God’s Great Plan Consummated
Can man know that God exists? Is humanity the result of divine creation, or merely the consequence of impersonal evolutionary forces?
If man is a creature of God, fashioned in the divine image (Genesis 1:26), has the Maker communicated with His creature? If so, for what purpose? Is the Bible a revelation from God? Can it be trusted? And what of Jesus of Nazareth? Who was He? And why was He crucified? Such questions dramatically engage the mind and demand answers.
In this article, we will focus our attention upon the question framed by the psalmist of centuries past, but echoed by every intelligent mind since: “What is man, that thou [God] art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4).
Man the Creature
Why did God create mankind? This is a question that we certainly cannot fully answer, for the Lord’s purposes and ways are “unsearchable” and beyond our ability to analyze (cf. Romans 11:33).
We may suggest, though, that it definitely was not because He needed, for some reason, to create us. God, being infinite in all of His attributes (cf. Psalm 147:5), can, from the very nature of the case, stand in need of nothing!
Since “love” is an essential part of Jehovah’s being (1 John 4:8), we may assume that as an act of pure love, consistent with His sovereign will, humanity was brought into existence. Heavenly beings at the throne of God were constrained to exclaim, “thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were created” (Revelation 4:11—emphasis added). Though we have many unanswered questions, since it is a fact that we are here, we may conclude that it is better to be than not to be!
Man the Sinner
Of all the living creatures on earth, man was the solitary being made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26). Humanity was not fashioned in the physical image of deity, of course, for God is not physical (cf. John 4:24; Luke 24:39; Matthew 16:17). Rather, man was made in the spiritual, rational, and volitional image of God (cf. Ephesians 4:24).
As a volitional creature, man is a being capable of making choices (cf. Genesis 2:16, 17; Joshua 24:15; Isaiah 7:15; John 5:39, 40; 7:17; Revelation 22:17). Further, he was endowed with a responsibility to faithfully serve God (Ecclesiastes 12:13) and to glorify Him (Isaiah 43:7).
Unfortunately, finite man made some woefully evil choices and so entered that spiritual state that is biblically called “sin.”
Sin Is Real
How very pathetic it is that humanity frequently denies its sinfulness. Atheism, for example, would argue that sin is but the concoction of insecure, emotionally disturbed, religious fanatics. Man’s “unacceptable behavior” must be explained, they suggest, in light of our evolutionary history. The defense by Clarence Darrow in the famed Leopold and Loeb trial (Chicago, 1924) was based upon this very premise!
Some psychiatrists would rationalize the wickedness of man by simply styling it “sickness.” Even some religionists have denied the reality of sin. Mary Baker Eddy (founder of the “Christian Science” religion) affirmed: “Sin, disease and death have no foundations in Truth.”
The reality of sin, however, is affirmed from several sources.
- The Scriptures clearly teach it. “There is no man that sinneth not” (1 Kings 8:46). “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23; cf. 1 John 1:8, 10).
- The conscience testifies to the presence of man’s moral sensitivity, hence, his responsibility to a moral law (Romans 2:14, 15). No one of responsible maturity has ever been free from the sense of personal guilt!
- The witness of history underscores man’s sense of sinfulness. The Roman philosopher Seneca said: “We have all sinned, some more, some less.” A Chinese proverb declares: “There are two good men: one is dead and the other is not yet born!”
The reality of sin can also be seen in the horrible effects it has produced. Sin has affected man:
- Physically—disease and death were introduced into this world as a consequence of evil (Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12).
- Geophysically—Many of the erratic features of the earth’s surface, which allow for storms, earthquakes, etc., are the result of the great Flood of Noah’s day—which came as the effect of sin (Genesis 6:5ff).
- Culturally—The communication problem that man has, due to the multiplicity of human languages, is traceable to ambitious rebellion on the part of our ancestors (cf. Genesis 11:1-9).
- Psychologically—Man is generally without the peace of mind for which his heart longs. [Look at the number of psychiatrists listed in the Yellow Pages!] “They have made them crooked paths; whosoever goeth therein doth not know peace” (Isaiah 59:8; cf. 57:21).
- Spiritually—By sin, man has created a chasm between himself and God, “Your iniquities have separated you and your God, and your sins have had his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). The ultimate “wages” of sinfulness, of course, is spiritual “death,” i.e. separation from God forever (Romans 6:23).
It is thus quite clear that sin is a past and present reality and that it has wrought havoc within the human family. And all sensitive people want to know—“Is there a remedy?”
The Plan to Save
Here is an intriguing question: “Did God, before He ever created man, know that man would sin?”
The answer to that appears to be, “Yes,” because inspiration informs us that the role of Christ in redemption was a part of the divine plan even “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20).
If Jehovah knew that man would rebel, why then did He create him? We do not know, except to say that since whatever God does is right (cf. Genesis 18:25), His creation of beings of choice, hence, potential sinners, is not inconsistent with His holy nature. Besides that, any seeming problem in this regard is negated by Heaven’s offer of pardon to wicked humanity!
One cannot but wonder why God wanted to save this ungrateful creature who had so haughtily turned away from Him. Well, here is an important truth—the Lord was not under obligation to do sot This seems apparent from the fact that angels sinned (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), and yet, “not to angels doth he give help, but he giveth help to the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16). Rebellious angels seem to be without any redemptive plan! No wonder the psalmist wanted to know, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?”
A careful study of the Scriptures makes one thing abundantly clear—the Creator’s efforts on behalf of sinful man are the result of pure love.
Here are some facts that need to be carefully considered:
God’s love undeserved
Jehovah’s love for mankind was strictly undeserved. Salvation is offered to us even though we are ungodly, sinners, and enemies (note the use of those three terms in Romans 5:6-10). “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us” (1 John 4:10).
h3. God’s love universal
The love of God is universal, thus, not discriminatory (cf. John 3:16). He would have all men be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) — if they would be (John 5:40) — for He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).
God’s love practical and sacrificial
The Lord’s love was not merely theoretical, rather, it was practical and sacrificial. Love gives, and so God gave His Son for the sin of the world (John 3:16). Moreover, the Son cooperated with identical love, in that He also gave Himself (cf. Galatians 1:4; 2:20; 2 Corinthians 8:9).
God’s love unquenchable
The love of Deity is unquenchable. Read Romans 8:35-39 and be thrilled! Only man’s wanton rejection of that love can put him beyond the practical appropriation of the same!
The Plan in Preparation
The inspired Paul announced: “When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4). This remarkable passage reveals that Heaven’s scheme of redemption was unfolded according to a precise program. It was meticulously designed so as to be most advantageous to human reception, Let us briefly consider this matter.
After the initial fall of man (Genesis 3), humankind progressively dredged itself deeper and deeper into wickedness. When more than a century of righteous preaching by the godly Noah produced but little results, Jehovah sent the great Flood to purge the earth (Genesis 6-8).
From Noah, several generations later, the renowned Abraham was descended, and through Him, the Hebrew nation was founded—from whom the Messiah would eventually come. Some four centuries following Abraham, the Lord gave to the Hebrew family a written revelation, called the law of Moses. It was basically designed to accomplish three goals:
- It defined sin and sharpened Israel’s awareness of the same. To use Paul’s expression, it made “sin exceeding sinful” (cf. Romans 7:7, 13).
- The law was designed to show man that he could never, by his own merit or efforts, justify himself. For example, the law demanded perfect obedience and since no man [except Christ] could keep it perfectly, all were condemned by it (cf. Galatians 3:10, 11). And so, the law underscored our need for a Justifier—for Someone who could do for us that which we were unable to do for ourselves.
- In harmony with that need, the Old Testament law, therefore, pointed the way to the coming Messiah.
The Old Testament prepared the human race for the coming of Jesus in several ways: First, there were the theophanies. These were temporary appearances of God in various forms (cf. Genesis 16:7ff; 18:1ff; 22:11ff, etc.). A careful consideration of all facts can only lead to the conclusion that these manifestations were of the pre-incarnate Christ!
Second, the Old Testament contains scores of types (i.e.: a pictorial preview) of the coming Lord. For instance, every bloody sacrifice was a symbol of the “Lamb of God that beareth away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Finally, in more than three hundred prophecies containing countless minute details, the first advent of Jesus was made known. Jehovah left “no stone unturned” in preparing the world for the coming of His Son!
The Death of Christ
No one who studies the Bible for long can be unaware of the fact that the entire sacred volume is centered in the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
But this question haunts us. Why did Christ have to die? Was there no other way in which God could deal with the human sin-problem?
Obviously not! Surely Jehovah did not choose the death of His Son as a whimsical option! There are several important truths that must be considered here.
First, the Bible forcefully affirms that our great Maker is an absolutely holy Being (cf. Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8), and as such, He simply cannot ignore sin. The prophet Habakkuk expressed it like this: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (1:13a).
But in the second place, another of the Lord’s attributes is His absolute justice. Righteousness and justice are the very foundation of His throne (Psalm 89:14).
In view of these facts, namely that God is both holy and just, the irresistible truth is this. Sin must be punished!
Now if the Almighty were a cold, totally vengeful God as infidelity and religious modernism have frequently characterized Him, He could simply banish man from His divine presence forever and that would settle the matter. But the truth is, He is not that kind of God! Our Creator is loving (1 John 4:8) and He is “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4).
Here, then, is the problem. How does a loving, merciful God pardon wickedly rebellious man, and, at the same time, preserve His holy justice? The answer to that puzzle is: CHRIST!
Paul addresses this very matter in Romans 3. How can God be just, and yet a justifier of sinful man? Jehovah is able to freely extend His grace [ favor] on the basis of the redemptive life and death of His Son, Jesus Christ (3:24ff).
Here is how the divine plan was implemented. As an eternal, divine Being, the personal Word (Logos) took upon Himself the form of a man, He came to earth as a human being (John 1:1-4, 14; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Timothy 3:16). He thus fully shared our nature and human experience. He was even tempted in all points just as we are, yet here was the difference—He never yielded to temptation, and so, never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).
But what has this to do with us? Simply this. Since Christ was a tested person (cf. Isaiah 28:16) and found perfect (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22), the Father allowed Him to stand in for us, ile, i.e. to take our place, to receive our punishment.
“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:5, 6).
Christ thus became a substitutionary sacrifice, paying the price for human salvation. In the gift of Christ, Heaven’s mercy is extended. In the death of the Lord, divine justice is satisfied. In the resurrection of Jesus, God’s plan is historically documented!
There is one matter yet to be considered in this study. What is man’s role [responsibility] in the matter of salvation?
Even though some religious leaders have so alleged, salvation is not unconditional. Man must, by the exercise of his will-power, reach out and accept the pardon that is offered by the Savior.
Across the centuries Jehovah has repeatedly stressed the principle that man, if he would be justified, must live “by faith” (cf. Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). Salvation for fallen man has been available through the centuries. It was conditioned upon God’s foreknowledge of what would transpire at the Cross—the atoning death of Jesus—cf. Galatians 4:4, 5; Hebrews 9:15-17; 10:1ff.
But it is important to note that “faith” in the biblical sense has never denoted a mere passive acceptance of certain facts. Rather it is a term of active obedience.
Actually, faith consists of three elements:
- an acknowledgement of historical facts;
- a willingness to trust the Lord, and;
- a wholehearted submission to the divine will.
One cannot but notice how "faith’ is demonstrated to be an action term in Hebrews 11. “By faith” Abel offered; Noah prepared; Abraham obeyed; etc. The inspired James made it wonderfully clear that faith, divorced from obedience, is dead (James 2:26).
After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, by the instruction and power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles began to proclaim the “good news” [gospel] concerning Jesus of Nazareth.
Read, for example, the stirring account of Acts, chapter 2. Many accepted the documented evidence of the resurrection of Christ, hence, believing in His deity, were instructed to repent of their sins (i.e. be sorry for them and turn away therefrom. They were commanded to demonstrate their confidence in the Lord’s resurrection by being baptized [the word means “immersed”] in water. The design of this ordinance was said to be “for [in order to obtain] the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). Thousands did just that and the Christian movement was launched into the ancient world.
The result of obedience to the Lord’s holy will was the establishment of His church-a divine organism He had promised to build (Matthew 16:18). The word “church” translates the Greek term, ekklesia, meaning “to call out.” The church was not some material building, but it was a “called out” body of people who had purposed to submit to the will of God in all matters.
It was not the aim of Jehovah that the church be merely a first century arrangement; rather, it was to continue, in its same form, down through the ages unto the return of Jesus Christ. It was to pursue the same divine pattern in work and worship, following the New Testament as its only creed and guide for religious instruction.
You will be thrilled to know that it exists today, If you are unacquainted with the churches of Christ, please seek out one of their local congregations and ask for more information. These Christians will be happy to study with you and to assist you with your spiritual needs. The churches of Christ salute you (Romans 16:16).