The nature of sin and the need of a Saviour - Part II
The problem is that our options for doing so are very limited. We can perhaps restrain ourselves from actually sinning, at least to some degree, but however hard we try, we cannot alter the fundamental condition into which we were born. We are spiritually handicapped and cannot escape from that. But whereas physically challenged people usually have resources in their bodies that can help them deal with their disabilities to some extent, the spiritually challenged are in a different position. Spiritual things affect the whole of our being and not just some of our physical faculties. In that sense we are not so much handicapped as dead. Our spirits need to be brought back to life, or to use the Biblical terminology, we must be born again (John 3:8).
The problem is that new life does not emerge spontaneously. It is a gift that must be transmitted from the living God to spiritually dead human beings. In spiritual terms, only God is truly alive – those who have been born again in him are what they are because they are grafted into him. The life we live is not ours but his, flowing into us by a kind of transfusion that is made possible because we are spiritually plugged into him (Galatians 2:20). That connection is activated by the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, alongside the Father and the Son, who brings their life into ours and makes us live with them (John 14:18-20). But the life that the Spirit brings to us is not his alone. It is the life of the Mediator who has reconciled God and man, and that Mediator is the Son, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
What has the Mediator done? First of all, he has accepted the will of his Father. The Father has always wanted us to live with him in eternity, and in order to achieve that, the Mediator became a human being himself, without ceasing to be God. As a man he lived our life, suffered and died our death, and returned from the grave with a renewed human nature that was no longer subject to the limitations imposed on us by our alienation from God. When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, it is the Son’s resurrected life that he brings with him. We have not yet died physically, and so we live a resurrected life in a body that still has to die. As the Bible puts it, we wait for the unveiling of the full glory that will one day be ours, even though we have the first fruits of that glory and see them at work in our lives, giving us the assurance that what we now know only in part will one day be fully revealed in and to us (Romans 8:18-25).
As Christians who are born again spiritually but not yet physically, we are in a holding pattern in this world. We know that one day we shall be admitted into the full presence of God and we long for that to happen, but we must wait for him to open the door and let us in. It is in this intermediate state that questions about the universality of salvation arise. We know that not everyone shares in our experience, and we may wonder why it has been given to us and not to others. We cannot say whether God will work in their lives as he has worked in ours, but we can remember that we were once in the same position that they are still in. If God could work in us for salvation, there is no reason why he cannot work in them as well, but if he is going to do that, it will be at the time and in the way that he chooses, just as it was with us. The memory of our experience gives us hope for others who have not yet had it, and it is in that hope that we preach the gospel and pray for them.
Relationships are a mysterious thing. I can love another person but not be loved in return. I can share the message of the gospel with people who are deaf to it, even though there is nothing wrong with their hearing. Why is that the case? Only God knows the answer to that, and he has not told us what it is. Our task is to go on preaching and praying, hoping always that the message that we proclaim will bear fruit in the lives of those who hear it. But whether that happens or not, what we can say for sure is that their salvation will not be the result of our labours, however strenuous and sincere they may be. It will be the work of the sovereign God, who orders all things according to his will. As the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, ‘now we see though a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now we know in part, but then we shall know even as we are known.’ (1 Corinthians 13:12). For now, we live in faith, hope and love, the guiding principles of the Christian life. When the fulness of our salvation is revealed, faith and hope will be redundant, but the love that binds us to our Saviour will remain for ever as the foundation and the essence of our life and our salvation.