Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens begins his great novel “A Tale of Two Cities” with the following paragraph…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—“

Of course, Dickens is talking about France and England in the 18th century, but I think he is also picking up on a theme St. Augustine wrote about in his book, “The City of God” in which he contrasts two cities; the city of God and the city of man. Augustine, like Dickens, wrote on great contrasts, or antithesis. He spoke of the city of God, whose founder and ruler is God, the God who builds a glorious and gracious city; A city whose entrance is found in humility. He then spoke of the city of Man, whose founder and ruler is sin and lust, the kind of sin and lust that brings its own destruction and demise; A city whose entrance is found in pride and arrogance. This theme of 2 cities, the city of God and the city of man, is prevalent in Christian literature.

We have often talked of the city of God as the city that is God's people in God's place under God's rule and blessing and the city of man as the city that is not God's people that is out of God's place and that has rejected God's rule and blessing. In this case, we are simply exchanging the word “kingdom” for the word “city.” So, when we talk about the city of man and the city of God we are really talking about the two kingdoms that we all know are a present reality. Until Jesus returns, all believers will live in both of these cities!

As believers, we all live in the city of Man, and we all live in the city of God. As the Apostle Paul said, we have a kind of dual citizenship in this world. Our two cities are this earthly kingdom we call America and the kingdom of God. However, our citizenship as Americans ought to be one of people who recognize that we are ultimately sojourners and aliens in this world—for our ultimate citizenship is in the great eternal city whose Founder and Builder is God!

So, how did these two cities come about and how does this help us understand how God saves us? Well, to understand that we need to review the story of Creation and Fall thus far. So far, we have established that God, our King, created us as his people (Adam and Eve) in his place (the Garden) under his rule and blessing (living in perfect rest as long as they keep the law). However, Satan entered the picture and tempted Adam and Eve to exalt themselves instead of God. He convinced them that there is something better for them than what God had provided, thus they ate the fruit God commanded them not to eat and sin and death came upon mankind. We found that this resulted in a world that is filled with shame, pride and fear. It has resulted in broken relationships, a broken world, and certain death for all men.

Adam and Eve decided to listen to the voice of another god, and decided to enthrone a new ruler in their lives---themselves. As a result, they were no longer God’s people in God’s kingdom under God’s rule and blessing! Now, they were in the kingdom of man; a kingdom in which we see their 1st son, Cain, kill his brother, Abel; a kingdom in which their first son builds a city for his own glory; a kingdom that becomes so wicked God must bring a flood to destroy mankind; a kingdom in which the hatred of God is so prevalent that he must institute the death penalty as punishment for men who kill other men; kingdom in which a man’s own son tries to humiliate him; a kingdom in which men raise up and actually try to build a city with a great tower to exalt themselves. And all this happens in 9 short chapters of the Bible!

So, what hope is there? If this is the city that Man created, the city into which we are all born, then what hope do we have? If we are all conceived and born into the city of Man---the kingdom that worships other gods---the city that is full of sin---the city whose ruling principle is pride, then how do we ever get back into the city of God? How do we get back into God’s kingdom? In order to answer that question, I want to look at Genesis 3-11.

My goal is to show you that God, our great King, has not abandoned us to the city of Man. Instead, upon the Fall of Man, God immediately goes about trying to save him, to rescue him, to bring him back into the kingdom of God. God is the King of Glory and the King of Grace. He is the King who breaks into the city of Man and saves us out of it!

In order to help you see that God is both our Savior and King and to help you recognize that God begins the project of saving us into his kingdom, the city of God (a project which is culminated in the coming of His glorious Son, Jesus) I intend to show you 6 truths about our Gracious King. Six truths that we learn about God as he begins to save men back into his kingdom. I want you to remember that while this is only the beginning of the story of salvation, a story that runs through the whole Bible and is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the lessons found here are consistent throughout the story. So, what are the 6 truths we learn about our Gracious King? What are these lessons that we might even call lessons in sovereign grace?

1. God graciously seeks those who are lost.

When I am asked whether our church is seeker sensitive? I always answer, “yes, if you mean that the seeker is God.” While we don’t believe that men truly seek God apart from him first seeking them we do believe that God does seek men! This seeking nature of God is shown in Gen. 3:8-9. Adam and Eve don’t go looking for God. He comes looking for them. They are working to avoid God. We do the same in our sin. We cling to this city, to this kingdom. We don’t go looking for God. He comes looking for us.

The whole Bible from Genesis 3 forward is about God coming to seek and save us as we flee from Him---not about us looking for a relationship with him. Even the writing of the Bible shows this. We just receive God’s Word. He seeks to communicate with us. He pursues us. He pursued us in the person of Jesus! Jesus said he came to seek and save the lost. We didn’t ask for Jesus to come. He was sent by God. In fact, we killed him when he came. Even the commission of the church shows God’s seeking nature. Contrary to what seems to be popular opinion, God didn’t say, “all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me…Go, therefore, and build beautiful buildings, offer great programs, and those who need me will come looking for me.” No, he said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them...” We are to go to the nations and seek those who are lost. Why? Because our God is a king who graciously seeks to save those who have been lost to the city of man and to bring them into the city, or kingdom, of God!

2. God graciously provides the payment necessary for forgiveness.

We have sinned and incurred the penalty of spiritual and physical death. The only way to be forgiven is through the shedding of blood. Without blood sacrifice, God’s righteous wrath is not turned away and we are doomed to the fate of all who live in the city of Man when God comes to bring war against that city.

God does not say to man, “You provide the blood sacrifice.” He says “I will provide it.” In Genesis 3:15 we find the first promise that God will pay the price. Second, notice that Adam and Eve tried to cover their sin with fig leaves, but God comes and covers them with animal skins in Genesis 3:21. God covered their sin. He covers ours. Even the OT sacrificial system was given to man, and it all ultimately served to point to the only blood sacrifice that would ever satisfy God’s wrath against our sin---it pointed to the Cross of Jesus Christ!

So, while the city of man is represented best by the towers men build in attempts to pridefully exalt themselves. The city of God is represented best by the Cross of Christ as he demonstrated humility. God is gracious enough to humble himself and pay our cost so we can be forgiven. This is your King. He is the king who seeks for you and sacrifices for your forgiveness.

3. God shows grace / favor to whom He will.

The 3rd truth we learn about our gracious King is that he shows favor, or grace, to whomever he wills. This is the very definition of grace! Grace must be sovereign grace given to whomever God wills because grace is unearned. Grace is not merited. If someone deserved it, it would not be grace. If it was controlled by the will of man it would not be God’s sovereign grace. But, as Paul says in Romans 9:1, ‘It does not depend on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.”

We have a king who is merciful to us by his own choosing. This means God’s grace can’t be lost because it was never earned. We see this first with Adam. Why was God gracious to Adam? He blatantly sinned. Yet, God came looking for him and paid for his sins and saved him. Adam was booted from the Garden but God continued to be gracious to him. He prevented Adam from eating of the Tree of Life which would have led to an eternity in sin. He gave him a son through whom would come the Savior.

We also see this in that God was gracious to Abel, not Cain. He looked with favor on Abel’s offering. We see this with Seth's family, not Cain's family. Cain’s family is saved from destruction for a time, but they are not a family that worships God and enjoys his favor. Just look at Enoch of Seth’s line (the 5th son of Seth---7th from Adam versus Lamech, the 5th son of Cain---7th from Adam). We also see this with Noah and his family, not the rest of the world.

Why? Was Noah not a sinner like everyone else? No! The text clearly says that all men were wicked (Gen. 6:5). When Noah is first mentioned the text begins by saying he received grace (Gen. 6:8). Then it goes on to say that Noah was righteous. Yet, we read that after the flood Noah got drunk and exposed his nudity. What kind of righteous man is this? He is a sinner to whom God is gracious. God is not gracious to him because of anything he did but because God is gracious.

4. God shows grace to those who humbly trust him.

The fourth point I want to make about our gracious King is that he gives grace to those who humbly trust him. Someone might say, “but I thought you just said God gives grace to whomever he chooses.” Yes, I did. And now, I am saying that God gives grace to whomever believes or trusts him. Some people wonder how these two truths of God’s sovereignty in grace and man’s responsibility can both be true. They are both true because the Bible says they are. This is how God has revealed that he works. No one will be saved who does not believe. Only those who believe will be saved. Man is 100% responsible for his eternal outcome. Faith is necessary for salvation. Also, no one will be saved unless God saves them. No one will be saved as a result of their own works. Salvation is 100% the work and gift of God. God is the one who gets all the praise and glory for our salvation. He did it! He saved us! When Charles Spurgeon was asked how he reconciles these two truths, his response was, “I don’t try to reconcile them, because friends don’t need to be reconciled!”

Let’s look at the text to see that God’s grace is only given to those who trust Him.

a. Adam and Eve

While it does not say in Genesis 3 that they believed God would save them it is assumed in their receiving the animal skins. Faith is just receiving. Faith is passive. Faith is not a good work or a virtue. We get an even more clear picture of their faith in Genesis 4 as Eve demonstrates that she learns that it is all of God, and not of her. She believes God.

b. Abel.

God shows favor to Able and his offering. Able offered the firstfruits. Able offered the fat portion. In other words, Able humbly trusted God (Gen. 4:3-5). Hebrews 11 tells us that Able brought his offering in faith. Able trusted God thus Able received grace. Whereas, Cain did not trust or believe God.

Cain trusted himself and was after his own good. For Cain, God was someone to be manipulated to get what he wanted. But, please don’t think that Cain did not have faith, or was not worshiping. The fact is that Cain had faith. He was worshiping. The problem for Cain and for all men is not a lack of faith or worship---it is the object of their faith or worship that is the problem! We hear people saying that all that matters is that someone has sincere faith, or is sincerely worshiping! No, that is not what matters. The Bible assumes people are believing and worshiping. The problem with man is not that he doesn’t worship or doesn’t believe---the problem is that he doesn’t worship and doesn’t believe in the True God—the God revealed in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible--- the God revealed in Jesus Christ!

c. Seth---Gen. 4:26

We see this with the contrast between Cain and Able, but also with the contrast between Cain and Seth. Cain wanted to use God to exalt himself. He wanted to exalt his own name and make himself known. He wanted the gifts but not the Giver. Able just wanted to exalt God. Seth just wanted to exalt God. When we read about Seth we see that he named his son Enosh---“human weakness,” and that men worshiped the Lord. Seth knew his life was to be given to worshiping his great King. Seth knew that humans were weak and needed God. Whereas, Cain named his first son Enoch and instead of men worshiping he built a city to exalt his own family (Genesis 4:17). For Cain, it was about personal exaltation, not about the exaltation of God.

d. Noah---Gen. 6:9

Noah walked with God. Noah trusted God and obeyed him. Noah’s faith was instrumental in God saving him from the flood and using him to bring about a new beginning for mankind. How can we say all of this about a man who was wicked along with all mankind, and who is shown to be sinful in his own behavior? Because Noah recognized his sin, and weakness, and was humbled to trust God. Noah knew he was doomed apart from God. His righteousness was a life of obedience that sprang from his trust in God as his only hope of salvation, and from his humble recognition that he has sinned and will sin again.

5. God extends grace through covenants.

The fifth 5th truth about our gracious King that we learn is that he extends grace through covenants. I will write more on this in future. But, for now a short explanation will suffice. I mean that God makes a promise to man to be gracious to him. A covenant is an agreement between two parties, like the marriage covenant. Teresa and I promised to be faithful to one another in marriage for our entire lives. This is a covenant.

The covenants God makes with man are generally unilateral. Meaning we don’t go to God and say, “we have a problem here, how about we broker a deal?” God comes to us and says, “You have a problem, here is what I promise to do?” We have been given covenants from God. The first one we see is God’s covenant with Adam---“you can eat from any tree, but not that one in the middle of the garden, for the day you eat from it you will surely die.” Adam breaks that covenant and must pay the price for doing so.

God makes another covenant with Noah and all mankind with him. He promises to never flood the earth again and the rainbow is a sign of that covenant. Do you ever just stop after rain and look at the rainbow, and realize God is visually showing you that he is a God who makes and keeps promises or covenants? The covenant with Noah is a covenant with all men---whether they believe in God as Savior and King or not. It is a covenant of common grace to all men. In my next post I will write about the covenant with Abraham, which is a covenant only for those who believe in the God of the Bible.

6. God has always planned to be gracious to man for his own glory. Eph. 1:3-6

The sixth thing we learn is that God as our gracious King has always planned to be gracious to us, even before we fell into sin. He has always planned to do this for his own glory. We see the inference to that in Genesis, but we see it clearly portrayed in Eph. 1:3-6. God has always been planning to establish a kingdom, which we have called the city of God. He has always planned to save men into that kingdom or city.

It is unlike the city of man in that in the city of God we worship God, rather than self. In the city of God we are given grace, rather than the judgment coming to the city of man. In the city of God we are marked by humility, rather than being marked by pride. The city of God has the Cross as its chief symbol, rather than the towers built in tribute to the city of man. The city of God exists for the glory of God, rather than for the glory of man!

We are to live differently because of our incredibly gracious King! We are to look at those trapped in the city of man and desire to see them saved into the city of God. We are to be marked by humility. We are to be those who cling to the Cross. Admittedly, it is difficult. We are living in this “Tale of Two Cities,” and it is the best of times and the worst of times.

1 comment:

Ruben said...

This is beautiful, Chad.