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Writing in his letter to the Philippians, Paul encourages the people to take on the mind of Christ as depicted by His humility in stepping out of heaven and into a fallen world. I have struggled with Paul’s wording when choosing to explain it in this way:
who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
For the longest time I have pictured this grasping as if He were not able to attain, grab onto, the equality of God. But that didn’t make sense because He is God. But then it hit me – grasping isn’t always reaching after something. Sometimes it is trying to retain something. And then this part of the scripture made so much more sense to me.
Though Christ was co-equal in unity with God, He humbled Himself by letting go of that equality to become divinely human. He let go of all which was rightfully His in order to serve us. Paul says that Christ’s service was to death – even to death on a cross.
As I read that word ‘even’ tonight, the words that followed struck deeper. Christ not only died for us but He died a criminal’s death…yet, He was no criminal. Instead, we have to gather that He gave up that which was rightfully His as a Holy and Righteous God to take the punishment of our crimes.
Forget the church speak that maybe you are used to and look at it this way – would you willingly take the place of a man on death row who was convicted of murdering your family knowing that he would laugh at your sacrifice? Would you die a criminal’s death for crimes committed against you?
So this is the Jesus Paradox. That a God who is perfectly holy and righteous would require justice at the expense of His own perfect love and mercy. The full crushing weight of God’s judgment against us can only wash across us because, in some unfathomable method, He let go of His equality, His right, in order to stand in love between us and that judgment.
We can never fully appreciate grace unless we can appreciate God’s right to judge us.
This was something that Martin Luther nearly went mad over. Read his words and see if they speak to you.
I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the justice of God,’ [Rom. 1:17] because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him.Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith’ [Rom. 1:17]. Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate of heaven..
If you have a true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness. He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but looks only on a curtain as if a dark cloud has been drawn across his face.
It is a strange, beautiful paradox. One that we can meditate on for a lifetime and not fully appreciate.
One day… some day… we will see more clearly.