Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.
—Westminster Shorter Catechism
The primary theme in the Bible is the redemption of man to God. Chuck Missler will often mention in his studies that if you were to weigh the importance of a topic in the Bible by the volume of discussion on that topic it’s interesting to see what items fall to the bottom of the list. Think of the topic of creation, one of the most heated and often debated points of discussion in our modern world. But as far as the Bible is concerned about creation, there are only a few chapters in Genesis and another handful throughout the rest of Scripture. Contrast that with the discussion of redemption and you’d almost be hard pressed to find a chapter that doesn’t have something to do with it in one form or another. Redemption is, without a doubt, the primary theme in Scripture.
So what is redemption? Redemption is the concept of buying back something like a possession, object or even a person, by way of a ransom. This object, for whatever reason, would be lost to its original owner but through the proper mechanism the owner is able to retrieve it. In the case of the Bible, the primary focus of redemption is that of the redemption of man to God.
Come now, let us reason together…
There is a seemingly innate understanding in us that all is not as it should be. Many people try to minimize that, whether it be through atheism or Darwinian evolution, in order to state that everything is exactly as it should be but this is logically invalid since atheism and Darwinian evolution cannot have a goal.1 Anyone who casts a ballot at the voters booth is acknowledging this simple fact. Since we live in a world that is imperfect and seemingly broken but desire a world of perfection and paradise, the question isn’t necessarily whether that ultimate goal exists but rather, how we get there. The very fact that we acknowledge something isn’t right points to the understanding that right could or should exist.
Every system of thought or worldview has a philosophy around what is right or wrong and every belief system, no matter how well articulated, has some sort of method to get to what is right. Christianity, on the other hand, is completely unique in that it acknowledges that we (humanity) cannot achieve paradise or perfection, but rather, that perfection has to come to us. If our current predicament could be described as our current world and God being separated by a great chasm, the thinking of our current world desires a way to get to God on our own, that is, we as humanity must find a way to bridge the chasm. Christianity, on the other hand says that only God can bridge that chasm and provide a way to Him.
Christianity states that man is radically depraved.2 Radical depravity suggests that man can understand some form of right and wrong and act accordingly but left to his own devices he will almost always choose what is wrong. This wrong consistently creates a rift between man and God and since man cannot bridge that gap on his own, the predicament that we are left in is an ultimate desire for God but an inability to be made right with Him.
This problem wasn’t always the case. Adam (the first man) was created in the image of God and in perfect relationship to Him.3 God had commanded him in Genesis 2:16-17 to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Unfortunately, in Genesis 3:6, Adam’s wife Eve was tempted to eat the fruit of that tree and eventually she gave some to Adam. Adam ate as he was instructed not to and subsequently created the rift between God and man.4
Though your sins are like scarlet…
God is the ultimate standard.5 Because of this, we have to understand that our sin isn’t just an offense that we do with minor or no repercussion. Since God is the ultimate arbiter and authority, it is Him that we sin against. There is no one or no thing greater than God and so our sin must be recognized as the offense against him that it is.
Think of it this way: If a child damages another child’s toy (regardless of intent), he may be punished for it accordingly – perhaps a slap on the wrist and fixing or replacing the toy. If a child damages some of his father’s tools the punishment will be a bit more severe but still according to the crime. If this child, perhaps a little older damages a police car while driving, the punishment will more than likely be greater but no less according to the crime. Perhaps when the child grows up he gets caught vandalizing federal property. Now the punishment for the crime is likely to be dramatically greater than the previous scenarios, but what’s really changed? The crime is essentially the same, regardless of the value of the object in question. What changes is the one against whom the crime is committed. Now put back into the context of our sin against God, whom there is no one greater, then we can start to see just how much of a problem our sin is.
But just what is our sin? In simple terms it’s the breaking of God’s standard. Most people in the western world recognize the 10 commandments. These commandments are often considered the ultimate moral law for man. Regardless of our upbringing it is easy to recognize much of them as things we don’t wish to have done against us. It’s perfectly normal to not want to be lied to, or have our belongings stolen. Martin Luther said that the commandments are like a mirror in that it exposes our sin and need for a savior. Donald Grey Barnhouse went further to illustrate that a mirror shows us just how dirty our face is and drives us to the water in order to clean it up. So when we look into the mirror of God’s law what we see looking back at us is what we are.
When God says do not lie, do you lie? Anyone who lies is a liar. When God says do not steal, do you steal? Regardless of it’s value, or even whether a material or abstract object, theft is theft and a thief is a thief. When God says do not commit adultery do you commit adultery? A physical act is only done after it’s been thought out and Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28 if you so much as look at a woman with lust in your heart you’ve committed adultery already. These are just a few so far and deal primarily with our actions and intent towards others. It gets worse when we look at the commands regarding our actions and intent towards God. When we take an oath before God and break it we are committing blasphemy. Keep in mind marriage among Christians end in divorce roughly 50% of the time. When we fail to keep God as our first and primary affection and goal we become an idolater. What could be more important than our Creator? James 2:10 states that whoever keeps all the law but has failed even on one point is guilty of breaking the whole.
All of this creates the predicament we’re in and who could possibly be declared not guilty? That’s a good question. Some would say, ‘well I’m mostly good…’ but even if that were the case, we have to remember we have sinned against a holy and righteous God. How do you atone for a single offense let alone the countless? Some still would say that maybe their good deeds cancel out the bad, but if you were standing before a judge guilty of murder how likely would it be that a good judge would say your good deeds have cancelled out the murderous act? If he did we would call him a crooked judge. Romans 3:19-20 states in no uncertain terms that the law brings the knowledge of sin and every mouth will be stopped of those who are relying on their deeds (or under the law, in other terms). The problem is that we cannot pay the fine and the punishment is greater than we could bear.
They shall be as white as snow.
Back in Genesis 3:15, just after Adam’s sin, God made both a promise and a declaration of war. The promise was for a man to be born in our predicament as a result of our sin that would pay the penalty for our sin and crush the head of the tempter. That man is Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, whose name means Yahweh is Salvation. He was born of a woman, lived a sinless life and took our place to receive the punishment which we rightly deserve. He was beaten and murdered upon a Roman cross; illegally tried, illegally executed and through it all, no fault was found in him. What took place on that cross was a legal transaction, as though we stand before a judge guilty, unable to pay whatever the fine but someone we don’t even know paid it for us.
Jesus bridged the gap so that we can be in right standing with God. Jesus came from God, of God, is God and yet is man in order to bear our punishment. The bad news is that there is nothing we can do to obtain right standing with God. We cannot bridge the chasm. But the good news is that Jesus bridged the chasm for us and if we put our trust in Him and Him alone then when God looks upon us, He sees the finished work of His Son. We are saved not because of our good works, but because of His work on our behalf.
How does this relate to redemption? Man’s sin puts us in a poor position under God. But as 1 Corinthians 6:20 states, we were purchased, by Christ, that is redeemed and through putting our trust in Him instead of in our own deeds we belong to God again. Remember Romans 3:19-20 is about conviction under the law, but the rest of the passage reads:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.6
- To say that anything which is unguided and uncaused would have any sort of order, natural laws or ultimate purpose is logically incoherent. The existence of either is a hat tip to another. For the Christian, John 1:1-3 settles this conundrum. ↩
- I don’t use the term total depravity since it suggests that man, at all times, in all manners is totally and utterly bad in everything we do. This creates several problems such as how man can ever acknowledge his own depraved nature if he is totally and utterly depraved. One might say the Spirit will be the one to convict, and this has some merit, but unfortunately, this sort of thinking ultimately leads to what is called hyper-Calvinism and attributes of God that aren’t necessarily backed up by Scripture. For a good synopsis of radical depravity in place of total depravity (along with Molinism) I recommend Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach by Kenneth Keathley. ↩
- By using the term relationship I am predominantly meaning right-standing ↩
- 1 Timothy 2:13-14 suggests Adam was not deceived and through his transgression sin came about ↩
- Often people say things like ‘God sets the standard’ or ‘God decides what is right or wrong’ but this gives off a sort of arbitrary understanding to objective moral values as given by God. Rather than God defining the standard, we should understand that God IS the standard. In other words, God doesn’t just decide what is good or bad, but rather, He is the definition of good. In this sense it is God’s character that defines right and wrong. ↩
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ro 3:21–26). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. ↩