying the situation himself, for he is enslaved to his sin. And in fact he does not want to remedy his situation, because he loves his sin.
Every man, the Bible says, is a self-declared enemy of God who wants nothing else. He is as bad off as he can possibly be.
Placebos & Best Wishes
This is the point at which the gospel of Jesus Christ meets us. Obviously, we need a savior. We need rescue. We must have someone who can save us from ourselves and from our sin. We need someone who can do for us what we are unable and unwilling to do for ourselves.
But how could we be saved from all this? What would it take?
"You Can Do It!"
Some spiritual doctors would prescribe self-help remedies. They teach that we can somehow attain salvation ourselves. Actually there are many varieties of this prescription. Some may say that we can be saved by proper religious exercises. These may include any number of things baptism, confirmation, church membership, etc. Or it may be "keeping the ten commandments," and faced with failure to obey them all they will assure you that in the end if the good outweighs the bad all will be fine. Or they may say that whatever the final score, if you were "sincere" in your attempts all along, you will be saved.
Whoever it is that gives this prescription has failed to properly diagnose the problem. First, how many of us really think that in the end our good will outweigh our bad? Really?
And how many of us would like to be judged on the basis of our sincerity throughout life? Would that make you feel safe?
And this matter of good works that are done, religious or otherwise, what could make us think that piety pays the penalty of sin? Has justice yet been served? Did the God to whom we are accountable ever offer this as sufficient compensation for sin?
And what about our slavery to and love of sin? Can any of these supposed remedies take care of that basic problem of our evil hearts? Can they take away our desire to sin? Can self reformation really transform us inwardly?
You Can't Do It!
Clearly, the question that faces every sinner is not, "Have I been sincere?" or anything like that. Piety cannot remove sin or pay its penalty. The question is simply this: "Do I have a Savior who can rescue me from my sin?" Recognizing our complete lostness, our slavery to sin and merit of Divine judgment, the search must be for someone else, someone else who can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We must find someone who can save us.
And in order to save us, this Someone must be able and willing to pay our penalty for us. That is, he must be willing and able to bear the judgment of God against our sin. And He must be able somehow to make us perfectly righteous in the eyes of God's law, just as God requires.
Clearly, you can't do this. So think, who can?
Jesus Did It!
This allows us to understand the whole message of the Gospel, which is this: Jesus saves! Notice how the apostle Paul explains it: "He [God] has made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to become sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2Corinthians 5:21).
That's it exactly! Since the Lord Jesus Christ was one who never sinned but had perfectly met all of the requirements of God's law, he was qualified to be a substitute for others. He had no penalty to pay Himself, for he had no sin. So He "was made sin for us." That is, He took our sin to Himself and on the cross offered a sacrifice in full payment of sin's penalty. He died for us, in our place, bearing our judgment. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13). "For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1Peter 3:18).
In fact, the whole purpose of Jesus' coming was to accomplish salvation for sinners. "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).
The whole point is that unless the Lord Jesus Christ pays the penalty of our sin for us we must pay it ourselves. But that is precisely what Jesus did. "He bore our sins in His body on the tree" (1Peter 2:24).
By what Jesus Christ did for us the justice of God is satisfied; the penalty was paid and the law is upheld. The only surprising thing is that the penalty was paid by our substitute. And by this we no longer "owe." The debt is paid. Our debt is "forgiven" but not because it is merely forgotten. The debt is canceled because it has been paid.
"I owed a debt I could not pay;
He paid a debt He did not owe!"
Further, because the sin has been removed and the penalty paid, there is no longer any alienation from God. We are brought into His fellowship. We are no longer enemies, but friends.
And even the problem of slavery to sin is resolved, because in Christ we are "redeemed" liberated, set free by the payment of the ransom price, the blood of Christ. We are set free to live unto God, so radically transformed that our desire now is to serve Him, however imperfect that service may be.
This is the "good news": the demands of God's law and the requirements of our salvation have all been met. The Lord Jesus Christ has come as Savior. In Him we have all we need. He is all God requires.
Jesus the Only Savior!
One of the often overlooked claims of Christianity is that it is absolutely exclusive. That is, Christianity claims that it is the only way to God; there is no other.
Peter said it like this: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Paul pronounced a curse on anyone who preaches anything else (Galatians 1:8). John said, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36). And they learned this kind of talk from Jesus Himself, who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).
Now this is difficult for many. Today we like to be more "open-minded" and think that if you are sincere in what you believe, God will accept that sincerity. But this is a remedy that is no remedy at all. It is our Lord Himself and His apostles that insist that those who believe this are wrong, however sincere they may be. The bold claim of Jesus Christ is that He is the only Savior, and apart from Him there is no other! "He that is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30). That is exclusive! Either you side up with me, Jesus says, or you are lost. "He that believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believes on the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). "He that believes on Him is not condemned, but he who believes not is condemned already" (John 3:18).
Now why? This is not selfish bias, is it? Is Jesus a bigot? No, it's just that these are the plain facts of the matter. Our Lord stresses this simply because it is so true: He is the only way to God. No one else can do for you what God demands of you. There is no one else who has ever perfected the righteousness that He requires, and there is no one else who is qualified to bear our sin in our place. The plain facts are, if we would have salvation we must have Jesus Christ. Either He will save us, or we will perish in our sins. There is no one else qualified to save us. All other remedies are false remedies.
Again, the important question is not what label you wear Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, etc. Churches cannot save. The important question is not what religious works you have performed baptism, confirmation, church attendance, charitable giving, etc. Good works, even good religious works, cannot save. All these "remedies" treat but symptoms and not the cause. They are results and no remedy at all. The important question is this: Do you have a Savior who can rescue you from your sin?
Of Faith & Works
What then are the terms of salvation? How can we have it?
We have already seen that it cannot come by our own works; our works cannot pay the penalty of sin. Rather, salvation comes by Jesus Christ, the only savior of sinners, and we receive salvation only as we receive Him in that capacity. That is, since we cannot earn salvation ourselves we must go to Him and trust ourselves to Him to obtain salvation for us. We can have salvation only by faith in the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Now keep in mind, true faith is exclusive. To believe in Christ as savior implies that we have turned from every other means of support. It means that we are not trusting in ourselves or our good works or our church or our minister or anything else. Rather it means that we have turned from all of that and are trusting in Christ alone for salvation. It means that we expect to be saved only because He has done for us what was necessary. It means that we have fled to Him for refuge. It means that He is our only hope.
But you see, that is good news! He did it all, and through simply trusting in Him we receive all the benefits of His work!
It does not matter, then, who you are, where you come from, or even what you have done. If you will but go to the Lord Jesus Christ submitting to His saving Lordship acknowledging that you need Him, you will be saved. "He that believes on the Son has life" (John 3:36).
In what are you trusting? How can you hope to be saved? Is your remedy a good one? Can your savior really save?
Fred G. Zaspel, pastor
Word of Life Baptist Church
This article was originally published in Words of Life! (Volume 3, Number 5, July-August 1992), a publication ministry of Word of Life Baptist Church.
Scriptures for Further Study
Jesus said: "All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:27-30)
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
"He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:18)
"He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36)
"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life." (John 5:24)
"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out." (John 6:37)
"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'" (John 14:6)
"Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
"Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Acts 4:12)
"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law." (Romans 3:28)
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)
"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
"For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." (Galatians 3:10)
"Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us." (Galatians 3:13)
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)
"Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed." (1 Peter 2:24)