The Cross and its Effect
Issue No. 231
The purpose of priesthood is twofold: (1) to mediate between God and man; and (2) to present and teach the word, whether written or spoken.
The first purpose has to do with establishing our relationship with God by means of Covenant.
The second purpose has to do with upgrading and deepening our understanding of that relationship.
Thus, it might be said that the first purpose is to provide us with justification, and the second with sanctification in the progression toward glorification.
The Foundations of Christianity
In the beginning, the book of Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve sinned, and as a consequence, were cast out of the garden. History, then, has been the story of man’s re-instatement into the position and calling that was his from the beginning.
But to do this required dealing with the offense against God. There was a lawful procedure by which this had to take place, and any other procedure was ineffective. It had to be God’s way to have merit before God. False religion, then, is “false” specifically because it attempts to restore a right relationship with God in an unlawful manner.
The first and foremost biblical truth regarding this is to know that sin is a transgression, trespass, or offense against God—as defined by His law. Sin is not simply ignorance, as some have said. Sin may be done in ignorance, but sin is not mere ignorance.
Those who equate sin with ignorance are attempting to resolve the problem in a classroom, rather than in a courtroom. But teaching people not to sin does not resolve the root problem. Sin must be dealt with by the blood of sacrifice, not by passing a written or oral examination. Heb. 9:22 says,
22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Some things were cleansed by water, rather than by blood, but almost all things were cleansed by blood. John affirms this as well in 1 John 1:7,
7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
There are those who believe that to confess sin is wrong and that we should confess ourselves to be righteous. They think that we are what we speak, and that if we but affirm our righteousness, we are righteous. But John directly contradicts this, speaking to believers, In essence, such people are deceiving themselves, not recognizing reality, and the truth is not in them.
The core of Christianity—and the reason it is different from other religions—is that it views sin through the eyes of the law and resolves the problem by the law. All false religion tries to resolve this legal problem through teaching and education, either by teaching men correct behavior or teaching them correct (usually “positive”) thinking.
If sin were to be resolved by teaching, then Jesus would not have had to die on the cross. He could have made such corrections through His teachings alone. And, indeed, many who claim to be “Christians” actually honor Jesus as a “Master Teacher.” But if Jesus were only a Master Teacher, He could never have brought forgiveness, justification, and reconciliation with God. If Jesus had lived as a Teacher and had died a normal death apart from being a Sacrifice for sin, we would yet be in our sins.
This false teaching that “sin is ignorance” destroys the entire purpose of the Old Testament sacrificial system, as well as the purpose of the cross. Hence, those who teach such things ultimately come to the conclusion that Jesus did not really have to die on the cross—or if He did, it was only to show by example how one should be willing to die for the truth (i.e., the teachings).
You need to know the power and purpose of the blood of Christ, so that when you meet someone who denies this foundational teaching, you will be able to discern whether the person is teaching the true Gospel or “another gospel.” You cannot judge any man’s gospel according to their good personality or by how much “love” they ooze. Love without the Cross may appear to be Christian, but it is a false gospel.
Those who believe such things will forfeit their place in the Kingdom of God, for their right standing with God is based upon the Sacrifice of Christ. When they stand before God, and He asks how they might be justified in view of their past sins, those who say, “What sins?” will be disqualified. Those who say, “I am perfect because I said so” will be disqualified. Those who say, “I am enlightened by your teachings” will be disqualified.
Jesus will tell them, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23). When we come to the core of biblical Christianity, it comes down to the manner of one’s defense before God’s bar of justice. On what do we base our defense? Do we refuse to acknowledge that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)? Do we say we have not sinned, thus making Him a liar and a false accuser (1 John 1:10)? Or do we acknowledge our sin and claim the blood of Jesus Christ that has been shed on the cross for our sin?
Some of you may wonder why I am spending so much time on such basic teaching. Perhaps you have known these things from childhood and heard it for too many years already. Perhaps you have never encountered the false gospel that I have described. But I have seen this too much in the Universal Reconciliation movement. I have seen this too much in what is called “Kingdom” circles.
Most of you would be surprised at how many ministers are actually teaching another gospel. Some would be surprised if you knew those who privately believe another gospel. Some are outright liars and hypocrites, disavowing the cross in private, but giving lip service to the cross in public in order not to set off any alarm bells. These are what Paul calls wolves in sheep’s clothing. Paul said in Phil. 3:18 that they were “enemies of the cross of Christ.” He prophesied of these in Acts 20:29, saying,
29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
The only way you will be able to discern is to understand the core issue. The core issue is the cross, and we all need to have a clear view of the cross as a place of sacrifice and death to satisfy the demand of the law for the offense of sin.
As long as you retain that foundation, and do not allow any other good thing to be the basis of your justification, you will be able to discern which teachers are of God and which are not. Just because someone comes teaching some Bible truth, such as Universal Reconciliation, does not necessarily make him/her a Christian in the eyes of God. Knowledge of that Truth, great as it is, has nothing to do with one’s justification by faith in the blood of the Lamb.
I know that I am bound to draw criticism for daring to take a stand on the cross of Christ and to make the cross the defining issue of justification. But God has directed me to make this point very clear so that no one can possibly misunderstand what I am saying.
I can love unbelievers and even those who mistakenly think themselves to be believers in Christ. But I also have a responsibility before God to present the Gospel and will not tolerate for a moment anyone who undermines the core of that Gospel. This core belief is expressed in 1 Cor. 2:2,
2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
And again, Paul says in Gal. 6:14,
14 But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
The Cross as the Mark of God
One’s belief in the efficacy of the Cross is what defines a true believer in the sight of God.
The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the tav (or tau) and was originally written in the shape of a cross. Each Hebrew letter is also a number and a word. For example, the first letter is alef, which serves as their way of writing the number One. But the word alef also means an ox.
The tav is the number 400 in Hebrew. But the word also means “a mark or signature.” Even in more recent times, those who are illiterate have had to sign legal documents, and if they could not spell their name, they are required to put their “mark” on the paper as their signature. Normally, this was an X, or a cross.
Strong’s Concordance tells us that tav means: “a mark; by implication, a signature.” It is #8420 in Strong’s Concordance. We read in Job 31:35 (NASB),
35 Oh, that I had one to hear me! Behold, here is my signature [tav]; Let the Almighty answer me!
Again, in Ezekiel 9:4 we read,
4 And the Lord said to him, Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark [tav, “signature”] on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.
This is a picture of God putting His signature upon the true believers in Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s day, in order to protect them in the day of Jerusalem’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. It speaks of God’s mark of ownership. They are the living epistles on whom God places His signature.
God does not place His mark on those who disavow His signature, regardless of how loving they may appear to be or how good and positive may be their personalities. Those who base their salvation upon their character are no better than those who base their salvation upon their own good works. If salvation came by those means, then one could point out many Christians among Buddhists, Taoists, and other religious groups, for many of them specialize in self-discipline and other character developments. And many of them do better in this than the average Christian.
The Gospel of Inclusion
This simple fact tempts some Universalists to teach a “gospel of inclusion,” in which they include everyone as if they were already Christians, instead of treating non-believers as future Christians. They ignore Paul’s admonition in 2 Cor. 6:14-16, where he says,
14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said.
Paul obviously does not treat unbelievers as if they were already believers, in spite of the fact that he teaches Universal Reconciliation. He does not teach us to include everyone as if they are already Christians in spite of their unbelief. He maintained a clear distinction and taught that the unbelievers would be judged for their sin. Rom. 2:2-8,
2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. . . 5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to every man according to his deeds; 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambition and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
When Paul testified of the Gospel to the Roman Procurator, Felix, in Acts 24:25, we read,
25 And as he was discussing righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you.”
If Paul had been preaching the gospel of inclusion to Felix, there would be no reason for him to be frightened at any judgment to come.
If some do not want to believe Paul’s gospel, then hear what Jesus has to say about the day of judgment. Matthew 12:36, 37,
36 And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words, you shall be condemned.
Does this sound like Jesus taught a gospel of inclusion? Does it sound like He did away with judgment? No, far from it. He spoke of the day of judgment many times. A few examples are found in Matt. 5:21, 22; 7:2; 10:15; 11:22 and 24. These are in one gospel alone.
Did the Cross Abolish All Judgment?
There are those who believe and teach that the Cross abolished all judgment for mankind. They teach that God’s reconciliation program was so one-sided that it set aside any need for man to repent or believe in Christ in order to appropriate this salvation.
That is a perverted gospel, for it cannot be taught except by discarding great portions of Scripture. While it is certainly true that God will save all men and reconcile all of creation, it is equally true that He will do so by means of judgment—which is God’s way of correcting mankind and bringing each person to faith and spiritual maturity. No one will be justified UNTIL they confess Jesus Christ in the manner that Paul specified in Rom. 10:8-10,
8 . . . that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
If anyone teaches something contradictory to this Gospel, it is not a biblical teaching. Salvation is a “result,” as Paul tells us, of a confession of faith that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. Those who have not yet made that confession are not yet saved—though I agree that they WILL BE SAVED later.
Most of humanity will make the above confession at the Great White Throne Judgment at the day Jesus calls “the day of judgment.” At that time, “every knee will bow,” and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10, 11). Paul writes also in 1 Cor. 12:3,
3 Therefore, I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
And so, when every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, it will be the moment of their salvation. Some do this during their life on earth, but most people will do this at the Great White Throne judgment. There is not one Scripture teaching us that it is no longer possible for a person to confess Jesus Christ and be saved at the Great White Throne judgment.
But neither does this mean that the unbelievers will be given immortality immediately upon their confession of faith in Christ. No, Scripture tells us that they will be held accountable for their works (Rev. 20:12, 13; 2 Cor. 5:10). In fact, Paul specifically singles out the believers who will be “saved yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15).
For this reason the dead will be raised to face that corrective judgment. Some of these unbelievers will repent for having rejected Jesus Christ as Lord. Others will hear of Him for the first time. But “every knee will bow.”
The primary reason why people have not understood the judgment of God is that they have assumed that the fire of God’s judgment is a torture pit. They have forgotten that the law itself is the fire (Deut. 33:2), and the law never demands torture as payment for any sin. In assuming the “fire” to be literal, they cannot conceive of any believer being subjected to such fire. And so they cannot possibly understand how anyone can be saved through the fire, as Paul says. Such a statement simply does not fit with their preconceived idea of the nature of the fiery judgment.
Further, they take the statement in Heb. 9:27, “it is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment,” and force it to teach that there can be no salvation after a person has died. Such a view presupposes that the judgment is a final condition, rather than a means to an end. It presumes that the judgment means endless torture, rather than an eonian correction whose end is life.
These misunderstandings have caused theological havoc in the Church for many centuries. It is time to adjust our thinking in order to put on the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ does not dispose of all judgment, nor does it set aside the law by which this judgment is imposed. But the Cross did bring in a New Covenant, in which our salvation was no longer based upon man’s will but upon God’s will (John 1:13).
The New Covenant established at the Cross by His blood made it possible for God to save all mankind, for it put the whole plan under God’s responsibility. Man’s will could not do the job, as demanded by the Old Covenant, for no man had the will power to be perfect in all his thoughts and deeds.
God’s will, however, is strong and powerful enough to do the job. Though He does not choose to reveal Himself to all men in their life time, He certainly will reveal Himself to all men at the day of judgment. All will confess Him at that day, and then all will serve Him according to the judgment of the law.
The law demands restitution payment, but when such payment is not possible, it demands that the sinner be put under authority as a servant to one who pays his debt (i.e., his redeemer). He is to serve his redeemer either until the debt is paid, or until the Year of Jubilee when all debt is cancelled purely by grace.
During that interim, the sinner is made a bondservant of Jesus Christ, even as Paul claimed to be in Rom. 1:1—and we ourselves are as well, if we are obedient to our great Redeemer. The primary difference is that as believers, we obtain immortality during the Age to come, whereas most of the world will have to wait until the Creation Jubilee, for they too must learn obedience, even as we do today.