by Bob Wheeler

Today, of course, is the day when we mark the turning point in human history, the death of Christ on the cross. Ironically, this Good Friday comes at a time when the United States, along with much of the rest of the Western world, finds itself in turmoil over the issue of homosexuality. Last week one of the major “mainline” denominations, the Presbyterian Church (USA), changed its definition of marriage to include homosexuals who wish to marry each other. And this week the State of Indiana is in a state of uproar over that state’s recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. At issue there is whether or not a baker or a florist can refuse service to gay couples on grounds of conscience.

Perhaps the politicians in Indianapolis can be excused if they are perplexed over how to respond to changing social currents. They are, after all, accountable in some measure to the voters who elected them. It is much harder, however, to excuse the PCUSA, for they claim to be a Christian church, and a church is supposed to be accountable to God. By endorsing same-sex marriage the PCUSA has, in fact, missed the whole point of Christianity.

Which brings us back to the question, why did Christ die on the cross? What was the purpose of his death?

Some people seem to imagine that because God is a God of love, that therefore it is an easy thing for Him to excuse or overlook sin. God is supposedly like a human parent Who knows our weakness and loves us just the same. And when it comes to homosexuality, presumably God “knows” that some people are just born that way and God accepts them just as they are.

The Bible, however, presents a radically different view of the situation. God is, in fact, a God of love; but He expresses His love in a far different way than that imagined by the liberal theologians of the PCUSA. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8; NKJV). God does not pretend that we are basically good, decent people. We were “sinners.” The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

But we cannot help being the way we are, right? How, then, can God condemn us? The answer is the right and wrong are not determined by what we can do, but by what God is. It is a matter of what is just and humane. Morality is based not on our sinful nature, but on God’s own righteous character. And if we cannot keep His law and do what is right, that is a reflection on us, not on Him. We are the ones who need to change, not God.

What hope is there then for us? We are guilty, and God is just. Our doom seems like a foregone conclusion. It is at this point that God did something most extraordinary. “But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The idea here is not simply to excuse or overlook sin, for that would sacrifice justice in the name of tolerance. Rather, the solution is to atone for sin. We are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood. . .” (Rom. 3:24,25). Redemption involves the payment of a price that secures the release of someone from bondage or captivity. Propitiation is an atoning sacrifice that turns away the wrath of an offended Deity. In this way God can “demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (v. 26). By sending His Son into the world to pay the penalty for our sin on the cross, sin is both punished and forgiven simultaneously. God is both merciful and just at the same time.

But at what a horrific price! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” (John 3:16). There was only one person who was qualified to serve as our substitute and atone for our sin, and that was the God-man Jesus Christ. But Christ was God’s own Son, His only begotten Son. And He was perfectly innocent, the last person in the entire universe who deserved to be punished for anything. And yet He came into this sin-cursed world, went through the mockery of a “trial,” and died an agonizing death on the cross. Perhaps the most heart rending moment of all came when cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46; quoting Ps. 22:1).

Yes, God loves us. In a very real sense he loves all of us human beings. But He loves us enough to save us from or sin, not leave us in our sin. What we need is the forgiveness of our sins, and to receive that we must come to Christ in repentance and faith.

And that is why Christ died on the cross, and that, in a nutshell, is the Christian gospel. And when a denomination ceases to preach the gospel it ceases to be a Christian church. The days to come will surely reveal who is willing to follow Christ and who is simply following the world. May we all be found faithful to Him!