Theology Essay — The Finished Work of the Cross

I share the essays that I have while working on my Bachelor’s degree because they reflect changes in my thinking about who God is and about the finished work of Christ.  Feel free to read it knowing that I am still a work in progress.  He has unveiled so much of Himself in me and will continue to do so.  I am so thankful for all I have learned these past 7 months and know that there is still so much more to discover on this beautiful, sometimes messy, journey of grace.

Enjoy ~

THE FINISHED WORK OF THE CROSS

The deeper I go in these courses, the more I realize how simply Paul laid out the Gospel.  The message of grace, the good news of the finished work of Christ is in plain sight and easy to understand.  But through years of religious teaching, we’ve lost sight of it and read Scriptures through the lens of “do” instead of “DONE.”  Instead of believing in a finished work, we believe in a progressive work, an unfinished work that has Jesus going before the Father saying, “OK I’ve done My part, and now it’s up to them.  We’ll just see if they have enough faith to believe in what I made available for them.”  That’s not what Paul or the early church taught.  But somewhere along the road, we lost our way.  And teachings like the Romans Road to Salvation don’t help us find our way back to the truth of IT IS FINISHED.  

Romans Road was coined by a Baptist pastor in Texas named Jack Hyles.  In a nutshell, it stresses the fact that ALL men are sinners in need of being saved.  And salvation comes to you through your confessing to be a sinner and repenting of all your sins.  The Gospel that Paul preached… the Gospel that Jesus taught him…. didn’t point out peoples sins or call them sinners.  It didn’t lead them in a “sinner’s prayer.”  Instead, it pointed to the finished work of Christ making ALL men righteous and reconciled to the Father.  What we really need is to toss out Romans Road from our teachings on evangelism and go back to Paul’s Gospel.  Teaching ALL men who they are and always have been IN CHRIST.  Maybe we need a witnessing tract called The Finished Road of Salvation.  

Jesus preached IT IS FINISHED and yet what we’ve heard from His words is the “potential” good news of IF and THEN.  IF you believe, THEN a nature change can take place in your heart.  IF you repent and confess your sins, THEN, God will forgive you of those sins.  IF you obey and walk uprightly THEN, you will enjoy His favor and blessings in your life.  IF you fight a good fight, waging war against the enemy THEN, you will experience victory over things like sickness, disease, lack, etc.  IF you daily crucify the flesh, dying to self THEN, you will grow in righteousness and holiness and triumph over sin, becoming more like God. IF you can only have enough faith and speak enough faith THEN, you will receive His promises.  And of course, there are Scriptures to go with and back up all of these IF and THEN’S.  But this isn’t a finished work revelation.  It is a mindset rooted in Old Covenant thinking.   

A perception that believes God reacts to my actions.  IF I do something THEN, God responds by either blessing me or disciplining me.  There’s no freedom in that way of thinking.  The Old Covenant was based on “IF I…. THEN God,” because the covenant He made with them was contingent upon them. It was a conditional covenant.  Conditioned upon their obedience to it.  It was their choice at Mt. Sinai.  God had desired to walk face to face with them in a covenant of grace as He had with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  I think to understand why we choose to walk in laws and commandments rather than pure grace, we’re going to have to see the similarities of ourselves and the children of Israel regarding the perception of sonship and slavery.

In Exodus 19 God tells them if they will obey and keep His covenant, they will be His treasured people.  He’s not speaking of obedience in the way we understand “if and then,” the word in Hebrew is shema which is a heart response to the Spirit of God.  First used in Genesis when Adam and Eve “heard” (shema) the Spirit of the LORD in the garden.  The covenant being referred to here is not the Old Covenant, which hasn’t been given yet.  It’s the Abrahamic covenant. 

In Exodus 2:24 it says God heard their groaning and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.  Remembered is zakar in Hebrew meaning remember but also involves action.  Another definition is to celebrate — I love that!  Abba must’ve been so excited that the 430 years He had told Abraham about was over and He was now ready to celebrate by redeeming the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt!  This covenant rested entirely on what God would do — it was God plus nothing.  This was the covenant mentioned in Exodus 19.  A covenant of pure grace where all that Israel had to do was respond from their hearts to the Spirit of God.  Walking face to face with Him.  I also love that in this verse, Exodus 19:5, right in the middle of it…. which symbolizes the heart of this verse, which is God’s heartbeat.. are two little Hebrew letters, the aleph, and the tav.  

Aleph Tav in Hebrew Scriptures is untranslatable.  In modern Hebrew grammar, it is merely a direct object marker.  However, it only appears in specific Scriptures.  I believe it is a direct object marker in the sense that it’s directly pointing out Jesus as the “object” of verses.  Aleph is the first letter, and tav is the last letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet.  It is the equivalent of the Greek Alpha and Omega.  Jesus in the Hebrew language is the Aleph and the Tav.  In word pictures, aleph tav is strength and cross… the strength or power of the Cross.  It’s like a marker or a signpost in a verse where God is saying, “STOP!  I put the aleph tav (the mark of the power of the Cross here so that you will remember to read this through the lens of the finished work of Christ.”  In this verse, it’s pointing them to grace… to the power of the finished work of the Cross.  It’s placed right before the word covenant showing them that the Covenant, the one that was God’s heartbeat for His people, was the Covenant of the power of the Cross.  

The people’s response to this is a fall from grace.  God had been dealing with them all through the wilderness in grace.  Giving them what they did not deserve because of His covenant with Abraham. They grumbled and complained and yet at every turn they were met with grace!  In fact, the Hebrew word for encampment (each place they rested in the wilderness) was grace.  

But their response in Exodus 19:8 was a response rooted in wrong identity.  God had just told them they were His special treasure above all people.  A kingdom of priests, of rulers.  A holy nation.  Then verse 7 says Moses took all the words the LORD had commanded and put it before their faces.  But in the Hebrew text there is another aleph tav between laid before their faces and all the words.  Moses had put before their faces the power of the Cross!  Verse 9 says “and answered all the people in unity, all that the LORD has spoken, we will DO.”  Sounds good.  But the word do is nasah which means accomplish.  All that the LORD has spoken WE WILL ACCOMPLISH.  No trust in the power of the Cross to accomplish it.  Also, the word answered is “anah” and means to say, to testify, to afflict, to bring low.  The first time “anah” is used in Genesis 15:13 where the LORD is telling Abraham about his offspring (the children of Israel) being afflicted (anah) for 400 years.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the same word used of the Israelite’s response to God and the power of the Cross.

They had been afflicted (anah) for 400 years and had a slave mentality and responded (anah) out of that affliction mindset.  They couldn’t see the power of the Cross because all they could see was their own accomplishments — their own doing.  Essentially telling God “You tell us what to do and we’ll do it.  We don’t see ourselves as sons living in fellowship with your Spirit. We still see ourselves as slaves, and we are comfortable in living in do’s and don’ts.  Always knowing what is expected of us.”  Not much different from the church today.

We still have a slave mentality, preferring a set of rules to live by.  Having a written moral compass that keeps us on the straight and narrow, pleasing God.  Not able to embrace the finished work of the Cross as a means by which to live our lives because a slave has to earn everything.  A son’s position with the Father is based on relationship. A position that is eternal and never changing because we are His.  It is fueled by mutual love… the Father loves the son, and the son loves the Father.  A slave’s position is based on what he does or doesn’t do and what fuels his doing is knowing that he could lose his position at any time.  A son has his Father’s nature and knows his identity is just like the Father’s.  A slave knows he is only owned or employed by the Master and his identity is less than the Master… not of the same nature.  

If we in the church could get an understanding of the nature change that became ours at the Cross, our lives would be an effortless reflection of that new nature.  A reflection of godliness, holiness, and righteousness without any effort SIMPLY because it’s who we are and who we know we are. Living this new life IN HIM from the revelation of Eph 1:4-5, knowing that we were chosen IN HIM before the foundation of the world.  Knowing that the Cross is eternal, it happened at a point in time, but it is eternal.  Knowing that IN HIM we are holy and blameless before Him.  Set apart and above reproach before Him.  Knowing that’s how He chose us, how he sees us and has always seen us.  Knowing that in love He predestined us for sonship.  I love that word predestined.  In His love for us, He marked out for us, set our boundaries, our pre-determined limits as sons. Knowing all of this is not based on anything we do or accomplish but solely on the power of the Cross.  All because of the good pleasure of His will…. because it pleased Him.  

Instead of reading Exodus 19 and coming up with sermons on how submissive the Israelites were and just like them our echo to God should be “we will do all you say,” we should be seeing the tragedy of a people having a slave mentality and equate doing with slavery.  In fact in Galatians Paul equates being under the law to slavery.  God gave them the law based on their (slave-like) response, and they remained slaves to it for 1500 years.  Until Christ came and set them free from it by changing their nature…. from slaves to sons!  

Course 5 really helped solidify the understanding of the nature change for all men that took place at the Cross.  How one event changed mankind entirely and reconciled sons back to the Father.  Understanding that lays the foundation for how we live this Christ life and how we see others.  No longer seeing them after the flesh, but rather IN HIM because we know that He died for ALL, so ALL died IN HIM.  Knowing that ALL of Adam and his nature died at the Cross and in the Father’s estimate it is as if the Fall never happened.  

Recently I had a discussion with a friend about when man’s nature is changed.  I had just finished notes for my Bible study on Romans 6 and posted them on Facebook since our Bible study is done via Facebook live.  My friend commented on the notes that he didn’t agree with my statement that no more of Adam remains in anyone born after the Cross.  He asked, “doesn’t sin nature cause a sinner to sin?”  I asked him if the nature changes at the Cross with the last Adam or does it change individually for us when we believe.  He said when we believe.  We talked for a while more, and the next day he posted on Facebook “the sin nature can only be eradicated on the Cross of Christ.”  

What my friend believed is what I used to believe and what most people I know still believe.  Mike Miller’s classes on Sin No Problem really helped my understanding.  Most people I know get hung up on all of the “believe” scriptures in the New Testament.  They equate that with whatever Paul is talking about isn’t ours until we do something, i.e., believe, confess, repent, etc. Understanding how to rightly divide the Word is key to our understanding and not making those “heart responses,” those “participation clauses” legalistic… becoming an IF/THEN mentality.  I loved his teaching on the four keys to rightly dividing the word of truth.  1.  New Covenant is not a modification of the Old Covenant.  2.  The Gospels are the Old Covenant in content and present Jesus as a prophet and teacher of the Old Covenant.  3. A lot of things written in the epistles were necessary communication to a transitional generation, teaching them how to move from Moses to Christ.  4.  There are two lines of communication running concurrently through the New Covenant — vertical action and horizontal action.  The vertical action is what God did for ALL mankind through the finished work of the Cross and horizontal action is man’s response or reaction to that. 

The 4th one really helped me in being able to communicate more effectively the finished work of Jesus and our part in it.  It seemed to me there are two extremes that people fall into.  The first one is seeing the reaction or response plane determining the action plane…. IF/THEN.  And the other extreme of us having zero participation in the finished work… no response required because it was DONE.  I was getting criticism from both sides.  One side saying I wasn’t saying we need to believe.  And the other side saying that I’m saying believing is required.  Understanding that both languages, the finished work of the Cross and our response to that finished work, understanding inclusion and participation are intertwined was my favorite part of course 5!  It gave me a clearer language.  Inclusion speaks of the truth or reality of ALL men because of the One and participation language is simply one man’s experience of ALL men’s reality.   So simple!  

Our response isn’t a doing…. it isn’t an IF/THEN response.  It sounds more like what Abba was telling the children of Israel in Exodus when He was exhorting them to shema…. to hear His Spirit and respond from the heart.  Our shema is to hear His Spirit declaring the Good News, the almost too good to be true news, that ALL men have been reconciled to Him as sons, that ALL men have been made new, been made righteous, that all of Adam and his nature died at the Cross and to respond from our hearts YES!! 

 

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