The PC(USA), in updating their denominational hymnal, recently voted to exclude the contemporary hymn "In Christ Alone" because the original authors would not agree to let the denomination change one line in the second stanza (Ref: http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2013-04/debating-hymns). The specific line is found in the title of this post: "The wrath of God was satisfied". The PC(USA) had wanted to change the line just after "Till on that cross as Jesus died" to "The love of God was magnified." This seemingly minute change struck me as awefully important and immensely subversive to the message of the Gospel truth.
As I've spoken to a number of men and women who will call themselves Christians, but who struggle with the institutional church and orthodox teaching, the problem of evil invariably surfaces as a sticking point or area of doubt. This is ironically often followed by an ensuing discussion of the topic of God's wrath and the concept of hell and eternal damnation . "How can a good and loving God punish people made in His image?" they will ask. Such a question truly highlights the frailty of our reasoning, since the problem of evil and the doctrine of God's wrath are intricately woven together. The same person who in a previous moment demonstrates a sort of self-righteous indignation about why evil exists and what should be done about it, in the next sentence rejects our Father's gracious solution - the Good News - as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ.
It would seem that many of us, and I include myself in this number, suffer more from the fear of man than the fear of the Lord. I would rather tell someone who doesn't know Christ, or someone who is backsliding from the faith, that the cross is only about God's love and mercy. Unfortunately, such a half-truth misses perhaps the most important piece of the Gospel, which is precisely why it specifically had to be Jesus' death on the cross that atoned for our sins.
Cosmic treason against our holy, perfect Creator and life-giver is an infinitely and eternally serious act. If I believe that my disobedience and sin can be simply swept under the carpet and erased without being dealt with and paid for, then that is just unhelpful, cheap grace. It's tempting to offer people the cheap grace way out of sin and guilt. But the problem is that if we only hold out God's love in this way and forget what it cost Him, we won't understand the depth of His love and nature of His grace - unmerited favor. The gift of God - eternal life - cost Christ the bitter cup of death on the cross so that we might walk free. To try to erase the depth of what Christ endured for us on the cross by wiping out the wrath of God and the equivalent of eternal damnation, is to mischaracterize the Christian faith. To do so is to wrongly succomb to the fear of man and to deny a true and proper fear of God. Since I talk to a lot of people outside the church, I do actually find myself doing this at times, sorry to say. When I do, I'm withholding perhaps the most beautiful and important aspect of the Gospel Good News. So, today I'm reminded, confessing, repententing, and encouraging others not to succomb to fear of man.
Here are the lyrics to the wonderful hymn that brought this all to mind today:
In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;For ev'ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.
"In Christ Alone"
Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music